Explore the Maltese Islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino

Bonġu and greetings from Malta! 🇲🇹☀️

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blue lagoon on Comino

Malta is actually an archipelago of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. malta-tourist-mapIt’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. 🇮🇹

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kannoli cart in St. Julian’s
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Spinola Bay in St. Julian’s

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. 🥐

DD50E9FA-0682-460D-B478-D92958E6FD72-940-000000650CCFEA75
pastizzi with cheese for less than 50 cents each!

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. 🍕

6ADAC3C7-43C6-473A-AB88-19E8E1997EE2-5768-000002C0DAD06DF2I also noticed people here are very animated when speaking with each other, and their interactions included a lot of handing gesturing like Italians, especially when driving. Mama mia! 😂

KKKMalta 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.

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Mdina on Malta

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.🤔 IMG-8997I also found these chocolate-orange cookies, which I had never seen elsewhere.🍪IMG-9079Side 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. ✝️

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church on Gozo island

You could go to mass in a different one each day of the year.⛪

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churches on Malta

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.🎉

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Lastly, one of my favorite Arabic influences I noticed was the architecture. The Arabs built the Maltese balcony, or Muxrabija, which is the Arabic word for ‘peep hole’.

DSC_2336DSC_2566These 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. 🙈DSC_2543DSC_2371Although I’m opposed to limiting women’s freedoms, I find these pastel-boxed balconies just lovely. 😍DSC_2567The greatest influence on the country’s architecture came from the Knights of Malta. ⚔️

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knight souvenirs

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.

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panorama over the Grand Harbor

They constructed an immense network of fortifications around the islands to protect them against the Ottoman forces. So impressive! 😮DSC_2310DSC_2309This 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.DSC_2255Side 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’. DSC_2374Fun 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. 🕯️DSC_2372DSC_2347DSC_2345I absolutely love the charming little touches, like these historic door knockers.DSC_2300DSC_2351The Knights were also responsible for much of the beautiful baroque architecture that still lines many of the historic streets here.DSC_2318DSC_2370Sadly 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.DSC_2274DSC_2275DSC_2279DSC_2271DSC_2269DSC_2272That being said, it’s still charming nonetheless and remains one of Malta’s top tourist hot spots! 📷DSC_2315DSC_2313DSC_2338And although there are lots of people walking these streets, the foreigners must still respect the local citizens and maintain a reasonable volume when sightseeing. IMG_8780Now 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.

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possible fragments of a deity at Tarxien
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take home your own Neolithic souvenir 😊

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. 🚢IMG-8917The Phoenicians legacy though can be found through local cuisine. The Phoenicians brought one of Malta’s most famous dishes here- stewed rabbit! 🐇

4740198_E7LVtB6KP5LucA44lIA0uxsG_HeitYylyIk_jAHRrsE I didn’t try the dish, and opted more for rabbit food, but my Lithuanian friend said the meat was very tender!😂

24411812_l0Skq-dhcpJcTBrZw-rSaWlzhZu6AaQSVN8QF0CHvpMNow, the most recent influence on Malta was the British. They ruled Malta from the early 19th century until 1964 when Malta became an independent nation.💂

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Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta, where they have their own changing of the guards, just like in England
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National Library in Valletta decorated with British telephone booths
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red telephone booths like in England

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.🍵🍰

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Cassatella cake with stuffed with ricotta and chocolate, and topped with hazelnuts and green icing

DSC_2366If 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. 🍺

56857804_778368862548274_5257608793592540788_n (1)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! 🚗

DSC_2360As 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.

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2 Euros for one ticket or 21 Euros for an unlimited 7-day pass

DSC_2242DSC_2247IMG_8741As 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.

DSC_2455Sandy shores, sheer cliffs, and turquoise seas make for some incredibly scenic views both above and below the water.DSC_2481DSC_2477DSC_2488DSC_2657I chose to just enjoy snorkeling and hiking, but there’s a ton of other options, like scuba diving, kayaking, and paragliding.

DSC_2491Now with only four days on the Maltese Archipelago, and armed with a very handy, albeit outdated guidebook, I’ll tell you what were the hits and misses on my trip, including budgeting tips.

imageedit_1_3729724958 Things to Do: 

  • Visit the historic capital of Valletta on Malta
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the best photo op of Valletta from the terrace of the Fortification Interpretation Center

DSC_2247DSC_2252I 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.

