Wednesday 24 January 2018

Malta Teaser: 48 hours on the Mediterranean's hidden gem

Sun holidays in Europe

Valletta skyline at sunset with the Carmelite Church dome and St. Pauls Anglican Cathedral
Valletta skyline at sunset with the Carmelite Church dome and St. Pauls Anglican Cathedral
The Maltese are very proud of their grub
Kempinski Hotel

Ryan Nugent

Malta is the Mediterranean's hidden gem... just don't forget Gozo, says Ryan Nugent.

Set the mood

Why bother renting a car or taking a bus tour when you can rally around some of Malta's most famous and historical sites in an electric buggy?

Okay, rallying might be a slight exaggeration, but at 30kmph we found ourselves in a vehicle that not only takes selfies but gives you a guided tour through SatNav. Just be careful not to accelerate too quickly in Rolling Geek's cars (rolling-geeks.com) - the winding streets can catch your vehicle by surprise, as an unfortunate member of our entourage found out the hard way.

Our adventure took place in Città Vittoriosa (also called Birgu) - a city reachable from the capital of Valletta by a gondola-style boat - but it's not all selfies and golf buggies. The old Maltese culture is preserved too, with views of St John's Co-Cathedral and the Barrakka Gardens being particular highlights in Valletta.

Guilty pleasure

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The Maltese are very proud of their grub

When you get to Malta, don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, particularly with the food. The Italians and French are renowned for their cuisine, but if you make your way a little further down south (93km from Sicily, to be precise), the Maltese are very proud of the grub they've got to offer.

Ta' Philip (taphilip.com), in the seaside town of Mgarr on Gozo, is a particular highlight.

Just ask the waiter to rustle up a bit of everything - lots of Maltese bread, rabbit among other meats and some local wine. You'll even get a shot of liqueur to top it all off... the concept is 'made in Gozo' and it strives to get as close to zero food miles as possible.

Get to Gozo

Malta is a long weekend getaway type of place... and it's not the only island in the archipelago. Gozo is particularly inviting if you're looking to de-stress - quiet, tranquil, with spectacular scenery no matter what way you look. Just make sure to get fed at your hotel before undertaking any long walks, as the area tends to shut down pretty early at night.

Take lots of photos; you won't be anywhere like this again.

Hotel Intel

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Kempinski Hotel
 

Between Valletta and Gozo, you'll find a tale of two hotels that epitomise the difference between these Maltese islands - despite them being only a stone's throw apart.

In the business end of Valletta, the high-end Hilton Hotel (hilton.com) offers beautiful rooms, an incredible breakfast buffet and a poolside view to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, in Gozo, the Kempinski Hotel (above, kempinski.com) typifies the island - calm, slow-paced and effortless - while still offering the same amenities as the Hilton.

Top tip

Valletta is European Capital of Culture 2018 (valletta2018.org). The opening ceremony takes place on January 18, with many shows using the city's open spaces as backdrops. The Valletta Pageant of the Seas is held in June, lighting up the Grand Harbour with fireworks.

Glitches

The traffic. It's not an issue inside the walls of Valletta, but getting from A to B around the island might take some time. Congestion is a big issue in Malta, but, similarly to Dublin, I think they haven't really got to grips with it.

Get me there

Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct from Dublin to Malta five times a week through summer and three times weekly in winter. Several Irish tour operators offer package holidays to Malta, including Concorde Travel (concordetravel.ie), Mercury Holidays (mercuryholidays.ie) and Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie). For more, see maltauk.com.

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