Review of "General: Malta"
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Knights! Sieges! Shipwrecks! Yes, Malta has seen all of these and you can find out more by reading this review or going on holiday to this lovely island situated between Africa and Europe, just off Sicily.*An Important Bit of History*
(If History bores you feel free to skip to the next paragraph, but this does explain why Malta is the island it is, and trying to condense so much History is very difficult!)
The name Malta according to one theory was derived from the Phoenicia word for refuge, and because of its position and the many safe harbours, it has been the scene of various invasions and sieges. The Phoenicians came from what is now Lebanon, but in about 600BC, they faded out and during the Punic Empire were replaced by the Carthaginians and so Carthaginian temples were built. Later a Roman invasion changed the customs and brought different trades to Malta. The Towers which still can be seen, were built during these troubled times. St Paul and St Luke were travelling from Caesarea to Rome as prisoners, when their ship hit rocks, the Maltese welcomed Paul and his name lives on. The Arabs ruled for two centuries and in 1530 Malta was given to the Knights of St John, who were originally monks and known as the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. The Great siege with the Turks in 1565, saw many losses but the knights were victorious in the end, and eventually Valetta was built as a fortified city. France occupied Malta for 2 years and they turned to Britain for help, who in 1814 were granted sovereignty. World War II was an awful time for the people of Malta, but they played a very important part, which led to King George VI, awarding them the George Cross for heroism. Malta was eventually awarded Independence in 1964, but it was the late 70's when Britain finally left. They joined the EU in April 2004, which we missed as we left the day before, but watched all the celebrations on television.* Some thoughts*
English is taught in the schools and most of the younger Maltese speak it well, so language is rarely a problem here, for which I for am glad as Maltese sounds very difficult to learn! They even drive on the left. Well, that is the rule but the driving leaves a lot to be desired at times! Perhaps they are just trying to avoid the enormous potholes in places! Road works as in this country is always ongoing.
If you are fit, it is best explored by foot, walking along cool streets with crumbly looking buildings so high the sun doesn't often get to peek in, call into the beautiful churches, quietly sit, and absorb the atmosphere. Admire all the unusual balconies. The fact the buildings are crumbly adds to the beauty, the inside of the homes are neat and tidy and very clean. The ladies are well dressed as they go out to get their shopping, the Italian influence shows, although older ladies favour wearing black.
*Transport*Malta is a very compact island so getting around is fairly simple unless you stay in out of the way places! We often walked between towns, but catching one of the brightly coloured buses is good fun as there are still some lovely old buses about, so you feel as if you've walked back into the 1950's, but as Malta has joined the EU these now have to meet the recognised conditions and are gradually being replaced by modern buses. Ferries run from Sliema to Valetta throughout the day and are a cooler option of travelling on a hot day, not advised though if it is very windy as the ferry is tossed about and sometimes is cancelled! Taxis are easily found, and we usually order one from the airport for a quick transfer. In Valetta, you can take a trip by horse drawn carriage too and clip clop along the streets, but always ask the price first! There are half day and full day trips by boat around the island, with lunch on board, or shorter trips in a glass bottomed boat, whatever takes your fancy! Some can become noisy with too much cheap wine enjoyed and an overdose of sun!
*Where to Stay*Most resorts are from the North east end of the island down the east coast to the southeast end.
Ramla Bay to Salina Bay
I have visited Malta several times and we have stayed at various hotels throughout the island. In the north of the island near the ferry to Gozo is Ramla Bay, somewhere if you like peace and quiet. Mellieha is a small town with a sandy beach. The hotels are on the outskirts of the town and a walk along the beach is lovely, but the climb up the hill gets the heart pumping! St Pauls's Bay where according to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was shipwrecked, is a busy tourist area and the resort stretches over 3 miles. It has joined up with Bugibba, which used to be a separate village, busy nightlife in this area. Qawra, pronounced our- ra, is another village, which has become a popular tourist spot and is slightly quieter than Bugibba. Continuing along the coast is Salina Bay, which was the first place we stayed, named for the Salt pans, the Coastline hotel looks across the bay towards Qawra, unfortunately, there are stretches without pavements and the road is quite busy at times to walk along.St Julians, Paceville and Sliema.
