Before I was assigned a trip to Malta for work, I didn’t know such a place existed. Geography clearly isn’t my strongest suit. But I find solace in the knowledge that I am not alone when it comes to ignorance about this picturesque island, just off Italy. A number of officials from Tourism Ministry of Malta agree, and said that it has only recently become a popular destination for travellers.
A quick recap of how I ended up in Malta – While working on MICE business opportunities in Malta for Middle Eastern businesses, I was invited, along with a few journalists from across Middle East, by Tourism Ministry of Malta to experience the country, its hospitality and culture, and meet dignitaries to discuss opportunities and challenges. All of that went into my piece for Arabian Travel News’ August 2015 issue. This post is more focused on the travel and leisure element of it. The business feature will come up next.
Let me introduce you to Malta – It is a small country, with a population of about 450,000 (2015). It comprises three islands, has traces of Middle Eastern and Italian architecture and is home to a number of world’s heritage sites. It’s scenic, with stunning vintage architecture and narrow lanes cluttered with local trade. You will find pretty much everything, from local craft and apparel to spices and delightful cafes. And if you are a fan of seafood, Malta will make your wildest dreams come true. More on food options later but make sure you leave your diet at home and take a massive appetite with you on a trip to Malta.
The language, Maltese, has strong semblance to Arabic, and the country is fairly hospitable. We’d highly recommend hiring a guide for the place is filled with wonders and hidden gems, and it’d be a shame to miss out on them while you are in Malta.
MUST SEE IN MALTA:
Azure Window: it’s nature, in all its glory and ferocity. Years and years of crashing waves have created a window in a mountain, making it a spectacular sight. It has bluest of waters and you can spend the day here and have a picnic here. Pack your own lunch or choose from the nearby street side cafés.
Johns Cathedral: We suggest you come here with a tour guide who can walk you through the impressive history of this place. The architecture alone will leave you in awe, with high ceiling and stories carved in gold on every wall. It also houses the priceless painting by Carvagio, depicting St John’s killing.
Food: Food at this place was mind-blowing. The best seafood I have ever had. You could taste the freshness, and while it was more raw than I’d like (sometimes), it’s haven for a seafood lover.
- Paranga at St. George’s Bay, San Ġiljan – try the red wine and any of the seafood options. Don’t opt for steak.
- Palazzo Preca Restaurant on Strait Street, Valletta – try pasta at this award-winning restaurant and ask for the spicy sauce. Then, proceed with caution.
- Zeri’s Restaurant on Church St, St Julian’s – it’s where the action’s at. Drop in for a quick bite or an evening of wining and dining.
- Laguna Marina on Valletta Waterfront, Pinto Wharf – the view will take your breath away! And the food was lip-smacking good. I had octopus and ceviche in a blink. Yes, it was that good.
I had red wine for the first time. Malta is known for it, and has one of the best in the world. While I haven’t become a convert (for no fault of the wine but my own reasons), my friends gleefully devoured a bottle each most nights.
The silent city of Mdina: It’s a walled city that houses nuns who have devoted themselves to worship, and have shunned the outside world. They stay in isolation for as long as 10 years. Every alley has a different story, and picture perfect setting. Angled flowers and blue doors set in beige concrete, this place was also used as one of the sets for Game of Thrones. No kidding.
Ssshh… don’t tell anyone. Malta is becoming a favourite of Hollywood, and if you are lucky, you might bump into a star or two (or three).
3 City Tour – Get on a boat for a guided tour in St. Johns. It borders with Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, and the ride is a refreshing delight. Highly recommended.
WHERE TO STAY:
I stayed at the chic and luxurious Intercontinental Malta. The hotel has standard IHG services and recently underwent multimillion dollar refurbishment to include ultra-luxury rooms and an infinity pool. Plus, meat at the hotel is halal certified, and houses facilities like traditional hammam and conference halls.
WHERE TO SHOP:
I opted for street markets instead of malls. The pleasant weather makes for a great day spent going through open markets and it’s many stalls. If you are visiting during the festival season, ask your hotel or tour guide about christmas markets. Despite my good intentions, I did pick up up some wonderful hand-blown glass jewellery and some gorgeous silver pieces.
TIP: Malta has an amazing range of spices and organic items like honey, jams, etc. If red wine isn’t your choice of souvenir, this will certainly help. Also, feel free to bargain – it’s a great ice breaker and everyone is so lovely to talk to.
- Malta has moderate temperature, and doesn’t get too hot or too cold. However, I went in summer (July), and needed a jacket in evenings as it got rather windy.
- Almost everyone understands English. So feel free to strike up conversations with locals to get some insight on what to see on the island and make most of your trip.
- Gorge on seafood. Its supremely fresh. If your server is feeling frisky, he might even show you your animal before it goes under the knife and over the grill. Gulp.
- Emirates has a direct flight from Dubai to Malta; it’s a small aircraft and stops for a bit en route.
Malta is the perfect getaway to relax, unwind and have a country life in a modern city. Leave your laptop at home and hop on to one of the daily emirates flight to enjoy the ultimate sun and sea destination.