It‘s a Friday afternoon, I‘m at home – reading newspapers, slowing down my pace and welcoming the weekend‘s ambiance.
Somewhere in the horoscope section, I see a ridiculous sentence that refers to my sign – ”An unplanned trip overseas awaits, paid by someone else – a business trip or someone asking you to accompany them“.
”Come on!“ I smile to myself, ”who believes this nonsense?!“
Two days later, an email from Malta‘s Tourism Authority arrives in my mailbox. On the other side of the keyboard, lovely Janet is inviting me on an official visit to the island curtesy of Visit Malta.
”Unbelievable!“ I think to myself, ”maybe it‘s time to stop being such a cynic and realize all my dreams are close enough to grasp“.
”What do I actually know about Malta?“ I wondered. Surprisingly and sadly, the answer is – ”not much“.
None of my close acquaintances or friends had ever visited the country and many of them didn’t even know where it‘s located. In short, an exceptional opportunity for me to visit a place many have yet to discover.
A few important facts about Malta, before we begin –
Malta islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino are located in the heart of the Mediterranean sea, close to the southern shore of Sicily. Their geographic location reflects well in the local culture, the language and even the weather – did anyone say 20 degrees Celsius in the middle of December?
The official local language is ”Maltese“ – a Semitic language, similar to Hebrew and Arabic, written with Latin letters and incorporating many words from English and Italian. A special, intriguing language – similar to no other I‘ve ever heard before. English, by the way, is another official language on the islands – a remainder from the times of the British Empire.
Another trait that remains from the days of the British Empire – In Malta they drive on the left side of the road… Or as the marketing manager of Hotel Corinthia, Mr Andres Galea told me – ”on Malta we drive on the “right” (proper) side of the road!“ ;-)
Speaking of vehicles, another fact that‘s worth knowing – the national airline, Air Malta, recently launched their Tel Aviv-Malta line and operates two flights each week to the destination. So basically, a three hour flight is all that separates you from a truly dreamy vacation, as you‘re about to discover.
A cute piece of trivia – throughout the years, Malta has served as a set for many movies and TV series we all know thanks to breathtaking views, fortresses and unique historical buildings that are present in the region. From children‘s movies such as Popeye (there was a movie like this way back in the seventies), large-scale productions such as ”The DaVinci code“ and ”By the sea“ – staring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and of course – ”Game of thrones“!
This is undoubtedly quite the achievement for a country so small it could fit into Israel 65 times.
My visit to Malta started before I arrived on the island, upon receiving a detailed trip plan from Visit Malta, sent in advance for my approval.
I can’t remember when was the last time I traveled with a tour guide or when I actually followed to a formed plan, but it was a refreshing change that intensified the experience, as far as I‘m concerned. I was finally relieved from researching, reading, asking and coordinating. Dreamy! Add to that the fact that I really hate driving when I’m abroad, certainly ”on the proper side of the road“, so it was clear to me that a true vacation awaits.
My friends at Visit Malta deserve credit for skillfully cooking up a diverse trip plan, including cities and main sites, leisure and cultural activities – tailored to my needs, as well as mind blowing culinary experiences.
I wonder what would have happened if I arrived during the summer, when the weather permits Marine sports (Malta has a number of diving sites that are heavenly – for fans of the genre) and another sport – my personal favorite – idling in the sun, by the beach ;-)
I flew to Malta with my good friend Nimrod, who‘s also the talented photographer that‘s been taking my photos for the past three and a half years.
Happy and excited, we arrived to Malta Friday morning and after a short introduction with our guide, the oh so fun – Audrey, and our driver with a heart of gold – Ali, we started the first tour that focused on the capital city – Valetta, declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site and appointed by the European union as the culture capital for 2018.
Apart from Valetta being an exceptionally beautiful city, its small ground is home to many important historical sites. One of which is the breathtaking Saint John‘s Cathedral, where two of Caravaggio‘s most famous paintings reside.
In addition to the many historical landmarks that are concentrated in the city‘s small frame, it‘s a bubbly, lively city with magical alleys that very much reminded me of different cities in Italy. In town you can find restaurants, fashion stores and charming coffee shops that are filled with history, such as Caffe Cordina (that‘s been operating for the past 175 years), and you can taste traditional dishes such as the ”Ftira“ – a sandwich that is insulted to be called a sandwich, made from traditional bread filled with a mixture of tuna fish, sun-dried tomato paste, capers and a million of other good things. In short – it‘s highly recommended!
We rounded up our visit to Valetta with an impressive viewpoint from the upper Barracca gardens, overlooking the entire area. Personally, I enjoyed Valetta very much and given the chance – I would have loved to continue to stroll its alley ways for many more hours.
From there we headed to the city of Mdina – ”The Noble City“ (Città Notabile) – a historical city surrounded by a wall, located on the highest point of Malta. For years, Mdina served as the capital city and as perfect scenery for many films.
A stroll between the alleys led us to an old sign, written in Hebrew – ”The old Jewish Silk Market“. A remnant of the existence of a small Jewish community that resided there many years ago.
We finished the day with tea, sandwiches and cakes – refreshments that well suit the aristocrats we are, in the luxurious tea house within the magical castle – Palazzo Parisio. A highly recommended experience.
