Blast from the past – how we spent 5 days in Malta in 2012

Most of my friends travel in August. I am doing everything possible to avoid travelling in August which is the European peak season and corresponds to traffic jams spanning from Spain to Greece (ok, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture) and airports testing their passenger capacity limits. My shoulder season preference is however often broken by family and friends visits that, on most occasions, require both a car and plane ride. So, week-end trips aside, I try to stand by the “No travel in August!” rule.

To fill the current ‘non-travelling’ time, I am compensating with some travel writing and travel planning. As I was recently sorting photos, I came across a few nice ones from Malta, so here is a short post of our tour there from a couple of years ago.

We visited Malta in May 2012 for 5 nights. It turned out, May is the best time to visit for some early European sun. In July and August you could face temperatures in the 35s degrees Celsius so better go prepared.  As with Copenhagen, we were hosted by (different) friends in their apartment in Sliema.

We spent 2 days exploring the Sliema waterfront, Valetta old city including the Sant Iermu Fort and the churches and parks of Floriana. Much of the old city dates back to 16th century and it was preserved extremely well. The area is perfectly explorable by foot but be prepared for some exhausting flights of stairs in the old city. St John Cathedral and museum are well worth the entrance fee.

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To move between Sliema and Valetta, catch one of the yellow public buses, the ferry or bike. If you choose the bus, depending on traffic, you can count about 20 min one way. For going out, the Paceville district, an appendix of St Julian’s neighbourhood, is the hub of Malta’s nightlife with a large choice of restaurants with terraces, bars, and clubs.

A third day we spent exploring the South of the island on board of one the Hop-on/Hop-off tourist buses. It is perfectly possible to do it using public transport but it does take some additional time. Also, if the public bus is full (particularly in the evening), it will not stop for additional passengers so you have to count that in when planning your return. We found the Hop-on bus to be a good alternative to a rental in the small island of Malta and an appropriate alternative to give us a good idea of the lay of the land. There are several itineraries available (covering mainly the South-East or West of the island). We took the one including the fishing villages in the South and the Blue Grotto in Zurrieq.

The village of Marsaxlokk will give you some good photo opportunities of little colourful boats. In the harbour there are a few restaurants offering fresh fish.

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As for the cave, I found the entrance with the stone arch to be more impressive than the grotto itself. If you have an opportunity, take a photo from dry land, above the arch. Once inside, you will only have a bit of time and very low light. Despite the pretty colour of the water, I would not describe the experience as an absolute must.

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For bathing opportunities, we ventured further from the city (and harbour). Our hosts recommended St Paul’s Bay as a good area for swimming and snorkelling although we had to go down some pretty steep rocks before getting to water level in one of the coves after the main beach. There is no sand but the area is peaceful, without (too) many tourists around. If you want sand (but also some more company, depending on the season) go for the Golden Sands Beach.

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The above experience turned out to be the exact opposite of what we found on our last day in the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island. After an early bus ride to the Ferry terminal in Mgarr (about 45 min from Sliema) and then a boat ride of about 20 min, Comino turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The water was crystal blue but there was hardly any place to put your towel on the rocky beach face. We rented two chairs as this seemed like the only  comfortable position for spending half a day on the tiny island. Also, an umbrella turned out to be be necessary as there is no natural shade on the small stretch of rock. While a nice place to have a dip, probably not worth the trouble of the (rather) long bus and boat journey from Sliema. There are many nice places to bathe on Malta’s main island.

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For grabbing a bite, two places stood out. One is Cafe Jubilee in Sliema (http://www.cafejubilee.com/). They have a great British breakfast for half of the price of the mainland. We also enjoyed the Buffalo Bill’s stakes one evening (http://www.buffalobillsteakhouse.com/#/Home). Their terrace has a pretty view of the Portomaso marina.

To sum up our experience, try to avoid the high-season, especially if you have the more touristy places on your list and because of the unbearable heat. Most beaches will get quite crowded, especially in week-ends (even outside the main season) so try to get there early. You can travel by local bus anywhere on the island with a bit of patience so no need to hire a car if you have a few days to spare. Finally, do try to make it to Gozo Island (second largest after Malta itself). We haven’t done it but our hosts recommended it, especially for anything involving outdoor activities.

Have you been to Malta in the last years? What would you say was your favourite experience on the island?

Happy travels,

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