Traveling in Malta

Today’s guest post is from Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast. The Indie Travel Podcast is has been nominated in the 2009 Lonely Planet awards for Best Travel Podcast.

When travellers think about where to visit in Europe, Malta isn’t usually top of the list. In fact, I’d never considered Malta as a destination until I accepted a job there – I’d barely even heard of it.

Malta’s a tiny country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, almost due south of Italy. It comprises three inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo and tiny Comino. It’s a major destination for European tourists in summer, when the days are long and the sun is always shining.

The weather is enough of a draw for most people, but Malta has a lot more to offer than cloudless days and packed beaches. Due to its strategic location between Africa and Europe, it played a vital role in the Second World War, for which it was awarded the St George’s Cross which now adorns its national flag.

Malta appears again and again as you look backwards in the history books – there was the Great Siege in the middle ages, and St Paul was shipwrecked there at the start of the common era. These events are recorded in the living rock the islands are formed of – Valletta, the capital, is a fortress dating from the Great Siege, and you can visit the cave where St Paul sheltered. But the most interesting of these rocky memorials are those that date from prehistory – the stone temples of Malta’s first inhabitants.

The oldest free-standing structures in the world are thought to have been built by giants – and are named Gigantija accordingly. The Gigantija temples were built on Gozo in 6000BC – before Stonehenge or the Pyramids.

The Hagar Qim hypogeum is another major historical attraction. This underground temple is a network of rooms that’s carefully preserved against damage – only eight people are allowed to enter every hour, and that’s with a guide. It’s worth booking in advance, especially in summer. It’s amazing to see the well-preserved space where religious ceremonies were performed 6000 years ago.

If you’re not a history buff, and you’d prefer to sample the nightlife and the food, Malta has something for you as well. While Valletta all but closes after dark, you can head to the party district of Paceville and dance until dawn. Prices are starting to rise a bit after Malta converted to the Euro last year, but drink is plentiful and inexpensive.

Malta isn’t known for its cuisine, but there are a couple of local specialities you should try. Gozitan cheese, and Maltese cheese for that matter, is varied and incredibly tasty, and if you’ve never eaten rabbit, Malta is the place to try it. My favourite Maltese food though, is the ubiquitous pastizzi – a hand-sized pastry filled with ricotta or mushy peas. And they’re incredibly good value. But beware – if you have one, you’ll go back for more.

My favourite memory of Malta, though, is travelling around on the rickety old yellow and orange buses. Most are imported from the UK, and no two are alike – if they aren’t completely different makes, they’re personalised by the driver with flags, photos or religious
icons. It might take you a while to get to where you’re going on these buses, but the fares are cheap, and it’s a great, if bumpy, way to see the country.

So if you’re choosing a European destination for your summer holiday this year, Malta’s a good choice – soak up the sun and a little history, and gorge yourself on pastizzi.