Malta, you need to Go(zo)

I feel like Malta is an oft-overlooked Mediterranean destination, outshone by its sparklier cousins. But that’s the beauty of this little group of islands; there’s still a rustic charm about it.

I really had no idea what to expect of Malta (despite being armed by a Maltese friend with a bunch of tips on where and what to eat). What I had imagined the landscape to be, was certainly not the sand coloured, somewhat barren one I was met with. But while the islands’ interior may not provide the natural beauty I had envisaged, the dramatic coastline delivers in spades - rugged cliffs drop tens of metres into sapphire water, and boy can the Maltese do a beach!

We visited during the shoulder season, when the weather was still warm and sunny (with the exception of 24 hours of the most insane rain/flood of biblical proportions). I’m not entirely sure how busy it gets during peak summer, but it was a nice kind of quiet during October, feeling you’ve stumbled upon a secret. 

I tend to categorise places I’ve visited, into ones I would visit again, and ones I don’t feel the need to. Malta is a place I know I’ll get back to. Scroll down for some of my recommendations and as always, I’d love to hear from you, whether you’ve been to Malta or are planning to, or if you just want to say hi! L x

PSA: If you, like me, are the preferred meal of any mosquito within a 100km radius, arm yourself with the highest strength insect repellent known to man. I don’t know what kind of freak mosquito species they have in Malta, but I had bites that were red, raised, and itchy over a month later, plus the scars to prove it. 

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STAY

If you are spending a few days in Malta, stay on Gozo, you won’t regret it. Whilst many people typically stay on the main island and day trip to Gozo, I truly believe they are doing it the wrong way around. We booked a traditional farmhouse on Airbnb and it was as lavish (well, lavish in a farmhouse kind of way), as it was economical. Our pool and terrace opened out to a pretty spectacular view at sunset, when the light hit this church in the distance just perfectly.

ARCHITECTURE & SIGHTS

The best way to get around the islands of Malta is to hire a car (driving on the left hand side of the road, inherited from the Brits), although there is a bus network if you prefer public transport.

With the best intentions of spending the dusk hours wandering around Malta's capital city of Valletta, we were thwarted by the aforementioned flood of biblical proportions. Ok, so I may be exaggerating, but only slightly. My European chauffeur of choice, AKA Meg, revealed to me months later that she actually felt our car’s wheels leave the ground and we were afloat for a brief moment. She’s cool under pressure, my friend (chauffeur) Meg, it’s not the only time she’s purposefully hidden her apprehension from me. From what I did see of Valletta, it’s a cute little walled city, and next time I visit Malta, I’ll definitely make a point of staying a night there. 

Known as the Silent City, Mdina, is an ancient fortified city located on a large hill in the middle of Malta's main island. Only local cars are allowed into the city walls; perfect conditions for exploring the narrow streets on foot. 

Getting to Gozo is easy to get to from the main island, with regular ferries between Cirkewwa-Malta and Mgarr-Gozo.

The Azure Window in Dwejra on Gozo, is perhaps the postcard picture of Malta. Sadly, nature is unpredictable, and earlier this year, those same waves that had crashed into the cliff face for thousands of years creating a ‘window’ in the rock, eroded that little bit too much and the Azure Window crumbled into the sea in a matter of seconds. I often feel like there are too many places to see, too many things to do, and not enough time. Whenever I say this to someone, I’m usually met with some version of “but you’re so young, there’s plenty of time”. The demise of the Azure Window really made me think (as cliché as it is), that if there is something in life that you want, don’t wait for it to come to you. Though the Azure Window may be gone, there is still the Inland Sea, which is a popular dive site, and depending on the day/weather small fishing boats take tours through the tunnel out to the Mediterranean. 

In the centre of Gozo is the city of Victoria, with the Cittadella its main attraction. The old citadel is rich in history, with several additions over the centuries, and is currently undergoing an extensive restoration. Walk along the fort's ramparts for a spectacular panoramic view of Gozo. 

BEACHES

Ramla is my favourite of the beaches we visited on Gozo, with its red sand and azure water. It's reasonably undeveloped, making it the perfect relaxation spot. Just make sure you take any provisions you may need.

A small beach popular with the locals, Hondoq ir Rummien's crystal blue water is a beautiful shade of blue even on a cloudy day. 

If it's windy on Gozo, head to Marsalforn, which tends to be more sheltered, though it's a bit more on the touristy side. 

Xlendi is more of a bay than a beach, but the water is clear and popular for snorkelling and diving. It's also ideal for admiring the view whilst you enjoy your gelati from Gelateria Granola.

Due to the inclement weather we experienced, we didn't make it to a couple of the spots on the top of my hitlist. St Peter's Pool (you may have seen these cliff jumping dog videos on youtube) and Comino's Blue Lagoon will have to wait for next time!

FOOD & DRINK

Pastizzi are the local snack of choice and it's not hard to understand why. Crispy, buttery, flaky pastry encases a filling of either ricotta or mushy peas (my mouth is currently watering) and make a great breakfast or anytime snack. I made a point of sampling pastizzi wherever possible! Jubilee Cafe in Victoria on Gozo was one of the highlights.

The prickly pear was introduced to the Mediterranean from the Americas and has flourished on the islands of Malta. I don't remember the name of the restaurant in Valletta where we had dinner (we were soaked through from the torrential rain) but I do remember being served a glass of a pale pink Maltese liqueur, bajtra, made from the prickly pear, at the end of our meal. Sweet and delicate in flavour, I'd definitely recommend giving it a go.

You know a place is good when the town appears deserted, only for you to find everyone crammed into this little tea garden. Anyone who knows me, knows I love dessert, and Fontanella in Mdina serves some pretty amazing cake. Nab a spot on the terrace and enjoy the ultimate view of Malta as you devour your cake (I went for the Baci, classic chocolate and hazelnut). And if you’re not a sweet tooth (or if you’re just a general food lover/glutton like me) then there are delicious pastizzi to enjoy too.

During high season it is recommended to book for lunch and dinner, particularly on weekends.

Porto Vechhio Restaurant is located in Mgarr on Gozo, where the ferry docks, so is the perfect spot to eat after you've arrived on the ferry or just before you're about to leave. With a view over the small harbour, it's the seafood spaghetti that you'll want to order here (one of many recommendations from my Maltese friend Deb, that did not disappoint). 

Seafood and coastal views is really what Gozo is all about and Otters in Marsalforn serves up both of these delightfully.  Book dinner on the terrace for sunset views of the bay.