If, like me, you are one for a bit of spontaneity and a lover of winter sun, but heavily restricted on time AND money, then late October and November are the perfect time to get away to a tiny island in the Med!
The island country Malta, officially known as the ‘Republic of Malta’ actually comprises 3 islands; Malta, Gozo and Commino. With a colourful and multi-layered potted history, unique picturesque towns and villages overlooking azure blue seas, holiday resorts and diving spots, Malta has it all, and even in November temperatures can be very mild. A 4 day trip around the two main islands – Malta and Gozo – is very achievable, if you are organised. No morning lie-ins and it’s best to plan your trips the night before to get the most of the place. One great way of seeing a lot is to get a hop-on-hop-off bus tour…of the whole of Malta, then hop over to Gozo on the ferry and do the same there. I’d advise against hiring a car in Malta if you can help it, especially from the airport as they tend to be extortionately overpriced with lots of hidden tricks.
For hotels LastMinute.com offers great deals. For cheaper than the price of our flights, we snapped up a spacious apartment-style room in the 5* Le Meridien St Julian’s Hotel and Spa with views overlooking St Julien’s Bay. Surrounded by all the usual amenities and only 15 minutes walk up the road from the bustling party strip of Paceville, we had definitely landed on our feet.
Arriving in the evening meant we only had chance to explore the hotel; cue the spa, jacuzzi, steam room, pool and…chocolate massage – YES PLEASE! This was also time for me to explore the functions of my Olympus ‘Tough’ camera – dust proof, shock proof…and water proof – something I would highly recommend for the adventurous (occasionally clumsy) traveler.
Next morning called for an early start and, after a filling Mediterranean style breakfast we were off exploring. First stop, Mdina, an ancient city dating back more than 4,000 years and according to legend, home to Apostle St. Paul after he was shipwrecked on the islands in 60 A.D. Many believe St. Paul later resided inside the grotto known as Fuori Le Mura (outside the city walls) known now as ‘St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat’.
Mdina or ‘Silent City’ goes by many other names, including; Valletta, The Fortress City, Citta’ Umilissima, as a result of the many rulers calling the lands of Malta their home over the centuries. Although most prefer its medieval name of ‘Citta Notabile’ or “the noble city”.
After successfully losing ourselves in the time warp, we wandered out to visit Malta’s most famous glass blowing factory – Valletta Glass. A family run venture and one of Malta’s most respected institutions of handicrafts, all their products are made using the centuries-old famous glass blowing techniques of Venice, Italy.
Now back on the bus, our next stop the equally historical and fascinating, much larger township of Rabat, part of the Roman city of Melita – as confirmed by archaeological relics found testifying to the towns importance and significance during the Roman period.
As a result of such archaeological and historical sites including; The Roman Villa (Domus Romana), catacombs, St. Paul’s Grotto and a fine array of well-preserved churches and monasteries, Rabat is very well established on the tourist map. However, the actual town of Rabat itself is more a commercial center, originally a marketplace owing to its large agricultural hinterland and access to the sea for fishing. Being perched high on a hill also played in Rabat’s favour, giving it advanced warning of any potential invaders. As with any big city, over the centuries various religious orders established themselves throughout the precincts of Rabat to serve the community, each leaving their mark on the city, contributing to the beautiful historical collage of churches that still stand today.
Next stop was a fair mission down to the South East of the island to explore Marsaxlokk, Malta’s prettiest fishing village most famous for its artistically decorated ‘eyed’ fishing boats known as Luzzus that line the harbour. Marsaxlokk was home to the first Phoenicians to arrive in Malta in the ninth Century who set up their businesses there. There is also a delightful little parish church right next to the Sunday fish market that is well worth a visit if you are there; tho if you plan this in advance make sure you don’t visit when mass is taking place, then you’re in with a chance of seeing the famously beautiful interior.
The town is also famous for it’s many fish restaurants, and, surprisingly, PIZZA!! Once you have purchased said pizza you can then go and tuck in on the rocky shores of St Peter’s Pool! Which is exactly what we did, before hopping back on the bus.
After a historical spiritual day we’d worked up quite an appetite, for more food…and partying. We dined at a delightful little laid back restaurant U Bistrot, back in the heart of St Julians’s, near our hotel. Fresh sea food, friendly and attentive staff and a great drinks menu set us up for the finale piece…what I would consider the best chocolate fondant dessert I’ve EVER had! (and that says a lot since I am a chocolate obsessed chocolatier!) Baked to order, it’s well worth the short wait as you can then languish in all it’s gooey chocolatey goodness – a perfect set up to a night in the party strip of Paceville – only a 10 minute walk (or waddle) – up from U Bistrot.
After dinner, waddling down the softly lit streets in the November dusk, the gentle waft of shisha drew us in all directions to bars and shisha dens along the main strip, and before we knew it it was 3am!