Malta: Mini, Marvelous, Must See!
Descending for our landing, I looked out the window... this country is TINY and I'm moderately concerned that if we don't brake in time, we will roll off the other side of the island into the sea, because again, so TINY! The man next to me smiles warmly and says, "I am born and raised in Malta, from Gozo". He has the most legit tan I have ever seen. Because of this, I am concerned for my safety to a slightly lesser degree (priorities, y'all!).
Ahh, Malta. A small archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. What is an archipelago, you ask? No really, please ask, because I had to, also. It's the fancy word for a chain or cluster of islands. Sometimes these are found scattered around a larger body of land, such as the hundreds of small islands that surround Scotland, or it could just be a few big rocks in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, as such is the case with the Republic of Malta. There are three inhabited islands included in the cluster: Malta, Gozo, and Comino, with the addition of about 15 much smaller, uninhabited islands strewn about.
Busy season starts in July, when throngs of Europeans flock to soak up the sun, so our Memorial Day girls getaway was the perfect time to check this gem out! Public transportation is plentiful, wallet-friendly, and easy to utilize, so you can stay in the capital city of Valletta (as we did) and easily access other areas of Malta. At the top of our "must see" list was a visit to St. Peter's Pool, a lesser-known but highly gorgeous cove with waters of deep blue- pack your snorkel! Surrounded by cliffs, dusty paths, and scrubby brush, but totally worth it when you crest and see the view from the tip of the Delimara Point.
There are many carvings into the limestone of the area, but one particular corner boasts a sampling of famous recording artists- it was a neat little surprise!
After basking in the glow at St. Peter's pool, we hiked over to the quaint fishing village of Marsaxlokk. I like to call this portion of our trip "off the beaten path" because I have the feeling we took a shortcut that was a little more rustic than the norm and honestly the greenery (or lack thereof) reminded me of Texas, cactus and all. Just four girls google-mapping our way through the Maltese scenery!
Marsaxlokk was equally charming and colorful, with hundreds of luzzus- traditional Maltese fishing boats. Stroll through the market and browse handmade items from the locals, and stop in a cafe for the freshest seafood you can imagine. But seriously y'all, my shrimp still had faces when they arrived at the table. Fortunately Katie's grilled octopus didn't have a face intact when it arrived... but there were plenty of suction cups!
Next we made our way to Pretty Bay, one of the only sandy beaches of Malta. Despite its large size and appealing name, Pretty Bay remains mostly frequented by locals rather than tourists (other than us, obvi), as it is a fair distance from Valletta and many other hot spots, such as Sliema.
Day two we continued the quest to get our bronze on! We hopped on a boat and cruised out of the Sliema harbor and around the island of Gozo, which was nothing short of beautiful. Though I was having a difficult time getting my "sea legs" I was happy to get a drive by glimpse at the Azure Window, a stunning naturally formed limestone arch. So stunning that Game of Thrones decided to throw Daenerys Targaryen & Khal Drogo's wedding here, circa season 1. That's right GOT fans... lots of action on Gozo and Malta!
Our next destination for the day was little sister island, Comino. On this rocky oasis we visited the Blue Lagoon where I saw the most beautifully clear and inviting water that I've had the pleasure of seeing. There was a striking mixture of people and cultures here, as Europe can be quite the melting pot in most of it's major vacay locations. Everyone was splashing, frolicking, and of course taking selfies in the water, because if you didn't selfie there, did you really go?
Pardon the weirdness of my pose- I was literally bouncing on the tips of my toes because the water was chilly!
Ancient temples (dating back to 3500 B.C.), Baroque style churches, hypogea, and fortified cities... Malta has it all! Mdina, the "silent city" and also referenced as the old capital (it used to be the administrative seat) was established back in 8th century B.C. when colonized by the Phoenicians; they called it "Maleth". In a nutshell: Roman takeover, Byzantine Empire, a wall encircling the city as a result of the Medieval age, and now 750,000 tourists annually among the 300 residents inside the walls. Mdina is charming, peaceful, and the perfect scene to take a morning of evening stroll.
Being influenced over time by Romans, Phoenicians, Moors, Sicilian, Spanish, French, and British cultures, a very unique appearance (and vibe) has become the standard in Malta. Distinctly unique from any locations I have seen thus far in my travels, in general, everything is very taupe, but the Maltese clearly love vibrant pops of color on their doors and windows.
I found the traditional Maltese window boxes stacked upon each other to be so curious! Being that Valletta is the most densely populated capital city in the EU (European union), and that the streets are insanely narrow, neighboring window boxes appeared to be just feet from each other. Further proof that personal space in Europe is a very fluid concept...
I loved just strolling (at times hiking) the narrow, cobblestone, steep streets. Speaking of steep- Strait Street is the place to get your fitbit steps, people! This popular area is affectionately nick named "the gut", dating back to when it used to be Valletta's red light district. If British Airmen and Sailors needed a place to get their jollies, the gut was the place to go! These days Strait Street is much more family friendly, bustling with restaurants and shops, and an energetic nightlife when the sun sets. But tumble out of a bar after a few too many cocktails and the slope of Strait Street will have you thinking you just stepped out of the movie 'Inception'!
Overcoming it's size, Malta is small but mighty- so much to see and do! I am already plotting a return trip to explore more historical hot spots on this marvelous island of carved out cliffs. If you're craving some sun, seafood, and natural unspoiled splendor, hop a flight to Valletta. After all, if so many empires spent thousands of years fighting over it, there has to be a pretty good reason, right?
BON VOYAGE, BABES!