Small but packed with history: experience the Mediterranean wave in Malta – Part 1
My grandpa is the one who fostered this form of “travel sickness” in me. When i was little, he used to tell me lovely wandering stories. Some of us in the family have this need for wanderlust. My brother is one of those. Malta was not in my radar of destinations. Travel plans are to be edited, right? Well thanks to my brother, I get to explore Malta.
I travel there in August. It is scorchingly hot. I don’t have a clue of what to expect. However, I read that Malta is the the world most densely populated country. A former great naval base, it is also a bed of cultures. Further, it is home to three Unesco world heritage sites. Amongst which Valletta, the capital. From what my brother say, the island is far from being just a package holiday destination.
Covering the tourist spots and not feeling any travel burnout
I start my journey exploring the cities. Vittoriosa; Valletta; St Julian’s and Sliema. The backstreets of Vittoriosa are an invitation to meander through. Totally laid-back and gorgeous. Small; Inviting; Picturesque. Formerly known as Birgu, Vittoriosa is where the knights first settle. It is early enough in the day so not many people down the streets.
I watch locals get busy with their morning lives. Here and there, a few heads turn towards me. Then, it’s back to business. I like this particular atmosphere in the morning. It’s authentic. It is unfiltered. I have the place to myself. Here, there is no need to hurry. It’s la dolce vita.
Valletta is small yet full of rich history. It becomes the new capital after the battle that sees the knights against Suleiman the magnificent. Valletta is like an open air museum. Strait street, infamously named “the Gut” by British sailors set any traveller’s imagination in motion. Drunkenness. Prostitution. Wildness. Strait street is different today. Yet, it is littered with bars and music. One thing that remains unchanged is the popular culture. I am loving it. Layers of history on every street.
I stroll toward the Grandmasters Palace then St John’s cathedral. The interior is stunning. Then, onto Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Saluting Battery. High above the harbour, the panoramic view of Fort St Elmo and the walls of Malta is my favourite. Right underneath is the saluting battery with impressive canons. As the afternoon nears, the light casts a golden glow to the coloured buildings. Magical. People watching along the way is all part of the experience.
Sliema or the art of strolling
Next day, moving onto Sliema. To say I lazily meander along the beachfront promenade in an understatement. Stopping here and there for that panoramic view is automatic. Permanently moored rusty barges; Fancy boats and everything in between. I am strolling maplessly. Getting lost as often as i did, I am most grateful locals happily provide me with directions.
The scruffy charms of the old Sliema is undeniable. The waters are inviting. Rocky beaches with stepped access satisfy all cravings. Although as I am told several times, the ocean currents can be unsettling. I will just keep dipping my toes then.
Time has stopped. I feel at ease here. At sunset, i simply follow the crowd. And rightly so. Tourists and local of all ages stroll the coastal promenade as they watch the sunset. Away from the tour package environment, this slow pace culture is a fundamental part of Maltese life. There lies its charm.
After yet another nap, we head for St Julian in the evening. The place fires up and turn into party heaven. Pubs; Nightclubs; Dining places; Shabby-chic restaurants; Upmarket cocktails; taking my pick is proving to be more complicated than I thought. I am spoiled for choice! Nightlife is raucous. Creativity is in full swing.
Malta is slow travel
Malta is a very good surprise. You can read the second chapter on my adventure in the island here. I choose to spend the full week or so I have exploring some places only. This island calls for slow travel. I came to love the dear sweaty old men that seems to spent they entire days at the same café. The richness of the culture is exciting.
I was a bit put off by the facial expressions I found mean and unwelcoming sometimes. However, the Maltese people are very hospitable and kind. I would have loved to spend more time exploring Mdina more. Ditto for the most southern part of the island.
xoxo M. Let’s share our inspiration