One of the best ways to experience Malta, is by renting a car, and driving around the island. Some might say that the evel knievel antics of impatient drivers who drive heavy on the right foot are a nightmare to encounter, but coming from Malaysia, I’d say it’s pretty much the same sort of driving.
If you are with a group of people, it gets even more economical – it only costs EUR22 per day, if you pick the car up from the airport, and EUR42, if you have it delivered to your hotel door step. You need a valid driver’s license, and to do some easy paper work, then you are good to go.
With the windows down and the sun on our faces, we set off to explore the coastal towns of Malta. A car is the perfect way to be in control of your time – hop on, hop offs are good but you waste a lot of time in between. And as we drove around, I found it amazing, that though small, Malta actually had several nice beaches. Most of them were in the north and you needed to drive approximately 30 minutes to get to them. Actually, Malta is so small, it hardly takes 30 – 45 minutes to get anywhere, by car, so long as there is no traffic jam.
Anyway, a quick bite for breakfast at Cafe Cordina, before heading out to explore Malta by car.
Anchovie pie – a thick, dirty crust, with salty anchovies and mashed peas. It’s good, if not a little salty
Cafe Cordina is a great place to have breakfast. Established in 1837, this place is a bit of an institution. With a massive area for al fresco dining, you’d think there’d be enough space to accommodate everybody. Yet, you still sometimes need to wait for a table. This iconic cafe bangs out delicious cakes and pies throughout the day. The square next to Cordina’s has a little water/music display every hour and it’s a nice time to hangout here in the evenings. This is definitely the prime spot for people-watching on Misraħ ir-Repubblika, where several cafes command the ranks of tables around the statue of Queen Victoria.
If you opt not to sit al fresco style, then there’s also place inside Cafe Cordina. Be sure to look up – the ceiling and chandelier are just gorgeous.
After breakfast, it was time to explore Marsaxlokk, a fishing village with nice places to eat along the seafront. There’s also a fish market here on Sunday mornings, but due to an early flight out, we missed it. It’s like time has stood still for Marsaxlokk. The ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk (marsa-shlock; from marsa sirocco, meaning ‘southeasterly harbour’) fiercely defies modernization and still remains oblivious to the changes around it.
Old low-rise houses on the waterfront, and a nice dusting of coloured luzzu (fishing boats) on the harbour make this my all time favorite spot in Malta. Men with weathered faces sit and mend their nets, while the younger fishermen, paint and fix their boats. The town is home to a big percentage of the Maltese fishermen. It was just so pretty.
Eyes that ward away evil.. love the lashes!
Spotted a diver in the cold waters of Marsaxlokk..
Cafes serving seafood and the famous rock fish.. Cippulazza
After spending an hour exploring the fishing village bazaar, we head inland towards Mdina (pronounced Im-dee-nuh). Mdina is known as the Silent City. So how did it get this name, was the first question I asked, when I got there.
Luckily enough, I found a local who could shed some light, on its name. Malta’s mediaeval capital had its origins back in the late Punic period. Remnants of the Roman occupation of Mdina existed in the Domus outside the present walls of the city. Despite Malta being part of the Norman Kingdom, Arabic culture persisted until 1250.
After that, Mdina became the centre of Malta’s administration. However, when the Knights of Malta arrived, they made Valletta the island’s capital instead. At this point, people started to leave Mdina and many houses were abandoned. Hence the name, the Silent City was coined.
Some say the place is spooked, some say the place was just a ghost town, but whatever it was, Mdina’s glory days, were gone. It wasn’t until after the earthquake of 1693, that Grand Master de Vilhena undertook the task of rebuilding the city. He restored the damaged palaces and soon the ancient city was rebuilt, with a mix of mediaeval and baroque architecture. Currently, cars are banned from entering Mdina, to maintain the Silent city’s reputation of being, well silent. However, tons of tourists pass through here a day, and I didn’t really find it that silent after all, but it still is a beautiful city!
Mdina’s spectacular doors ornate designs with gigantic knockers.. some of which date back five or six-hundred years.
You will notice all sorts of over the top door knockers – animals, fish and all sorts of birds. There are also faces, flowered motifs, and of course the oh so popular St. John or Maltese Cross.
We take a break at Fontanella’s which is a tea room on the bastions, with amazing 360 degree views of the planes below. The food is good, but the desserts are better, and the view is to die for. Be prepared to wait for a table. Super packed is an understatement – everybody want the seats by the edges for the simple reason that they offer the best, unobstructed view.
After Mdina, we continue North, to catch some sun and visit the beaches of Malta.
Mellieha, is my all time favorite beach in Malta. It was a hot sunny day, and the water gleamed and danced with glee. The sand was blinding as it reflected the light.
Mellieha Bay, also known as Ghadira Bay, is the largest and one of the most beautiful and popular sandy beach in Malta located in the northern part of the Island, just off the town of Mellieha.