New hotels are being built all the time and on the east coast, in St Georges Bay and St Julians there are some excellent 5 star hotels, where we now stay in a holiday resort or timeshare apartment. These resorts all run into one another so it is hard to say where one stops, and the other starts! Paceville has a large shopping centre, bowling alley and huge cinemas, so plenty to do if the weather should turn wet. If you enjoy a gamble the Casino here is the place to go, smartly dressed of course and with your passport and plenty of money! The nightlife is buzzing, with every sort of club you can think of and some you shouldn't! Sliema, which is just across the Marsamxett Harbour from Valetta, is a really busy and popular place to stay and we have enjoyed many holidays at The Hotel Fortina. For more details on this hotel please read my review, the hotel has now added a 5 star Tower with luxury rooms and the Spa centre is highly recommended by me! There are all ranges of hotels and self-catering apartments in Sliema. The promenade, which circles the town, provides a safe walking area. You can enjoy the sea views, sit and have a coffee or a meal and watch the world go by. Lots of shops both smart boutiques and touristy!Marsakala and Mdina.
Further south we stayed at Marsakala, at the Jerma Palace, surrounded by the sea this hotel was an easy walk from the fishing village with all the colourful little boats. It was handy for the Airport and south of the island but a car is quite essential if you want to get around, otherwise you have to go to Valetta and catch another bus from there. There are places to stay inland, like at Mdina, but although you can absorb the history of this silent town, most people like nearer the coast where there are some cooling breezes during the heat of the day.*What to eat and drink*
Holidays are a time to indulge and in Malta, you can certainly do that! Italy has quite an influence so you find pasta on most menus and kebabs from the Arab influence. Being an island, fish plays an important part of the diet and we have sampled some excellent Sea Bass and Red Mullet at a beautiful fish restaurant looking out to sea. Lampuki is also one of the specialities to try. Tender casseroles of beef or lamb and rabbit dishes are found in local restaurants, cooked with oil, garlic and herbs. Cheese is made from goats' milk in Gozo, one of the small islands off the north of Malta. There are some very pleasant local wines. I like the Marsovin range and we usually bring a few bottles home. The Lachryma Vitis tends to be too sweet for my taste. Malta has its own brewery and my husband seems to enjoy a drink of the light lager type drink at lunchtime. They also product a soft drink called "Kinnie", it is quite sweet and you either like it or hate it! There is nothing I can compare the taste to, it has to be sampled (at your peril!) There are sweet confections to sample for dessert with almonds and honey or lovely fresh fruits, figs being popular and the ice creams are Italian style. If you want to sample other foods there are Steakhouses, Chinese, Mongolian, Indian etc. and of course, Roast Beef and other roasts feature on many hotels menus due to the British influence.*Getting there*
Air Malta flies from Scotland only on a Thursday, so apart from getting a seat on a charter plane we have flown down to Manchester or London to fly on a Saturday. There are several local airports in England you can fly from and the flight takes 3 - 4 hours. We favour air Malta, the meal and Maltese wine included in the flight price has always been good, so we arrive feeling relaxed and ready for our holiday. Luqa International airport is 4 miles south of Valetta and has the usual shops to buy last minute gifts.*The Weather*
The climate seems to be changing and places where you could almost guarantee excellent weather are now experiencing rain and winds. Malta has one of the highest records of sunshine in Europe, and in the summer months gets very hot, often up in the 30's. It can be a bit sticky in late September when the warm Sirocco wind blows in. In the winter the temperature ranges from 10C to 21C, we had a lovely Christmas holiday when the children and my husband even swam in the outside pool! During the late afternoon, we needed a cardigan, but the locals were wearing coats! The highest rainfall falls between October and January and we did experience floods one December! The waves were high and crashing on the rocks, it was very exhilarating and made me appreciate the Spa facilities at the hotel when you felt warm and cosseted! We didn't need even a cardigan in May this year, even late in the evening but we did eat under cover most nights.*Water and other Sports*
Diving is very popular, and there are several centres and courses are held in some hotels. The clear waters are ideal for photography and some lovely fish can be seen. My daughter had a fantastic time snorkelling on the south west coast and as we sat near the rocky pools fascinated by some little jellyfish, we were surprised when several divers emerged! We have seen divers on the east coast in a little bay as well and the teaching seemed to be excellent. Some hotels have canoes, and wind surfing or water skiing can be arranged, and if you like to fish, there will be someone willing to take you out on their boat for a few Maltese pounds. When we stayed in Sliema we watched a some regattas and marvelled how they controlled their boats when they got out of the safety of the harbour.Football is popular, and Sliema had won the cup one year and the celebrations were in evidence! Horseracing or trotting is a popular spectator sport and there are trips to watch, horses are still used in the rural area to transport produce from the fields. I've only ever seen one golf course so if you want to play a lot then Malta is perhaps not the right destination. Several hotels have tennis courts but unless you go in the cooler weather, I've found it too warm to play!
