I've never been in Malta. Great opportunity came up – to inspect the island with a group of 9 travel agents.  When I told people where I am going, many asked me: "where is Malta?” Even more people asked: "Why Malta?"

According to Word Atlas, Malta is (quote) 

This inland sea is bordered on the north by Europe, the east by Asia, and in the south by Africa. This 969,100 sq. mile body of water is approximately 2,300 miles in length, and has a maximum depth of 16,896 ft. Major subdivisions include the Adriatic Sea, Aegean Sea, Balearic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Ionian Sea and Ligurian Sea

It is located between Sicily and Africa and Mediterranean Sea

I've been fascinated by this country with its history Order of Malta, archeological sites, mysticism.

From Order of Malta (quote)

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is both a Religious Order of the Catholic Church and an order of knighthood, reflecting the ancient concept first appearing in the eleventh century of monks dedicated to holy war. It is anachronistic to speak of monks of war but the concept must be viewed in the light of those ancient days when fighting for the Holy Land was not considered sinful but actually purifying and lofty in the eyes of the Lord. The Templars were the first order of European nobility executing these duties, carving a way to Jerusalem by brute force of will and steel. Many gave up family and goods and followed the cross to the land that knew the Lord Jesus, wanting to win back the sacred sites from the hands of the infidels. Not all who went, did honor to the Cross, for much barbarity was committed even by some hailing from the noblest families of Europe. But, after surmounting unbelievable hardship and terror, the conquerors did win the Holy Land, at least for a time. With victory, came the responsibility of guarding the roads and supporting the increase in the number of pilgrims, who now could visit the site of Christ’s earthly sojourn.  In 1099, even before Jerusalem was taken, the Order of the Hospital was set up as a hospitium or Hospice Infirmary, administered by its founder Blessed Gerard.

We arrived LHR 7am and had 3.5 hrs between flights.  We transferred from terminal 5 to 4 and it took about 30 min with walk, escalators, train and bus.  Terminal is renovated and very modern but still very big.  When we got to terminal 4 for Malta flight, they did not have gate until 40 min before boarding so you do not know where to stay closer. We shopped. I stopped at electronics store and found netbook I want to buy – ASUS EEE and I tested it since I will buy it from Amazon later on.

I also bought a UK electrical plug converter since I realized I only have European. Malta and UK have different plug.  Had coffee and croissant and we boarded Air Malta flight on time. They served food but it was just airline food..  The plane to Malta was full. Our representative met us in airport when we got our luggage and we were on the way to hotel. Nice thing about Malta and there are no long distances. In about 15 minutes were arrived to our hotel Corinthia 5* hotel.  Later or we met for cocktails, inspection of hotel and 4* Marina hotel next door. We had buffet dinner with agents of Destination Malta – the company which hosted us. We are a group of 9 agents from USA who were invited to familiarize with the country. 

At 6pm we’ve met with representatives of Destination Malta and sales manager of Corinthia hotel. We took a walk around property. It is located together with many other hotels in St. Julians, which a preferred place to stay in my opinion. Hotels are on the water. There are some beaches but with rocks and not really good for swimming. The views are beautiful.  Nearby Westin has casino on the water. There is a long promenade which along the sea will take you to next town. Also short walk brings you to the shopping center. Most hotels have nice pools.

We visited Marina 4* hotels adjacent to Corinthia and had buffet dinner at our hotel. 

Next morning,  November 13, we met with our guide Jackie and we left to explore Valetta – Malta’s capital city.  We learned about Malta’s history.

History and culture in brief

The island was in existence before 5000 bc. The settlers arrived to Malta either from Sicily of from North Africa. The earliest temples were built at that time. The temples survive today as the oldest free-standing structures in the world.  The temples were continuing to build during the Bronze Age. Then Phoenicians arrived and used the island as a trading post. In 200 BC Romans captured the island and it became part of the Republic of Rome. 

