Malta may be a country of miniature size, yet without a doubt it is blessed with a unique character and remarkable history. The Maltese archipelago comprises of Three Islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino which graciously lie in the heart of the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily. It was my first time visiting Malta and I loved it! Let me share with you the highlights of my trip so that you can too — experience the best of Malta.
Malta at a glance
General information and random facts about Malta which might be useful.
- Malta is a small independent country which consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. It is a member of the European Union.
- Currency Euro
- Over the centuries Malta was ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and others all of whom left their trace on the country. It was also briefly conquered by Napoleon who was passing by on his way to Egypt. Today Malta is a beautiful blend of all those civilisations who have left a part of their roots here.
- The main epoch was the ruling of the Knights of St. John. Malta gained its political Independence from Britain on the 21st of September 1964. It became a Republic in 1974.
- They drive on the left hand side of the road like in the UK.
- Most of the buildings in Malta are two-storey and are built of Maltese limestone. Central heating is not common.
- A construction of 40 high-rise buildings is already in the plans. The tallest building in Malta is currently the Portomaso Business Tower, 23 floors and is located in St. Julian’s which does resemble a mini Dubai.
- Language spoken is English and Maltese. Maltese is a descendant of Siculo-Arabic which is a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Welcome in Maltese is Merhba which sounds a lot like the Arabic Marhaba
- There are four casinos in Malta
- It is a Sunday ritual for all the owners of fancy cars and motorbikes to go on a day trip to Gozo
- Many of the buildings feature Baroque facades however new cosmopolitan buildings are popping up around the island.
- Malta is a popular filming location and many blockbusters have been shot here including, Gladiator, Game of Thrones, By The Sea and many more.
- Farm houses gained popularity in the 1960’s when many expats were buying out properties on the outskirts of the island.
- Malta’s trade is mainly involved in electronics and pharmaceuticals. In the past it was popular for airplane and yacht repairs.
- Malta produces its own wine which is mostly used for local consumption.
- Fruit and vegetables are sold in trucks
- It also produces about 60-70 tons of olive oil. Zeit means olive oil and there is an area called Zejtun, which contributes greatly to the country’s history. Abundant olive oil is produced here till this day.
We visited Valetta on a Sunday when the city was half asleep as it was the weekend. Our guide Vince Debono explained that during the week the Maltese stream their way across the 16th century bridge from the surrounding neighbourhoods, and the narrow streets come to life bustling with people, sounds and smells.
The city has become a regular host to a series of cultural events, anything from theatre to concerts welcoming renowned international opera singers.
The Republic Square is a popular piazza in Valletta which is lined with open air cafes. Here you will find the statue of Queen Victoria.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The garden was created in the mid 17th century with the sole purpose of providing a peaceful retreat for the relaxation of the Knights.
On the lower level of the Barrakka Gardens visitors can enjoy the Saluting Battery show which takes place daily at noon and at four pm. The show can also be organized for private events and celebrations.
Valletta Waterfront and the Grand Harbour
After strolling around the streets of Valletta and soaking in the view from the Upper Barrakk Gardens we headed towards the Valletta Waterfront. This is a project which is aimed at regenerating the Grand Harbour waterfront into a cruise and ferry passenger terminal. The plan also includes the creation of new transport links from the harbour with the use of water taxis and a cable car system. This will guarantee a 24-hour, 365 day a year service while at the same time preserve the city’s historical character. From here we went across with a dghajsa which is a typical Maltese gondola shaped boat used extensively at the Grand Harbour to ferry sailors and seamen ashore. Our skilled sailor was a man named Walter Ahar who is one of the senior members of the team. He used to live in England for over 30 years and told me stories of how he was in the Merchant Navy but he prefers his current job which is his passion. He jokingly said that he hated the uniform.
As we were crossing the Grand Harbour, Walter explained that the cost of maintaining one of the dghajsa is approximately 6,000 Euros per year. It is a wonderful experience and I definitely recommend that you go on a ride with Walter in a dghajsa.
