Arriving with Air Malta from any of the 45+ European destinations, you won’t always be treated with the most lush views from the sky. Especially when visiting in the dry, warm months of June-August, before the rain falls. But there is much more to these three small islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea than a first glance would make you suspect.
In fact, with a history dating back to 5200 BC, cultural influences from all around the world and apparently being the country with the best climate in the world, you’ll probably leave with an entire different view of this country that is often overlooked. This article will give you some ideas of things to do in Malta, Gozo and Comino with a focus on the best cultural sights, stunning nature and places to taste the best local food.
Malta’s natural sights
Because of Malta’s fair weather all year round, the Maltese Islands lend themselves well to outdoor activities. There are many natural spots to explore and once the rain falls after the long, hot summer, you will see the landscape fill itself with a variety of wild flowers and plants. From mid-November until mid-May, the Islands are green and lush with fields full of vegetables, fennel, clover, wild iris and myrtle. If you like hiking, Malta, Gozo and Comino are the perfect place for you. From dramatic cliffs plunging into waves to hidden, lush valleys and beaches, it’s all here. On the way, you will come across mysterious prehistoric sites, medieval chapels and secluded palaces of the Knights.
Don’t let the view from the plane misguide you, there is much more to Malta than the barren look it has from above! The islands are covered in wild plants such as cacti. For a complete list, visit this website: maltawildplants.com
The beaches of Malta
Malta has beaches for everyone, whether you like to just sunbath or get active. The sand varies from golden to red sand and you can find impressive rocks to blue lagoons and even inland seas. On the larger beaches, you will find cafés or snack-bars that are open during the summer (until October usually, because of the great weather: it’s usually sunny up to 300 days a year!) and you can also hire windsurfing, jet and water skiing, kayaking, para-kiting and fun rides equipment here.
Malta’s most popular beaches are Mellieħa Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa and Golden Bay. For smaller, quieter beaches, try those at the tip of Malta, overlooking Gozo, such as Paradise Bay and Armier.
On Gozo, the most beautiful beach is Ramla Bay (Ramla l-Ħamra), which you can see above. This beach has a bit of a myth to it as well, as nearby Calypso’s Cave is said to be the place referred to by Homer in The Odyssey, where the nymph Calypso lived who entertained Ulysses for seven years before he resumed his journey. Another place you do no want miss out on is the island Comino. A boat trip from Gozo to Comino’s Blue Lagoon will show you the ultimate azure water, where you can go for a swim or snorkel.
Dwejra Bay has dramatic coastal formations. You can either swim here in the deep sea of the bay, in the calm shallows of the inland sea or in the foamy waters around the Blue Hole (one of Gozo’s top dive sites) beneath the iconic Azure Window. This is also the place, for all fans of the TV-series Game of Thrones, where the Dothraki wedding scene between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen in season 1 was filmed. From the inland sea, you can also take a short boat ride through a rock formation to see the cobalt blue water and get up close to the Azure window.
Malta’s local delicacies
As Malta has seen many civilizations occupy her islands, the local cuisine is a rich blend of Mediterranean flavours. Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons. For example, try the Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Braġioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille) and Widow’s Soup, which includes a small round of Ġbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese).
In the shops, you will often see Bigilla, a thick pate of broad beans with garlic. Other great local snacks are ħobż biż-żejt (bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with ripe tomatoes and filled with a mix of tuna, onion, garlic, tomatoes and capers) and pastizzi (flaky savoury pastry parcel filled with ricotta or mushy peas). Pastizzi: depending on where you buy them, you’ll pay between 30-60 euro cents per piece. At the Fontanella restaurant in Mdina, they were lovely.
When there is enough fish, you will find Aljotta (fish soup) on the menu. Depending on the season, you’ll also see Spnotta (bass), Dott (stone fish), Cerna (grouper), Dentici (dentex), Sargu (white bream) and Trill (red mullet). Swordfish and Tuna follow later in the season,followed by Lampuka.
Octopus and squid are very often used to make some rich stews and pasta sauces. Malta is not very well known for their wines, but many grape varieties are grown on the Islands. The indigenous varieties are Ġellewza and Ghirghentina, producing some excellent wines.
For dessert, try the Kannoli (tube of crispy, fried pastry filled with ricotta), Sicilian-style semi-freddo desserts (mix of sponge, ice-cream, candied fruits and cream) and Ħelwa tat-Tork (sweet mixture of crushed and whole almonds).
Cultural highlights of Malta and Gozo
With 7000 years of history, there are enough historical and cultural sights on the islands of Malta to keep you busy. An overview with a top 10 of the best sights and activities:
2. Besides the UNESCO sites, there are numerous of other historical and archaeological sites scattered around Malta and Gozo. Find an overview here: heritagemalta.org.
3. The St. John’s Co-Cathedral can be found within the walls of Valletta and was built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578. A comprehensive audio tour is included in your ticket.
4. Mdina is the old Capital city of Malta and is also referred to as ‘the noble city’ as many noble families (still) live within the city walls. Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and is extraordinary in its mix of medieval and Baroque architecture.
5. After visiting Mdina, make sure to walk to the adjacent town of Rabat. It was important during the Roman period and you can find archaeological and historical sites such as the Roman Domus (Villa), Catacombs, St. Paul’s Grotto and fine churches and monasteries here.
6. A ferry runs every 40 minutes from the main island of Malta to the quieter sister island Gozo. Perfect for a day trip to explore more of the culture, nature and calm areas of Malta.
7. From the Old Citadel in ir-Rabat on Gozo, you’ll get a fantastic view over the city and surrounding area. Have a drink on the rooftop bar and visit the local museums.
8. Triq ir-Repubblika is ir-Rabat (Victoria)’s main street and you will find all kinds of restaurants and shops here. The center is Pjazza Indipendenza, known as it-Tokk. In the mornings there is an open market here. The magnificent St.George’s Basilica stands in a smaller square just behind It-Tokk in the heart of the old town.
9. Every little village in Malta has its own church and they vary from 17th-century baroque to 20th-century neoclassical, from small and intimate to one of the largest domes in the world. The Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary on Gozo is one of the most popular after a woman heard the voice of ‘Our Lady’ at the small chapel that then occupied this site in 1883. It rapidly became a center of pilgrimage and it still is.
10. If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, there are many places to go on both Malta as Gozo. For example in Xlendi Bay on Gozo, you can swim, snorkel, dive, boat, jet ski, kayak or fish. You won’t be bored for a moment.
Find out more about things to do in Malta, Gozo and Comino
Whether you are into history and archeology, architecture, art, religious tourism, getting active, cultural events or just lazing around on the beach enjoying life, there is something for you on the islands of Malta. The sun shines some 300 days of the year and even in January the average daytime high is 15ºC, so you can hardly go wrong with a visit to Malta!For more information and planning your trip, you can visit visitmalta.com and visitgozo.com.Enjoy your time in Malta!
Note: Nienke Krook (The Travel Tester) visited Malta on behalf of Velvet Escape as part of the #MaltaIsMore campaign, organised by the Malta Tourism Authority and iambassador.
All words and photos represent Nienke’s personal and honest views and experiences during her visit of Malta, Gozo and Comino island.