Bonġu and greetings from Malta! 🇲🇹☀️
Malta is actually an archipelago of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. It’s situated only 50 miles from Italy, so you’ll find a major Italian influence here. Just imagine enjoying a delicious cannoli with some beautiful sea views. 🇮🇹
Side note: although the Maltese enjoy cannoli, they’ve also created their own unique pastry called the pastizzi-a hybrid between the French croissant, Greek turnover and the English pasty. It’s a flaky dough stuffed with either ricotta cheese or peas, and sometimes apple and Nutella. 🥐
Another unique Italian hybrid is the ftira- a pizza-like dough baked with a hole in the center, which they say helps cook things evenly, with lots of crispy edges. Typical toppings include sun dried tomatoes, sausage, beans, thin potato slices, and eggplant. 🍕
Malta is also situated strategically between Europe and the Middle East, and with over 300 years of Arab rule, you’ll notice a significant Arabic influence here in the food, language, and architecture. For starters, the Maltese language is said to be a mix of Italian and ancient Arabic. This is most evident in place names, like Mgarr, Mdina, Rabat, and Gozo, which all have Arabic roots. Luckily, in addition to Maltese, English is also an official language.
In terms of food, the Arabs introduced many new crops to the island, especially citrus.🍊 You’ll find lots of orange products here, like the popular drink Kinnie. I found it to be an acquired taste…and one that I have yet to acquire.🤔 I also found these chocolate-orange cookies, which I had never seen elsewhere.🍪Side note: the Arabs did not have a long-lasting impact on religion here, and Islam was eliminated during the 13th century. Today, Catholicism reigns as the predominant religion, and supposedly there are over 365 Catholic Churches spread across these three islands. ✝️
You could go to mass in a different one each day of the year.⛪
Furthermore, during the summer, they celebrate over 60 religious festivals here with parades, music, and fireworks. 🎆I wasn’t there during a festival, but you can see this church in Marsaxlokk is covered in lights for the next party.🎉
These balconies were a way for women to gaze out onto the streets without being seen, since they were not allowed to socialize with the outside world. 🙈Although I’m opposed to limiting women’s freedoms, I find these pastel-boxed balconies just lovely. 😍The greatest influence on the country’s architecture came from the Knights of Malta. ⚔️
These 6,000 men, formerly known as the Knights Hospitaller, were first commissioned in Jerusalem in the 13th century during the Crusades to protect the Holy Land and provide care for the injured. As the threat of the Ottoman Empire began to rise during the 16th century, the Knights moved to Malta and began to set up a stronghold.
They constructed an immense network of fortifications around the islands to protect them against the Ottoman forces. So impressive! 😮This turned out to be a strategic investment, as they later on defeated an army almost ten times their size in the 16th century during the Great Siege.Side note: these fortifications can be found near the current capital city of Valletta on Malta, the current capital city of Victoria on Gozo, and the ancient capital of Malta, Mdina, which was also the filming location numerous times for ‘Game of Thrones’. Fun fact: Mdina is also nicknamed, “the Silent City” and walking through this walled village of only 300 residents feels like stepping back in time, as its streets are only illuminated by candle light at night. 🕯️I absolutely love the charming little touches, like these historic door knockers.The Knights were also responsible for much of the beautiful baroque architecture that still lines many of the historic streets here.Sadly though, although Malta’s fortifications helped it fight off attacks by sea during the 16th century, it was no match for the power of modern weaponry during the 20th century.💣 During WWII, the country sustained the largest number of bombings in history. For 154 days and nights, they were hit by 6,700 bombs, and even after receiving about 5 million Euros to help repair its infrastructure, most of historic Valletta still looks a little worse for wear.That being said, it’s still charming nonetheless and remains one of Malta’s top tourist hot spots! 📷And although there are lots of people walking these streets, the foreigners must still respect the local citizens and maintain a reasonable volume when sightseeing. Now some of the most mysterious structures built on Malta are its megalithic monuments. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites date back to 7,000 BC, during the Neolithic Period, and are considered to be the largest free-standing structures in the world! While here, I visited Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Tarxien Temples to see their structures and artifacts.
Another ancient civilization here were the Phoenicians. While on Gozo, I visited a museum showcasing artifacts from the Phoenician shipwreck of Xlendi, the oldest in the Mediterranean, dating back to the 8th century. 🚢The Phoenicians legacy though can be found through local cuisine. The Phoenicians brought one of Malta’s most famous dishes here- stewed rabbit! 🐇
Thanks to the Brits, you can find a TEA-riffic cup of tea on Malta. My recommendation would be the Fontanella Tea Garden in Mdina. They have delicious homemade cakes, malts, and a fantastic panorama to boot.🍵🍰
If tea isn’t your thing, you can order yourself a local beer called Cisk. Just like in England, you order beer here by the pint. I kept referring to Cisk as “Maltese Miller Lite”. It was lacking in flavor, but usually cost the same as a bottled water, and was very refreshing, especially on a hot day. 🍺
As well, people here drive on the opposite side, just like in England. Honestly, I was so grateful that public transit was so cheap and convenient, because I couldn’t imagine renting a car here and driving down these small streets on the opposite side. Crazy! 🚗
As for public transit, there are two options: public ferries, which are cheap and reliable, and buses, which are well-connected, have free WiFi, and tickets which allow for two hours of transit between routes.
As you can see, Malta is a product of the many nations that have ruled it throughout the years. Now, what draws tourists onto Malta is not only its historical past and unique cuisine, but its natural beauty.
Sandy shores, sheer cliffs, and turquoise seas make for some incredibly scenic views both above and below the water.I chose to just enjoy snorkeling and hiking, but there’s a ton of other options, like scuba diving, kayaking, and paragliding.
- Visit the historic capital of Valletta on Malta
I normally take a free walking tour, but everything was sold out, so I’d recommend booking a tour in advance. Here are a few shots of the historic city streets.
- Visit Marsaxlokk and swim in St. Peter’s Pool
Marsaxlokk is also located only a short hike from St. Peter’s Pool, a natural turquoise swimming hole perfect for a refreshing dip. 💦Here are a few shots from my hike, where you can definitely appreciate the sea vibes, but also the rocky, barren landscape. 🌵
In terms of grub, I went more vegetarian yet again, with a tomato and olive bruschetta, but the Australian girl I met at the pool had a seafood pasta, which came with this traditional bean dip called bigilla, for spreading on crackers.
- Visit the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island
Also, to avoid an organized tour or booze cruise, you can also just buy your own ferry ticket to Comino for 13 Euro, which will take you from Malta to Comino, then on to Gozo. It’s much cheaper than a tour and you can spend as much time there as you like.
- Visit the citadel and basilica on Gozo
Connect with Locals: Since I didn’t really want to pound shots with the other backpackers at my hostel, I opted to attend a few events organized by Meetup and Couchsurfing. I’ve done this before, like when I took a Krav Maga class with locals in Romania. It’s always something unique and usually FREE! This time I went to a few language meetups, where I met lots of people living in Malta to improve their English.I loved giving them feedback and hearing their stories.
I also coincidentally met an old friend that I traveled with through Canada back in 2017. ❤️
What I’ve learned from this trip: I always feel like each trip teaches me something or reminds me of something that I’ve forgotten. In this case, I’ve reflected upon this saying: Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.
That’s one of my favorite things about travel. It makes you present, aware, and appreciative of the small beauties in life. Sometimes, with a routine or ordinary life, we can forget to admire the sunset or a butterfly on a flower. 🦋