Malta was somewhere on our list of European countries we hadn’t been to and looking for a warm break in October is no easy feat! After ruling out Cyprus due to the cost and looking at a map we decided to check out Malta. With average temperatures of low to mid 20 degrees Celsius, it seemed a comfortable option although we were aware there was also a possibility of rain at that time of year. We had arranged to go away with Caitlin and a friend, and with Malta as the agreed destination (having ruled out Croatia on grounds of lower temperature), we managed to find reasonable flights with Air Malta from a new airport for us, Southend. We had dropped someone off there previously and had a good run so didn’t discount it from future travel and here was our opportunity!
Southend was small enough not to feel like cattle being herded and without the need for coaches halfway across the airport to reach the plane! The flight left also left on time -result! The flight time to Malta is estimated at around 3 hrs 15. The flights were £53 each return.
We booked an apartment on Booking.com called Seafront Apartment Blue Water which by the address was located in St Paul’s Bay but was actually nearer Qawra. We had read some reviews about St Paul’s Bay and were a little apprehensive about the area but the apartment we had was ideal with 3 bedrooms, a nice view and a really friendly host (Michael) who lived downstairs and was more than happy to help with any queries we had. The kitchen had everything we needed and there was even some milk, bread, meat and cheese waiting for us for breakfast. It was also located right near an Iceland so we were able to get some shopping in from a short distance away. We spent a lot of time on the balcony and it was amazing to see great sunrises. Also just down from the apartment was a slipway to the sea which was lovely also at sunset and we did go snorkelling here towards the end of the week (it had been a bit stormy before our arrival so the sea wasn’t so inviting). We paid £442 for the apartment which was 3 bedrooms for the week for 4 of us.
Around the local area, there were a few bars and restaurants, it was generally fairly quiet possibly due to the time of year but there was a good variety of places to eat. We had an Italian one night at Quatro Fratelli, an Indian another night at Garam Masala, another night at an Italian/Maltese restaurant called Luzzo and a meal at a restaurant just next door to the apartment called All Saints. All of these were within walking distance and easily accessible. Also just around the corner was a swimming pool which the girls used on a couple of occasions which was a ‘pay on entry’ for either half day or full day.
From a bit of prior research, we had decided that a boat trip to Comino, a small island just between Malta and Gozo looked worth a visit and therefore we booked at a kiosk on the main road near the restaurant to go with Captain Morgan Cruises. It cost 50 euros for four of us and we were picked up from the kiosk in a minibus and taken to St Paul’s Bay where we boarded the boat. The cruise was advertised as all-inclusive alcohol, soft drinks, water and a cold buffet lunch. We departed at 10am with a stop in Gozo first to pick up more passengers before doubling back to Comino.
Once we arrived at Comino lunch was served on the boat. This was a rather bizarre affair where you had to queue the whole way around the boat! The lunch was actually quite nice with cold meat, bread and salad and we were able to have some alcohol as well. Whilst the cruise was advertised as unlimited drinks, on a few occasions when we went to the bar it was closed and therefore we felt this was a little misleading.
We had three hours or so free time in Comino and decided to make the most of it and catch some rays and Nigel and I did some snorkelling. Earlier in the summer, there were swarms of Jellyfish around the islands, so we were aware of that and managed to avoid a handful, but luckily, by and large, the thousands of purple stingers had been blown further afield. We managed to find a spot on a cliff overlooking the sea but in some areas it was very busy as there were several boats visiting at the time. As this was October I dread to think what it would be like in the height of summer… One thing to recommend is if possible a snorkel from Comino to the even smaller island of Cominetto which is only a short swim of a hundred metres or so.
There were copious stalls selling drinks and ice creams there and there were some very busy areas near the shops as well as an abundance of wasps. Caitlin and I both got a cocktail served in a pineapple which was quite funky but quite expensive at 10 euros! All in all, we had a nice time here and we were grateful it was not the height of summer, not only for the heat but for the crowds.
