I learned in Malta that English, Italian, Arabic, Mediterranean and African cultures are the core of a fascinating culture and way of life. Here’s what I discovered in four days…
Visit Malta: What I Learned
Living and traveling throughout Europe, I have come to understand that many destinations are a “crossroads of culture” in some shape or form. Still, my visit to Malta had me awestruck. This tiny nation is packed to the brim with the essence of things you’d want to experience traveling Europe.
Just imagine that Malta has been the stronghold for different civilizations over time, located between Europe and Africa. It is 50 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of Libya.
I traveled with a good friend of mine, Aurore, and we had this running exclamation throughout the trip: “Malta. Who knew?!” In all seriousness, who knew! I can now say, Malta is the best kept secret of the Mediterranean.
I even have two lovely Maltese friends, Daniela and Clarissa. So, they gave me great insight. But even if you don’t know a soul in Malta, just being in this country will teach you a lot.
The beauty of travel is learning what you can while exploring. I’m continuing my travel series of “Things I Learned in …” with this post about a fascinating little island country called Malta.
10 Things I Learned in Malta in 4 Days
Maltese Food is Fantastic
Touching down in Malta, I told Aurore how I knew nothing about Maltese food. Would it be more Arabic or Italian like? Well, after eating my way through the country with locals I was floored.
I tried various tender, off-the-bone, flavorful slow-cooked meats, perfectly cooked pastas, rich soups and tasty dips for bread. The food here could be described as hearty, seasonal, rustic and full of flavor. I understood the strong influence from Italian cuisine, even British cuisine but with the most exotic Arabic sounding names. The wines? Very nice.
Consider a city and wine tasting tour in one. I recommend the 3 Cities Tour Wine Tasting
A Bilingual Country
As a lover of languages, I loved listening to the Maltese language. I could hear the soft Arabic influence. Yet, sometimes, people spoke with the song-like beauty of Italian. I definitely couldn’t pronounce many of the destinations but enjoyed trying! Maltese is special indeed and it is the only Semetic language in the European Union.
Don’t worry about learning Maltese. Malta is a bilingual country. Everyone learns English at a young age and everyone I spoke with, spoke it perfectly. Malta was ruled by the British for nearly 200 years after all.
Valletta is a Unique Capital
I’ve never seen a European city quite like it. Perched on the shores of the Grand Harbour, Valletta is grand in its own right, a massively fortified town that had to be protected from numerous invaders. Those walls are part of the city’s modern day charm.
The colorful galleria windows, beautiful doors, painted shop signs and the mix of architectures give the city this incredible aesthetic.
It was super easy to walk around, very clean and organized. Republic Street is by far one of my favorite streets to stroll in Europe. Stay tuned for my take on the top things to see and do in Valletta.
For a comprehensive city tour of this tiny capital, check out the Valetta Half-Day Sightseeing Tour
Architecture is Stunning
Malta’s architectural landmarks are a window to the island’s intense history. When the Knights of St. John occupied Malta in the 16th century, European building styles were introduced on a grand scale. As a result, Baroque style has left an enduring impact on Maltese art and architecture. Walking Valletta is a testament to this and so is a walk through the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, one of the most magnificent Baroque churches in the world.
Nature in Malta is Stunning
Our planet has some incredible natural formations and one of them was the Azure Window. Yes, was. In case you didn’t know, it collapsed last month due to the force of nature and time. I just missed it.
However, not all is lost. I know very well that the country is dotted with other natural wonders that are stunning. Take the Blue Grotto, St. Peters Pool and beautiful bays like Ghar Lapsi. If you love nature at its best, Malta delivers.
For more on the natural wonders of Malta, check out my story for CNN Travel: After the Azure Window: Many of Malta’s Natural Wonders.
For some amazing tours to get you to these natural wonders with a local guide, check out these guided travel experiences:
Another running thought between me and Aurore? “This is so ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Yes, the first season was indeed shot here and exploring the landscapes was a real-life recall of the spectacular scenes and backdrops. In fact, driving past villages which each feature a central and immense – no, gigantic – domed and towered Catholic church at its core, was really incredible to take in.
If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, check out my earlier post: Game of Thrones Tour Dubrovnik.
Prehistoric Temple Culture
I fell in love with the Fat Lady. She was some sort of deity or perhaps a fertility goddess that the prehistoric temple culture of Malta revered enough so to build massive freestanding stone temples for her.
We visited three archaeological sites, dating back to the Neolithic Era (5,000 – 3200 BC). There’s no way to know for sure what these temples meant to the people back then or what purpose the Fat Lady served in their lives, but exploring these places should be on your must-see list if you love history and culture. To make the most out of your trip take the guided Prehistoric Temples of Malta Tour
Mdina is a Must
I’d say Mdina is one of the most impressive old towns I have visited. Situated high above terraced fields, this fortified city served as the island’s capital from antiquity to the medieval period.
It is said to be one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and walking through it was one of my favorite things to experience during my stay. Sign up for the Mdina Full-Day Tour with Lunch to gain the insight we did as we explored this beautiful corner of Malta.
Hollywood Loves Malta
Natural landmarks and architectural treasures on Malta, Gozo and Comino have appeared in film and TV throughout the years. Malta has been the backdrop to some awesome films like “By the Sea,” “U-571,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Munich,” “Midnight Express” and two of my all-time favorites: “Troy” and “Gladiator.”
Oh, and of course I must mention the “Game of Thrones”’ first season was shot in Malta. And just to think Brad Pitt stayed here for so many movies! You can even visit Popeye’s Village. Malta kept the outdoor movie set from the 1980 film starring Robin Williams.
We stayed In Valletta and while it may be the capital of the country, it was very low key at night. We were advised that Strait Street is the place to go for a drink and it was very chill. Overall, even my Maltese friends say, Valletta is a sleepy kind of town with not much going on in terms of partying or cosmopolitan cocktails. I asked about where people can experience some nightlife and it turns out St. Julian’s on the coast is known for the more party atmosphere often catering to younger crowds.
Locals tell me instead that of the best things to do at night in Malta is to soak in the unique glow and evening atmosphere in the old cities.
How to Get to Malta
You can easily get to Malta from most mainland European cities. Check out great deals on Cheap O Air.
Getting Around Malta
There is a pretty efficient bus system. I took the bus back to the airport for 1.50 euro and it was very organized and on time. The bus terminal is in front of the main gate in Valletta. For the range of transport options, check out the Visit Malta website which has a pretty comprehensive list of ways to get around.
In general, renting a car in Malta would be an excellent way to save time and see all those natural wonders and villages during your stay. I also learned in Malta that people drive British style. Traffic drives on the left side of the road. This might be strange for my fellow Americans. In any case, if you want to rent a car, check out the deals from Avis Europe.
What to Do in Malta
While I was exploring Malta, I really found the Malta Discount Card quite handy. There are many offers and discounts for restaurants and attractions which make it worth the price.
Where to Stay in Malta
I stayed at La Falconeria, a lovely new boutique hotel right in the picturesque streets of Valletta. We were within walking distance to all the sights in Valletta.
A Local Perspective on Malta
Another great resource is the blog Malta Uncovered which is written by a local expat who loves the island.
If you liked this post check out my other popular “Things I Learned..” articles on this blog:
Have you ever been to Malta? What were your impressions?
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