For many, October means the evenings drawing in, frosty mornings, Halloween, pumpkin spiced lattes (we love the annual revival of this tasty treat from a well-known coffee chain -others are available!) and all things trick n’ treat. For me, this year it meant the annual trip away with my mum!
This year’s “girlievant” (yes that’s the actual term she has come up with – meaning an exclusively girls only trip – no boys allowed) took us to the sunnier shores of the tiny island of Malta.
The majority of tourists see this central Mediterranean island as a purely “beach holiday” destination where flocks of tourists migrate to the sun-drenched coastlines during the summer months to indulge in their annual dose of Vitamin D. However, for us, the few days we spent there entailed delving further into this island’s unique heritage, history and culture beyond what many see on the surface.
A bit of background, this small yet mighty island was first inhabited during the golden Neolithic age dating around 4500 – 5500 years ago. Since then, traces from all major civilizations including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Byzantines can be found sprinkled all over the islands – not only in the architectural influences but also in the local culture. The last foreign ‘ruler’ of Malta was the British Empire right up until 1964 when Malta then became independent and a republic and in 1974 chose to join the European Union and ‘Eurozone’ in the early 2000’s
After an early flight with some 200 other weary passengers, we arrived on a Friday morning at the slightly – considerably actually – 3 degrees warmer Luqa International airport, the small gateway to what would be the next few days of exploring Malta. Cue -blonde moments, crazy adventures, endless “mumapedia” (I swear she’s better than most search engines!) and no doubt some legendary shenanigans we will laugh about for months if not years…. don’t mention queuing for the car park!
So, first up – after arrival formalities and elbowing through the crowds at the baggage reclaim, it was time to collect what would be our noble chariot (car) for the coming days. Our “chariot” turned out to be more of an engine powered skateboard! Nevertheless armed with the ever trusty Google maps we set out for our hotel in the town of Sliema. After a somewhat fraught drive (Maltese drivers love their horns but clearly not their indicators) we arrived to our very lovely yet somewhat hidden hotel. After ditching the ‘skateboard’ we set out for a stroll to explore the local area. After walking along the seafront around to St. Julian’s Bay we could see the historical city and Maltese capital of Valletta sitting across the harbour front as the sun was beginning to set.
We decided venturing across there would have to wait for another day. After filling our very empty tummies with some traditional Maltese cuisine, including ricotta ravioli, feta salad, fresh sword fish and rabbit stew in a quaint restaurant overlooking the seafront, we returned to the comfort of the hotel to rest our weary bodies.
Over the next 2 days we filled our time with somewhat fractious driving along many one way streets (I definitely have more grey hairs and am now the queen of all hill starts! Who knew Malta had so many steep streets??), many church visits, harbour walks and random history lessons (yes from “mumapedia”)
We visited Birgu, the old walled city where we spent some time in the Inquisitor’s Palace, a museum dedicated to the Roman Inquisition in Malta and those who presided over said events. We wandered through the cobbled laneways that have not changed much in centuries to the seafront fort of St. Angelo (may have indulged in some liquid refresh on route!). On our way back we also visited the War Museum housed just outside the fortified walls.
The War Museum
As you can imagine the museum is solely dedicated to the story of the Second World War in Malta and the struggles of the Maltese people and the integral role this tiny island played in the campaign against Italy and Germany. To this day, Malta is the only nation to collectively hold a George Cross in recognition of the bravery and solidarity of the Maltese people. We spent nearly 2 hours here, with very detailed and in-depth accounts of not only the military but also the civilian effort, covering everything from food shortages and fuel supplies, national defences, military hardware and generally being a base of allied operations in the Mediterranean. We even had the chance to delve into one of the original underground air raid shelters and let me tell you 10 minutes was more than enough to make me feel uncomfortable (I’m not even claustrophobic!) It is reported raids lasted anywhere between 30 mins and a few days) I am truly thankful I didn’t have to experience being down there during a stressful situation like that. One can never truly understand the trials, strains and sheer devastation the islanders endured but the vast collection of memorabilia, documentation, commentary and information curated in the museum gives you the best possible chance of understanding to some extent.
Mosta’s Famous Church
Continuing on we also visited the Cottonera lines – the line of fortifications in Cospicua and Birgu built in the 17th and 18th Century. We drove along the coast and towards the village of Mosta, famous for its church, Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady. The design of the church as it stands today is based on the Pantheon in Rome. At one point this church had the third largest unsupported dome in the world. The church narrowly avoided destruction during the second world war when on 9 April 1942 a German aerial bomb pierced the dome and fell into the church during Mass but failed to explode. This event was interpreted by the Maltese as a true miracle.
Medina – we only had a drive-by on this iconic city which was a great shame as believe it or not we couldn’t find anywhere to park! Anyway, we continued our adventure along the eastern coastline following the stunning cliffside drive towards to the Tarxien Temples. The Neolithic ruins are a collection of temples, the oldest of which is said to date to 2500BC. We took some time looking around the site before heading back to enjoy some well-earned R and R at the hotel (my nerves deserved the rest from the driving and horn beeping). I apologise to all those I have advised to hire cars in Malta in the past. Although they drive on the same side as we do, that’s about the only common denominator! We didn’t factor in pot holes, one-way road systems, hills, impatient locals and terrible signage!
The Capital City of Valletta
Our final day bought us our final adventure in the Maltese capital of Valletta (it also bought a lot of rain – here was I thinking the days would be all filled with sunshine!) After successfully parking the car, (we spent 10 minutes in the “queue” to the car park only to discover from a local we were just waiting behind a line of parked cars- oops!!) we headed on foot into the walled city to explore.
We walked through the cobbled lanes, past St. Paul’s and St. John’s Cathedrals and all along the fortified walls. We purchased a few souvenirs – yes including a tacky fridge magnet! (Just had to be done!). After getting suitably drenched we decided to give up as the weather gods had well and truly beaten us into submission and the thought of a soggy flight home was not appealing. We headed back to the car and on to the airport where we dropped off the trusty skateboard (I was getting a little attached to her at the end!) and headed for a well-earned warm coffee before our flight home.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable few days, lots of adventures (as always) some quality time and some late summer sunshine. I would definitely recommend Malta for a visit not only for a seaside break but it is most definitely a destination for those seeking this, plus something more on the culture side.