Sun, Sea & Religion: A Malta Guide
Who would have thought on my first trip to Malta, I'd wind up stretching with the country's national repertory dance company on a rooftop? Sometimes your AirBnB hosts wind up changing your life, offering cultural versatility and friendship all whilst maintaining a clear identity of their Euro-Mediterranean roots. After befriending these eccentric Maltese and other international dancers of ŻMDE troop, they showed me the city of Valletta like I wouldn't have dared dream of.
Malta has became my favorite place I’ve traveled to, therefore I would like to share a personalized destination guide to this mysterious location! Situated between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa, Malta is a gold mine for integrating cultures. It's conveniently situated in the royal blue Mediterranean Sea; which caused it to be tossed around and fought over by the Italians, Arabs, English, Moors, French and more. Although now the island has been its own country for about 52 years. Traveling over is easily done by the country's efficient and pleasurable services on Air Malta (website linked). Once arrived, public transportation is easy to use, and everyone speaks English.
If you enjoy fortresses, temples and private beaches, this is the destination of your dreams. The island has a subterranean complex of burial chambers and halls dating back to circa 4,000 B.C. There are also 360 churches on the island (all catholic), one to pray at for everyday of the year.
Things to Do:
For the history buffs, there are two great National Museums - one of War and the other on Archeology. These touch on culture as well as architecture dating back from beyond comprehensible points in time. You wont be bored seeing the fascinating catacombs or Hypogeum and Tarxien Temples, either.
Looking for a beach to snorkel or sunbathe? Luckily there are plenty to chose from without many tourists. I'd recommend Gozo. If you have time, travel to Comino, which has a cave and mini natural lagoon.
Planning to visit the whole island? I recommend starting in the old city of Valletta. Take the grand lift up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens which gives you get a great view of the 3 cities on the other side of the Grand Harbour. You can take a ferry to Birgu from there and see "the 3 cities" (a return ticket is 2.80 euro).
The Silent City of Mdina (hop on bus 50 or 52 from the main station at loop B). It should take about 30 minutes to reach. Explore the city's scarcely populated streets and grab an authentic lunch. There is an Arabic cafe / kiosk called Crystal Palace that I recommend for their traditional "pastizzi", commonly stuffed with mashed peas or ricotta cheese.
The Blue Grotto is an absolute MUST. Check out the "Azure Window" which is in Gozo (you might even recognize from the HBO series, Game of Thrones Season in season 1).
Top Restaurant Choices: "La Mere" located on Merchant street in Valletta. This middle eastern and Mediterranean fusion cuisine is something not to be missed! Doors don't open until 19:00 every night. For vegetarians / vegans or healthy eaters, try "Soul Food" on Republic Street. I'd skip their top advertised homemade gnocchi (though tempting) and stick to a lentil veggie burger or curry bowl.
Most Maltese people can understand Italian because not so many years ago they did not have their own television and radio here. Therefore they'd grab Italian stations and television signals. The language itself sounds like harsh Arabic with a few recognizable Italian rooted words.
Cisk is the local beer (nothing special), if you need an effervescent buzz. Support this local company that started in 1928. Italians, don't worry they offer Peroni everywhere. Malta does also make their own wine using imported grapes from Italy. I recommend the Medina Rose, produced by a family of winemakers since 1907.
There are fireworks very frequently to "scare away evil spirits" & priests even come to bless the apartment when you move in. Most of the buildings are white because they're made from Maltese stone, which is completely Mediterranean sand based. The island is also much bigger than you think. They have everything from Australian butchers, to Syrian kebab stands, to African restaurants too.
The country's population is about 423,282 and government has a parliamentary republic system. As a member of the EU, you wont have to worry about converting any currency if you're already popping over with euros.
P.S. Don't drink the water! Buy bottled water & bring it with you everywhere! I underestimated the sun, despite the fact I was visiting during winter.
Traveled to Malta? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I hope to return and explore more next time, while visiting my new friends during their dance season. Here is a link to their performances - as the Maltese would say, grazzi!