For a European getaway, Malta ticks all the boxes and proved to be the perfect escape from a particularly dreary Irish October this year.
This enchanting island, the smallest country in the European Union, is easily accessible from Ireland and offers a multitude of activities and attractions to suit all tastes.
It’s a nation of many influences so a visit to Malta doesn’t have to purely consist of long days lounging by the beach or poolside. A trip to Malta offers numerous surprises culturally, historically, and gastronomically.
The first stop on my cultural trail was Mdina, the Old Capital of Malta which is also known as the Silent City. It’s one of the most popular tourist locations on the island and there was a vibrant atmosphere during my visit as crowds of tourists flocked to admire its stunning mix of medieval and baroque architecture.
Our expert guide Darrell, who possessed an infectious enthusiasm for all things Malta related, regaled us with tales of long ago, bringing the history of Mdina to life.
Mdina was used during filming of ‘Game of Thrones’ and, overall, Malta has earned a reputation as a credible stand in location for Middle Eastern and ancient settings.
The film industry is a sector which the Maltese appear to have invested significantly in, having identified it as one of their key strengths.
Some famous films shot in Malta include Midnight Express, Jurassic Park, Popeye, Gladiator, Munich, Clash of the Titans, and Troy.
After a busy day of exploration, we dined at The Chophouse in Sliema that night which boasts a tempting selection of mouth-watering dishes and gorgeous panoramic views of Valletta (https://chophouse.com.mt/)
The island of Gozo is the perfect option for a full day excursion in Malta.
After departing our hotel in St George’s Bay, we proceeded to Cirkewwa for the short ferry crossing (https://www.gozochannel.com/)
Having disembarked in the picturesque Mgarr harbour, we hopped aboard a tuk-tuk with Yippee Malta (https://www.yippeemalta.com/) which is a fun way of authentically experiencing the island.
One of the highlights on the island is the Cittadella, also known as the Castello, the citadel of Victoria. It boasts impressive battlements and was definitely worth exploring.
As we made our way around Gozo, the inviting waters of Xlendi Bay proved irresistible for a quick swim. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are options for swimming and snorkelling in the deeper waters off the long stretch of rocks bordering the beach. Because of its reef formations, Xlendi is a renowned diving location.
An unexpected highlight during my visit to Gozo was Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and national shrine and was built between 1920 and 1931.
In 1883 Carmela Grima from the village of Gharb heard the voice of Our Lady at the small chapel that occupied this site. The location quickly became a centre of pilgrimage, and the number of visitors soon overwhelmed the little church.
Today’s monumental shrine is an architectural masterpiece and tourists linger to admire the structure but also to offer up their own private intentions.
After enjoying a period of contemplation, it was time for a relaxing lunch at the scenically located ll-Kartell (https://kartellrestaurant.com) where we admired the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean. This family run restaurant has a proud reputation locally – and it was easy to see why as I indulged in some of their sumptuous dishes including gorgeous fried calamari.
Valletta is Malta’s stunning capital and is deserving of a full day visit in order to adequately explore its many charms.
It’s a popular stopping off point for Mediterranean cruise ships, and the many passengers who had disembarked to explore the city certainly added to its vibrant atmosphere during my visit.
Visitors to Valletta can explore its diverse retail offering or stop off for an al fresco coffee at one of its many streetside cafés and simply watch the world go by.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must-see and is home to one of the most famous works by Carravaggio, ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ (1608), which is located within the Oratory.
There are many additional sights of interest including the Upper Barrakka Gardens, and the nobleman’s house of Casa Rocca Piccola, where you can also explore an underground bomb shelter which serves as a stark reminder that Malta was heavily bombed during World War II.
Rubino restaurant (https://www.rubinomalta.com) proved to be the perfect spot for a spectacular lunch where I dined on a succulent rabbit dish.
Directly opposite Valletta, and clustered around the Grand Harbour, are Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, known as the Three Cities of Malta.
The fortified cities are visually striking and historically significant and, for a fun way of exploring we opted for a self-drive electric car with Rolling Geeks (https://www.rolling-geeks.com) The cars come complete with pre-programmed GPS and allow tourists to enjoy a comprehensive tour while being in control of their own itinerary. The cars are fun, safe, easy to drive, environmentally friendly, and certainly provided us with a truly memorable experience.
We began our tour by admiring the magnificent yachts in the beautiful Grand Harbour Marina but there are numerous points of interest en route, including the Maritime Museum, the Inquisitor’s Palace – National Museum of Ethnography, and the Malta at War Museum.
While we didn’t stop off at any of these, we did take time to briefly enjoy the incredible views at Gardjola Gardens.
My visit to Malta concluded with a visit to Ta’ Betta Wine Estates (https://www.tabetta.com/) situated in the scenic area of Girgenti in Siggiewi. This proved to be the perfect location in which to savour quality wine while reflecting on the many marvels of Malta.
For more information on visiting Malta, visit https://www.visitmalta.com
The InterContinental Malta (https://malta.intercontinental.com/) is conveniently and centrally situated in the bustling St. George’s Bay area and is the perfect location for exploring this area’s vibrant nightlife scene, its many restaurants, and diverse retail offering.
The hotel boasts extensive leisure facilities and rooms are comfortable and well-furnished.
Ryanair fly directly from Dublin and Shannon to Malta. For timetable and fares, visit www.ryanair.com