Malta: Antique Sandstones Meet Cyan Seas

A picturesque archipelago nation in the central Mediterranean, Malta enchants and intrigues. Around every corner, a photo opportunity awaits.

In Valletta, antique sandstone houses line rambling alleyways. The scent of fresh pastries fills the air, flooding the streets with the smell of cinnamon and sugar plum. And at Golden Bay, sun glints on cyan waters as waves sigh like tired angels. Malta captivates and delights.

Whether you’re traveling to Malta solo or with your family and friends, Malta offers something for everyone.

Geography

Malta by Location_Malta_EU_Europe.png: User:3meandErderivative work: Trex (talk)derivative work: Bjankuloski06en, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Malta is the world’s tenth smallest country, with an area of roughly 120 square miles (316 square km) and a population of 500,000, according to the Encyclopedia of the Nations. Malta’s population is scattered across three islands: Malta, Comino, and Gozo. But most residents live on Malta, the nation’s largest island.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, Malta lies about 60 miles (93 km) south of Sicily and 180 miles (290 km) northeast of Tunisia. Though once recognized as a North African island, today, Malta belongs to Southern Europe. St. Paul is Malta’s largest city, but Valletta is the capital, according to the encyclopedia and Wikipedia.

Dubbed the “walled city,” Valletta was founded by the Catholic Knights of St. John in the 1500s.  Today in Valletta, you’ll find legions of Baroque cathedrals, palaces, and churches, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral, home to Caravaggio’s Beheading of Saint John.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral by Boguslaw Garbacz, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other Attractions in Malta

Tourists flock to Malta to enjoy an array of attractions. The Baroque cathedrals, Popeye Village, Mdina, and Blue Lagoon are just a few favorite spots.

Popeye Village

Popeye Village by Orimi Protograph on Unsplash

After you visit Valletta, jump in the car and head 15 miles (25 km) northwest to spend the day at Popeye Village, Malta’s favorite theme park. Popeye Village offers plenty of family fun.

Kids will feel like stars for the day, stepping on stage to sing, dance, and join in a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience. Children can also play at Santa’s toy town, ride boats, or jump on trampolines.

Meanwhile, parents can savor the calmer pleasures of life and sip wine — or water — on the terrace. At Popeye Village, a unique family adventure awaits.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral by Berthold Werner

In Valletta, you also won’t want to miss St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. Designed by William Scamp in the mid-1800s, St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral is one of Europe’s three Anglican cathedrals. Built from Maltese limestone, the historic cathedral is a local landmark.

After you tour the cathedrals, visit Gozo island, Malta’s second largest island.

Gozo Island, Malta

The island, Gozo, also promises adventure, with its bevy of camera-worthy attractions.

The Azure Window

The Azure Window By Felix König, Creative Commons 3.0

Once hailed as the gem of Gozo island, The Azure Window was a limestone arch that drew crowds each year. Unfortunately, the famous arch stands no more.

Centuries of erosion and inclement weather weakened the structure, leading to its demise. When a storm tore through the region in 2017, the arch collapsed into the ravenous sea.

The arch appeared in a slew of international films for decades. Today, memories of the limestone wonder live on through photographs.

Blue Lagoon, Comino, Malta


Blue Lagoon by Jerome Lynn on Unsplash

Like Iceland, Malta also has a Blue Lagoon, but Malta’s lagoon is located in Comino, the nation’s smallest inhabited island. The lagoon’s rugged cliffs and translucent waters draw thousands of swimmers and photographers from places near and far. Since the Azure Window collapsed, tourism at the Blue Lagoon has soared.

Mdina, Malta

Mdina, Malta by Martin Widenka on Unsplash

Twenty minutes west of Valletta lies Mdina, known for its sandstone buildings and serpentine streets. While you’re visiting Mdina, book a stay at the Xara Palace Relais and Chateaux, a luxury resort with an understated elegance and medieval vibe.

Xara Palace, Mdina, Malta

Modeled after an ancient palace, Xara is a five-star luxury resort that promises a decadent vacation. It offers a full-service spa and a 24-hour fitness room to satisfy indulgent and health-conscious travelers. Room prices start at $213 (€ 178) a night.

