Diverse Malta in the middle of Middelhavet
Everything is close in Malta. The small Mediterranean island state to the south Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya doesn't take up much space on a world map, but in world history Malta takes up quite a bit of space. Even today you feel the changing winds of history very clearly on the islands.
Malta's main island, also called Malta, is shaped like a chubby fish and is less than 30 kilometers at its longest and less than 15 kilometers at its widest. That corresponds to half of Bornholm. The capital Valletta is located on a peninsula in the middle of the north coast.
It is easy to get around by car, and even without a car there are good bus connections around the island. The signs on the island are in both English and Maltese, and almost all Maltese speak English. You can also easily cycle around, but the sun and heat can be quite inhospitable, unlike the locals.
The other large island of Gozo can be reached by ferry from the north-west corner of the island of Malta. You don't pay to sail to Gozo; it is quite free. In return, you have to pay to sail back to Malta, where the country's only airport is, so it ends up that everyone pays for the crossing.
Both Malta and Gozo are exciting travel destinations, and it especially makes good sense to visit both islands on your journey. Malta has good weather all year round and is a country that many visit to enjoy the sun and the beach. You can easily combine that with a lot of other activities, and here is a selection of the best.
Malta is the center of world history
People have lived in Malta for over 6000 years. Today's Maltese are a mixed bunch with genes from Romans, Vikings, Moors and all kinds of other peoples who throughout history have occupied or settled on the islands in the middle of the Mediterranean .
Malta has always been subject to conquest from all sides, and the impressively well-preserved castles bear witness to this. On Gozo you can find 4-5000-year-old castle ruins, and on both islands you can explore medieval towns with thick walls and large defenses all around.
The old capitals of Mdina on Malta and Victoria – also called Rabat – on Gozo are both impressive examples of how the world looked for centuries during the Middle Ages. Walking around the atmospheric narrow streets, it's easy to feel like a time traveler or an extra in a historical drama.
Malta is full of historical dramas. War, conflict and colonization have created the country we have today, and it is definitely recommended to find a good local guide who can tell you about all the historical details the islands are so full of. It's not all you can see with your own eyes; much must be seen through the eyes of a local Maltese.
In addition to a deep history, Victoria in particular is also full of coziness and everyday life. The narrow town houses have often been owned by the same family for centuries, and they are all decorated with small details with reference to religion and tradition. In particular, Malta's patron saint Saint Jørgen – who is also known as Saint George or Saint George – can be seen on the house walls and at the front doors.
You see a lot of religious symbols in Malta, and the special Maltese cross in particular is important to Malta. This cross was worn by the Maltese Order, which is also known as the Johanniter Order or the Cross Brothers in Danish. This order originated from the so-called Knights Templar, and their work consists primarily of running hospitals and helping the weak and sick.
Since the 1500th century, the Order of Malta has been based in Malta, after they were expelled Rhodes, and even today the order plays a large role.
World history is a constant companion when you explore Malta and Gozo. In fact, it seems that for the locals it's so much everyday life that they don't really realize how historically important Malta is. But once you open up to the stories of the locals, there is enough material to fill the entire holiday and more.
The Crusader Cathedral in Valletta will take your breath away
One of the most impressive experiences you can have in Malta is right in the middle of the old town in the capital Valletta. Most people have probably seen a cathedral or two on trips around the world, and you can get the feeling that they are similar. But St John's Co-Cathedral is something of its own.
From the outside, the cathedral does not look like anything special. The entrance gate is modest, and the sand-colored walls do not reveal what awaits inside. When you step through the gate and you stand in the historic main church of the Order of Malta, it is impossible not to be impressed.
Gold, gold and more gold meets your eye, and the cathedral is totally covered in details from the many past grand masters of the order and their families. The Grandmasters' graves are divided according to which country they originally came from, and there is really something to explore here. Everywhere there is something to take a closer look at, and again it is best to have a good guide by your side.
For those interested in art, there are also treats to feast on: The world-famous painter Caravaggio has as many as two of his masterpieces on display in the cathedral. They were painted specifically for this impressive setting, and although they have now been taken down from their original locations and displayed in a side chapel, they are absolutely worth seeing. Allow plenty of time to experience the cathedral – there is plenty to look at.
When in Valletta, try to catch the moment they fire the cannons from the old defenses over the finger-shaped natural harbour. It happens at 16pm every day and it attracts a lot of people, so make sure you get a good seat.
In reality, the city of Valletta itself is not very large, but it is boxed together with neighboring cities such as Sliema and Floriana, and in practice it is a large unified city.
Both the current capital Valletta and the historic Mdina and Victoria are favorite movie backdrops for both Hollywood and the rest of the world when movies are set in the Middle Ages. There is almost always film and TV filming going on, and not least fans of the TV series Game of Thrones will encounter familiar locations.
Michelin and Mediterranean gastronomy
No Mediterranean trip without something for the taste buds. In recent years, Malta has become a gourmet destination that is attracting attention worldwide, and several restaurants are recognized by The Michelin guide. And even more are on their way to the same status.
