You know your holiday has started on the right note when you are having champagne before 10 am!
Things were off to a promising start as I made myself comfortable on my first ever Business class flight – courtesy of British Airways. It was a short three hour flight but compliments to BA for the non-stop refreshments and keeping us in ‘good spirits’!
As our plane started to descend towards Luqa International Airport, my first impression of Malta was just how sparse and white it looked from above, especially against the backdrop of the blue Mediterranean sea.
The entire cityscape is like a step back in time but more in a classic, retro fashion rather than a backward, under-developed way.
Being February, temperatures were still mildly cold at 15 degrees with strong gusts of wind. Still, as soon as my feet touched the ground, I felt a deep sense of warmth, that I knew I would like this place!
We had arranged a pick up from the hotel, which was convenient and stress free. I would recommend arranging a cab/pick up until you get familiar with the bus timetables!
Public transport in Malta is extensively used even though many residents use cars. If you are a tourist but not hiring a car, you can definitely save a few euros by using public transport. It’s very easy to travel across the island on buses, though traffic can be quite dense (especially around the capital city, Valletta).
En-route to our hotel, our friendly driver Alan gave us a few tips and local perspectives on places to visit and eat. He told us to check out the coffee and cakes at Debbies Café in Mellieha which we recommend as well. It also does good breakfast and has wifi!
While he drove, I tried to soak in the history, architecture, and the essence of it all.
Malta was new to me. But it has a huge history because of its strategic location during war time. The whole country seem to be clusters of small towns and villages with narrow winding roads connecting them.
The pace seems to be entirely relaxed and laid back.
To its residents, Malta offers the best climate! It can get up to 40 degrees between June and September. Difficult to imagine as I write this from a cold, grey and freezing London!
Our hotel of choice was the Solana Spa Hotel in Mellieha . A fairly decent hotel with a very good spa. I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed with the room and facilities but the staff (both at the spa and the hotel) were superb!
Most visitors to Malta end up staying in Sliema or the capital Valetta. Malta does not have lots of beaches but beautiful bays so make sure your hotel room has a terrace to soak in all those views.
DAY ONE EVENING
On our first evening, we took the bus to St. Julian’s Bay, which has some lovely restaurants with spectacular views of the bay. After a lot of umming and aahing, and quick checks on TripAdvisor, we decided to check out Café Bocconcino. You can check out the reviews here. It was a very traditional looking café, but rather than a tourist trap with overpriced items, the food was actually delicious and the staff friendly but not overbearing.
I had the seafood marinara and they did not hold back on the seafood. Take a look at the picture above and the size of those prawns!
Husband tried the rabbit ravioli which was a revelation! Incidentally, rabbit is an important part of the national cuisine of Malta.
St. Julian’s is a nice place to go for some good food and wine or a nice coffee with friends. On a good day, a walk along the promenade is hugely refreshing. You could also get the ferry from Sliema over to Valletta. It is a very lovely bay and felt quite cosmopolitan.
We were fortunate to have been upgraded to a suite upon arrival. The benefit of that was you could cook your own breakfast in bed.
After a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast cooked by Husband in our self catering suite, we made a early morning dash to Gozo. A number of buses take you to the ferry station. From there the ferries run every 15-20 minutes. The ferry station itself was relatively clean and well maintained. If you like, you can grab a coffee and use the facilities till you wait for the departure of the ferry.
Luckily for us, the weather was sunny and lack of strong winds made it feel warmer than it was.
The warm temperatures of Malta make it an ideal country for growing tomatoes and potatoes so don’t forget to try them as part of your Maltese food exploration.
Gozo is a small sister island.
At the time of our holiday, it was the Gozo Carnival though we couldn’t stay for it. You should definitely check it out if you are there. http://www.visitmalta.com/en/event-details/2016-02/carnival-in-malta-and-gozo-6728
A very nice way to spend a day in Gozo is the Hop on Hop off bus, if you don’t have a car of your own. It gives you a quick glimpse of the entire length and breadth of the island with convenience of checking out any places of interest in your own time.
An important landmark is the Ta Pinu – which a shrine and a place of great devotion and national importance. We didn’t go inside, but will make a point to visit this holy place on our next visit. The Sanctuary itself was stunning from outside as you can see in the picture below.