Tired but very pleased, we arrived in the early evening to the Corinthia hotel, located in Saint George‘s bay, close to the nightlife area of the island (or as Nimrod and I called it – ”the young people‘s area“), for a short walk around led us to the gloomy conclusion that all of that joy no longer suits our age ;-)
Nevertheless, we found great pleasure in the amenities the hotel had to offer – comfortable and spacious rooms, a rich breakfast menu, a luxurious spa and gym, six swimming pools, restaurants, a scuba diving club and much more, as well as highly courteous and professional service.
By the way, after falling in a tourist trap and eating a very dissatisfying dinner in one of the restaurants located in the nightlife area, we found out that by the hotel there are very good restaurants, one of which is even considered one of the five best chef restaurants on the island – Caviar and Bull.
I recommend ordering the tasting menu, which includes nine dishes and dessert, for an extraordinary culinary experience. You have my word!
We opened our second day in Malta with a visit to an archeological site – the temple of Ħaġar Qim, whose full secret is yet to be revealed. It was intriguing to see the ancient building methods and impressive architecture that characters the venue, and of course – the sculptures of the full-bodied women that were found on the premises, evidence to the fact that perhaps it was once believed that god is a woman (genius!).
From there, we continued to a tour in the photogenic fisherman village – Marsxlokk where we enjoyed several hours of sun and touring around the souvenir stands. I have to admit that at this point of the trip, I had already started asking myself how is it possible that I haven’t visited this charming place before?!
For lunch, we were invited by the gracious chef, Victor Aquilina, to enter the kitchen of Ta‘ Victor restaurant – which he owns, and to learn a bit about the traditional Maltese kitchen. The chef‘s hospitality was exceptional. In addition to his delicious food, it turns out that humble Victor has had the opportunity to entertain quite a few presidents and heads of states, and to cook at many events offering foods from around the world. His charming personality won me over, but it was his desserts that completely swept me off my feet!
By the way, during my visit I discovered that the Maltese specialize in baked goods – the bread is dreamy, as are the cookies – made of high quality, deliciously soft dough. But Victor‘s ”Bread pudding“ is a whole different story. ”Cleaning up the kitchen“ is the name of the bread pudding, made of leftover bread, dried fruits and other kitchen leftovers – because they don‘t throw food away in Malta.
Sounds weird? Maybe… But the taste is heavenly.
Happy and well fed, we drove to an alley tour and a cruise through the bay that connects The Three Cities – three ancient, fortified cities located North-East Malta – Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea. An amazing experience!
After two days of visiting cities and villages from different periods, located on the island of Malta, on the third day we sailed to the island of Gozo – which is the birthplace of our guide, Audrey, so we had already heard many great stories about the place and were looking forward to our visit. After 30 minutes of sailing, we arrived at a calm, rural more peaceful island.
We visited the ancient Citadel of Victoria, which is part of the World Heritage site according to UNESCO, and heard about the many incarnations and uses that were made of it by residents of the island and the region, over history.
We continued to a tour of the picturesque alleys of the area. There, I was especially charmed by the colorful building facades and the symbols of religion and various sculptures the were incorporated in the residential walls.
We then drove to the north shore of Gozo to see the Marsalforn salt pans, that are part of a traditional salt manufacturing process the locals have specialized in for centuries.
To sum up our visit to Gozo, we stopped to admire the view at Dwerja, an area especially popular among diving fans, not before we had lunch at a lovely family restaurant name Il-Kartell, located on the Marsalforn pier, which offers a large selection of local dishes. I especial like the range vegetable soup.
As by now you‘ve probably realized, a visit to Malta offers a wide variety of sceneries and experiences, as well as culinary and cultural richness, mediterranean weather and there has yet to be a word said about the beaches and the night life on the island.
Speaking of breathtaking views, you can‘t leave out Golden Bay – the second largest sandy beach on the island of Malta and one of the most popular ones – thanks to amazing sunsets, the unique view, the endless greenery and of course – the beach facilities and water sports it has to offer.
Our forth and last day in the heaven which is named Malta was quite laid back.
After a breathtaking lookout over Golden Bay and the village that was built in the 70‘s for the production of the film Popeye, we had lunch at The Cliff restaurant, which offers seasonal dishes according to the produce that grows in the area.
From there we continued to a wine tasting at Meridiana Winery, a charming boutique winery that was built on the wreckage of an airport from World War II in order to produce Maltese wines that will win international praise.
The wines are made from grapes that only grow on Malta‘s soil, while each bottle receives a unique marking and the approval of Malta‘s government that it is indeed local produce.
The name ”Meridiana“ and the symbol of the sun that characterizes the mansion, drew their inspiration from the location of the winery and the fields – southern Malta. As part of the wine tour, we tried four types of wine, but if I had to choose one that my palette found most pleasing, it would be the Nexus Merlot Superior.
The magical island I had discovered, delivered exciting and unique experiences. For four days – a smile didn’t leave my face, mostly thanks to the wonderful hospitality of our friends at Visit Malta, which included a rich and pampering trip plan, carried out with the sensitivity and precision of a military operation.
The new friends I had made – Janet, Audrey, Ali, Victor and Andrew, had left such a great impression on me in regards to the hospitality and the warmth that characterizes the people of Malta, so I‘m certain I’ll return to visit the island again soon!
Thank you, Visit Malta, for an extraordinary experience, and for choosing me as your ambassador :-)
NIRRINGRAZZJAK ĦAFNA GĦALL-OSPITALITÀ TIEGĦEK!
(thank you very much for your hospitality)
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: NIMROD KAPELUTO