Nigel and I decided to get an open tour bus trip one day from St Pauls to explore more of the lovely island. We paid 15 euros each and got on the bus at St Paul’s bay opposite the shopping precinct and travelled through changed buses at Silema and we got off at the capital Valletta at the Siege Bell Memorial.
From here we headed off into the town centre through the streets and to the town hall. The post office was also located here and therefore we got a stamp and posted a card to the special little lady who follows our adventures.
Within the square was also the Victory Church which was built where the first stone of the city was laid on 28th March 1566. This was built following the Great Siege of Malta as a form of thanksgiving.
Following the route back towards the sea we spotted some rather interesting artwork….
Our next point of interest was the Upper Barakka Gardens which offer a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. This public garden was free to enter and was a very popular spot. The views were lovely here as were the flowers and fountain.
Valletta was a lovely city but unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore due to the constraints of starting the tour at lunchtime rather than earlier in the morning (the tour was a 3 hour round trip and therefore a morning start is recommended for anyone considering this). We made our way back to the bus stop through the back streets back to the Siege Bell Memorial.
We had time for one last stop on our tour and decided on Marsaxlokk, a small traditional fishing village in the southeastern region of Malta. The village has a small population of around 3.5k and is known for its traditional fishing boats. Marsaxlokk has a harbour and is popular with both locals who attend markets and tourists alike due to its scenic views. We liked it here and had just missed an almighty downpour so upon arrival we could see fisherman bailing out their boats.
We headed back on the bus and unfortunately got the wrong red bus. We needed to get the red bus back to Silema in order to catch the transfer back to St Paul’s. Unfortunately, there were two different red open tour bus companies and neither we or the driver realised we were on the wrong one until we got back to Valletta and told it was the end of the route. The driver did kindly drive us back to Silema where we, unfortunately, had missed the bus and ended up getting a taxi back to our apartment. Word of caution when getting a taxi in Malta, as the drivers appear to think they are on a race track! After a change your pants kind of journey we made it back to the apartment in one piece.
Most of the beaches in Malta are rocky and difficult to navigate without hard soled water shoes or desensitised feet. There was however a sandy beach which was only a 20-minute bus ride from our apartment, called Golden Bay. We headed there one afternoon to do a spot of swimming and sunbathing.
Nigel got chatting to some students from Wales who were studying marine biology and they informed us they had spotted stingrays and bull Rays here. Excitedly we donned our snorkelling gear and headed out to the perimeter of the swimming area and sure enough, we saw a stingray! We stayed at the beach until sunset by which time it was getting pretty chilly. The beach was very clean and we would recommend a visit here if sandy beaches and sunsets float your boat. And let’s face it, whose boat isn’t floated by that?
Of course, no trip to Malta would be complete without a trip to Gozo on the ferry. We hired a car for the day and headed over on the ferry with no idea what exactly we were going to see but we were excited to explore somewhere new. The ferry runs from Cirkewwa and it cost 30 euros return for a car and 4 passengers. The journey time was just 20 minutes and you pay on the way back not on the way out. The loading was easy and the ferry was well stocked with a shop and drinks counters. From a bit of Googling, we decided to head to the location of the Azure Window, which is Gozo’s equivalent of Durdle Door. We were aware that this had, in fact, collapsed into the sea in 2017 but decided to visit anyway. The one thing that struck us here was exactly how much hotter and arid Gozo appeared to be compared to Malta.
Quite by accident we followed a stony path and noticed a load of scuba divers walking back up from the water. Upon further exploration, we found a small inlet with people swimming in it and decided to have a dip and a snorkel ourselves. We then realised we had found the Blue Hole – one of the most popular dive sites in Gozo. The hole is a pool which is 10 metres wide and about 15 metres deep and there is an arch around 10 metres down which connects it to the sea.
The rocks around here were extremely slippery however we had a dip in the Blue Hole and Nigel and I went swimming around the Coral gardens just outside of the inlet. The snorkelling was really good here and we quite happily watched the scuba divers several metres below us. It was an unexpected swim but really enjoyable none the less. There is really nowhere to leave any valuables here so if you do plan a visit its best to leave anything such as phones or money in a car or on a coach just in case. After drying off a little we did look at the cave boat trips around the inland sea but decided against doing one of these.
