Updated Nov 1, 2023

Malta always intrigued me because, for many, it’s not usually the first country to come to mind when referencing the Mediterranean. The small country tends to be overshadowed by bigger, more commercially recognizable destinations. However, just south of Sicily, Europeans and those from Great Britain have enjoyed their holidays in the wee territory for years. Cruise ships added Malta as a port of call to their itineraries but still, little is known about this gem in the Mediterranean.

 

Spinola Bay, Malta-Adobe Stock

I traveled to Malta on a solo trip after my holiday in Sicily. The ferry ride from Sicily was about two hours from Pozzallo to the port of Valletta and I didn’t know what to expect but was full of anticipation. I was looking forward to discovering for myself what is considered to be a weekend trip for many in Europe.

I was enjoying a brief nap when suddenly people leaped to their feet to look out of the ferry windows. The collective reaction of the passengers had me concerned that something was wrong, as I naturally tend to be a fatalist. Still working on that. As much as I love to travel I still have minor phobias about flying and ferries so I assumed that something happened to the ferry and we all were going to have to jump off to keep from going down with the ship so to speak. Thankfully, my screwy mind was completely wrong and everyone was simply jumping up to have a look at the incredible view of Malta, slowly coming into view in the distance. 

It was like an ancient city had suddenly risen out of the sea and it had the same effect on everyone who happened to be looking in that direction. It’s quite a sight. It may be small but the main island is big enough to make a visual impact when approaching it in this way.

History

Situated between Sicily and North Africa, Malta has a varied background. It has been invaded by the likes of the Romans, the Phoenicians, and the Greeks just to name a few, gaining independence from the occupation of Great Britain, in 1964. Aside from the challenge of driving for this Yankee, (they drive on the left) it’s an extremely easy destination to travel to. 

colorful door in Gozo, Malta

Stay a Bit Longer

This was one of those destinations where I planned to stay for two days and ended up staying for five. Though I was with many people during my stay in Sicily, I traveled by myself to this destination and felt completely safe and welcomed as a woman traveling singola.

Upon my arrival, I immediately noticed how incredibly dry the terrain looked but oddly enough, it created a really beautiful contrast with the Mediterranean sea. The limestone mountains create a very fine dust which is a bit of a pain if it’s windy at the beach, but picturesque nonetheless. The air and wind felt like a hair dryer in the middle of July. But, I got over it upon discovering the opportunities to play in the water and enjoy the endless activities offered. Or the choice to do nothing at all. My immediate impression was how ancient and classical the country appeared, but upon further inspection, I found that it is more modern than one would expect.

Malta is both traditional and modern. The smallest country in the EU loves the arts, housing Renaissance and modern art at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta, and encourages up-and-coming artists from photography to performance art.

Nightlife

And the nightlife? Some people complain about the nightlife in the St. Julian’s area in the summer because it can get “Ibizaish”. (Ibiza, Spain is a nightclub mecca, but fun if you’re still in the nightclub scene.) In the summer, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the endless sound of thumping or pissed off that you can’t sleep at all. For me, I didn’t care. On holiday, sometimes I love to be in the middle of the excitement. 

Where to Stay

The hotel I stayed at, the Hotel Valentina is located in the center of St. Julian’s and is updated, friendly, air-conditioned, and within walking distance of everything in the area. It’s also close to the travel agencies that can assist with day trips to the Blue Grotto, diving, and various other activities offered in Malta.

St. Julians and Spinola Bay

One of the areas I spent the most time in was St. Julian’s overlooking Spinola Bay. What a beautiful area! The restaurants have a heavy Italian influence (understandably given the location), as well as other wonderful Mediterranean options. In this area, you can expect to have waterfront views during your meals. I had a fantastic time walking from Spinola Bay down to Sliema, where you can find hotels, shops, and restaurants. The entire walk along this route is beautiful, since the curving promenade meanders along the coastline. Grab a gelato or a cold drink while enjoying the view and you’re in Mediterranean heaven.

