Malta: Forts, Cathedrals & the Silent City

Admittedly, the island of Malta has never been at the top of my bucket list for travel destinations, and I knew next to nothing about its history, people or culture. This made it evermore exciting to visit however, as I got to travel there with little to no expectations of what to expect. Sometimes this can be a refreshing alternative to planning an itinerary or checklist of what you want to do or explore.

As it’s quite a small island, although not as small as its sister island Gozo, it’s very easy to get around Malta and visit several cities on the island. For just €2 on the bus, you can get around on a budget, whilst taking in the beautiful scenery of the harbours, coastlines and vineyards. However, these buses can get very cramped and do not always show up on time!

St Paul’s Bay / Buġibba

We stayed in St Paul’s Bay, which is a short walk away from the city centre of Buġibba, one of the most popular tourist towns on the island. I’m really happy we stayed here, as you’ve got ample choice of restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from, yet it’s a quieter area for when you want a good night’s sleep. If you’re wanting somewhere more lively, then St Julians/Paceville seems to be the most popular choice. We got the bus to Paceville for a night out on one of the nights, and although it was fun for a night of dancing, I probably wouldn’t choose to stop there!

There’s a nice coast line and rocky beach in Buġibba, which in the evening, looks very beautiful alongside the lit-up restaurants and bars along the seafront. We were told that the best beaches in Malta were in the north, a bit further up from where we were staying, and in particular, the best beaches were Paradise Bay and Golden Bay. So we opted to visit Golden Bay for the day, and I was thrilled to be back in the sea at last! With it being mid-August, the beach was very busy as you’d expect, so I imagine it would be much nicer to visit these beaches during the quieter months.

I was hesitant about finding vegan eating options in Malta, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many restaurants not only having dishes that were accidentally vegan, but actually having vegan listed on the menu. Personal favourites for me in St Paul’s Bay/Buġibba have to be The Chef’s Table, Mezzaluna Pizzeria and SALT Kitchen & Lounge.

Valletta

No trip to Malta would be complete without visiting the capital city of Valletta, where most of the historical tourist attractions are found. Upon arrival, it was clear to see why Valletta gets compared to Italy, with its stunning architecture and narrow streets.

We visited Fort Saint Elmo and the National War Museum, which is a fantastic way to learn about Maltese history, including the Order of St John and Malta’s Independence. You can walk around the fort which still has cannons and giant anchors intact.

If you really want to see some stunning architecture, St John’s Co-Cathedral is an absolute must. We ended up visiting here an hour before closing so it was very busy inside, however, it was worth it to see the beautiful baroque art and architecture inside, including paintings from acclaimed artists such as Caravaggio. I don’t think my picture below does the cathedral justice! With your entry ticket, you’re given a free audio guide which gives you very detailed information about the history behind the paintings and features.

We finished our sightseeing with a trip to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which overlook the Grand Harbour. The garden itself is quite small, centred around a beautiful fountain, and features a café/bar and some war rooms, which we didn’t pay to visit in the end. The panoramic views from the gardens are breathtaking; you can practically see the whole of Valletta from up there. I’m surprised how quiet the garden was, and it was nice to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while taking in the views of the city.

Valletta is also a great choice for an evening out; there are plenty of restaurants to choose from and lots of bars and cafés offering happy hours. Although the city appeared to quieten down later on,  there are still some great options for evening entertainment, although we didn’t stay late enough to explore these fully.

Mdina

Known as the Silent City, Mdina is a medieval walled city with many of its historical buildings and features still intact. On quieter days, I imagine it feels as though you’ve stepped completely back in time. The city is quite small, and doesn’t take long to look around, and as it’s up on a hilltop, you can enjoy lovely views from various tearooms within the city. It features a few museums, two of which we looked around; the Museum of Torture, which informs you of the many grisly forms of torture that took place throughout history, and the Cathedral Museum, which connects to St Paul’s Cathedral and displays artifacts such as coins, paintings and religious relics. Like St John’s Co-Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral features baroque architecture, but I found this cathedral to be much quieter and more pleasant to look round.

My highlight in Mdina has to be the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. The house looks as though it has been frozen in time, with all the rooms and artifacts displayed in their original form. The most recent owner of the Palazzo was Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher, who was a proud collector of art and antiques. The visit includes an audio guide which is very interesting and informative as you explore each room in the large house. The house has been restored and maintained very well, and I particularly liked the pretty outside courtyard pictured below.

There really is something for everyone to do in Malta, whether you’re looking for sandy beaches to lie on, or historic towns to look around, it’s an ideal location for a combined cultural and relaxation holiday. I love how the size of the island allows you to visit so many cities, and I’m definitely keen to come back and explore the even smaller island of Gozo.

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