Journey Through Malta
by Taylor Deer
A Day Exploring the Small Fortress Country
I hope you all enjoyed my blog post on my amazing trip to Sicily last week. During my five full days spent in Italy, I was also able to explore the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta the day after my birthday.
Getting to Malta
Depending on how long you want to spend time in Malta, you have a choice of taking a four-hour ferry ride from the southern peninsula of Sicily or just hopping on a 20-minute plane ride from Aeroporto di Catania (Catania International Airport). Since my time in Europe was short (five full days), my college friend Ian and I took the short plane ride to spend an entire day exploring the small island of Malta. We arrived in Malta at 8am and left at 9pm. Before you ask yourselves “Why would she only spend a day there?” it is because Malta is small enough where you can actually tour most of the country’s main cities and popular sites within a 13-hour time span! (If you are looking to experience the nightlife, than I recommend getting a hotel and spending the night there.)
Right before you arrive in Malta International Airport, you can see the entire country from the plane! That is how small Malta is. I didn’t know much about Malta before I went there except that my college James Madison University (JMU) had a summer study abroad program that a few of my Integrated Science and Technology friends participated in. (They LOVED it!)
The Maltese archipelago is located at the center of the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 58 miles south of Sicily and 179 miles north of Africa. Malta’s main island is where most of the cultural, commercial and administrative hubs are. Gozo is the second largest island of Malta and is mostly rural and is known for its fishing and agriculture. Comino, the smallest Maltese island, has one hotel and is mainly uninhabited. We were told by our cab driver that there are three homes located on Comino and a priest will sail out there to deliver bread, water and other food items to the families living there.
One of the cool things I got to experience when I first arrived in Malta was that the driver’s side of the cars is located on the right side and everyone drives on the opposite side of the road than in the United States and the rest of the world. (I thought this method was past history, so it was cool to see a country still using the old school European ways.) The only thing that caught me off guard was crossing the streets. I am obviously used to looking right and left instead of left and right and vice versa.
For 40 euros, we were able to rent a cab driver for a few hours to take us around to the big cities. While we were in the car, he gave us a great history and cultural lesson on Malta: The native language of Malta is Maltese, but it is a requirement in schools that everyone learn English and Italian at an early age. The primary religions practiced in Malta are Catholicism and Islam.
In addition, Malta is known as a fortress country due to the Maltese islands’ strategic location and natural harbors, which have made them desirable for numerous powers since 1450 BC.
The Ancient, Walled city of Mdina
Our first stop was to the ancient, walled city of Mdina. This beautiful city is located in the northern region of Malta and served as the island’s capital through the medieval period. After our cab driver dropped us off, we walked through Mdina Gate and meandered into the peaceful and art-filled narrow streets. These beautiful streets led to the main square of the city, which is invariably dominated by a Baroque church. The architecture of Mdina majestically complements typical Europe and you can find beautiful flowers running down the siding of the buildings.
Our next stop in Mdina was spent enjoying the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral, featuring one of the biggest dome churches in the world. Malta was once an English colony, but during World War ll, Germany tried to destroy this sacred Roman Catholic Church and was unsuccessful since the actual bomb didn’t explode. It made a little hole in the dome, but they were able to patch it up in no time.
Melita – Home of President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
Ian and I visited Malta on a Monday and it was awesome to see so many women in Mdina heading to work. The president of Malta is a woman and she proudly stands for women’s rights – which I love!
This leads up to the next awesome city we visited which was Melita, home to President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. Our cab driver took us over to her home, where we were able to explore her beautiful gardens and even walk through the Grand Master’s Palace Courtyard.
Melita Gardens is breathtaking. I LOVE flowers, so when we arrived to the fountain area, I was able to admire all of the pink, red and white garden roses.
After exploring Melita Gardens, we walked through an area that had a garden maze and cherry blossom trees that were donated to Malta as a gift from Japan. I would have done the maze, but I kind of had a scary experience getting lost in a maze at the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso (Little Versailles) in Spain. I felt like I was in Harry Potter in The Goblet of Fire.
