Review of "General: Malta"
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A sunny island in the Southern Mediterranean Sea only about 200miles from the North Africa( Libya) and about 60 miles from Sicily. It is technically The Republic of Malta and the island of Malta is one of several islands making up this nation only the two largest islands Malta and Gozo are inhabited .Malta is the largest island and is the cultural and administrative centre whilst Gozo is more rural.Because of its position geographically, Malta enjoys a warm, sunny Mediterranean climate which is one of the attractions for tourists wanting beach holidays. The capital city is Valletta on the eastern coast of Malta.
We flew with Air Malta from Birmingham to Luqa which is Malta's International Airport. I know Air Malta fly from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester too. They were extremely efficient and the on board food was better than some airlines and perfectly satisfactory as airline food goes.
You can also get a ferry over from Sicily but as we did not do this I don't know much about it.
No visas are needed nor do you need any special vaccinations.Getting around:
We hired a car as there were four of us and we wanted to travel to a few different places. I organised it through the internet and we collected the car at the airport. It wasn't very expensive - about £100 for a week for a smallish car.
The buses are great and even though we had the car we went by bus to Valletta one day. They are very full of character rather old-fashioned looking buses with different shaped 'noses' which were lovely to look at but very basic inside. However they are very cheap and you can find them in all the major tourist areas and they go practically everywhere. The cost varies between €0.35 to €0.58 and even the longest bus journey only takes about fifty minutes; the average ride is between twenty and thirty minutes.There is a ferry which takes cars and foot passengers from Malta to Gozo which runs regularly every day. We picked up a timetable from the tourist information at our hotel. It only takes 20 minutes each way and is a very picturesque journey passing Comino on the way. I think we paid about £12 for our car and four passengers
Here is a link for prices and times of these ferries: http://www.holiday-malta.com/resort/gozo/ferry/ferry_rates.htm
T he unit of currency is Maltese lira and they are about 2 to the £ as a very rough estimate.
We are members of Diamond Resorts and our accommodation was in one of the suites owned by Diamond Resorts within the Intercontinental Hotel St Georges Bay
St. Julians on Malta. We were based in St. George's Bay in St. Julian's, next to one of the island's few sandy beaches and we were also just a short stroll away from Paceville, Malta's premier shopping and nightlife venue. The later has its pros and cons. The pros were that it was very easy to walk to a large number of restaurants or bars to eat and drink in the evening. The cons were that on Friday and Saturday night all the noise and rowdiness associated with night life generally were all too visible and audible when you went out. Our suite was not affected though we were there in February and I should imagine the noise and unpleasant behaviour is 100 times worse in holiday season.
Having said that we didn't feel at all uncomfortable walking around the area at night and we did walk quite far to look for different restaurants to try.The food:
When I read in the guide book to see what sort of food to expect it seemed to be mainly Italian with a hint of North African with a few Maltese specialities.
Pastizzi or Qassatat are a flaky pastry sort of pasty filled with cheese or mushy peas. These were classed in the ' interesting' category - the ricotta cheese one was a bit tasteless and the mushy pea one slightly more tasty - can't say I'd rush back for more or look for them over here. The Beef olives were a thin slice of beef stuffed with breadcrumbs, bacon, eggs and herbs and served braised in red wine and these were tasty and filling. Lampuki, a pie made with the local dorado fish and vegetables, is one of the country's best loved dishes. Aljotta is a famous fish soup with marjoram, tomatoes, garlic and rice. Fenek or rabbit stew is popular and my husband would recommend it ( I can't eat rabbit as we have a lovely white lop-eared pet and I think of her). There is also a huge variety of fish and seafood freshly cooked in many different ways.
Food and eating out was about the same as prices in the UK but drinks were slightly cheaper.Sweet pastries were much more tasty. We tried Imqaret which are a sort of date slice served warm from local stalls and I can recommend them but they were filling. There were lots of other pastries with dried fruit which were tasty. Nougat was also sold everywhere and that was VERY sweet.
Ġbejnie or Gozo cheese was not one of their better foods. They were very strong and salty, a bit like feta and too strong for eating as a cheese with bread we thought. Won't be rushing around looking for that again either.We tried both these restaurants in the area and both served excellent Maltese and Gozitan food:
La Maltija Restaurant
Cuisine: Maltese 1, Church Street, Paceville
GOZITAN TRADITIONAL FOOD
Paceville Street, St. Julian's, Malta
139, Spinola Road, St. Julian's, Malta
What we saw:Medina:
Medina is the former capital city of Malta and is an ancient citadel that dominates the central area of Malta Island . It is a very relaxing place to wander round and soak up as much history as you feel able. Throughout Medina, you can see ancient cathedrals and the imposing bastions topped by a lovely little café where there are breathtaking views of most of the island. Even in February we sat enjoying, the view, sunshine and sweet Maltese pastries with our coffee. I love looking at places but I am afraid I am not much into the details of dates and who and when, it is the 'soaking up' experience that I go for. I apologise to those who like more historical data but suffice to say Medina is a fine example of a Medieval walled city.
