Malta – a place I scarcely knew existed until last summer (that might be embarrassing, but at least I’m honest) and yet I can now say that Malta is definitley one of the countries most rich in human history I’ve ever visited… not to mention, it’s also one of the most naturally beautiful.
Malta is made-up of a cluster of 3 small islands hiding just below the coast of Sicily. When I say the islands are small, I mean teeny tiny. Comino, the smallest of the islands, has a population of 3, one hotel, and is car-free (and care-free). We chose Malta on a whim, as was the theme with many of our destinations over our summer hopping around Europe. We found ourselves with about a week of time to fill mid-July before we headed to Tomorrowland, a massive festival taking place in Belgium, so we decided to spend our week somewhere completely new to us. When I say we had no idea what to expect, I truly mean we had seen nothing about Malta aside from scrolling through a few of Google’s top page search results. When you visit a country, you’ve often already formulated some sort of visual expectation of the experience you will have there. With Malta, we had practically nothing. And for this reason, it was definitely the most exciting place we visited all summer.
We were lucky enough to get in touch with Malta’s tourism board who welcomed us so warmly and even set us up with a 3-day itinerary of some essential Malta-musts. Had we not had the best possible guidance for truly seeing all that is Malta it would have been trickier to know exactly what to do with our time. I definitely recommend doing ample research before visiting this special country so you can really experience the islands and formulate an itinerary that suits you and your interests.
Many refer to Malta’s cities as “places lost in time”. This sounds very romantic, maybe a little dramatic – but let me tell you… it’s just downright accurate. This place has been used on countless movie sets for good reason, it’s practically a movie set as is. There are quiet micro-cities that haven’t changed much since they were built back in, say like 1500? One of our highlights of this leg of the summer was visiting Malta’s island of Gozo – a place that truly does seem to have stood still while the rest of the world moves at lightening speed. And I mean that quite literally, Gozo is the site to some of the world’s oldest free-standing structures – namely, the Megalithic Temples of Malta. It’s a weird (and cool) feeling standing next to one of the oldest prehistoric structures still standing on earth today. This temple on Gozo outdates even Stonehenge. Woah.
The streets and buildings on Gozo, specifically it’s capital city Victoria, known by native Maltese as Rabat, are made of hefty blocks of light beige stone, all if which is sourced from the natural material found on the island and has been for centuries. You feel as though you are moving through an ancient street straight from the 1500s, with the occasional reminder of the 21st century peaking through in a phone booth or an ad for toothpaste plastered in a shop window.
A short drive through these antiquated streets and you’re on beautiful coastal island terrain again, complete with bright blue water and extra-terrestrial-looking rock formations. Oh yeah, and some of the best diving in the world. Malta is a hot-spot for scuba enthusiasts and beginners alike.
We stayed at Corinthia hotel, St. George’s Bay in St Julian’s. Surrounded by the glistening Mediterranean, this upscale hotel is located perfectly at the entrance of St. George’s Bay where many water activities take place during the day. The hotel itself has an amazing pool area overlooking the bay, as well as an outstanding restaurant, Caviar & Bull.
This area of Malta, while beautiful, felt a little more Westernized. It still retains a great energy about it, but it lies in stark contrast to the historical capital city Valetta, which feels like a different world entirely. St. Julians was consistently buzzing with what felt like mainly younger Euro-travelers, keen to spend their summer holidays sunbathing on the beaches and nights dancing in the town’s nightclubs and bars. We only briefly walked through St. Julian’s town area, but got the impression it was a much more commercialized pocket of Malta, no doubt to accommodate the country’s surge of tourism (Malta receives 3 times more tourists than its population per year).
Where the history is most saturated is the capital city on Malta, Valletta. Valetta was named ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world,’ and deemed a World Heritage City (a big deal), and was also declared European Capital of Culture in 2018. But you’ve already seen Valletta many times, I promise you. It’s been featured in hundreds of TV shows and movies throughout cinematic history, usually cast as a city other than itself. In the Count of Monte Cristo, Valletta plays Marseille. In Game of Thrones, it is…. well, whatever mystical land Game of Thrones takes place in (can you tell I haven’t seen Game of Thrones? Should I start??). Why is Valetta used in so many Hollywood productions? Because it doesn’t look like your typical, modern city capital. It looks like something you might stumble upon in your ship a few hundred years ago, winding cobbled streets compete with horse-drawn carriages and all.
I would love to stay in Valetta on future Malta visits. It’s packed with shopping, cafes, restaurants and apartments, all while keeping its mesmerizing historical appearance back from when it was built by St Johns knights in the year 1565.
Aside from cities frozen in time with a rich history to blow your mind, Malta also boasts the most extraordinary beaches, underwater caves, and some of the bluest crystal clear water in the world. We took full advantage of Malta’s blue treasures, ranging from tourist hotspots to empty caves only reachable by boat.
The Blue Lagoon is most definitely a tourist favorite, but understandably so. This popular Malta attraction is a paradise of shallow waters between Comino, the smallest island and Malta, the main island. If you’re looking for a secluded beach, Blue Lagoon isn’t your place. It’s almost always packed with masses of tourists despite it only being reachable by boat or ferry. It’s a great place to spend a sunny summer day soaking up the European sun next to blindingly blue waters while sipping on a pina colada, served from a pineapple. But of course, alongside crowds of travelers doing the same. While it’s no peaceful private beach, it’s such an iconic hangout spot in Malta, we knew we had to experience an afternoon here.
Beyond the popular beaches, there are so many more adventures to be had as well as unique picturesque moments around Malta’s islands. Popeye’s Village, for example, is an old 1980 Hollywood film set for the musical Popeye starring Robin Williams. The film set has now been restored to an old-fashioned theme park, attracting tourists visiting Malta. The staged little village looks strikingly surreal sitting just above the shining blue waters of Anchor Bay, and makes for a beautiful photo backdrop.
We really left Malta feeling we’d seen so many different sides and personalities to just one tiny country that marks such significant moments in history. I really think there is something on Malta for everyone, from the rich history, churches and cathedrals, temples and archaeological sites to the other-worldly waters and the many activities they provide. We made so many lovely memories on Malta and hope to visit again some day! We want to thank the Maltese tourism for their hospitality as well as all the kind and welcoming people we met throughout our adventures in Malta.