Malta is an island that has been around for a long time and will not be rushed. Beating to its own special rhythm you either love it or you hate it. I’ve been here the three weeks collating the content for our Lost Executive Logbook of Malta (Coming soon). In that time I have yet to meet anyone sitting on the fence in this matter.
I love it. In fact, Malta has got me in a special way. Nowhere else is chilling out embraced with such fervour.
Oh my God, the food in Malta is something else. You don’t even have to go to a fancy restaurant to get a good meal. There is a café just around from where I was staying that had plastic chairs around plastic tables under umbrellas and only two seats inside. For 2 euros I bought the absolute best tuna bun I’ve ever eaten. I know that may not sound very amazing but it was the best one I’ve ever eaten and it was a lot of food.
There was another place in Msida that I frequented, Gyros and Churros. They make pita wraps and churros. I have never had a pita wrap like it before. Loaded with everything they could get in it the approach to food in Malta is about getting as much onto the plate as possible. It is a complete polar opposite approach to mainland Europe and Britain where you have to pay a lot for good food of any amount.
I love the food in Malta.
I hate the driving in Malta.
Driving is the only thing in Malta that isn’t relaxed. I learnt to drive in South Africa during a time when the roads were dominated by “Taxis” and I thought I knew about driving wild. But there is something unique and special about the way they drive in Malta. They drive on the same side of the road as the UK and on the surface the laws of the road seem to be the same. But the only way I could accurately describe the approach of driving would be holding onto the back of a wildebeest during a stampede and hoping for the best. This can be epitomised in the term used for traffic lights: “Biss aħmar bil-qoxra” which means “Only a little red.”
Malta has a very long history. First inhabited in 5900BC by farmers, then in 3850BC by the civilization that built the Megalithic Temples which are the oldest surviving buildings in the world despite that civilization collapsing around 2350BC. Then the island was repopulated by bronze age warriors until Malta’s pre-history era ends in 700BC.
This is the time where Malta’s tourist industry started. The islands were colonized by the Phoenicians, then the Romans, then the Byzantines, the Aghlabids, the Arabs then the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. Then, there were the Swabians, the Aragonese and eventually the Spanish. Briefly, the Ottomans, then the French before the British. It was an important naval base for the British serving as headquarters for the Mediterranean fleet. This resulted in the island having the living-hell bombed out of them during the Second World War by the Axis Powers.
Driving across the island it’s easy to think that much of the city is still being reconstructed from that extensive bombing. A strong influence of Arabic, Italian and Spanish architecture gives the tell-tale appearance of Malta. Hundreds of block shaped buildings with square windows jumbled together and all bleached by the sun.
In the cities you have the usual tourism hotspots in St Julians and Valetta, where you’ll find glassy and concrete hotels, restaurants, bars and casinos but then just around the corner there will be the hollowed out husk of an apartment building that never quite got built in time.
As it turns out, this is rather deliberate. The weather in Malta is notoriously dry, so building funding comes in two stages. The first to get the outer shell built after which it may stay like that for a period of time (sometimes years). Then the second stage will be to turn that shell into something useable.
You also have Saint Johns Co-Cathedral in Valletta and the Upper Barrakka Gardens that give you an epic view of the Grand Harbour. And marinas all around the island. I’d recommend the marina in Msida for chilled walks during the evenings.
Malta does not seem to be in a massive hurry to change to suit the tastes of the tourists. So there are many locations in Malta off the beaten path that offer genuine secrets. All along the coast line there are caves to be explored. I’ve been visiting dozens of stylish bars along the coast to watch the sunset over the turquoise waters.
Further inland, thanks to such a long and varied history, Malta’s past is easily accessible and definitely worthy of investigation. For such a small island there are great stretches of land you can walk across to find secrets. Most of them haven’t really been developed and in these lands are ruins and temples that have been untouched.
IMAGES by Ashley Douglas.