Malta's unique mix of influences from North, South, East and West is also evident in Maltese cuisine. At the same time, the location is right in the middle of Middelhavet naturally also leaves its mark on the menu, which often contains delicacies from the deep blue.
Local raw materials are very important to the Maltese, who are otherwise dependent on imports from especially Italy. They grow almost everything themselves. Therefore, the islands are full of delicious vegetable fields, vineyards, olive groves, animal farms and orchards. Together with the great wealth of shellfish and fish, Maltese cuisine is the pure Slaraffenland for gourmands.
One of the most important things in Malta's gastronomic tradition is the special sourdough bread, 'hobz malti', which is obligatory for all meals. That's what they're proud of, and it's easy to understand why once you've tasted it.
It is not only at the fine restaurants that you will be spoiled for food. Everywhere in Malta you will find the oblong filled pastry 'pastizzi', which is eaten at all times of the day and often with a cold beer at a pavement cafe.
The pastizze is often filled with cheese, and here you can't avoid the popular sheep's milk cheese 'gbejna', which is available both soft and creamy or dried with pepper and herbs.
The pizza-like 'ftira' with filling of fresh lettuce, olives, onions, sardines and capers is also a tasty experience. And for dessert, a local favorite is the Arabic-inspired 'imqaret' with date filling.
All this must of course be accompanied by excellent Maltese wine, a cold Cisk beer or perhaps the slightly bitter drink Kinnie, which is considered Malta's national soft drink. It is made with bitter oranges and a secret mixture of herbs and has long been a favorite of the Maltese.
Do it yourself in Malta's gourmet kitchen
In the middle of the labyrinth of small streets and alleys in the cozy town of Victoria on Gozo is the restaurant Maldonado. The restaurant is small and housed in a historic building, which in itself is worth a visit. And when the visit is combined with excellent home-cooked food, it becomes an experience you won't soon forget.
Well, when we say homemade, we really mean it. At Maldonado you can go to 'cooking school' with master chef George, who expertly explains and demonstrates the best of the Maltese menu. And then of course you have to make the art for him yourself.
Make Gozo's own version of ftira, stuffed pastizzi and even homemade nougat to take home afterwards. If you're not an artist in a kitchen by day, don't worry; you are in good hands all the way. And there is something special about eating something new and delicious that you have made yourself.
Just take the whole family to cooking school - then you can see who is the family's Maltese master chef.
You can of course also come to Maldonado and enjoy the delicious food that the chefs have prepared themselves, but remember to book a table, as the small cozy bistro fills up quickly.
Go in search of the fresh ingredients
As mentioned, Malta is almost self-sufficient in delicious ingredients, and the ingredients are really pampered. Malta has good weather and climate conditions and here you can grow most things. In many places on Malta and Gozo you can join in the whole process and of course taste along the way.
Olive oil is in high demand, and one of the best to visit is the olive producer Charles, who is happy to show you around his olive grove Take Xmun. Here you get all the small details, and you get to taste the final result. Extra virgin olive oil is strong stuff, but you also get some local delicacies to help with the flavor.
Approximately in the middle of the island Malta lies Ta' Betta winery. Here they make excellent wine, which you can taste on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and with the medieval city of Mdina on the horizon. They also offer edible delicacies here, which only makes the experience even more perfect.
Not far from there just below Mdina is Xara Gardens have gone all the way and have created a self-sufficient microcosm on the farm which is really interesting to experience. The attached lodge has both luxurious rooms and function rooms for weddings and parties, and it is one of the most popular places to celebrate yourself and each other.
In the south-eastern corner we find the colorful and charming fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Sit at a pavement cafe here and enjoy life, which takes place at a calm Mediterranean pace. The fishing boats come in with the day's catch, which is smoked directly on the grill and on the menu in the small cozy restaurants along the quayside. Especially the Instagram-friendly one The Hut is a clear favourite.
A few minutes from the harbour the self-sufficient farm Tulliera with a beautiful view over the rocks and Middelhavet to the south. Here you will be greeted by curious goats, chickens, geese, cows and all kinds of other animals. And you will also be greeted with fantastic hospitality and all the farm's fresh delicacies.
It is the real 'farm to table' that you experience here: Sustainable and authentic without exception.
All in all, Malta is the epitome of authentic. The country is a mixture of everything possible from all corners of the world, and the mixture is completely unique and authentic. Experience and enjoy Malta and Gozo – there is enough to get started with.
Have fun, indulge yourself and have a good trip.
What to see in Malta? Sights and attractions
- Valletta – Malta's historic capital
- Mdina – the medieval city with a view over the whole of Malta
- Sliema – Valletta's lively neighboring town
- Gozo – the country's second largest island
- Victoria – Gozo's cozy medieval capital
- St. John's Co-Cathedral – impressive cathedral in the middle of Valletta
- Malta's excellent cuisine
- Diving, snorkelling, swimming and water activities in Middelhavet