The Maltese Islands

Now that I am thoroughly back into my it’s-already-too-cold-and-I-miss-the-sun mood, I thought I should further torture myself and write about our week-long hiatus in Malta.

In all honesty, our main reasons for selecting Malta (the country) for our vacation were 1) it was sunny, 2) it was warm (mid-80s all week), and 3) there was a direct flight from Gdańsk. We decided to stay on Gozo, the second-largest island of the three Maltese Islands, because it was less-developed and wouldn’t be so crowded.

So after a 3 hour flight, a 1.5 hour bus ride on Malta, a 30 minute ferry ride, and another 40 minute bus ride on Gozo, we found ourselves in Marsalforn Bay, our home for the coming week.

Marsalforn

 

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Marsalforn’s main walkway along the beach has several hotels, restaurants, and shops. Oh, and a gelato shop called Gelateria Granola, of which we were daily visitors. Everything we needed was in this small inlet and we probably could have stayed there the entire week.

 

 

Ramla Bay

 

But we very well couldn’t travel to a new country and stay in the same place for a whole week. Gozo, like its sister islands, has primarily rocky beaches and cliff faces. Ramla Bay is one of about 5 sand beaches on Gozo and is one of two sand beaches accessible by bus.

 

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The first day we went to Ramla Bay, we arrived around 8:30AM where there were maybe 5 people on the beach in addition to the two of us. The sand at this beach is a shocking but gorgeous rust color that contrasts starkly with the light blue Mediterranean waters.

 

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Don’t worry, Mom, I still like pink sand more.

The other great thing about Ramla was that they had a few food stall setups, one of which had an amazing espresso ice cream frosty, for lack of a better descriptor.

We returned several times throughout the week, armed with sunscreen, hats, books and sandwiches.

 

Dwejra & The Azure Window

 

Now, you cannot go to Gozo without going to see the Azure window, even if you only spend an hour there like we did. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll also want to take a trip here, as it’s where Daenerys and Kahl Drogo’s wedding took place.

 

 

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Visitors used to be able to climb the hill and walk across the top of the Window, but the access point has been closed off since the structure is now unstable.

In addition to the interesting geological structures in Dwejra, there is a Blue Hole just under the window. This Blue Hole is a hot spot for avid divers who come to the Maltese Islands for their great diving locations.

One other activity you can do in Dwejra is take a boat ride through the natural caverns, starting in a small inland beach and wrapping around the Dwejra outlet. We did not do this since we were more interested in getting to Xlendi, but the caverns were highly recommended by a friend who studied abroad in Malta.

 

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Xlendi

 

Xlendi is another bay town like Marsalforn, just a bit smaller. The day we visited, we did as the “locals” (i.e. vacationers staying in Xlendi) do and grabbed a bench along the cliff walkway to tan in the morning. Not as comfortable as being on a beach obviously, but there were some great views along the side of the inlet.

 

 

We also took some time to hike along the ridge up to the point at the opening of the bay. There we found an old defensive tower and old salt fields that were used to collect sea salt for trade.

 

 

Valletta

 

After a few days of maybe a bit too much sun, we decided that we should do something to actively avoid getting sunburned…i.e. go to Valletta to be tourists. Planned by the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem….

I’ll let you catch your breath after that introduction….

Anyways, the Knights of St. John planned and began building Valletta with the assistance of Europe’s top military engineers in 1566. The city was laid out with a clean grid pattern and was defensible on three sides by sea. The Knights of St. John ruled the city for about 200 years until Malta was captured by Napoleon in 1798.

 

 

Valletta remains Malta’s capital today and the city has remained relatively unchanged since the Knights of St. John’s departure.

Apart from wandering the streets (my favorite way to see a city, although it drives Zach crazy), we paid a visit to St. John’s Co-Cathedral, a baroque cathedral commissioned about a decade after the founding of Valletta. The interior is incredibly ornate and hosts 8 chapels, each one dedicated to a langue of the Order of Knights of Saint John.

 

 

We also went to the Archaeological Museum of Malta to learn more about the Megalithic temples that are scattered across Malta and Gozo since we did not make an effort to go visit them in person. One of the many things that Malta can boast about is that it has the highest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage in the world, due mostly to the 6 Megalithic temples that are included in that count.

The history of the Maltese Islands is far too rich to cover in just one visit there. From the Neolithic temples scattered across the islands to being a part of the Roman empire to Valletta’s 450 years as a capital city, there is a bit of history to interest everyone. I hope to go back one day (probably in the winter so I’m not tempted by the beach) to truly dig into the country’s history.

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