Back in the car, we drove through a tiny village called St Lawrenz, its name derived from Lawrence of Rome. It was a pretty little village with apparently only a population of 748.
Our final stop was the gorgeous Xlendi bay, situated in the South West of Gozo. Xlendi bay was reported to be a popular swimming and diving resort even for inexperienced divers. The waters are shallow getting deeper past the rock formations meaning it is a good location for individuals of all levels of competence. We stopped and had lunch here and the girls did some souvenir shopping whilst Nigel went for a swim around the bay. After this, we headed back to the ferry and back to Malta.
That evening, not wanting to waste the hire car, we decided to go and visit Mdina, (the locals pronounced this ‘Emdina’, rather than the more intuitive M’dina) a fortified city which served as Maltas’s capital in medieval times. We had seen Mdina at night in the distance from our balcony but thought it would be better to see at night and easier to get to with a car. Mdina is lamp lit by night which is a little eery, and is called the ‘silent city’. According to history Mdina has been in place since 60ad and is reported to be one of the finest examples of an ancient city in Europe.
We had a really lovely meal in a restaurant called Fontanella sat outside with an absolutely stunning view across the island; unfortunately, our phone cameras could not do it justice, but we enjoyed our visit although the lamp lit passageways did scare me a little! Only 292 people actually live in Mdina but there are several hotels just outside of the walls and it is a popular tourist spot. Ideally, I think any visits should be carried out day and night to fully appreciate the city.
We met up with a friend Mary who lives on the island as well. We met up in a cafe near the Aquarium in St Paul’s Bay and travelled by car to Mellieha where she lives. Being local Mary was able to show us the best spots. We had a beer at Sea View Cafe overlooking Mellieha Bay, but sadly it proved to also be the best spot for wasps! Nigel was stung by one, for the first time in his life. From his reaction, I gather it hurt a little bit but Mary’s previous nurse training came in very handy, and she kindly removed the sting in its entirety at the first attempt and whoosh the pain was gone. We moved on to stand to overlook another lovely sandy beach called Għajn Tuffieħa, Maltese for ‘apple’s eye’. This beach looked even nicer than Golden bay, more of a local’s beach and far less touristy.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon chilling at the Blu Beach Club. This place had a really nice vibe with loungers to chill on. We were hit by torrential rain here but it was definitely a good chill out place to go with a book. Although no book was required on this visit as we had the lovely Mary for company.
On our last day, we visited the Malta Aquarium which was Caitlin’s choice. As aquariums go it was pretty interesting and wasn’t just fish it also had lizards and other reptiles and creepy crawlies.
It cost 12.50 euro to visit here and we did have a good time. It is worth a visit if you’re in the area and want to find something to entertain the kids or indeed on a rainy day!! What we did discover about Malta was that when it rains it really does rain!! On our last night, there was a massive storm and we ended up in candlelight in the restaurant due to a power cut. Outside there was a river running down the road. It appears that the drainage system in Malta isn’t all that equipped for copious amounts of rain. In fact, I’m not sure they have any drains at all, electing instead to let all the rain run down the roads sloping off to the sea. It makes for quite a sight.
One last worthy mention of something we saw on our trip was one of Nigel’s highlights! We did a second trip to Valletta towards the end of the week and we happened to stumble across the Malta Spurs Supporters Club. As you can see from the picture Nigel was very excited by this find.
All in all we had a brilliant time in Malta, it had something for everyone and wasn’t quite as commercial as I had expected. We loved the snorkelling here which was really good due to the rocky landscape. Although it is a tiny island, smaller in area than the Isle of Wight, due to the road layouts it does take some time to get from a to b and traffic can be horrendous, but all in all it has a lot to offer and lots of history as well as a really nice , pretty much year round climate. Gozo was definitely worth a visit and we regretted not seeing more there. Driving is easy in Malta because it is the same as in the UK. I could imagine in the height of summer it could get very busy everywhere but an October break was really pleasant, not too crowded and not too hot.
Carol & Nigel xx