You might be forgiven for thinking that a country that is predominantly Catholic (we are talking over 95% of the population) would not be particularly friendly towards gay travellers. But in reality you would be very wrong.
Malta may only be starting to build its reputation as a hotspot for gay tourism but it certainly has a lot to offer for your pink pound.
For example, many travellers to this tiny Mediterranean archipelago are unaware that it is actually on Gozo that you find the oldest freestanding structure in the world (Gozo is the neighboring island to Malta but that’s just 20 minutes away by boat). Similarly, many gay travellers are unaware that the Maltese are generally extremely accepting and tolerant towards homosexuality.
Just a quick stroll around the capital city Valletta, named so after the grand master who started building it in 1566, is required to make you realize that despite their strong Catholic beliefs the Maltese have an open approach towards homosexuality. Hate crimes are rare and gay lifestyles are certainly not considered taboo. Even though the odd stoic local might frown upon public displays of affection from same-sex couples, the majority welcome gay travellers.
Things are also changing when it comes to Malta’s nightlife. Paceville is where most of Malta’s clubs and bars are situated, although sadly the two gay clubs there, Klozet and Chandelier, have closed.
But a new concept is replacing them. Monaliza Lounge has already opened in Valletta, serving drinks and cocktails to a friendly, mixed crowd but with a very definitely gay slant, spelled out by its slogan: 'The Art of Diversity'. A Monaliza Lounge and Coffee Shop is scheduled to open in St Julian's on 22 February and will have more of a club atmosphere, including a stage.
And then Monaliza Club, with a separate but linked bar and a coffee shop, will open in Paceville in April. The complex will feature three different entrances and will take over Klozet's previous location in Ball Street. You can also find out more about them on Facebook.
Wherever you go, because in Malta clubs stay open late (or early, depends on the way that you see it) – you can rest assured that you will be dancing your socks off till the early hours.
Do not forget that Paceville is just by the coast and it is customary for locals to go and have a nap on the beach until the effect of alcohol has slightly subsided and/or public transport starts operating.
Gay clubs in Malta are not a new thing. I remember coming out at the young age of 16 in 1997 and heading towards Lady Godiva to experience my first gay night out. I was petrified. However, even at the time, I did not feel that there was any reason to hide my sexuality – Malta felt safe.
Unfortunately Lady Godiva is no longer there. However a visit to Tom Bar, Malta’s oldest gay bar (it has been around since 1994) and situated on the edge of Valletta, overlooking the port, is a must. The atmosphere here is much more relaxed than the more upmarket bars around Paceville, and even though the place is tiny (you will know what I mean by tiny once you visit), you can still rest assured of a great night out.
Not to worry though if you do not venture into the strictly gay/lesbian clubs. Most bars are gay friendly with some having regular themed gay nights, (Saints, for example, in the village of Hamrun has developed a reputation with the transgender and transvestite crowd). Furthermore, the local organization, Malta Gay Rights Movement, apart from advocating full equality for gay people in Malta, organizes a number of events throughout the year including the annual pride march.
Gay visitors should also not forget that Malta has a lot more to offer than the usual sun and sea holiday. Travelers interested in history will probably not want to leave the islands – everywhere you look there is something that reminds you of their rich past.
And with Valletta gearing up to be European Capital of Culture in 2018, there are plenty of festivals and cultural events to give you another excuse to visit.
But it’s easy to return; for most Europeans, Malta is a close enough flight for even a weekend break. Air Malta runs direct flights from major European cities and beyond – and, of course, connecting flights are available from many more airports. You can also organize car rental, hotels and more from their site, so your whole holiday can be booked in one place. For general tourist information, use the Visit Malta site.
And my final tip – when you head out of whatever bar or club you choose, don’t forget to look up. The clear night skies (particularly on Gozo) are breathtaking.