A Weekend in Malta (So… when can I go back?)

I have to admit that I knew little of Malta when I booked this trip. I had been looking for somewhere not too far from London with a combination of good weather and good culture for a long weekend with my mum. Malta was the golden ticket, with a flight of a little under three hours from Heathrow and 30 degrees of sunshine and blue skies.

The island of Malta is just 27 km across at its widest point (there are also the two islands of Gozo and Comino and several smaller uninhabited islands). With a population of around 400,000, it is Europe’s most densely populated country.

Malta was first settled in 4,000 BC and with its location in the Mediterranean just off Sicily its history includes many different invasions bringing many different cultures and languages. The Maltese language is a fascinating blend of Arabic and Italian – and as such very difficult for foreigners to learn, I would imagine.

Fort Manoel

The first thing we did once we were settled in our room was to explore the capital of Valletta. From our hotel we took the Great Siege Road down and around the north of the city. From here, we looked across Marsamxett Habour to Fort Manoel.

Balconies in Valletta

My mum was particularly fascinated by the strange balconies representing typical Maltese architecture. Too small for people to actually sit in them, they are presumably intended to bring in extra light or a welcome breeze in the summer heat – or maybe they’re just a peculiar design feature.

The Palace, Valletta

The Palace today houses the President and the House of Representatives. On its outer walls, it has plaques for the gratitude expressed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the awarding of the George Cross from King George VI for the bravery and services of Malta and its people during the Second World War. Today, the George Cross is part of Malta’s flag.

On our first full day, we had decided to make the excursion to the old capital of Mdina (from the Arabic for city, medina). The pool at our hotel was very tempting but we felt we owed it to Malta to at least experience some of what the rest of the island had to offer…!

Triton Fountain, Valletta

The buses for Mdina left from City Gate Square, where the traffic circles around the Triton Fountain.

Telephone box in Mdina

On getting off the bus at our stop, we came face to face with a familiar sight from home… Malta became part of the British Empire in 1814 and won its independence in 1964.

Mdina stone bridge

The entrance to Mdina is reached via a stone bridge over a moat, built during the Arab period of 870 until the Norman conquest of 1091. Mdina Main Gate, oh my goodness how exciting, served as the gate to King’s Landing in Season 1 of Game of Thrones (moved to Dubrovnik for subsequent seasons). Another location for the series was the island of Gozo, which held the Dothraki wedding, also in the first season. (If you want to “set jet” around the series’ various locations, check out this great blog post.)

St Paul's Cathedral, Mdina

St Paul’s Cathedral was built towards the end of the 17th century following an earthquake. St Paul himself is said to have spent several months in Malta following a shipwreck on the island.

Having coffee in Mdina

Ahh, this is what we want these days when we travel: history, culture… and cafés with lattes and free WiFi.

Banners on the streets of Mdina

Summer in Malta is full of festivals, and this week was no exception. (The streets of Valletta had been lined with what looked like Christmas decorations and the remains of confetti on the ground, as well as ornate Catholic idols to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on 16th July.)

We returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool. In the evening, we headed out to the Marsovin wine festival, for which I’d seen the posters the previous night. I had magical memories from such a festival on a balmy summer’s night up at Budapest Castle, and this proved to be equally special. We got a pack of 20 tokens for 15 euro and wandered through Hastings Gardens, sampling the local wines as we went from stall to stall. There was live music as we stood looking out over the harbour, watching the fireworks sent up from a village across to the left and the bright lights of a fun fair off to the right. When we left, despite drinking as much rosé as we could manage, we still had 22 tokens left, and we graciously distributed these to deserving guests on the way out.

Standing on the steps of the hotel

Off for a night of wine, music, and fantastic views.

Views over the harbour from Valletta

Watching the sun set over the harbour, and wanting to hold onto that feeling long after this short weekend would be over…

We finished our weekend break with another few hours by the pool on Sunday morning, and then reluctantly packed our bags and headed off to the airport.

I tend to want to go to new places, and for many years now I’ve been aiming to go to two new countries every year… but my mum and I are already planning a second trip to Malta. Next time, we’ll have a good few days to explore the rest of the islands…

 

We stayed in the Grand Excelsior Hotel, just outside the walls of Valletta. We booked on Booking.com and chose a Deluxe Room without a sea view, which would cost more. You anyway get that view from breakfast and from the pool!

To get to Mdina from Valletta, you can take bus 51, 52 or 53 from City Gate Square (a two-minute walk up the hill from the Grand Excelsior Hotel). You pay just €1.50 for an all-day ticket.

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