Head for the sun – Malta

My Southern European genes can only withstand so much time without a proper dosage of UV radiation and temperatures above 25.

After almost two years without beach vacations (Norway doesn’t count) a couple of cheap plain tickets to Malta were the perfect excuse for a quick getaway. A couple of text messages and mouse clicks later and we were 6, heading for the former British colony, planted in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, just south of Sicily.

Unlike most of my trips, this one didn’t involve any planning or even research of what to see. There was one very simple goal: Laying in the sun and relaxing by the beach!

A few weeks before going I thought about the possibility of getting a rental motorbike and doing a tour of the island’s attractions for a more in-depth feature but in the end the need for a couple of relaxed days without planning or schedules prevailed.

The early flight (5am) meant we arrived in Malta with the whole day to spare, and had it not been for the terrible option of taking the Malta Transfer (The only official Malta airport shuttle) instead of a Taxi and we would even gotten to our hotel a lot earlier.
Seriously, do not take this shuttle, the price for 4 persons is only marginally cheaper than a Taxi and we had to wait for 40 min for it to leave only to end up trapped in a old stinky van that took 1h30 to get us to our hotel – 18km away from the airport!

After a first day by the pool and the beach getting ourselves reacquainted with a hot sunny climate, 4 of us rented bicycles for the second day while the other two rented a 50cc scooter – by far a better option.

We were based in Qawra and due to the hilly nature, and lack of cycling lanes we weren’t going to go far on the bikes so on the next day we just surrendered to the evidences and rented a 50cc for 16€/day (insurance included) and got upgraded to a 125cc because there weren’t any 50cc available anymore – That’s what a call a great deal!

With the freedom of movement afforded by the Scooter we spent the next days between enjoying the private beach at our hotel and going for short rides around the island.

Most of the Island is quite arid and dry with arabic style huts and catholic churches marking the barren landscape. Despite the mediterranean climate (which to me seems quite similar to the south of Portugal or Croatia) there seems to be very little agriculture and the prices of vegetables and fruit are ridiculously high, possibly on account of lack of sweet water for irrigation.

We went to Valleta, the capital, for dinner and left wishing we had more time to visit the city. Compared to most of the island Valleta looks majestic, perched on top of a rock fortress with it’s narrow steep streets and traditional buildings a mix of Roman and Arab Architechture.

The archipelago of Malta consists of 3 main islands: Malta, Gozo and the tiny Comino and I would definitely recommend you take the time to at least go to Gozo, it is far quainter than Malta with nice villages and beautiful beaches. What we did was ride our scooters to the Ferry terminal on the North side of the island, cross to Gozo (if I remember correctly 11,5€ for one scooter + 2 passengers paid only on the return trip) and then ride around the island. The road surface is bad but less so than in Malta and with a lot less traffic.

A cool thing in Malta is that you can apparently rent a boat without any kind of license so for the penultimate day of our trip we rented a seriously fast 115hp speedboat (210€ for the day + 45€ for fuel, for 6 persons) it’s a bit more expensive than the guided tours but infinitely better. We drove the boat from the port in Ramla Bay to the Azure Window in Gozo before going along the coast to the gorgeous Mgarr ix-Xini bay perfect for snorkeling with water so transparent you can see the ocean bottom 12meters below you.
Going back south to Comino we stopped at the famous Blue Lagoon but didn’t stay long…it’s basically a tourist trap with massive tour boats with loud stereos and drunken tourists. Instead continued along the island to the quieter St.Mary’s Bay.

Has a beach destination I definitely recommend Malta, just make sure you stick to the Low season and avoid some of the Tourist traps.

The advice I would give you from my (limited) experience there would be:

WHAT TO DO:
– If you are an experienced motorcycle rider RENT A SCOOTER, it’s a great way to move around the Island. Just make sure you stay aware of the fact all the roads have limited grip and many many many potholes.
Don’t trust the horror stories you read online about how you are going to die if you ride a bike there. The standard of driving is not great but no worse than other southern european countries…you see the odd kamikaze driver, the crazy guy that stops in the middle of a roundabout to tie the watermelons to the back of the van (seriously I did see this) but you’re riding a slow scooter and if you are aware of your surroundings you should be ok.

– Take at least a whole day to visit Valleta. I didn’t and I regret it.

– Catch the ferry and go to Gozo

– Snorkel and dive! It’s the single best thing to do on the island, there are colorful fish everywhere and the water is cristal clear. I spent most of my hours face down in the water admiring the underwater world.

– Rent a boat! If you are in a group of 4 or more people the price is reasonable and it is an amazing experience.

– Look around before you rent a scooter or a boat, we looked around and ended up renting all our stuff from the same guy. A very nice guy with a booth in St.Paul’s Bay just 50m to the west of the intersection between Islet Promenade and Dolmen street. (the bikes he rents are from AHS Malta you can identify them by the blue keychain with AHS written on them, but his booth has all kinds of diferent rentals.)

– If you are near Qawra go to the Cheeky Monkey and have a Chicken Burger, a Tuna Salad or a Smoothie. The food is great, the decoration very nice, awesome staff and the best music selection I’ve heard in a long time.

– Go out of your way to go to Margo’s Mistra Bay for the best pizza (and deserts) you will ever have!

– Have a few hours to spare, go the old capital city of Rabat. It’s beautiful.

– Visit as many of the 350 churches as possible, they are truly beautiful buildings with rich and vibrant interiors. No matter what your religion is, they are worth a visit.

– Enjoy and remember to have fun!

WHAT NOT TO DO:

– Do NOT RENT A SCOOTER if you have never ridden one or have very limited experience. With limited experience you are bound to make a few unnecessary panic braking maneuvers and the levels of grip on the roads are not kind to those mistakes. Want to learn to ride a scooter? Do it in Northern or Central Europe, where traffic is generally more organized and the roads better surfaced.

– Do NOT catch a transfer from the airport unless it is a specific transfer to your hotel, otherwise you will end up stuck in a hot van that stops in every hotel, hostel and rental apartment on the way before getting you to your destination.

– Do NOT catch a tour on the boats that go to Comino and the blue Lagoon, chances are you’ll either end up in a boat with a massive stereo and with drunken 20 year olds or in the middle of a hoard of 70 year olds slowly dying from heat exhaustion.

– Do NOT go out of your way to go to the sandy beach in Melliheha, it’s the only sandy beach in the island so it is always packed.

– Do NOT go out of your way to visit the Popeye village…it’s expensive and I seriously doubt it is worth the money. I didn’t pay to go in so I might be wrong…

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