Much of Malta in 4 days

By Theodore Liebersfeld
This item appears on page 32 of the December 2018 issue.

Panorama of the walled city of Mdina. Photos by Theodore Liebersfeld

My first trip to Malta was in 1985. My revisit in May 2017, after a lapse of over 30 years, made me wonder how I could have forgotten about the picturesque scenery, varied topography and fascinating history.

Via Expedia.com, I booked four nights in Sliema at The Victoria Hotel (Gorg Borg Olivier St., Sliema; victoriahotel.com) for $114 per night.

Sliema is a small, lively city located just across Marsamxett Harbour from Valletta, Malta's capital. The handy ferry to Valletta and the excellent Malta Public Transport system (buses) make Sliema an excellent base for exploring the entire main island of Malta.

There are scores of cafés, restaurants, shops and seaside hotels at sea level near the harbor. The Tigné seafront boardwalk provides picture-postcard views of the Valletta skyline across the harbor.

If you're looking for a seaside hotel, the Preluna Hotel & Spa (124 Tower Rd., Sliema; www.preluna.com) seemed a good choice. Offering varied services and facilities, it has an excellent location, and it's the pickup/drop-off point for most local tours.

However, I preferred the quiet, elegant neighborhood at the top of the hill in the city center, and the view from my terrace was terrific. By the way, The Victoria Hotel has a sister hotel, The Palace Hotel Malta (High St., Sliema; thepalace malta.com), and they're around the corner from each other.

During my stay in Sliema, I had delicious Maltese dinners for about $20 each, with wine, at the casual Salisbury Arms Pub (81 Triq Il-Kbira; www.salisburyarmspub.com), Ta' Kris Restaurant (80 Fawwara Ln.; www.takrisrestaurant.com) and Il-Merill Restaurant (St. Vincent Alley; www.facebook.com/IlMerill).

Interior of St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

The excellent guidebook that I used, Bradt Travel Guides' "Malta and Gozo" by Juliet Rix, recommended starting a visit with a 90-minute harbor cruise. It was excellent advice.

The cruise takes you in and out of many creeks to get close-up views of fortifications, forts, battlements and docks of Valletta and the Three Sisters (cities: Birgu [Vittoriosa], Senglea and Cospicua), and the interesting commentary gives perspective to the history of this strategic Mediterranean location.

Several companies, including Captain Morgan Cruises (www.captainmorgan.com.mt), Luzzu Cruises (www.luzzucruises.com) and Supreme Cruises (www.suprememalta.com/en/content-page/supreme-cruises/111), offer similar trips, all leaving from nearby locations along the Tigné Seafront.

Buy your ticket in advance online for $17-$20 and choose any of the numerous departures throughout the day. On my first full day in Malta, I took a morning excursion with Supreme Cruises.

During the afternoon of my first day, I used local buses to visit Mosta and Mdina near the center of Malta island.

Mosta's attraction is the famous Mosta Dome (Parish Church of the Assumption), an example of neoclassical architecture that was built in the mid-1800s. According to Wikipedia, "… it is said to have the third largest unsupported dome in the world."

Mdina is a walled city high on a hilltop. After walking through the city's early-18th-century Baroque Main Gate, I enjoyed strolling Mdina's narrow, ancient, cobbled streets. The city was a center for Maltese nobles and religious authorities.

St. Paul's Cathedral in Mdina shares the Archdiocese with St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta and has a magnificent interior with beautiful frescoes and floor tiles. I spent over two hours exploring the cathedral, its museum and the adjoining Palazzo de Piro.

Haġar Qim megalithic temple complex on Malta island.

Nearby, outside Mdina's walls, lies the city of Rabat. I wanted to visit two highly recommended attractions: Domvs Romana (the remains of a Roman-era house) and St. Paul's Catacombs, but by the time I finished exploring Mdina, it was after closing time for both. Learn from my misjudgment by planning for a full day in this area.

On my second full day, I participated in a group excursion, "Malta Classic Small Group Tour." I booked the tour for 72 (near $82) at Malta TravelNet (www.maltatravelnet.com/malta-guided-tours). This comprehensive full-day tour offered me the best opportunity to see many of Malta's most significant sights efficiently, in a single day.

It took me back through Mdina and to the ancient, megalithic temples at Haġar Qim (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Blue Grotto and the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, with a stop for lunch.

We also did a walking tour of Valletta that included the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the interior of St. John's Co-Cathedral — with its famous ceiling as well as Caravaggio's masterpiece, "Beheading of Saint John the Baptist" — and the Grandmaster's Palace.

I set aside my third and final full day for a group tour of Gozo. The Republic of Malta includes three main, inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Comino is very small and most tourists don't visit it, but Gozo is a popular visitor stop because it has several important and interesting sights.

My tour ("Gozo Day Trip from Malta Including Ggantija Temples," booked through Viator.com for about $70) started with a short, 20-minute ferry trip from Ċirkewwa in the northwest of Malta island across the Gozo Channel to Mġarr on Gozo. After docking, we traveled by bus to visit Ġgantija, another UNESCO-cited megalithic temple group that predates Haġar Qim. Next, we went for an included lunch at beautiful Xlendi Bay.

Gg˙antija megalithic temple complex on Gozo.

At Dwejra, on the west coast, we learned just how enterprising the Maltese can be — turning a tragedy into a tourist attraction. The Azure Window, a world-renowned rock formation, was destroyed by a storm in March 2017. Now tourists pack the rocky beach to stare at the open view of the sea where the Azure Window once stood.

But the visit to Dwejra was worthwhile for much more. We got views of Fungus Rock, Dwejra Tower, the beautiful coastline and the Inland Sea.

Our final stop in Gozo was its capital, Victoria (locally called Rabat). Our guide took us up to Citadella for a walking tour of the medieval castle, its narrow lanes and its fortifications.

Then we had free time to explore It-Tokk (Victoria's market square), St. George's Basilica in St. George's Square and the warren of medieval streets behind the square. The bus took us back to the ferry at Mġarr for our return to Malta island.

The next morning, my busy, fascinating sojourn to the Republic of Malta was over, but I had happy memories and wonderful photos.

THEODORE LIEBERSFELD
Boynton Beach, FL


Mosta Dome (Parish Church of the Assumption) in the city of Mosta.

Ferry landing at the city of Mġarr on Gozo.

Picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk on Malta Island.

Citadella in Victoria, Gozo.

Panorama of the walled city of Mdina.