*What to visit*The capital Valetta is a place everyone should visit whilst on holiday in Malta, it was built by the Knights of St John, and is a magnificent fortified 16th. Century city. A trip by boat is a must, there are so many harbour trips in various sized boats, so you can see the different harbours and creeks, admire the old buildings, and as you listen to the commentary and learn about Malta, you can sit back and relax in the sunshine. There is so much to see, climbing up the hundreds of old stone steps, and walking along the straight narrow streets, imagining how the knights managed! There are some wonderful churches to visit and the Bastions surrounding the city, visit Fort St Elmo and Fort St Angelo. The National War Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts, for people who enjoy museums, the Upper Barracca Gardens overlooking the Grand harbour is relaxing. Floriana with its double arched gateway. The Great Siege, where you feel you were there, experience the sights and sounds of a siege! The three cities namely, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. Too many things to mention and we return to Valetta each holiday and although we always walk along the city walls and amble down the streets we find something new each time. For those who love to shop, you will be happy here too, and a market can also be found.
Another favourite place to visit is Mdina, known as the Silent City. Quiet narrow streets, cool as they are so narrow and the sun doesn't penetrate, but quiet as visitors have to leave their cars outside. It stands on a hill and is very photogenic, you feel you must have ventured into a different country and an Arab will come clattering down the street on his horse! Here you can walk along the walls, visit the Cathederal and spend a very peaceful day. Close by is Rabat where you can see Roman remains and catacombs. The Buskett Gardens is full of orchards and vines and said to be where the Maltese falcons were raised for hunting. Just outside is the Ta'Qali Craft village, where you can see glass blowers and other people at work and buy local crafts.I can't leave this area without mentioning Mosta. People come here to see the famous Mosta Dome, it is huge and is unsupported. During the war years, a bomb pierced the dome during a service and landed on the floor without exploding. A replica can be seen in the church. When we spent Christmas in Malta we went a crib tour and visited some in Mosta, people erect cribs in all sizes and hundreds of people go to view them. The Maltese are very religious and when going into church holidaymakers should be clothed suitably.
Marsaxlokk, a large fishing village in the south of the island is a favourite spot. There is a market here where they sell lovely table linen with cut out work. Beware the cheaper products are machine work not hand made. Watch the colourful luzzu bobbing around on the water and the local older fishermen mending the nets. The luzzu are painted in red, blue and yellow and have a carved Eye of Horus, to ward off evil at sea, this dates back from the Egyptians.There are many lovely coves to visit and one of the most famous is the Blue Grotto. Unfortunately, there is a charge to admire the colourful caves, and often long queues if a bus has just arrived. We now favour the quieter places reached only by car!
*Money*Even though Malta has joined the EU, like Britain so far they are keeping their own currency. It is Maltese pounds or Lira and 1 lira is divided into 100 cents. All major credit cards are accepted.
It is easy to get cash using your Debit cards in many bank ATM's.
Update:- Malta is now using Euros since January 2008, but Maltese Lira can still be exchanged for a while.
*Cost*You get what you pay for! If you want to eat cheaply, then go to a small cafe. If you want good waiter service and special menus then choose something more upmarket. Holidays range in price and many bargains can be found on the Internet.
*What should you take home?*I have some lovely glass from Mdina, in marbled shades. Silver filigree jewellry is popular, as is Gold work, and so are embroidered and crochet articles. Lace is usually worked on Gozo, a sister island but available in Malta if you don't fancy the ferry crossing. Of course, if you like wine or tasty sweetmeats you'll find plenty of things to buy!
*Conclusion*You may have guessed I love Malta. Some people we speak to wonder why we go back. However, I could counter why do they return to Blackpool or The Lake District every year. If you want more from your holiday than lying beside a pool of getting sand in your crevices, and enjoy seeing something of the area, then Malta is well worth a visit. It is small enough to explore a bit each day and still fit in some sunbathing. Ex-patriots say they get island fever and need to get off the island if only to pop over to Sicily for a few days.
If you have never been, then why not take a holiday there soon!
PS If you got this far you deserve the Maltese cross and if you're not too quick there may even be some photos to look at!
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Listed on Ciao since: 01/07/2000