IT’S always nice to book a trip when the chill of autumn starts to creep in. That time of year when shops start to stock up for Christmas, even though Halloween hasn’t been.
I’d been looking for something different than my usual Canaries jaunt but wanted the same flight times and value for money. A quick search and I was off to Malta.
My sis and bro-in-law had their honeymoon there twenty odd years ago but they’re the only people I know who’ve been.
What’s the language, currency, weather like? It’s only 90mins from Sicily, so I imagined they spoke Italian. No.
After being ruled by several nations over the years the language sounds more Arabic, but they all speak perfect English, they use the euro and it’s scorchio.
Malta was part of the British Empire for 150yrs so it’s no wonder it feels like home but with much better weather. They also drive on the left and you don’t need to pack your travel plugs.
The difference is in September it’s only 26-29C! It actually rained for a whole day while I was there but they were desperate for the relief, it had been a long hot summer.
The late Queen, or rather Princess Elizabeth as she was at the time, spent a couple of years there at Villa Guardamangia as a naval wife with hubby Prince Philip. Their former home is now being transformed into a museum.
I booked somewhere equally as grand – well I think so anyway – the Marriott Hotel, Balluta Bay, St Julian’s, with its fabulous rooftop pool, spa, cocktail bar and giant bed.
I made good use of my rain soaked day by hitting the museums. I queued early for the Co-Cathedral in the capital Valletta. The original church was finished in 1577 and throughout the years the interior was transformed.
Walking inside is like opening a giant treasure chest. Gold everywhere, rich tapestries and original artworks by Caravaggio.
There’s a short film about his life in Malta. A man who was tortured by his extreme personalities. It turns out he was being slowly poisoned by the lead paint.
Some of the Knights of St John are buried inside too.
Malta, and its sister island Gozo, have been the setting for many films and TV shows including Game of Thrones, Troy, The Da Vinci Code and Jurassic Park and you can take in all the locations easily.
After all that sightseeing and discovering the island’s history, next day I relaxed on a sun-lounger at my hotel. And with two bars and four restaurants I was tempted not to get further than the revolving front door.
The location is perfect. For children you’re right on the bay and a short walk from a play park with cats and chickens looked after by the locals. St Julian’s also has the busiest and best nightlife in Malta.
Bars, restaurants and nightclubs are all within easy reach and the best bit? The hotel serves breakfast until 11am so you can enjoy a long lie.
Next day a short ferry ride took me to tranquil Gozo. There’s a quirky way to travel around, a Tuk Tuk chauffeured tour by Yippee.
These traditional Thai tourers are perfect for the winding narrow streets of the villages and driving along the sheer cliff edges of the island.
For lunch I was lucky enough to dine at Il-Kartell in Marsalforn, under a beautiful vaulted ceiling.
I met a local dog called Bruce whose owners were celebrating an anniversary. It’s an outstanding restaurant, people want to share special times there.
If you want to spend some beach time, head to Ramla Bay. Rich red sand lead to the clear blue sea, perfect for swimming or snorkelling.
Before making my way back to the ferry, I visited the Citadel. Occupied since prehistoric times I found myself in a maze of buildings including museums, WWII shelters and an old prison.
Back in Valletta I headed to Rubino’s in Old Bakery Street. The sign outside drew me in, Confectionary.
It started off as a sweet shop back in 1906 and is now a regular in the Michelin restaurant guide for its traditional, daily changing menu of Maltese and Italian dishes.
It has a wonderful atmosphere. Even the sun won’t entice you to leave without a look at the dessert menu.
If you’re not quite up for walking or fancy something different, a zany way to zip around Malta’s three cities of Birgu, Vittoriosa and Valletta, are the golf carts from Rolling Geeks.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: A week B&B at the 5* Malta Marriott Hotel and Spa in St Julian’s is from £1,179pp leaving Glasgow on selected dates in May next year. See barrheadtravel.co.uk or call 0141 222 2223
MORE INFO: For more on visiting Malta and for all the things to do and see log on to visitmalta.com
These little electric buggies get to places other vehicles cannot reach and with a nod to the environment. Win win. Book them for a few hours and escape the traffic whizzing in and out of the forts and gardens of the capital.
During my drive I parked up at the Casa Rocca Piccola. This beautiful house is home to Marquis Nicholas de Piro and his wife The Marquess Frances.
The couple have opened their house to the public having spent their lives researching and writing about the history of Malta.
A friendly and approachable pair, they showed no airs or graces and delight in their collections of treasures and obscurities. Their invitation to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 sits proudly on the wall.
The strangest room was the four poster bedroom where a scary doll in a walker stood in the corner! Sharp exit left.
Before heading home, it was time for souvenirs. No matter how hard I try I can’t help myself.
There are markets in the villages selling sea salt and olive oil, wine and lace, I visited them all.
If you’re like me you’ll end up at the airport duty free buying fridge magnets, fridge magnets and more fridge magnets, so this time for something different I visited the glass blowers of Mdina.
Beautiful, delicate vases and bowls of all colours, sculpted animals and delicate jewellery.
Malta may be smaller than Arran but it packs a lot more in. From churches and museums to watersports, designer shops and incredible nightlife.
The Maltese are passionate about their island’s history, religion and the food and wine they produce. They’re helpful and friendly, and both old fashioned and innovative at the same time.
A holiday to Malta feels like a warm hug from Grandma, then being whisked off to party with cousins.
It’s definitely my go-to winter hols destination from now on.
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