Two days in the Maltese islands: British culture, Arabian faces and Italian mood
Going to Malta is enjoying several holidays in one. When you land at the airport, you see the yellow of the limestone houses, the blue of the sky and the azure of the Mediterranean sea: but, most of all, you can feel immediately that you are somewhere unique.
Malta is a blend: British culture, Arabian faces, Italian mood. Valletta, the capital, is a jewel with over 300 monuments, 55 hectars of limestone houses, palaces, churches and forts. The sea is all around, to your left and right. Sunsets are always orange, mornings are always bright.
Two days in the Maltese islands are not enough to understand this country, but nowadays travellers are always in a rush. Malta is not the place to rush: you need to sit in a café, sipping a real English tea and watching people passing by.
You need also to travel all around the three islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, in order to discover the true character of this country, where the inhabitants worship God and the saints, where you can watch Italian television and drive on the left like you’re in England.
I stayed at the Phoenicia Malta Hotel, where Valletta begins and where you’ll find the main coach station. Malta public transport is modelled on Britain. But here the buses and coaches are always on time and you can visit anywhere on the main island for a few euros.
The Phoenicia Malta Hotel has swimming pools, restaurants, bars and cafes. The rooms are in an ‘imperial’ style and in the main hall you can dance tango with a wonderful piano music.
The first step of this two-day holiday should be a visit of the old town of Valletta. The cathedral hosts two real Caravaggios and everywhere you can see the remains of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. As you wander the city you can soak in the unqiue blend of Arabian and Italian heritage. Churches are everywhere and the archaelogical museum holds treasures from 7,000 years of history. One is the Sleeping Lady, a little statue found in a temple and dating back to the era of megalithic culture.
For lunch, you can try one of the many restaurants of the capital. Rabbit is the national dish: cooked with olives, garlic, herbs and sometimes tomato sauce, it’s unmissable. Maltese cuisine has plenty of Italian influence too. It’s not hard to find pizza – in the Sicilian style – and you can eat wonderful vegetables like baked aubergines and courgettes.
If you want to see the sea, and then more sea, you can take a bus and go to Marsaxlokk. This fishing village on the Eastern coast hosts some wonderful fish restaurants and, if you are lucky, you will be there at the right time to browse the fish market on the harbor as well.
The local Labour Party social centre, on the seafront, is the perfect place to drink a beer with locals. Malta has some great national lager beers, so try those rather than the brands you might know. While you’re indulging your bad habits (responsibly, of course) don’t forget to save a few euros for the national bingo, which you can find everywhere.
Coming back to Valletta in the evening is a chance to see real Maltese life. Old ladies clamber on the bus in country villages, then as you get into the suburbs younger guys hop on board, heading to the capital for its nightlife: Paceville is the most vibrant area of the main island, with hundreds of bars and clubs. However, the crowd is mostly fairly young.
On your second day in Malta you should visit the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a rock-cut underground complex that was used both as a sanctuary as well as for burial purposes. The three underground levels date from around 3600 to 2400 BC and the complex is considered one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world. Don’t forget to book in advance.
In the afternoon, you can choose to visit old Medina town, set on a hill or the Blue Grotto. The latter is a series of sea caves on the south of the main island, some lit by the phosphorescence of the flora beneath the waves.
At the end of the day, why not to enjoy a gay club? The biggest gay place where you can dance is the Klozet-Be Yourself, in Paceville. And you don’t have to worry about its name, gay Maltese are fully out of the closet, even though one of the most popular saying in the islands is ‘Iz-zwieg minghajr tarbija ma fihx tgawdija’: a childless marriage cannot be a happy one.
You are sure to fall in love with Malta and while that marriage may be childless, it’ll leave you with lots of happy memories.