Churches and Cathedrals

Malta has no shortage of churches and cathedrals. I think churches and cathedrals are some of the architectural masterpieces of the world. They shouldn’t be missed if you are an architectural junkie like me.

A word of caution: some of these churches have some serious steps leading up to the entrance. In hot weather, after you’ve huffed and puffed your way to the top, don’t swear at the top of the steps. The door to the entrance of the church may be open and you’ll receive unappreciative looks from those who quickly forgot how they felt upon arriving at the entrance. See? I make mistakes so you don’t have to!

Marsaxlokk Fishing Village

Another part of the main island I enjoyed was Marsaxlokk which is one of the oldest fishing towns in Malta. The elder fisherman still speak their dialect which was interesting to listen to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before and they spend a lot of precious time working on their fishing nets whether the tourists are gawking at them or not. The boats in this port are works of art. Someone explained to me that most of the boats have an “eye” painted on them to protect them from the “evil eye.”

This is a great place if you love fresh fish and love markets. Sundays can be hectic, as locals are also getting their fresh fish and market goods so a visit during the week would be best.  

 

Gozo

GOZO, MALTA – Xlendi bay-Adobe Stock

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I went off to the island of Gozo. I still dream about being on this island. In Homer’s Odyssey, Gozo is where Calypso held Odysseus as a prisoner of love for seven years. Prisoner? Oh please. I’m willing to bet that he probably nailed his own feet to the limestone rock to stay there. (But Homer left that part of the story out.) 

The entire island is about the size of Manhattan but it packs a punch in a small radius. The beaches and inlets are intimate and heavenly. The largest sandy beach in Gozo is Ramla Bay where Calypso’s cave happens to overlook. 

Xlendi Bay

Another example of a small area with a big punch is Xlendi Bay. Once you get up to it or better yet, go up to the cliff above it and look down unto it…. Wow. This is snorkeling and diving heaven, though I was just happy to swim there. 

Shopping

Gozo produces many things characteristic of the islands, but one purchase I made which I will have as long as it holds up is a poncho from their lace-making house. It was 100 degrees the day I decided to try on various black lace ponchos but thanks to me having some unknown foresight at the time, I still enjoy it every winter when I’m hanging out on my couch on a cold day.

Gozo is also known for its beautiful hand-crafted glass. If you like Murano glass from Italy, you will love Gozitan glass. I still wish I had brought a piece home even though each piece weighs a ton. The beauty of their work is that each piece is artfully done to reflect the colors of Malta. Gozo Glass Limited is still a family-owned company dedicated to preserving the art of glass-blowing on the islands of Malta.

Getting Around

Again, I was traveling solo on this trip and had no problem getting around the islands. I used the bus system and taxis and found them both to be very easy to use. I also booked some excursions through a local agency in St. Julian’s and the hotel concierge which included private van transfers to activities. Uber does operate in Malta

When to Visit

Malta enjoys a relatively mild climate throughout the year. During the winter months, it might get down to the mid-40’s (F) but in the summer, it can get up to the 90’s (F). It’s best to visit during the shoulder months of May, June, and September, but I was there in the middle of July. It was pretty blazing hot. If you like that, then you’re good. Also, during the summer months, the festivals are in full swing. It’s a lot of fun, creating a festive atmosphere. 

Fishing boats at the harbor of Marsaxlokk Malta
Fishing boats at the harbor of Marsaxlokk Malta-Adobe Stock

See you again, Malta

I tried to take part in everything that Malta had to offer and still didn’t get through everything. I didn’t even get to Comino yet so there’s another island for me to enjoy. There is as little or as much to do on these islands to have a fantastic holiday. Just as other Mediterranean islands have their charm and personality, this should be on the list of islands to visit. The friendly, beautiful people, the delicious food, and the endless discoveries I made during my short stay were enough to make me want to return which I just haven’t done yet but plan to because I’ve been longing for it ever since!