Review of "General: Malta"
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Hi everyone, just back from a week's holiday in Malta. Well not exactly 'just!' By the time the review was written, three weeks gone already. We went during the February half term- all of us- our family of four. Like any other holiday destination- there is lot to see and do in Malta. I will tell you where to go and what to see if you only had a week- like us.Malta has three islands: big island is called Malta, small one is Gozo and very small - Comino- not inhabited. Currency is currently the Maltese Lira (Lm) exchanges to 0.66 in pound sterling. They will change to Euro from next year. Most shops accept Euro.
Flying to Malta is not expensive, you will be able to get a lot of cheap flights - outside school holidays- could be as low as £65 with British Airways, but during school holidays, these swell up to £200! We spend about £185 with Air Malta. Flight time from Heathrow is 3 hours. Time difference- UK and Malta is + 1 hour.Going around Malta:
In most holidays car hire is a must, but we were impressed by Malta's public transport system. Buses offer a cheap and efficient way of touring the Island. The main bus terminus is at Valletta from where buses operate to all parts of Malta, although there are also direct, point to point, services. The bus service is divided in zones and cost of a bus travel ranges from 20 cents to 50 cents. Zone 1 - 20cents, zone 1& 2 - 25 cents; zone 1, 2 &3 50 cents. The longest bus journey takes about fifty minutes; the average ride is between 20 and 30 minutes. You can buy an all day ticket valid for 24 hours for 1.50 Lm- which is a good way to tour round the island and then decide where you wish to spend more time to see things!What to see:
Valletta: Valletta is the capital city of Malta and has lovely buildings. The Governor's residence is called Buckingham palace. We got a picture outside that. Valetta was holding a carnival (16-20 Feb) and the entire city was in festive mood. Most school children of local schools were a part of this celebration. The time of Carnival is four days preceding Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Things to see here are - National Museum of Fine Arts- housed in a lovely palace called 'Admiralty House'. St John's cathedral- you will not be able to imagine its grandness from outside. This was built in 1572 as the conventional church of the Order and the Knights. There is also a museum here which has all the nice paintings- some are quite large in size.The city Valletta has a good information Centre, immediately after you enter the city gate. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes. Food price (lunch) ranges from 2 Lm in a roadside café to 10Lm in a good restaurant. The roads around are in a quad and you will not be lost. It's also worth spending a good part of a morning walking round this beautiful city. The city was having a Chinese New Year celebration when we visited and there were lot of shows, prizes for answering quiz questions. In Mediterranean Conference Centre you will be able to see a 40 minute audiovisual show- called the Malta Experience. We liked this lot. There will be lot of things to photograph in Valetta.
If you have another day could go to- National war museum, National Museum of Archaeology or better if you could see the upper Barraka gardens- which is on high grounds and gives an excellent view of the harbour.Mdina: This is the old capital and was not built by Knights of St. John- who were responsible for the maximum buildings in Malta. Mostly built by the Arabs and Byzantines. This town is situated in the centre of the island. Currently lot of development and building activity is going on in Mdina and you will not be able to visit all the places. Mdina is also known as the 'The Silent City'. You will be able to have a great view of the Island- as it is in quite high grounds. This is an UNESCO heritage site. Must see- Cathedral of St. Paul.
When Malta came under the Romans, the Governor chose to build his Palace here. They surrounded the city with thicker walls, separating it from its nearest town, Rabat. You have to walk around most of Mdina- bus stop is about 10 min walk from the Palace. The streets are much narrower than the modern parts of Malta. We saw some of the best Norman and Baroque architecture on the island here, most of them are private homes. The Cathedral is worth visiting and has a large open space in shape of a square. New builds include a lovely play garden for children. The play area is surrounded by small cafes.
Blue Grotto: This is a must see place on your list. There are buses from Valetta, but we went on a Tour bus. Tour buses in Malta are small vans- like 9 or 11 seater vans. They are not very impressive I must say, but the fare is quite cheap 4-5 Lm per adult for a whole day (6 hour) trip.
Fort St. Angelo: currently a military site- this fort was built in 1530 and stands on a beautiful spot of the island- surrounded the sea on three sides.
The grotto and neighbouring sea caves mirror have a unique blue turquoise colour. see my pictures. There is plenty of underwater flora. There is a boat service to the caves. If you are there early - you will be able to see a unique sunrise. Boating to the caves does not operate if sea is rough or in high tides or difficult wind conditions.Southern part of the Island is about 40 minutes by bus from Valetta. They have a number of fishing villages, full of the local colourful fishing boats. Maltese fishing boats have very vibrant colours.