We then made our way to the beautiful palace and even got to see a few peacocks hanging around!
Malta’s Capital of Valletta
Our last stop on our cab tour was to the modern-day capital of Valletta. Malta’s capital is one of Europe’s most sophisticated and clean micro cities, featuring Baroque architecture and a defense line of forts. When we arrived, we were starving for a healthy late breakfast. If you read my last blog on Sicily, I talk about all of the delicious, dessert-for-breakfast meals I had in the morning, so I was craving protein! Since it was a fairly warm day, we stopped at a cute café in the center of Valletta where we enjoyed a crema di caffè (frozen Italian coffee) and a delicious mango and Greek yogurt smoothie! Malta is known to have delicious produce, so the fruit tasted extra fresh.
After enjoying our healthy breakfast, we walked around the city and shopped for souvenirs. I bought a pair of tribal pants for my trip to Thailand next week as well as beautiful Maltese lace.
In addition, we enjoyed the views from the fortress’ walls until working up an appetite for a delicious Maltese lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In the middle of the city is a beautiful hotel called Castille Hotel with a rooftop restaurant called De Robertis Restaurant that features gorgeous views of the water as well as the forts opposite of the capital city. Since Malta is known for its olive oil, I got a Caprese salad that consisted of mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh greens with prosciutto, salami and a cured Maltese meat.
In addition, this great hotel also has an awesome wine cellar and pizzeria called La Cave. Since my birthday was the day before, I wasn’t in the mood to drink a lot of wine from a tasting, so we skipped out on it. I definitely recommend it though if you are visiting for a longer time period.
When we finished lunch, we walked through Valletta’s beautiful narrow streets to the waterfront. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I love admiring how unique each European country’s architecture is. From Baroque Spain, to Neoclassical Portugal, to Cycladic Greece, to Nordic Iceland, to Romanesque Italy and now Medieval Malta, they all are so different and beautiful by how they represent the culture, history and environment of the country.
The day we traveled to Malta was very HOT, so we couldn’t wait to put our feet in the refreshing sea. Before we made our way down to the beach area, we admired the views of the forts and lighthouses of Fort Saint Elmo. The beautiful lighthouses on the water reminded me of my trip to Maine back in May.
To get to the beach area, you have to walk down a steep staircase on the side of a cliff and then through an area where there are small huts and bungalows. When we finally reached the sea, it was almost impossible to take our shoes off because of how hot the rocks were before you got to the water. Once we were able to put our feet in, we felt refreshed. I looked around me and was amazed at how cool this beach was! Can you imagine sitting on a “fort” beach?
San Gilja – Malta’s Party City
After cooling off at Fort Saint Elmo, we walked back to the main area of Valletta and caught a cab north to San Gilja (St. Julian’s). This thriving coastal city is known for its nightlife, luxurious hotels, trendy restaurants and beautiful beaches. You can catch many wealthy people hanging out on their yachts in this coastal area.
The center of St. Julian’s is called Paceville, where you can find both locals and tourists alike, enjoying a drink, dancing to club music or indulging in a nice dinner. During the summer months, everyone takes advantage of the seafront promenade. Even though we were only in Malta for a day, we were still able to get a taste of the party life there because MTV was hosting Isle of Malta, a music festival lined up with world-famous artists and groups such as The Chainsmokers, DNCE, Jonas Blue, Raye, Becca Dudley, Maya Jama, Don Diablo, Kungs and Cheat Codes. There were a ton of people in their 20’s and 30’s hanging out on the promenade and enjoying the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean.
We were in the mood for a snack, so we grabbed gelato and sat by the water for a little while before heading over to a lively seaside bar where we enjoyed Prosecco (champagne) and great music. After enjoying the Maltese sunset, we took a cab to the airport and flew back to Sicily.
You too can experience the same excitement I did by visiting Palermo, Catania, Taormina, Siracusa, Ragusa and Malta!
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