Less than a five-minute walk from most tourist sites, Xara has become Mdina’s favorite luxury resort and guarantees adventure.

But if the Xara isn’t your style, don’t worry; Malta offers an assortment of hotels for every traveler.

Maltese Language and Culture

Your travels to Mdina, Valletta, Gozo, and the Blue Lagoon will also introduce you to Maltese culture. You will find hints of Arab, British, and Italian influences in Maltese culture and cuisine.

The Maltese language also borrows from Italian and Arabic. Today, Maltese and English are Malta’s official languages, and all TV and radio shows appear in both languages. Many Maltese citizens also speak Italian as a third language.

Maltese alphabet by Joe Arevalo

Most of all, tourists rave about the Maltese people. The locals are renowned for their hospitality.

“Everyone was so nice,” says Marcia Keller, a 32-year-old jewelry designer from Utah who visited Malta with her husband and seven children pre-pandemic. “At one coffee shop, the barista offered to show us around Gozo. I couldn’t believe it. In some U.S. cities, people grunt at you if you ask them a question, but not in Malta!”

Marcus Fletcher, a 30-year-old graduate student from Baltimore, shares Marcia’s sentiment.

“I traveled to Malta solo in 2018,” Marcus says, “and the Maltese people were super sweet! Some of the locals took me sightseeing. One older couple even invited me to their home to have stuffat tal-fenek for dinner.”

Stuffat tal-fenek, a Maltese dish with rabbit, carrots, and celery

For the Epicurious travelers who may be wondering, stuffat tal-fenek is a Maltese specialty dish made with rabbit, vegetables, bay leaves, and garlic. The rabbit meat cooks on low heat for several hours, creating meat so tender, Marcus says, that it melts on your tongue like whipped butter.

“It’s delectable,” Marcus says. “I like mine with a dash of mint or barbecue sauce.”

How to Cook Stuffat Tal-Fenek

Marcus also shares a recipe he brought home from Malta, which has become his favorite.

“Just find a rabbit,” he says. “Then, take a few bay leaves, two carrots, a celery stick, and four or five cloves of garlic. Make a tomato sauce, then add wine and some bay leaves. Let the rabbit simmer for a couple hours. Some people marinate the rabbit in red wine overnight, but that’s up to you.”

Meatless Dining in Malta

On the other hand, for those who prefer tofu and pinto beans to brisket and rabbit, you’re also in luck. Many Maltese restaurants offer vegan and vegetarian dishes. The Grassy Hopper was one local favorite, but the café closed last year.

So now, diners are flocking to Ortygia, a festive diner nestled in the cozy sandstones of Valletta. Ortygia plays energizing house music from noon to midnight and serves savory meat and veggie dishes sure to sate every palate.

“The Syraka is to die for,” says Ivan Thomas, a 27-year-old cheese-lover and self-described digital nomad who hopes to start a blog soon.

Malta: COVID Travel Restrictions

Malta is worth a visit, but it’s also essential to stay safe while traveling. Here is the latest on traveling to Malta during the pandemic.

COVID Travel by Bermix Studio  on Unsplash

Malta is the first European country to acquire herd immunity against the virus, according to an article in Travel + Leisure published June 17 of this year. The Visit Malta website, which provides daily travel updates, says Malta now welcomes U.S. tourists from all states except these 12:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Malta also welcomes tourists from D.C. and Puerto Rico. All travelers must take a COVID test upon arrival, the travel website says. See the Visit Malta website to learn more about the countries on Malta’s green, amber, and red list.

Traveling by Ferry

So what else can you do while you’re visiting Malta? Take a ferry to Sicily for the day. The Valletta Pozzallo ferry travels between Malta and Sicily 10 times per week, with a travel time of 1 hour and 45 minutes each way. Ferry schedules vary by season, so check online for updates.

Safe Travels

Whether you visit Valletta, Comino, Mdina, or Gozo, you will want to take plenty of pictures during your trip. Malta is a beautiful country, with plenty to do and see.

So, rent a car and head to Qawra, take a ferry to Sicily, or swim and snorkel in the Blue Lagoon. But whatever you do, enjoy your trip. Bring your sunscreen and your masks. Be safe and well.