On Alan’s recommendation we tried the Hotel’s own restaurant Tosca. My husband and I are always wary of hotel restaurants, because we think they are over priced and under quality. However Tosca proved to be a pleasant exception. A cheery place that seemed to be very popular with the locals. Luckily they had a table for two for us that evening!
Husband ordered the Pizza Mellieha – which is made up of local Maltese sausages, black and green olives, coloured peppers and peppered goat cheese (another Maltese speciality) . I order the Bavette al Cortoccio con Calamari e Vongole – that is a bavette pasta tossed in onions and garlic, calamari, white clams, and headless king prawns, parcelled and steam cooked. Needless to say it was delicious. All the dishes were wonderfully polished off with a local Maltese Falcon white wine.
A quick note here to say food portions in Malta are very generous, so make sure you are hungry or I recommend skipping starters!
Solana Hotel does live music over weekends. Being Friday night , we spend the rest of the beautiful evening in the hotel bar, listening to music over cocktails!
On our next day in Malta, we decided to take the bus to Mdina – Malta’s historical old town. While you can hire a horse and cart to explore the town, we decided to walk it. Cars are almost invisible, so you can easily cover the distance on foot without being bothered by oncoming traffic.
While there are a few recommended places to wine and dine, we sat for many hours on the sunny wine bar terraces of Vinum wine bar sipping Maltese wine and taking in the sights of Malta and Gozo from a high vantage point.
After an all day walk at Mdina, we decided to give our feet some rest and stay close by our hotel for that evening.
Dinner was at Bouquet Garni, which according to Trip Advisor is the Number 1 restaurant in Malta. They don’t have a website so it’s best to give them a call or email them. The staff are friendly, down-to-earth, knowledgeable and extremely passionate about their food and wine!
They serve deliciously soft home made fresh bread with tapenade, olive and sausages as an appetiser.
Wine of choice was a Palatino Maltese Merlot with hints of blackcurrants, cherry and plum. YUM!
For dinner, I ordered the Surf and Turf while Husband (surprisingly as he is a meat eater) went for the Catch of the Day Fish platter. My steak was 350 g of the juiciest kind and even I was taken aback the amazing taste of the meat!
On the penultimate day of our stay, we decided to treat ourselves to the Spa at the hotel. We had pre-booked our treatments , which is one thing I highly recommend doing whenever you are staying in a spa hotel. Please don’t forget the spas are popular with locals and tend to get booked out in advance so always good to book ahead if you are guests of the hotel.
For our last evening we decided to go to Valletta- the capital of Malta.
We were expecting it to be a boring capital city but were stunned by its beautiful architecture and fortifications. While we only stayed a few hours, both Husband and I vowed to stay in Valetta for our next trip to Malta.
We were fortunate to see a bit of the carnival and it seemed like the whole of Malta was out and about!
Our last Maltese dinner was in Legligin- a charming little restaurant and wine bar. We tried their tasting menu, which, at 25 Euros and had at least ten courses of sharing plates, was an absolute winner!
The food was so delicious, I wanted to hug them in sheer joy!
The food is a mix of Maltese and Mediterranean specialities accompanied by our all time favourite Italian Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Some of the courses included tapenade, ratatouille, Maltese Cheese and olives, home made bread and olive oil, grilled squid, garlic prawns and grilled sea bass, quail breast with strawberries and melon (wouldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams of putting them together but it works), pork meatballs with garlic potatoes, pasta with lemon and walnut sauce, and vine leaves with stiffed rice
The décor and ambience is brilliant and they also cater for vegetarians and allergies.
We only tried one restaurant, but some other popular places to try are Da Pippo, Trabuxu and Zero Sei.
Malta has been a truly memorable place to visit. I didn’t know what to expect, but didn’t expect to be so taken and charmed by this place. People are friendly and full of life, the climate is one of the best in the world and the food is to die for! The prices are very reasonable for everything and you can have a good time without burning a hole in your pocket. Maltese speak English fluently so it’s fairly convenient to get around. Service and hospitality is impeccable. My eyes light up with excitement every time I meet someone from Malta so you can see this beautiful country has made a lasting impression.
I would thoroughly recommend visiting Malta and staying for at least one week to truly enjoy this experience, whether you are a couple, a family or a single traveller. We know we will return!