Unexpected R&R in Malta

Posted on July 14, 2014

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A friend and I needed a bit of R&R and found ourselves in Malta after spying great deal on Secret Escapes. Staying at the Corinthia Palace in the centre of the island with full breakfast and access to the spa for circa £250 each for four nights. Bargain.

And to boot the hotel staff are possibly the nicest and most accommodating I have come across. The hotel is in between at Attard and Balzan, a small town that’s easy to walk around, and right next door are the Palace and San Anton gardens. These give an easy place to while away a couple of hours in tranquility with the odd peacock roaming around, and would be an amazing place to have a large function (if they rent it out).

Don’t expect too much of the area in terms of shops and restaurants in either. Jus was recommended and looked good but seemed expensive. Smugglers cove also got good write ups on Trip Advisor but on our one evening here we chose Melita, under new management from 1st July which served one of the nicest (and heaviest) seafood pasta I’ve eaten in a long time: linguine al dente, locally gown cherry tomatoes bursting with flavour and generous seafood in olive oil with a hint of garlic. Dessert was unnecessary but both the ice cream and cheesecake were worth it.

Deciding to walk off the dinner from the night before we went exploring, using the free hotel shuttle bus. Seen from miles away the cathedral’s domed roof (one of hundreds of churches on this small island) makes the capital city of Valletta easy to spot. It’s the largest city on the island and has kept it’s charm. A good starting point is to go to the ‘Malta Experience‘ to get some of the fascinating history of the island. Not usually my thing I’m actually a little disappointed that we didn’t manage to do it as so many recommended it. Instead we spent the morning wandering along the small streets, stopping at gardens, for coffee and some of the little shops.

The hotel shuttle also has trips to St Julien’s, the livelier nightspot. I’m not really a nightspot person, especially with packed bars advertising to students with cheap shots, however walking down to the calmer harbour, there were a few good food spots. We discovered the fantastic Gululu indirectly from Jamie Oliver’s blog post ‘Malta: a lot of a good thing’. More pasta, this time with the island speciality of rabbit (which I have come to like 20 years after a traumatic incident in my teens). Maltese food is simple and tasty, I loved the peppered sheep’s cheese, rage of dips and particularly the small juicy tomatoes. The only downside was that everything came with olives and capers – two of my least favourite things (yes I know, everyone else loves olives, I just can’t get excited about them).

IMG_7273For a flavour of Malta, it would almost be a sin not to visit Gozo and Comino just off the northern coast. Gozo may also be worth spending a few nights on to get more of a quiet, authentic experience if you have sufficient time (Comino on the other hand is virtually uninhabited).

There are a number of tour operators that take boats to these islands, plus a regular ferry. We decided on Hera, who have two Turkish gullets that do day trips around the coast of Malta and then stop at Blue Lagoon for the afternoon. They were great: The boat was busy but not packed; The staff had the measure of people and responded accordingly; Music was circa 1994-1998, which we thought was hilarious. Cost was 50euros which included a delicious lunch and some drinks (others, including beer, we’re sold at reasonable prices).

Boats usually go from Sliema, the port next to Valletta. If you have time at the end of the day, walk up to Tignes point, and swim off the rocks like the locals do.

Another treat on our trip was visiting Mdina, the medieval town known as the ‘silent city’. Contained within a city wall the town comes complete with a – now dry but beautifully landscaped – moat. Such a lovely place to wander around, stopping for coffee/lunch/ice cream. And if I go back to Malta I want to stay at XaraPalace, a Relais & Chateau hotel based in the centre which had boutique luxury written all over it.

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Hiring a car was a bargain at 42eur per day including insurance with Percius. Charming staff and convenient, they dropped it to the hotel and we dropped it at the airport. It was well worth it to get off the beaten track and see some of the most rustic Malta. Both our fathers had lived in Malta in the late fifties so we did a tour following in their footsteps visiting the various bases they lived in and the school they went to. On such a small island it’s hard to get lost for long (although we gave it a good try).

IMG_7343We particularly adored the fishing village of Marsaxlokk for a stroll and dinner, eating at SouthPort which gave  us a fresh fish platter for 2 incuding wine for under 30eur. It’s seems like anything in or next to a decent hotel is twice the price as otherwise, so the car hire pretty much paid for itself.

There are few beaches on Malta and as a result those that do exist are often packed. Go first thing or last thing to avoid the crowds. We popped to Golden Bay on the North West of the island to get our beach fix. It was crowded but bearable, worth it for an ocean dip and a divine shellfish platter at Munchies on the beach. Everything was as it should be: fresh local mussels, clams, crayfish, prawns, calamari and octopus steeped in fresh tomatoes and garlic for under 40eur for two.

Lastly, if you are a history or religious buff, don’t miss the archealogical sites of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples to the south of the island.

All in all I enjoyed Malta a lot more than I thought I would. A nice easy flight from London, a long weekend would be very feasible, and a week even better.

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