Swim in the Blue Shores of Malta
A picture perfect island nation that is infused with a dozen cultures, Malta is a powerful little country full of history and beauty.
An island nation taken over by so many different countries it is hard to keep track, Malta has maintained its identity through its adaptation of the many cultures that have come to live on its shores. Whether it be the mix of Italian and Spanish dishes, North African farming methods, or catering to English tourists, it's no suprise many of the Maltese are multilingual making it a great place for international tourists. After spending a few days exploring the narrow streets between houses, checking out the stunning churches, or relaxing swimming in the turqoise waters, you'll automatically claim that Malta is your new favorite country (like I did).
The country of Malta is composed of 3 islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. If you are looking at the picture I took from the plane (unfiltered I might add), Gozo is the large mass to the left with Comino the islands with teal burst, and Malta being just to the right (outside the picture). As I was only there for 4 days, I only had the opportunity to explore Malta and the coast of Comino, but if I had the chance to go back I would definitely explore more of Comino and Gozo.
WHEN TO GO:
Despite the common mentality that as an island nation it should always be nice, that isn't the case with Malta. I went in July, and it was VERY arid. When I was talking to one of our cab drivers, he told me that it hadn't rained for over a month, but when it is wintertime it rains all the time. I thought maybe he was exaggerating, but then I looked into the weather averages and I found that this was suprisingly accurate.
September-March: has 10-50% of its days in rain. Temperatures range from 50-75 °F
April- August: little to no rainfall with temperatures averaging from 70-90 °F.
So if you want to go swimming, I'd head over from June - August. Malta always has something going on, whether it is a wine festival, patron saint festival, or an arts festival, the celebrations with music, food and drinks is certainly something that enhanced our stay. A list of events going on during your stay can be found here.
For being an island, Malta isn't that large, that being said if you wanted to drive from the top to the bottom it would take you about over an hour.
Car- If you are comfortable driving on the left and around narrow passages you could rent a car for the day. The island really isn't that large and you can get a real feel for everything, the only issue you may have is parking. In Valletta, there are different colors for parking and each correlates to a specific time, residents only, or other. This is a great website explaining all of maltas driving regulations.
Bus- easiest way to get around. Every bus we were on was clean and air conditioned, however can be very time consuming with all the stops plus the waiting stretches of time to get on. A comprehensive guide with links to timetables etc can be found here.
+note: Do not get scammed into taking the special shuttle buses from the airport. It seems like a great idea as soon as you see the little stand in the airport, but they make you wait until they a. fill the bus going to your destination, and b. have a driver who isn't on break. If you want to wait over an hour to take a bus that will be making all the hotel stops of the passengers then go ahead, but we ended up ditching the bus after waiting for an hour and going for the cab (at a prenegotiated rate).
Taxi- the most direct route to get from a to b without worrying about parking. However this can get expensive and in my experience was a cash only option.
Boat- The most leisurely option, definitely take the boat to the Blue Lagoon (since you certainly can't drive there). Although you can take a boat around the entire island of Malta, there are long stretches on the west side of the island with nothing to see, and if you are traveling with a fair skinned person (especially one who thinks that they just need a base burn to get tan), they will probably die in the sun.
Malta has hundreds of years of history and their walkable cities showcase it beautifully. Here are a few of the cities I loved walking around and getting lost in.
Valletta- The capital of Malta, Valletta is located next to Silemia and St Julian's. In Valletta you will find the most beautiful churches I have ever seen in my life. Additionally, there are plenty of museums and war rooms to explore about Malta's military history, gardens, monuments and great plazas to people watch. Bring your walking shoes and a light scarf to cover your shoulders when you enter the churches. You can easily spend 5-8 hours in this city. Walk around and enjoy it!
Silemia- Located across the bay from Valletta, Silemia is in a sweetspot as it is right between the history of Valletta, and the touristic spots of St. Julians. I stayed in this area at the Preluna, and it was the perfect spot to explore from as they have many boats that leave for tours of the islands daily, it has the Silemia ferry to Valletta, and busses leave from here to everywhere.
St. Julians- This city is packed with tourists, and hotels here tend to be more expensive than its chiller neighbor of Silemia. But there is always something going on at night.
Mdina- Also known as the silent city, this city that has no cars, is like a beautiful maze. If you go in the morning before most of the tourists get here you'll understand where the city gets its name. My favorite parts of Mdina were wandering around the streets and St. Pauls Cathedral. The 5 Euro admission to the cathedral also includes the cathedral museum (which is brief but interesting) and Palazzo de Piro. At Palazzo de Piro they have a great coffee and cake place where I fell in love with their pistachio cake and phenominal views.
Blue Lagoon- Absolutely most beautiful beach I have seen. Located on between Comino and its little island Cominotto, those sharp turqoise waters are the Blue Lagoon. You can literally walk across from the drop off point to the caves, the water is shallow and perfect. If you bring a phone, waterproof it because there isn't really a good place to put your stuff down. Also, some of the rocks in the cave can be VERY slippery so I would either bring water shoes, or swim over the shallow waters like I did.
*note: if you manage to get stung by the only jellyfish in all of Malta (like my companion did), don't panic, the lifeguard will literally spray you with balsamic to get the burn out.
Blue Grotto- Was highly recommended to rent a boat and wait until the sun sets so the caves light up and glow, however we missed out and here it remains on my to do list.
Silemia Beach- Like many beaches in Malta, this is a rock beach, so I wouldn't try swimming unless you are a strong swimmer and come equipped with water shoes. However while we were there, there was an arts festival with music and bars at night.
Paradise Bay- All the way up at the north and far away from everything, Paradise bay is a sand beach occupied by one restaurant, and about a million sea urchins and bees.
Mellieha Bay- Malta's longest sandy beach, Mellieha Bay has tons of activities for people to do including float rentals, windsurfing, etc. There are bars, sunbeds and more so if you need a break from the water there are things to do. Shallow and easy to swim this bay is a great beach destination.
St. Georges Bay- To the north of St. Julian's bay is St. Georges beach, I haven't swam here, but it is the closest sand beach to the St. Julian/Silemia area.
DRINKING & DINING:
While in Malta, you'll see many different mediterannean, pastry, and Italian style dishes. I've found my favorites leaning towards the seafood where it was always fresh and flavorful (you can see them above).
One of the most interesting suprises of Malta was how much I enjoyed their white wines. Turns out I am not the only one, with the New York Times writing an article about how exclusive and enjoyable Maltese wine is. When getting dinner (or whenever you sit) always order the local whites (especially when having some of their amazing seafood).
Also, check out the liqueurs at Malta. I found (and loved) their selection of Prickly Pear (called bajtra liqueur) and Lemon liquers. They are SO nice chilled in a shot.
As a popular tourist destination, Malta has PLENTY of shopping available around Silemia, St. Julians, and Valletta. Although many of them are chain stores, here is a link to an overview of markets, malls and general description of the shopping areas.
OVERALL, It's not difficult to see why Malta is such a popular tourist destination, with amazing views, swimming, and beautiful architecture. I was only in Malta for 4 days and it became one of my favorite countries. I would go back in a heartbeat to continue my exploration, finally get to the blue grotto, and to swim one more time in the Blue Lagoon.
Malta & Gozo
Attractions: Blue Lagoon, Blue Grotto, The Silent City
Dining & Shopping: Mediterranean seafood, white wines, bajtra liqueur