In ad 60 St. Paul was shipwrecked in the area now known as St. Paul’s Bay. He converted islanders to Christianity. During Hadrian’s reign Malta was declared a Roman Municipality.  Then Arabs arrived and took over Roman fortifications including what was later become Fort St. Angelo and the city they renamed Mdina. Original language was called Malti and came from Phoenicians.  Arabs incorporated many Semitic language words; therefore current Maltese language is a mix of both.

In 1090 or so the Normans invaded and Malta became part of kingdom of Sicily. It was later going back and forth between French and Germans until in 15C Malta became a part of Spanish Empire.

Meanwhile the army of the Order of St. John arrived from Jerusalem and Spanish King gave them the island. The knights were paying the tax to the king – One Maltese Falcon per knight per year! (Remember movie “Maltese Falcon”?) .

 Valetta became the capital and knights were building forts. It became the finest fortified city in Europe. Then Napoleon invaded the island in 1798. After the end of war with French, it was offered that the Malta will be returned to the knights but obviously at that time knights were already under decline and Maltese people voted to come under protection of British.  At the 1814 treaty of Paris, Malta became a British Crown Colony.  It became an important harbor for trading and British Naval Base. During WWII the hospitals were built for wounded British soldiers. After WWI the economy failed and there were riots. The British granted Malta self-governance. Then British suspended the constitution in 1930. In 1932 the Constitution was restored, in 1933 the Constitution was withdrawn and Malta became again British colony. During WWII the island was bombed and destroyed by Germans. Many citizens were killed. After war, Malta was under British until 1974 when they became independent republic.  They became members of European Union in end of 1990s.

The country is bi-lingual – English and Maltese.

The population is 98% Catholic. There are still issues with divorce and abortions – both are not allowed. There are no immigrants working in the country.  Very homogenous population and seems to be prosperous. The country is low key and not well known outside of Europe but maybe the Maltese like to keep it this way. However it is a popular vacation spot for Europeans.

As for Kings of Malta, the Heritage is still alive. Their mission of healing and protect is now purely humanitarian, helping in refugee camps and hospitals in Africa and Asia and there is a clinic in Bethlehem. 

The Order’s headquarters in Rome are located at Via Condotti. Like Vatican it is a sovereign state. It issues their own stamps, has its own diplomatic corps and has a sovereign head with the title Prince and Grand Master.

Sightseeing.

 Friday, November 13

Morning was spent visiting Valetta. We went to Republic street and main street. We saw Grand Master Palace. We visited St. John’s Cathedral which has the rich history of heritage to the fact that for 200 years it was the church of the Order of the Knights of St. John.

The surprise was that the Oratory today is housing paintings of Caravaggio. The largest painting he produced is “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” – the only painting one known to be signed. Caravaggio spent many years in Malta.  The museum which is part of the cathedral also has unique Flemish tapestries. 

We walked by fortification walls and admired forts and the views and marveled on all history what these walls have seen.

After cathedral visit we went for lunch in beautiful restaurant The Carriage in Valetta. It is located on top of office building and has incredible views.  The food was delicious too and served with local Maltese wine. I especially liked white wine. We were told that Malta produces good wine but does not export it – small production.  The food is Malta is a mix or Italian (mostly Sicilian) and Mediterranean - consuming many vegetables and fish.

After lunch we visited glass factory. The quality is close to Murano glass. I bought some souvenirs. Then we went to Mdina. It is called a silent city and it was incredible. The time we visited it was 4pm when the sun was setting down. Most structures were from yellow stone so views with color, narrow streets, noble houses, very quiet comparing with Valetta, was just unreal.

It is a one of the world’s finest examples of a medieval walled city that is still inhabited.

There was one 5* hotel in Mdina, Xara Palace which we’ve arranged for a visit and it was very unique just like all other members of this prestigious Relais and Chateaux collection.  But this location in medieval city stands this hotel apart. It also has great views of the Valley.

After that we went back to hotel and had some time to prepare for dinner nearby in restaurant Barracuda  in St. Julians where we sampled wonderful seafood with more wine.  The menu included : Smoked swordfish Carpaccio, Pumpkin soup drizzled with truffle oil, Roast sea brim (something like our sea bass), roasted caponata and rucola cream, wine of course. Dessert was Cinnamon panacota with vanilla crème anglaise.

