Malta. A tiny island state in the middle of the Mediterranean, and about a 90 minute flight from Rome, which was perfect since we were already in Italy and looking for a companion destination. Everything about Malta proved to be an unexpected delight, right down to its affordability. Though the country is primarily Catholic, influences from around southern Europe and northern Africa permeate everything from the cuisine to the architecture.
We stayed at the beautiful Westin Dragonara Resort, and since we arrived at the start of off-season (end of September), we apparently had it all to ourselves.
We only had a few days, and wanted to spend most of our time relaxing, so we passed up many great tourist and archaeological sites and attractions
on the islands to focus our energy on two locations – Mdina and Valletta (the rest will definitely be explored in a return trip!).
Mdina, a tiny medieval city, is simply magical. Known as the “silent city,” it is entirely contained within its ancient walls and pretty much shuts down after dinner. Many of the 300 residents are descendants of the original nobility, and the buildings and infrastructure remain in amazing condition. The former moat surrounding the city has even been transformed into a tree and grass lined park.
We were surprised at how much we liked the cathedral
and its associated museum
– both a required stop if visiting Mdina. The city goes quiet mid-afternoon, so we killed time in getting drinks and dropping in on Mass in neighboring Rabat before returning to dine at The Medina Restaurant
on fresh seafood and top-notch local wine.
Malta’s main city, Valletta
, rests on the north shore of the eastern island and was built in the mid-16th century by the Knights of St. John. The history is palpable – from the Knights to the Ottoman invasions to present day. The streets are lined with cafes, plazas and tiny shops, and it would be easy to spend a day wandering around and down tiny alleyways. Since we were pressed for time, we focused on the biggies – the cathedral and war museum.
St John’s Cathedral
Gold-lined walls in St John’s Cathedral
St. John’s Cathedral
is just about the most gaudy thing I’ve ever seen, and is worth a visit just to gawk at the gold-lined… well, everything. But the surprising highlight of the city is the Malta War Museum
. This interactive, engaging and thorough museum covers from the time of the Knights through the Ottoman conquest to Malta’s role in World War II. (Did you know three old airplanes took turns patrolling the airspace around the island to give the impression of a large air force that never existed? Or that The George Cross
was awarded by King George of Great Britain to the country in its entirety for its service during the war?) I wished we could have squeeze in a second visit before we left!
We came back raving about this museum, and Malta as a whole, so much so, a couple friends of ours booked their own trip a few months later and fell in love with it as much as we did.