The shallow water that was slightly less than knee deep for about 50 metres out to sea, was still quiet icy, at the start of April, and the sand was soft and powdery. Fun to people watch here and get some sun on your back, while you have a nice lunch at the beach.
cold, but sunny! Would have been perfect in May, for sure
The next stop was Golden Sands at Ghajn Tuffieha beach (pronounced “aynn tooff-ee-Ha”). Ghajn Tuffieha (meaning “the Apple’s Eye”), is next to Golden Bay, one of Malta’s most popular beaches and because it can only be reached by a long flight of steps, it’s much quieter than its neighbour.
Folks visit this beach for the unspoilt rural atmosphere, with tamarisk, samphire and acacia flanking a stretch of fine sand. This is the spot for some great sunsets, looking due west across the waves I am told. Too bad we didn’t have time to come back that evening though. Also, the weather changed rapidly and it was soon cloudy – I doubt we would have experienced a great sunset.
Kids swimming in the icy waters below – how do they do it..?!
Ghajn Tuffieha Tower
Onwards to Mistra Bay, a pebble beach located between Xemxija Bay and Selmun. This beach is definitely more common among locals rather than tourists. It’s small and you will spot the Maltese, hanging out and having lunch at a table set up by the pebbled beach.
It is not as pretty as Mellieha, but at least it is more private and less packed with people. Some bring their kayaks here, or take their dogs out for some fun in the water. Mistra Bay can be accessed via a detour off the main road leading from Xemxija to Mellieha.
We leave Mistra bay and stumble upon a nice lady, selling strawberries by the roadside.
We couldn’t resists buying a box of these massive strawberries – we were rewarded with explosive sweetness and juiciness .. wow! Epically good!
After stuffing our faces on the strawberries, we set out to find, the infamous Mosta church that we’d heard so much about. The spooky local legend tells of a church that got bombarded with a bomb, but remained unharmed.
The gigantic dome of Mosta’s parish Church (St Marija Assunta – Assumption of the Virgin Mary), is said to be the 4th-largest church dome in Europe. I thought it looked like a giant cake, with a nice round icing top. It stood out from the rest of the town, and you wonder how it didn’t get destroyed with it was such an obvious target.
Built from 1833 to 1871 on the site of a previous church, it was designed by Giorgio Grognet, who designed it based on the Pantheon in Rome. On April 9, 1942, during an afternoon air-raid, a 200kg Luftwaffe bomb pierced the dome (two others bounced off) and fell among a congregation of more than 300 people awaiting early evening mass. It did not explode. Divine intervention? Maybe. But a little spooky if you ask me. When your time is up, it’s up. When it isn’t well then, you’d have a great story to tell.
Finally, dusk was fast approaching, and we had one final stop to cover before heading back to Valletta.
Saint Julian’s is a popular vacation spot on the coast of Malta. It’s a great place for foodies, as there as tons of restaurants to pick from.
Again, a beautiful backdrop for any sunset. I am told that Malta has some ugly spots as well, but I have to say, I didn’t notice any.
A good spot to take a shot of the sunset, is from Gululu’s, on the harbor front. The small town successfully blends its fishing village charm with its tourist center. Latin architecture, such as Spinola Palace, built in 1688, and the Old Parish Church are popular historical sites. Divers will enjoy exploring shipwrecks via the Divewise Center. The renovated Paceville district (or PV, for short, as the locals call it!), a former military haunt in the 1930s, is now the hub of Saint Julian’s nightlife with an array of restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Thanks to the generous invitation of Julian, we dine at Gululu’s.
Again, I am overwhelmed by the rustic tastiness of Maltese cuisine. Succulent aubergine chunks cooked with celery, onion, garlic, capers, olives and tomatoes. … these traditional Hobza and Ftira are still baked in wood burning ovens.
The famous rock fish, or Cippulazza -baked in herbs and flayed on the spot. The meat is kept on the bone, for added sweetness.
Surprisingly drinkable Maltese wine – red and white wines produced locally – the whites were fruity and crisp and the reds, dry and tannic, a perfect accompaniment to traditional maltese dishes such as rabbit stomach and beef stews.
My favourite dish of the night – rabbit stomach. It tastes like pigs stomach, but with a more intense flavour. This one was rich, peppery with a chewy texture – loads of kick!
Fwied tal- Fenek Moqli – Pan fried rabbit livers simmered with fresh orange juice and thyme. Perfect with red wine. Stop counting the calories, or you won’t enjoy Maltese cuisine!
The sun dips over the limestone buildings. The water takes on a luminous hue, like that of blue ink. Malta didn’t really need to try too hard to make me fall in love with it. This is April, at the turn of the season, and that gorgeous smell of the sea, ushering in summer, will stick in my mind and deep in my belly, for a long long time.
More adventures to come.. stay tuned!
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