Blinded by the allure and glamour of the Amalfi Coast and the rustic beauty of the Balearic Islands, Malta—the tiny Mediterranean island just 50 miles south of Sicily—probably hasn’t creeped its way onto your travel bucket list. You may think that the other seaside destinations are far more compelling based on the proliferation of Amalfi shots on your Instagram feed and complete lack of Malta geotags. And that’s understandable. You haven’t seen much of this tiny slice of Mediterranean heaven on Instagram and that’s a damn shame.
There’s an alluring laid-back feel and modest beauty to this small Mediterranean island and plenty of activities (or stunning spots to sit and do nothing) to fill your days and impress your followers. Whether you’re plunging into Sliema’s Ballutta Bay for an afternoon dip in the middle of the city, exploring the old, narrow streets of Valletta and Mdina, or jumping off cliffs with the locals into the country’s many natural pools, you’ll leave Malta wanting more.
As a visitor, what will strike you the most about Malta is that it’s virtually untouched by other tourists. Don’t expect to see loads of tour busses or swarms of tour groups filling the streets. And if you’re a history buff, or just love marveling at stunning architecture, you’re in for a treat. Malta has been colonized again and again, by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, the French, and the British before it claimed its independence in 1964—it’s a fascinating history that’s visible around every corner. You can easily spend hours wandering and taking in the city’s medieval and Baroque buildings and prehistoric temples.
So before you book your trip to the popular, crowded beaches of Mykonos, you might want to give Malta a shot.
Go the Airbnb route in either of the central, more modern towns like St. Julian’s and Sliema. Lined with bars and nightclubs, St. Julian’s makes for a rowdier scene with partygoers flooding the streets into the wee hours, so if you want to be in the line of fire, St. Julian’s is your spot. Stay in the neighboring town of Sliema for a quieter and more relaxed vibe. Pro tip: Make sure you inquire about parking space, as you’ll need to rent a car to get around. The bus system is unreliable and taxis are scarce when you get to the more rural areas.
To Eat and Drink:
The best and most authentic Maltese restaurants are in the country’s tiny walled capital, Valletta. Hop on the sunset ferry from Sliema and cruise over for a late afternoon stroll through the treasure trove of beautiful Baroque architecture, saving time for a visit to St. John’s Co-Cathedral before dinner. If you’re an adventurous eater and want to try the traditional Maltese dishes (and a great selection of Maltese wine), Legligin is not to be missed. Tucked away in a small downstairs cellar, you’ll want to book ahead. The owner, Chris, does much of the cooking himself, offering an authentic (and extensive!) Maltese tasting menu for just 27 euros per person. Some highlights include traditional aioli and dip made from local sun-dried tomatoes, capers, garlic, olives, olive oil, and anchovies, grilled quail breast served with Maltese summer salad with the local rocket, tender octopus with herbs and garlic, pork casserole, and rabbit in wine, garlic, and tarragon. Fair warning: Don’t fill up on the bread. If you’re looking for more of a fine-dining experience and a straightforward Mediterranean menu, head over to Rampilla. The restaurant is housed in an old 16th-century bastion that was originally built by the Knights of St. John to guard the newly constructed Valletta and from the terrace, it offers beautiful views of the city gate and bridge. For a digestif after dinner, Bridge Bar really comes to life on Fridays with live jazz sessions on the steps of St. Ursola Street with scenic views of the Grand Harbour.
Malta offers an abundance of rocky beaches and natural swimming pools. Arguably the most Instagram-worthy natural pool in Malta is St. Peters Pool on Delimara promontory. Depending on where your GPS leads you, you’ll probably have parked on a cliff. Navigating your way along the cliff with the help of vague signs, you’ll see some impressive teaser views of the sea. Eventually you’ll spot the stairs that lead you down to a Mediterranean playground. Although popular among locals and tourists, because of the remote location, it’s rarely too crowded and you can always find a spot on the dusty limestone. At St. Peters, you can swim among the locals in the crystal clear water and even cliff dive. Once you’ve had enough sun, head to Marsaxlokk, Malta’s traditional fishing village, for lunch and views of the colorful fishing boats.
Half a mile from the popular tourist trap, Blue Grotto, is Ghar Lapsi, a small secluded inlet untouched by tourists. The natural pool opens up to deep, clear water, making it one of the most idyllic spots in Malta for snorkeling and diving. While on the west side, finish the day with a sunset at Dingli Cliffs. Take a day trip to Malta’s sister islands of Comino and Gozo by renting a boat. Cruise over to Comino’s breathtaking Blue Lagoon, explore the hidden caves en route to Gozo then anchor up in Gozo’s southwest village of Xlendi for a seafood lunch before heading back.
If you manage to tire of the rocky beaches and natural swimming pools, but want something more luxe than a public beach, hit Baia Beach Club for a fuss-free day of relaxation. While a private club, nonmembers are able to reserve sun loungers for the day with a (well worth it) restaurant reservation at the club. Otherwise, sun loungers are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Swim in the clear water, order refreshing cocktails, eat good food, and then use the club’s showers to get ready for your next stop.
Slow your adventure-packed trip down with a visit to Malta’s “Silent City” of Mdina. Founded by the Phoenicians 4,000 years ago, it is the oldest city in Malta. Very few cars are permitted inside Mdina’s monochromatic walls. Get lost walking around the narrow streets among the residences that house just 300 inhabitants as well as beautiful Baroque and medieval architecture. Mdina is the perfect place to slow down and catch your breath.
Timeout – 2017/2018
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Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants in Malta & Gozo
Baia Beach Club has won the Definitive(ly) Good Guide – Top Restaurants in Malta & Gozo!