Stepping off of the plane at midnight to 75 degree weather was a welcoming change to this dreary London summer. “Ah, it smells like I’m going to get tan!” I claimed with confidence after feeling the heat; taking in that unmistakable holiday feeling you get in the Mediterranean climate.
So here we were in Malta, 3 work mates on a mission for sun, food and an escape from city living. The funny thing is none of us knew anything about Malta. I naturally read the guidebook in advance but somehow still completely underestimated the small island between Sicily and Africa.
That’s the key difference. Yes it’s an island but it’s also an entire country! Naively I assumed the whole thing was walkable and hopping from each point of interest would be a breeze. Oh how wrong I was, but luckily the touristy hop on/hop off bus became both our saving grace and best friend.
As we sat on the top of the bus in our bikinis soaking up the rays we were immediately wowed by the ancient city of Valetta, stopping off to tour through the “Kings Landing” of the show Game of Thrones lookalike for a wander and to sip a few of our new drink of choice, Aperol Spritz!
The old stone walls, reminiscent of the footprint England left up until 1964 when Malta gained independence was obvious, but countered by the magnificently clear blue bays that appeared around every corner you’d turn. Like stepping back in time, I questioned the entire time if this is what Sicily really is like. Gelato shops filled the quiet streets but on the flip side English is the second and most commonly spoken language.
We stayed in the posh bit though, Saint Julian’s Bay. It was magnificent! The Cavalieri Art Hotel was perfect for our needs; high end and trendy yet not over priced, with a large saltwater pool overlooking the bay with access to hop right into the salty sea, beautiful restaurants on our doorstep and accessible to the nightlife in Paceville, which we quickly learned our first night was a MUCH younger crowd.
We grew impatient with the self-termed “Maltese minute” whilst sailing with Supreme Cruises to the famed jewel the Blue Lagoon off of the small neighbouring island of Comino. Beautiful but so overcrowded and over priced, the best move we made was paying a fiver for a ride to Santa Marija Bay, a small secluded beach on the far side of the island which provided tranquillity with local beers, sun chairs and a clear inlet to swim in. Even better, a small tin shack owned by tat-bearing hippies served great homemade sandwiches on Maltese bread to keep us satisfied.
At night after a few Aperol Spritz sundowners (spritz o’clock) we’d be in search for the best meal in town, be it fresh fish in the seaside fishing village of Marsaxlokk, Italian pastas, or the local delicacy of rabbit. Dining at Piccolo Padre was by far our best meal. With a stunning view over St Julian’s Bay, we sat on the balcony of an old stone farmhouse with weathered blue shutters, now termed “Penny’s House” in her desire to live there one day, listening to the water lapping and sharing fresh Gorgonzola and salmon dips before divulging in the famed rabbit. Sophie was served the lung and therefore it was only polite for us to try a bit of the tiny soft and rich mush. It was the best service we had yet.
And then I fell in love with Gozo. A desolate place, dry, simple and quiet. The farthest of the 3 islands, vineyards grow in the dry dirt and cactus border the dusty roads.
It was surreal walking the empty streets in the scorching heat. So quiet the only sound was our flip flops against the pavement, stopping only to try some fresh fruit or pick a cactus flower. The mussels at Ta’ Pennellu in the picturesque seaside town of Marsalforn where we stopped for lunch were the best I’ve ever had.
3 full days just wasn’t nearly enough time. We did so much, yet were never rushed at all and felt totally chilled. Luckily I was travelling with a stellar group of girls for our first time. Sun sisters! Happy to soak up the rays and up for anything, be it a glass of local wine at 2 am (and hopelessly trying a trick in the hotel room to open the bottle with a shoe and key), to taking the long walk home to hear canons go off for the neighbouring fair (fate), or sharing a shisha at night, a nod to the Arabic influence. Because why not, we’re on holidays after all.