By Muriel Bolger
Instead of being a pleasure, planning that much-needed holiday will probably lead to rows and differences in many households. You’ll always find one who wants nothing other than lounging by a pool or on a beach for a week or two, while for their partner, that is their idea of hell. If that sounds familiar the read on…
How do you solve this problem? Separate holidays can work, but after not travelling for so long that’s not really an ideal solution for many. Families will want to go places where they can do things together and Malta offers just such opportunities.
Three islands in the Mediterranean, 50 kms off Italy; it’s the tenth smallest country in the world. It’s visually stunning, with vineyards and castles, ancient ruins and temples, and an eclectic and wonderfully varied cuisine. They drive on the same side of the road as us, have a church for every day of the year, with a few to spare. (One even has a Caravaggio, The Beheading of St John the Baptist). From majestic cathedrals to roadside chapels, there are 359 in all: 313 in Malta and the remaining 46 in Gozo.
Malta’s history is steeped with romance and pageantry. The legacy of the Crusaders, the Knights Templar and of St John’s Hospitaller is palpable in the capital of Valetta, and deserves some further exploration. Perhaps one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, the honey coloured stone reflects the sun and contrasts perfectly with blue of the sea. At noon and three every day at the Saluting Battery, you can witness the ceremony of the cannons being loaded and fired, just as they would have been in the past to welcome visiting naval vessels. This tradition goes back to the 16th century.
The ancient fortified city of Mdina, or the Silent city, (because no cars are allowed) is where the nobility of the island still likes to live, in discreet palazzos and villas off the narrow streets. A trip through these alleyways and lanes on a horse-drawn karrozzin brings this journey of discovery to another level, although meandering along the historic alleyways and cobbled lanes, soaking up the ambience is a pretty perfect way to explore and get a sense of place too.
For wider explorations there are four-people tuk-tuks, bikes, electric cars and public transport. A €39 weekly ticket with cover unlimited journeys.
Malta’s magical coastlines begs further investigation. The romantic can charter boats to take them on sunset or moonlit cruises or to visit secluded coves, blue lagoons and the Blue Grotto. Divers can experience the fun of reaching real wrecks and underwater caves in the crystal waters. Xlendi is a popular spot, but it’s by no means the only one. If you really want to make a splash there’s always a seaplane at the ready!
Meanwhile life goes on for the islanders and bustling Marsaxlokk, on the south-east, is the place to see an authentic fishing community working and thriving. The harbour is filled with colourful dghajsa or luzza boats. These are traditional vessels, brightly painted in yellow for the sun, blue for the sea and red for the passion their owners have for the sea. They all have an eye on either side. This is the eye of Horus – a symbol of protection and wealth. Also famous for its tourist market on weekdays and its fish market on Sundays, Marsaxlokk has a name for really good restaurants, much frequented by the local, and that’s always a good sign..
Malta was inhabited variously by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Greeks and more recently by the French and the English, and all have left their culinary legacies behind. Consequently these islands serve some of the finest cooking in the Mediterranean. Relish fine dining, eat rustic dishes in neighbourhood restaurants and you’ll not be disappointed.
Gourmets will love the variety of local produce– incredible seafood, plump olives, local cheeses, great bread, succulent casseroles. Go shopping at the local markets and check out the food stalls. Do try the almond-studded nougat and salt from the salt pans of Gozo.
Gozo is just three miles away and is accessed by frequent ferry services. Despite its proximity to the mainland many Maltese families have holiday homes here!
And for a bit of trivia to finish – Gozo is where you’ll find several megalithic temples, two opera houses and where the Azure Window at Dwejra Bay, a spectacular natural rock formation, was located. It collapsed shortly after featuring in Game of Thrones.
But Malta wouldn’t be Malta without its ruins, would it?