Saturday, November 14.

We went for a full day tour of Gozo. We were driven to the ferry and took ferry to the island. It is smaller island and completely different from Malta. It has hilltop villages, beaches, fortresses (legacy of cruel invasions). It is a land of farmers and fishermen.

We visited its largest city Victoria (locally called Rabat). We strolled very pleasant Central Square and surrounding street.   We visited Gozo handicraft center where we bought beautiful lace and wool handicrafts. Again, views were terrific.

The highlight of the island visit was an archeological site. With Ggantija temple, considered the oldest surviving, free structure in the world.  Some of its element remind of Stonehenge and we were told there is a thought that people who inhabited temple later on went to North...

After temple. We went to see a natural attraction with a rock arch called the Azure Window. A Natural tunnel connects the small body of water with an open sea. We took a boat ride. The water was clear so you can see 20 meters below. It is called by local Blue grotto, interesting formations.

It is a popular site for diving. Diving in Malta is available year round. In fact in November, it was warm and people were swimming on the beach.

We left Gozo by ferry, had some rest before we went for meeting with sales people at Westin hotel. It is beautiful resort. Then we went to nearby Hilton to see it and the dinner was arranged for us there. Usually I do not like buffets but that seafood feast at Hilton was incredible variety. I had to try many seafood dishes and they were delicious. The desserts were masterpieces (by taste and appearance).

Sunday, November 15

We went for a half day trip to Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsashlock) – Malta’s typical fishing village and Blue Grotto.  The village is located about 7 km southeast of Valetta. It was the landing site for the Ottoman and Napoleonic invasions of Malta. Today a harbor boasts a large and colorful fleet of Maltese fishing boat. We also saw a market alongside the quay with interesting local produce and some souvenirs. I took pictures of interesting seafood creatures.

We had a lunch on the main square of Marsaxlokk restaurant. It was a typical Maltese specialties, cheese, bread, great soup, vegetables served family style. It was terrific.

After lunch we went to Malta’s island Blue grotto. We took a boat ride and admired clear waters and blue color of the water and pink cliff formations.

Afterwards we went to hotel and rested. In the evening we went for a farewell dinner in a private dining room of another Corinthia hotel – Corinthia Palace. The formal dinner was beautifully presented: Parmesan risotto with wild mushroom ragout, Grilled red snapper, Vegetables, potatoes, Almond tart with baked apple.

Monday November 16

We left early for 5:45am transfer to airport (3o min ride) and departed for London/New York.

Farewell Malta, but I will return sometimes. It is definitely on my list for more relaxing vacation (not business fam trip!).

Summary.

Hotel.  Corinthia hotel in St. Julians was fine. It is classified as 5* but it is, however more like a 4*. Common areas are better than rooms. Out of 5* hotels we inspected I liked both Westin and Hilton. Location is the same for all.  I also loved hotel  The Xara Palace.

This small island country – 400,000 inhabitants is a surprise. Not well known, it boasts history, archeological sites, sea views, beaches, natural attractions, great food, and friendly English speaking people. They have very low crime.  Most people from USA visit it on one day cruise stop but I strongly suggest you come and stay there for a while. A week will get you relaxed vacation.  Divers can dive year round besides blue grottoes, there are also shipwrecks.

Malta is easy combined with UK ($200 cost, 3.5 hr flight from London), 1 hr from Rome and 1hr by water – catamaran to Sicily. Trip to Sicily can be also done in one day if desired.

It is also relatively inexpensive comparing with other Mediterranean destinations. Overall, lovely and relaxed vacation can be enjoyed when visiting Malta.

Disclaimer: Please do not copy this itinerary. It is intense trip for travel professionals to get familiarized with the country. We can design trip personally per each client's interest, budget and energy level. We have a great team of colleagues - incoming travel agency in Malta to plan your trip. We also have good prices for hotels.

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