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Luxury Malta and Gozo! Trip report

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Have just returned from a long (4 day) weekend in Malta and Gozo where we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. 27th April-1st May 2006
In Malta we stayed at the Xara palace in Mdina This is a 17thC Relais & Chateaux property set in the medieval city walls. I found it expensive for what it has to offer but it makes up in austere beauty and location for what it lacks in luxury. The interior has been carefully and traditionally restored and it looks its age even in places where it shouldn’t eg the bathrooms! We had a package offer which included dinner at Le Mondion restaurant which was very good with a nice elegant atmosphere without being too formal. Service and breakfast were also excellent. Mdina is one of the best maintained medieval towns I have seen. At night the lighting is spectacular. Streets and palaces are completely free of any signs of modernity. During the day there are tour buses and few cars but we were there only early morning and night. I would recommend to anyone visiting Malta to stay in or visit this city by night. We also ate at the Bacchus restaurant in Mdina which was ok food good atmosphere and setting.

On the first day we visited Valletta and the Hagar Quim megalithic temples at sundown even if they are closed it is worth visiting them at this time for the light effects on the stone. We returned to Valletta the following day to see the Co Cathedral with the Caravaggio painting and the rest of the church which is fascinating but was crowded. Valletta is a buzzing city unlike the others on the islands. Lots of cafés and shops, interesting architecture and churches and of course the incredible fortresses which withstood the Great Siege of 1565. A walk around fort St .Angelo on the other side of the bay gives amazing views of Valletta and is so full of history including the left overs of the devastating bombardments of WWII. Later in the morning we drove to Sliema, St. Julian’s and Paceville the relatively new very built-up areas west of Valletta. It is difficult to see why anyone would want to spend their Summer holidays in these places unless they offered incredibly cheap deals which they don’t seem to. There is a grand Hilton and other smart hotels but the sea doesn’t look like anything you could swim in. However by night things change and the sea front is lively and full of pretty restaurants with great views across the harbour. Presumably in the Summer it is full of young people who go to Malta to learn English in the many schools on offer in this area and the atmosphere is probably quite fun.
Later we visited the Hypogeum which we had booked over the internet. Only 10 people allowed in at a time so imperative to book well ahead. This underground temple is bang in the middle of a small town in between buildings which I was not expecting. It is undoubtably fascinating though the guided tour is just a bit too long.
At sunset we drove to Marsaxlokk a pretty little fishing village full of the typical phoenecian-like boats. Once again we got the impression we were visiting at the right time as a few coaches were just leaving and there were no crowds. We bought a couple of hand embroidered table cloths from one of the stalls and had an ice cream.
On our way back to Mdina we drove through many towns with imposing churches, some very beautiful most quite shabby. A lot of walls and very little nature.
On day 3 we checked out early from the Xara Palace and visited the small arts and crafts village created in left over war camps. The artisans actually work there and the experience was more interesting than I imagined. We then set off towards the ferry for Gozo on the far north of the island. On the way we visited Bugibba, St Paul’s and Mellieha the hot tourist spots of Malta. Once again the beaches did not seem that great and the towns are really built up all the way to the water.
The ferry to Gozo was very simple and efficient. We boarded with our car and landed on the other side after approximately 25 minutes. One of the rocky bays on Comino looked as if it had a spectacular sea bed with turquoise water.
We disembarked and drove straight to our hotel Ta Cenc’ near the very sleepy town of Sannat. The hotel is in a beautiful part of the island with cliffs and even the odd bit of vegetation! The reception is very grand with large public rooms filled to bursting with sofas. The rooms are in low buildings of local stone which blend in with the beautifully kept gardens. We had a suite which was made up of a largeish bedroom, living area , well appointed bathroom and patio. Unfortunately we had no view to speak of. Nice but dirty cats would come and lie next to us or on our deck chairs if we let them. Two pleasant old fashioned swimming pools were unfortunately too cold to use but we relaxed on the nice wooden deck chairs.
After a quick lunch outdoors in the pretty hotel snack bar (more like a proper restaurant and as expensive) we got into our Pluriel and drove off to the capital city Victoria. The drive was very quick – as are all drives in Gozo the whole island being only 16km long. Victoria is quite lively with plenty of shops, a market in the main square, lots of pastizzerias selling those delicious ricotta and pea purée pies. The citadel, rather like Mdina is a splendid example of fortified town architecture. The views are marvellous and a walk round the perimeter of the walls is a must. However arriving at approximately 4pm on a Saturday everything was firmly shut.
In the evening we decided to try out a recommended restaurant called Jeffrey’s near Gharb. Despite Gozo’s small size we got completely lost due to some roadworks and in the end the kind restaurant lady had to come and retrieve us in her car. We did see a lot of Gozitan villages by night which was interesting. The food at the restaurant was excellent and reasonable. I definitely recommend Jeffrey’s if you can find it!
On Sunday we drove past the popular church in Ta Pinu which we had seen spectacularly lit up by night and then visited the charming Folklore Museum in Gharb. We saw the Azure Window in Dwejra and the mega – megaliths Ggantija. In fact we saw just about every town and sight there is to see concluding with a long walk towards the cliffs at Ta Cenc to the hotel’s private “beach” which is the only place I would have felt like swimming had it been warmer.
The day ended with an excellent meal in Gozo’s top restaurant Ta Frenc’ near Marsalforn. Excellent food and service in an elegant country house setting. Also recommended.
In the morning we took the 10 o’ clock ferry back to Malta in order to visit the west coast beaches of the island. Paradise, Anchor and Golden bay were a definite improvement on what we had seen so far albeit with the huge Radisson Spa and all the other hotels crowding . Still can’t begin to imagine what those tiny beaches and car parks must be like in high Summer when all the hotels are full!
So after a final tour of the Three Cities in the sunshine we drove to the airport and back home.

Advice:
Don’t go in the Summer
Rent a car it’s the only way to see the islands – buses only link towns and beaches
If you want to see all the museums plan well as opening and closing times are not very tourist-friendly – we missed loads

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