One of the best things about being a student is the long summer breaks. Unfortunately as I am a PhD student, now I have to book time off for a holiday! I always like to go abroad, I love learning about the culture, experiencing different ways of life, and of course trying new food!
My holiday this year was to visit an old school friend who is living on the beautiful island of Malta!
Where is it?
For those who don’t know, Malta is situated in the Mediterranean, in between the Italian island of Sicily and Libya, with Tunisia to its West: This map probably explains it better:
Malta has 3 major Islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino.
The main way to visit Malta from the UK is by plane. I booked tickets to fly from Manchester to Malta in July, only 3 months in advance, and paid £150 return, which I think is very reasonable. Once on the island, food, restaurants and attractions are typically not overpriced, and bargains can be had by shopping around!
What’s the weather like?
Malta enjoys the typical warm and sunny climate you would expect from a Mediterranean island, with temperatures exceeding 35 C in July not being unusual. Because of Malta’s southerly location, this temperature is sometimes further increased with hot air being blown up from the African continent, known as ‘Scirocco’. While rainfall is low, and cloudy days are rare in summer, the islands can be subject to large thunderstorms occasionally!
Where to stay?
We stayed in the popular area of St. Julians, which is a bay with a mix of hotels and houses. There is a marina, and lots of amazing places to eat. Most places to stay on holiday in Malta will be along the north coast, however there are also some nice hotels on the rest of the coast too. Although most of the hotels are situated on or around the coast, it is possible to rent holiday properties such as old farmhouses inland.
Things to do?
There are many ‘must-do’ attractions in the Maltese islands, here are just a few:
Visit Valletta – The Maltese capital, Valletta has a little bit of everything Malta has to offer, from modern arts to centuries old churches and reminders of its role in the second world war. Valletta is built on a small mountain, which juts out to sea, meaning a walk along the city perimeter offers superb views of the surrounding areas. Look out for the mountings for old anti-aircraft and boat guns scattered along these areas.
Make your way to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for noon, to witness the military tradition of firing the noon-day guns (actual canons – which are very loud!). Under these gardens are the Lascaris War Rooms, an underground complex which acted as a military bunker in world war 2. The role of Malta in WW2 is not widely known, but as our allies, Malta suffered heavy bombing, yet provided a crucial base for allied forces to repel German and Italian troops in nearby Sicily and Italy. It was a crucial advantage, and one that surely helped turn the tide of the war. Lascaris housed General Eisenhower and a visit to the now museum allows a look inside his office, plus at the rest of the bunker. In later years the bunker even served as a NATO nuclear monitoring station!
As thanks to the sacrifice of the islands people, the entire island of Malta was awarded the St George’s cross after the war, which is commemorated in the Lower Barakka gardens, along with a very moving war memorial.
Valletta has many shops, and countless other sites of interest, including St. John’s co-cathedral, so is worth at least one, if not two days of a trip!
Day trip to Gozo and Comino – Boats go from many ports and marinas in Malta to the nearby islands. In my opinion, the two best options are going on one of the many guided excursions that leave from Sliema, or travelling to the port of Cirkewwa and getting the ferry. Either way, start your day early to make the most of it!
Comino is a small island famous for one thing, the Blue Lagoon. Prized as some of the finest swimming water in the whole Mediterranean, the crystal clear, shallow turquoise sea here is well worth braving the inevitable crowds drawn to it.
Gozo is the quieter, more rugged little sister to Malta. The capital Victoria boasts an excellent citadel – a small walled town atop a hill. With a variety of museums (natural history to archaeology), amazing views of the surrounding land, and excellent places to eat, it is a must see!
For you fans of a little TV phenomenon called Game of Thrones, the 15 minute bus ride from Victoria to Dwejra is well worth it. A short walk from the bus brings you to the Azure Window, famously featured in an important scene in the show!
Aquatic fun! – There are some excellent spots for snorkelling in Malta, including the Inland Sea also in Dwejra on Gozo; plus sites for scuba diving! The Maltese national aquarium is also definitely worth a visit.
What to eat?
Malta takes, its culinary inspiration from both Italy and Africa, producing some unique dishes, and some twists on Italian classics. If you get the opportunity, try a maltese platter. These vary between restaurants, but typically have either bread or galletti (water biscuits), bigilla (broad bean dip), local capers and olives, fresh and sundried tomatoes, maltese sausage (can include coriander and cumin) and Ġbejna (Maltese cheese – ranging from fresh just set to fully cured, which is stronger than Parmesan!).
I ate excellent pizza and pasta, many times including the brilliant local seafood. For lunch, take a trip to the bakery to get little pastry parcels or pastizzi, risotto balls (arancini) and baked chicken wraps – all delicious!
Would I go again?
Yes, absolutely! Malta has a brilliant climate, delicious fresh food, a rich varied history, beautiful beaches and a breathtaking coastline.