Feb 06

The Maltese Connection: a weekend journey

Malta is a unique gem in the midst of the sea

First off, I want to make clear from the beginning, Malta is a superb destination. It deserves your utmost attention and personal investment anytime you find yourself around the vast Mediterranean. I’ve been once so far and not even sleep could try and rob me of a single moment of my 72 hours of fun and adventure. I will definitely be going back, many times if I can help it. You see my work often brings me places just like my vacation travels bring me places. When I’m working however, I have very limited time to go out and enjoy the sites. For this reason I have developed a method or personal ethic really; a game plan to both rest up in my time off and take advantage of the opportunity of exploring my surroundings.  I’ll share with you one of my most recent discoveries, the amazing beauty of the Maltese capital of Valletta, St. Julian and other surrounding coastal cities.

Settling in

The calm waters of St. George's Bay, Malta

Upon arrival to the Malta International Airport I was impressed by the very modern and impressive layout. It is also a good sized airport with arrivals from all over the world. Just outside was waiting one of Malta’s famous public buses. No two seem to be the same except for the color scheme. All the buses have a very recognizable dark yellow with orange stripe pattern. Buses are the main public transport method on the island. This bus took me directly to the massive roundabout just outside Valletta’s main gate. Here you will see hundreds of buses with destinations set to every part of the island. I stop to admire the impressive, white stoned, medieval wall of the city but I cannot rest just yet. There will be plenty of time for luxuriate in the streets of Valletta tomorrow and I’ll be better rested too. For now I need to track down my next bus. You see I could stay out near the airport like my workmates or even settle down in a nice hotel in the city. I’m not as easily satisfied with such options as you may have guessed by now. No, I’m going to head a little further up the coast to check out the resort area that really gives the island its tourist appeal. There are many things to see and do all over, but to be on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean looking for some rest, I can’t think of a better place than a beach resort.  I’m headed to a small yet serene inlet known as St. Julian’s Bay and the larger area is called St. Julian. This refined and splendid coast gives the feeling of being remote in the resorts, yet only a half hour from the capital and just minutes from a plethora of malls, stores and restaurants.

The Magnificent Radisson Blu in St. George's Bay

There is quite a good variety of resorts in this region. I personally stayed at the Radisson Blu in St. George’s Bay which I recommend as an outstanding hotel. The hotel gives the feeling of almost being out in the cerulean seas, it is so close to the beach. The design itself allows for a maximum of sea views with a bay style courtyard filled with pools and bars. There are some very nice restaurants as well as the full range of amenities available within the hotel. Other hotels around this curvaceous coast include the Corinthia Resort, the Westin resort, Le Meridien, Hilton and the Intercontinental. The one drawback of the intercontinental is that it is not beachfront but it has a lavishly furnished interior and it is settled in the heart of the commercial and party district of St. Julian. Each resort is immense and feels like a tiny city in itself. There are many restaurants in which to dabble, casino’s, shopping and breathtaking views. Just to get a proper induction into island fare, I finish the day with a great seafood dinner in St. Julian’s. The fish is fresh and succulent with a setting that feels not quite British, not quite Italian, just a mix of everything that’s uniquely Maltese.

A new day

The well worn streets of Valletta the capital

Rising early from my deep slumber I’m off to hit the capital. I join locals and tourists alike by jumping on the first, unmistakable, color coded bus to Valletta.  Upon arriving I find a city which could be taken for a massive fortress by its impressive walls. Once inside I experience the magic of crisscrossing streets, cobblestoned paths and a labyrinth of alleys. The city is particularly clean and well kept. Churches abound like corner markets in this city, a sign of how important faith is to this island nation. Make your way to St. John’s co-cathedral for a look at the signed paintings of the famous artist Caravaggio. Palaces like the Casa Rocca Piccola and the Grandmaster’s Palace are well worth the tour. Museums abound but the most fascinating are those dealing with natural history and the Phoenician influences on the island and its culture. For some picturesque views stroll down the Valletta waterfront at night and see the lit up houses reflect into the harbor.  Many spots along the city wall provide excellent views out into the sea too. The Fort of St. Elmo is an impressive structure with various articles of the Knights of Malta and all of the armed forces that have defended the island.  I particularly enjoyed my time in the city. I didn’t leave feeling cheated. I had plenty of time to see all the main attractions and I enjoyed everything that I saw. That evening I took in some of the local nightlife of St. Julian’s after an enthralling meal of grouper on right on the harbor waterfront. The bars and clubs are open long enough and are full enough for even the most demanding of party seekers.

So long, but not forever

The azure sea that adds to the island's great charm

As I awoke to enjoy my last few hours of rest and relaxation I had a few moments to think about what a unique place I had come to know. Until now Malta had always stirred a bit of intrigue in my imagination as most distant and island destinations do, but I found that my experience left me even more thrilled than I was to be coming in the first place. It was not my typical experience of an island. Malta has all the pleasures, sights, smells, sounds and feel of an island, but it also feels strongly European, it feels strongly Mediterranean and that’s a different sensation from the tropics. Here one sees well developed cities, roads and farmland which gently slopes down into the sea. There is a feeling of tourism and vacation but also an Old World sense of ancient buildings and historical events. It is really its own unique blend and I highly recommend you try it.  This island has been known for so long and its position has played a part in the rise and fall of many great civilizations. It really sits at the crossroads of both history and geography. I hope you get to that crossroads someday, just as I did, just as so many have for thousands of years.

This is the Editorial Board of The Joys of Traveling. We are passionate travel writers who seek to provide objective and accurate accounts of travel experiences by means of written articles, photos and videos.

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