I was imagining what is Malta like as my flight was descending into this Mediterranean archipelago that lies directly in line with the toe of Italy’s boot, and I felt hopeful. I had long suspected that the Mediterranean was vastly overrated and underrated in equal measures. Overrated as a summer destination; underrated as a winter one. Until now, I had only been able to confirm the former part of the theory (though visiting cities like Valencia are rewarding experiences year round). And this is why I was hopeful as I descended into Malta.
Learning What is Malta Like by Exploring Valetta
It was mid-February – or winter in other words. The mercury in Malta was snoozing at an infinitely agreeable 20 °C. The crowds were at home diligently saving for their summer beach holidays. The potential for boredom seemed non-existent, which was largely due to stumbling across websites like MyMaltaInfo, which on its own provided enough information about the place to keep me occupied for a year. (A year of hangovers if the nightlife in Malta turned out to be as good as promised.)
I had chosen Valletta as my basecamp, the capital and cultural hub of the Maltese islands. This would be my starting point for a week-long whistle stop tour of the country. I’d hire a car, I thought, and zoom round the island at my leisure. I’d check out the ancient temples in the south, which date back an astonishing 6,000 years. I’d head to the west and wander round the perfectly preserved medieval citadel of Mdina. I’d venture to the north and roam through its beautiful, verdant countryside on one of the numerous walking trails suggested on my map. Perhaps I’d even hop on the 30 minute ferry to Gozo – the craggy islet that sits north of the main island – where reputedly some of the best snorkeling spots in the world can be found.
Alas, alas, alas. I did none of those things. My nomadic ambitions had led me astray; they had caused me to overlook the very place in which I would begin, and understanding what is Malta like became my new course of understanding.
The effect Valletta had on me can best be described as seductive. Immediate, irreversible and indelible seduction. I quickly realized this was somewhere I had to get to know. The city sits on a prong of land that juts into a natural harbor (imagine it as the horizontal lines in the € symbol) and the ocher buildings stack up unevenly from the navy blue sea like half-finished games of Jenga. Crowning the city skyline is the momentous dome of Carmelite Church, a baroque masterpiece erected in 1573.
The whole city looks like it’s been chiseled out of the land rather than built on top of it. The street system is essentially a maze and is possibly the most rewarding place in the whole world to get lost. And this is exactly what I did, time and time again, day after day. I didn’t consult a map or a guidebook for my entire stay, instead opting to disappear in the warren of back alleys and side streets in search of the unexpected. Sure, the museums were fascinating, the cathedrals staggering and the palaces grand, but nothing could compare to the little bursts of excitement that came with suddenly finding myself in front of a beautiful palazzo, or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it church squashed into an otherwise normal street of local dwellings.
These are the kind of things guide books don’t have space for, and in an age when it seems the entire world is mapped out, complete with intricate descriptions, it’s these little personal discoveries that can make a well-trodden place feel fresh. I had found a version of the Mediterranean I could get along with. I now know what is Malta like, and my theory was confirmed.
Jack is a freelance travel writer who has traveled extensively throughout Australia, Asia and Europe. His biggest adventure to date has been to traverse the vast and lonely emptiness of Australia’s outback (surviving Wolf Creek in the process) in an epic 10,000 mile road trip. You can follow Jack’s Tweets @JakOfAllTravels
Do you know what is Malta like? Did you visit the island during summer or winter? How crowded was the island, or is it a destiantion you’d recommend? Share your experience with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you liked it!