The Three Cities
The Three Cities lie across from Valletta. They are small cities which go by the names of Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa. We got off at Vittoriosa which is actually the smallest of the Three Cities. The impressive Maritime Museum which stands at the harbour is housed in the former Royal Bakery which was built in 1840’s by the British.
Marsaxlokk is a traditional Maltese fishing village located on the south-eastern coast of Malta. It is considered to be one of the most picturesque localities on the island. The name Marsaxlokk is a combination of two words, marsa which in Arabic means a port and xlokk in Maltese means south-east.
The village is especially popular for its Sunday market which attracts both locals and tourists. It is here that local fishermen sell their catch of the day.
Lunch at Diar il-Bniet Restaurant in Dingli Village
After visiting the Marsaxlokk Fishing Village we headed towards the Dingli village which is a small town located in a remote area of Malta. Nowadays it is home to around 3,000 villagers who mostly live of their produce by selling their home-grown crops. Lunch was served at a family run restaurant Diar il-Bniet which offers a unique farm to table experience. The restaurant is housed in a former Dingli farmhouse, where in a rustic setting visitors can enjoy an agrifarm concept which is based on the three basic components: a family farm based in Dingli, fresh packaged products and the Diar il-Bniet restaurant.
The cuisine is inspired by the teachings of their grandmother, Manan who had an endless passion for homemade recipes and cooking.
The family continue their grandma’s legacy in a beautiful way by serving fantastic, freshly prepared dishes using fresh ingredients from their farm.
I also got to try the traditional Maltese coffee which is blended with chicory cloves and aniseed. As Vince explained, the first coffee and chocolate was imported to Malta by slaves. The Knights would go down into the prison cells and get the slaves to make them coffee.
Dingli Cliffs is an impressive sight which is known as the Island’s natural fortress, the one bastion that the Knights did not have to build to protect themselves. On a clear day you will experience the most striking views from here. A tiny chapel of St. Mary Madgalene which stands on the cliff’s edge marks the highest point on the Maltese islands, around 250 meters above sea level.
Mdina – the Silent City
Mdina is a fortified city inside of Malta which used to serve as the first capital during the time of the Knights of Malta. As you walk inside this medieval fortified city you can feel an air of mystery surround you, taking you back to how life was in those days. A magical blend of medieval and baroque architecture will definitely enchant you. Mdina is an inhabited city nowadays, approximately 400 people live here and cars are allowed to drive inside its high rise walls. There are shops and restaurants as well as a magnificent Relais & Chateaux property, the Xara Palace set right in the heart of the Silent City.
Mdina is also home to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Malta which is the Mother Church of all Churches within the Maltese Archdiocese and is dedicated to St. Paul. There are a large number of gravestones spread along the central passage, most of which are commemorations decorated with coat of arms. Here you can also find the ancient door carved with Sicilian-style symbols of life which formed part of the Medieval Cathedral.
The oldest building in Mdina dates back to 1430. There is a second gate which is known as the Greeks Gate which was built in the medieval period.
We also passed the rural village of Mgarr which is located in the north of Malta and is quite known for the annual strawberry festival which is held here in May. The Parish Church dedicated to Virgin Mary dominates the main square. It has a distinct egg shaped dome. The church has been built from donations of locals who also raised funds by selling eggs and other produce.
There are direct flights from Athens to Malta with Ryanair (3 weekly flights). Flight time is approximately 1 hour and thirty minutes
If you are flying from other cities check out Air Malta
To visit Malta’s top heritage sites and museums get a Multisite Pass which is valid for thirty days from the first use.
My program was organized by Visit Malta. All opinions expressed are my own. Thank you Zarb Chauffeur Ltd for the seamless transportation during the day. Our driver Tony was excellent. If you do decide to get a private tour then I definitely recommend Mr Vince Debono. Thank you for showing me the best of Malta.