We went into Valletta for the day on one of the lovely Maltese buses. It was great as we arrived in the bus station and were surrounding by a mass of these unusual old fashioned looking buses that we had to wend our through. We then passed through the market area and bought some more Maltese sweet offerings to enjoy.
You can't go to Malta and not visit St John's Co-Cathedral because the Knights of Malta have played such a major part in Malta's history and the history of Europe generally. The outside of this Cathedral is fairly plain, not in the eat imposing or 'Cathedral-like' however once you step inside things change stunningly. The interior is completely decorated with ornate baroque paintings and intricate carved stone arches. The floor was covered in tombs of the various knights the more important knights were placed closer to the front of the church. The tombstones are, richly decorated with in-laid marble and with the coats of arms of the knight there may also be images telling a story of triumph in battle.
There is one very famous Caravaggio painting, 'The Beheading of St John The Baptist' it is the only painting signed by the artist. There are many other paintings with a religious tone if you are interested in religious art.
After this we wandered round around down to the harbour enjoying the interesting houses and hilly streets. We had lunch in a lovely little restaurant that was in a cellar, ( can't remember the name sorry) it was most atmospheric and delicious food. We then returned in one of the cute little bus to our hotel.
The Church of St John the BaptistThe first place we visited was a huge church which is the most recently built church on Gozo in St John the Baptist Square, Xewkija it is an enormous circular building constructed in local limestone. It is open daily and free to visit.. The church has the highest dome in Malta and boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world it can be seen from all over Gozo and it dominates the horizon for miles - as you come towards Gozo on the ferry it can be seen before anything else. You can go right up to the Bell tower and see views of all Gozo. Well worth a visit. We were amazed that such a huge church, which can seat up to 4000 people, was built so recently in a small town that wouldn't even half fill the church. We know how much it costs to repair own small Parish church roof having fund raised for years to get it done.
The Azure Window near Dwejira is a spectacular natural landmark and is one of the most photographed places on Gozo. You can walk almost up to it and round all over the area as it is flattish rocks. They can be a bit slippery when wet but I managed it and most other able bodied people seemed to cope. It was another beautiful blue sky and sunshine day so that meant it was Azure which was nice for us. The waves crashing through were quite exciting and created splashes quite far back on the rocks which was amusing some younger people.
Fungus Rock or as it is known in Malta The General's Rock is a small islet just off the coast near the Azure window, Dwejira and it is covered in what looks like Fungus, hence the name. It is a natural reserve but has had an interesting history because of the very smelly plant that grows on it. The General ( hence the alternate name for the rock) of the Knights Hospitaller decided that the plant was medicinal and it was used for treating wounds and for dysentery. It was thought so valuable that a guard was set up to protect the plant. However it has been proved of no medicinal value so they wasted their efforts. The rock itself is fairly ordinary looking rock but the story is quite interesting.
Our visit to Marsaxlok was a real surprise. We were expecting a small fishing harbour with an ugly backdrop of power station type industry and to an extent that is what is there, A quite largish town coming down to a reasonable sized harbour with the previously described industry in the background BUT if you just looked at the immediate harbour it was beautiful. It was full of brightly coloured fishing boats moored at odd angles jostling together as the waves bumped them up and down. The predominant colours were yellow and blue, this combined with a lovely blue sky, the sunshine and a hot coffee on the harbour front was idyllic.There were men mending nets, painting boats and generally messing around in the boats. On the harbour front there was a mixture of workers, locals wandering around and a few tourists ( bear in mind it was February), enough people to make it interesting but not enough to spoil it. There was a small market selling the usual tourist tat but also had local foods like nougat and pastries which they offered you to try hoping you would like it so much ( or feel so guilty) that you would buy.
After our coffee we wandered around taking photos and enjoying the ambience before deciding to enjoy a seafood lunch at one of the restaurants right on the harbour. The food was extremely fresh and very tasty. We decided as my husband was driving that we would not imbibe any alcohol and tried the local soft drink Kinnie which is made from a bitter-sweet blend of Mediterranean chinotto oranges and a secret recipe of more than a dozen Mediterranean herbs,it is perfect as a refreshing soft drink. We kept on tasting it trying to pick out the flavour and eventually decided it was like angostura bitters.
I cannot say anything about the beaches or what Malta is like in the summer but it certainly a very interesting place historically and the landscape and scenery were quite different, very Mediterranean. We spent a week there and found plenty to see and do and we did not see everything on offer. The people were friendly and spoke English most places we went so that wasn't a problem. I would definitely recommend a visit especially if history interests you as Malta has been called a living museum.
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