Ghar Dalam (Cave and Museum) - in Birzebbuga has semi-fossilized remains of extinct species such as dwarf elephants and hippopotamus. It is believed that the island was inhabited by these animals some 250,000 years ago,
When you travel around the island, you will notice that there is not much of un-populated area. Land is a major problem. Lot of investment properties are being sold- which makes local inhabitants difficult to buy a house.Sliema, St. Julian's and Paceville, are the largest and most modern resort in Malta - which includes a large residential area. There is plenty to do here- boat excursions, swimming, walks. Sliema has a 3 km long sea front with a lovely path and is the busiest spot on the island.
Sliema is a busy town full of shops like The Plaza Shopping Centre (Malta's largest), restaurants, cafes, the largest group of hotels in Malta, a number of night-spots, including the Casino- Dragonara, popular beaches and beach clubs with water sports facilities. This has most of the shops which you find in the high streets of UK. It has lots of holiday apartments, and appears thriving all year round.St Juliens' was originally a tiny fishing village, built round a small bay. It has retained most of its charm, due to restoration. It gets quite busy over the weekends and during the peak season, making parking a problem. However, public transport is frequent and within walking distance. We stayed in Intercontinental Hotel in St. Juliens- see my other review on this hotel.
You should not miss a visit to the Dragonara Casino - built over the land overlooking the ocean with a 360 degree view of the ocean. Food is very good and at a very reasonable price. Plenty of slot machines, poker tables etc are there. You have to get a membership card to enter. This card is issued on the spot if you have an ID. You get a complimentary cake and coffee as well!Paceville mainly a resort area, consisting of holiday accommodation. It has many bars and clubs. Lot of students come to study and this spot is popular with youngsters. There is a range from state of the art clubs, live music bars, ethnic restaurants and bars. Most places stay open quite late.
GOZO- is about 20 minutes away by ferry (cost of transfer is 2 Lm for adults and 50 cents for child up to age 12). The locals pay a third of fare paid by tourists. This island is about one third the size of Malta and is quite different from main island. It is primarily fishing and farming community and the countryside is greener and more spectacular. Many colourful fishing boats are there in the harbour. Lot of development activity is going on.Gozo still looks intact and mostly unspoilt. It has flat-topped hills and many cultivated fields. The coastal part of the island is quite above the sea level. It has sharp rocky cliffs, steep valleys and beautiful plants growing around.
Its main thing to see is temples of Ggantija- meaning place of giants. They were believed to be built around 4000 years BC. The temples are very well preserved and visited by lot of tourists. In high tide ferry service to Gozo also gets cancelled and the island is cut off.If you have time try to take a trip to Sicily. A ferry service operates from Valetta to Sicily- do go and see Mt Etna. This service is weather permitting- we could not go as it got cancelled twice in a week. Cost 42 Lm per person. The travel time is 90 minutes. Bus takes you right up to Etna.
Food: No holiday is complete without knowing about food. Maltese food has lot of Italian influence. Even the quiches smelt like pizzas! Food is cheap in some bars. Like any other place- lot of Chinese restaurants are around. You will be able to get a good size dinner for 5 Lm in a bar, but in a good restaurant- will cost around 25030 Lm. Malta special food is rabbit and /or steak cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. My husband said it was really good- I did not feel like having it! Local beer is light and tastes good. Must try Maltese liqueurs - in prickly pear, Anisette and honey flavours. They also sell a digestive liqueur- which is an excellent bitter sweet balance. New and unheard cocktails are worth a try!Things to buy- Mdina glass- very artistic- comes range of products as vases, necklaces, paperweight, wall decorations, wall plates etc. Hand knit jumpers and scarves are also a nice present to bring back. There are plenty of rare crystals for gem lovers. Jewellery items are very nice. We purchased wonderful silver bracelets and earrings with a Maltese Cross design.
Overall- Malta is a lovely place. Everything seems to be within a reach- time wise and money wise.
There is lot to do for young, old and not so old! We really enjoyed our stay there and we would like to go back. Oh yeah- forgot to add- I received 10 Lm (£12) from Malta tourist board for doing a survey on my holiday experience in Malta!
Product Information : General: Malta
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Listed on Ciao since: 01/07/2000