Last week I spent a full week holiday in the smallest EU state : Malta.
Yes, one full week as a tourist. Even if the country is small and fits on a single map at scale 1:25 000m, there is an amazing number of things to do or see.
First day : Valletta
Starting with the capital city was an obvious choice. The natural harbour between Valletta and the 3 cities is strongly protected by the fortresses that surround it, including the capital city itself. Built by the Order of Saint-John during the XVIth century, it was never taken. Actually, no one ever tried.
The city is based on a square grid, even if it’s on a hill. So the streets are sometimes very steep.
One of the main characteristic of maltese cities are the many bow-windows, to enjoy the sun protected from the wind.
At the main gate of the city is Triton’s square. It’s where almost all buses stop. So it’s also where we spent most of our time waiting.
Maltese buses are all yellow and white and some of them are like out of the fifties !
The’re also a bit complicated to understand, schedule seemed random and stops have no name. But we managed to use them extensively.
We spent most of our time inside museums and on the city walls. The Saint-John co-cathedral is the most interesting building in town and the best view is from the Upper Barraca gardens. From there you face and dominate Grand Harbour and the 3 cities. Here you see Birgu (Vittoriosa), the ancient capital of the Order, before Valletta was built.
2nd day : Gozo
Malta is made of 2 inhabited island plus some extra islets and rocks.
The second inhabited island is Gozo. It’s much more rural than Malta. Malta is densely populated, 400 000 inhabitants with a density of more than 1200 per square kilometer.
Gozo has no natural harbour like Malta, it was thus less interesting to settle there and the inhabitants developed more agriculture to get closer to self-sufficiency. As a result, Gozo is much greener. The main city, Victoria, is right in the middle of the island, not on the coast and is dominated by a citadel.
Other villages are also mostly situated on hills and dominated by sicilian-style churches.
One of them, in Xewkija, is supposed to be the 3rd highest dome in the world. The church is large enough to contain the whole village population, 3000 people.
We also visited our first megalithic temple in Gozo : Ggigantija. Impressive but not on pictures.
3rd day : Mdina and the Dingli cliffs
This day was dedicated to the old and noble capital city of Mdina. Like in Gozo it’s a citadel in the center of the island. And in the citadel is the Saint-Paul cathedral. Like in the co-cathedral in Valletta the floor is covered with colourful marble tombstones.
And the walls and ceiling are richly decorated in a baroque style.
It’s the second most touristy places in Malta during winter. But it’s not the high season and you still can take this kind of pictures.
Visiting Malta in february is great for cheap hostels, no lines, and to feel like a local in the villages, far from summer crowds. Beside that the temperature is great, 10-15°C and it’s not very rainy, although we had showers every day.
After the citadel we crossed the nearby city of Rabat and visited there the Sainte-Agatha catacombs. Visit was short to preserve the antique underground paintings from moisture. It’s where Agatha lived in Malta, escaping from an unwanted marriage in Sicily. But when she came back, the rejected husband cut her breasts and made her burn. She’s revered as a Saint in Malta.
Continuing West, we reached the coast on it’s highest point, the Dingli cliffs. But from the top, the height of the cliffs is hard to guess.
Our hike lead us to a very specific place where antique quarries made huge tracks in the stone. But scientists aren’t sure of this explanation. In this place, those « cart ruts » are so numerous that it’s called like one of London’s train stations : Clapham Junction !
4th day : Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Tarxien temples and … Playmobil
We had to book the visit of the Hypogeum the day before. It’s the most famous and expensive (25€) cultural heritage of the country. You can only visit it 10 people at a time every hour, which makes you feel a member of the happy fews. We don’t know a lot about the civilisation that lived during the 3rd millennium B.C. and built the Hypogeum and megalithic temples all around Malta.
Not far from the Hypogeum are the megalithic temples of Tarxien.
After these antique visits we jumped to the XXth century. We took a bus to the industrial Hal Far area and visited the Playmobil factory. Yes playmobils are made in Malta. It’s the largest factory of the group. Very instructive visit.
On the way back, we crossed Birzebugga and it’s « pretty bay », one of the few Malta’s beaches. Well it faces a huge industrial harbour,. So the small colourful maltese boats make a strange contrast with huge tankers.
5th day : Mnajdra temple and Blue Grotto
The temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are close from each other and on an isolated part of the coast. They are well preserved considering there facing the sea and it’s winds. And that’s why it’s my favourites megalithic temples, because of their location.
Away from the shore you can see the rock of Filfla. It’s a nature reserve with endemic species. I wonder how those species survived because the rock was used as a target by the Royal Navy canons.
A kilometer from there is a natural wonder of Malta, the Blue Grotto.
Back to Valletta we took a walk in Floriana and along the coast to Sliema where our hotel was situated, looking for maltese luzzus (the wooden boats), which are not so numerous anymore.
View on Sliema :
6th day : Mosta and the 3 cities
Mosta has the 3rd largest unsupported dome in the world, with 36.6m width. The church can hold 10 000 people. We saw it from the citadel of Mdina. But we needed to go inside and it’s worse the trip.
You cannot guess how huge it is from pictures.
Inside the church is kept as a relic the bomb that fell through the dome in 1942 but didn’t explode.
Then we went for the first time to the other side of Grand Harbour. The 3 cities facing Valletta : Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua.
Like in all the cities in Malta, the christians characters on walls are numerous so I put at least one picture !
The harbour between Senglea and Birgu (Vittoriosa) used to host the fleet of the Order of Saint-John. But it’s now a pleasant marina with a few luzzus among the luxury yachts.
7th day : Marathon
Well I just watched !