DSC_2337IMG_8778After walking the busy city streets, the highlight for me was the relaxing Upper Barrakka Gardens.

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  • Visit Marsaxlokk and swim in St. Peter’s Pool

DSC_2579IMG-9065Marsaxlokk is a colorful, traditional fishing village in Malta.

DSC_2582DSC_2585I loved the charming nautical touches.🐚

DSC_2662DSC_2664Mid-day, during my visit, men were working in the harbor mending their fishing nets, while others relaxed along the promenade.

DSC_2640DSC_2644DSC_2653Cats even lazily laid on the sidewalk waiting for a fishy treat. 🐠

DSC_2661DSC_2577The Maltese love cats BTW and you’ll find water bowls on nearly every street. 🐈

DSC_2637Marsaxlokk 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. 🌵

DSC_2599DSC_2600DSC_2604DSC_2607DSC_2610DSC_2611DSC_2657The hike was hot and uphill, but they did have some strategically placed ice cream trucks along the way! 🍦

DSC_2608DSC_2614DSC_2616In 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.

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  • Visit the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island

DSC_2467Being such a tourist hot spot, I’d recommend going around 10 AM or earlier to avoid the crowds and party people.

DSC_2462IMG-8906Also, 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.

DSC_2547IMG-8888As a bonus, the boat will take you past these gorgeous cliffs and rocky caves. 😍

DSC_2448DSC_2455DSC_2452DSC_2450Obviously though, the highlight for me was coming across this adorable beagle puppy!

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  • Visit the citadel and basilica on Gozo

DSC_2500DSC_2505They call these rubble walls, since they’re constructed from unfinished stone. To me they look like Honeycombs cereal! 😋

DSC_2507The citadel also offers some spectacular views of Gozo Island!

DSC_2517As you can see, Gozo is pretty large, and there is a lot of uphill walking involved.

DSC_2267I’d recommend haggling a hop-on-hop-off bus for around 10 Euro, which is 50% less than the advertised price.

DSC_2544After returning back to Malta from Gozo, you can also make a stop at Paradise Bay and Popeye’s Village, the film set of the 1980 musical with Robin Williams.

DSC_2549DSC_2553DSC_2550DSC_2409DSC_2417DSC_2415DSC_2418 What to Buy: Maltese bees are native to the island, and lots of unique honey products can be bought here.  They also take cactus fruit, called prickly pear and turn it in to a sweet edible treat.

IMG-8996Malta is also well-known for its lace tradition and hand-blown glass.

IMG_8829 Where to Stay: I stayed in the area of St. Julian’s, which I’d highly recommend as it’s a conveniently located near Valletta, plus it offers plenty of options for dining and nightlife.

DSC_2201DSC_2202DSC_2237   They are also near these Roman Baths, which are great for swimming and sun bathing.

DSC_2226DSC_2232DSC_2229It was also near this Cat Village, which was a little strange, but cute if you’re in the area.

DSC_2204DSC_2208DSC_2390My hostel there was called Hostel Malti. They offered lots of activities and excursions, but their clientele was definitely a much younger crowd.

IMG-9101 (1)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.IMG-8974I loved giving them feedback and hearing their stories.

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sangria always makes socializing easier

I also coincidentally met an old friend that I traveled with through Canada back in 2017. ❤️

26678478_598000963870315_5555561024996980505_o 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.

IMG-9053That’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. 🦋

DSC_2629For me, after from awakening all those senses, one of my favorite activities in Malta was simply sipping coffee on a a balcony overlooking a European square and watching the world with wonder. ☕

Snapseed Anyway, my time on Malta is now coming to an end. Up next, I’ll have a brief stopover in Venice before moving on to Slovenia. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then!

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6 thoughts on “Explore the Maltese Islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino

  1. What a great post! I loved the combination of history, architecture and food! I learned so much about the area and will have to try to get there while I’m living in Croatia. Those window boxes are so unique, and sad and surreal coming from our culture. But at least they were protected from the elements, I suppose. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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