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Trip Report Malta for 8 days, Trip Report

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8 Days in Malta
Who: couple in their 30’s
When: Early Feb ‘10
Where: 4 days in Gozo, 4 days in Malta
Focus: Food, Culture, People, Outdoors, and Scenery

Day 1: London to Malta
Flew Easyjet from Gatwick to Malta. Took the #8 bus to Valletta. You have to pay for a seat for your suitcase but it’s very cheap, about less than €2 for 2 adults and the suitcase. We then headed on toward Gozo. Took Bus #45 from Valletta to Cirkewwa where the ferry leaves for Gozo. It’s about an hour-long journey. From there we got round-trip tickets for the ferry ride from Malta to Gozo and back to Malta. Tickets cost a little less than €5 each and are valid for a year. ☺

We hired a car in Gozo for 4 days from a company recommended by a friend. Highly recommend them for their reasonable prices and friendly service. They brought the car to us at the ferry terminal and we dropped it off there for them too. Very convenient. Cost €20 per day including the standard insurance. Without the insurance, it’s €16. Here is their information:

Eucharist Mercieca Auto Ltd.
Triq I-Imgarr, Victoria, Gozo, VCT 9011
(+356) 215 59977

Highly recommend hiring a car in Gozo for ease of getting around. Apparently, there are buses however the only buses we saw around the island were tourist buses, no local buses. However, I have heard of others visiting Gozo for the day using public transportation.

We stayed at St. Patricks Hotel at Xlendi Bay. Found it using www.agoda.com. It’s only advantage was being closeby to the water. We would not recommend staying here. The toilet flush was broken, curtains didn’t close properly, sinks were rusty, and the room stunk of smoke from the neighbours even though they said it was a non-smoking room. Hairdryer was also broken too. If you book through the hotel, it’s about €21 per person for an inner courtyard facing room off-season, and up to £36 for a sea view room off-season. We booked for £26 per night for 2 persons together in an inner courtyard room using Agoda.

We wouldn’t recommend St. Patrick’s Hotel for its original price. Our room was clean and average but we’d expect more for the price. Breakfast was very so-so. Staff are present but neither friendly or helpful, except for the bar man. ☺

In hindsight, we wish we had chosen to stay at a farmhouse. Another time.

After checking in, we walked the path along Xlendi Bay, which is very pretty.

Dinner: This can be a challenge as many restaurants are closed in Gozo during the winter season since business can be slow. We first tried Ta Franc but it was closed. It’s only open from Fri to Sunday during winter. We then tried It Tmun in Victoria, which we found in the Lonely Planet Guidebook. We were the only customers in the restaurant due to the low season. The food was spectacular, service was also very courteous. We got the steak with pepper sauce, linguine with lobster sauce, and for dessert (the best part), the most heavenly chocolate chilli cheesecake ever! This was one of the best meals we’ve had! Everything cooked to perfection, including the side plate of veggies and potatoes that are usually so bland in other restaurants. Highly recommend this restaurant. It is closed on Thursdays

Day 2: Xaghra

Continental breakfast was included at St. Patrick’s Hotel and is very average. Next visit to Gozo, I’d like to stay in a farmhouse.

First stop was to the Ggantija Temples in Xaghra which are one of the oldest temples in the world. It is called ‘Ggantija’ after Gigantic people who were supposedly the ones who built the temples. The views here are lovely. The temples itself were under construction and honestly, we didn’t see much so don’t really recommend this stop. The highlight of our visit to the temples was the organic farmer by the entrance, Charles. He’s very nice and sells organic produce outside at a very reasonable cost. We bought carob (a natural chocolate) sauce, wildflower honey, Marsalforn sea salt, capers, and a sundried tomato sauce. All of these are organic and Charles is very passionate about his farm and produce.

There are lots of things to do in Xaghra and you could spend a whole day here. There are Ggantija Temples, Ta ‘Kola Windmill, Museum of Archaeology and more. If you plan to see more than one sight, it is worthwhile to buy the combined ticket which allows you to see all the sights for €12. Otherwise, it costs approximately €8 for each sight.

Next stop was Ta ‘Kola windmill. Unfortunately the arms of the windmill were under repair when we visited, however, it was interesting to see the interior of a windmill and how the family would have lived there.

We then drove down to Xerri’s Grotto (pronounced Sherry). This is an underground cave discovered in 1923. The owner of the house discovered it as he was digging for a well. Tours are given by the owners of the house are €2.50 each.

Ninu’s Cave is also nearby however we didn’t visit it on this trip.

Lunch: A friend and the guide at Xerri’s Grotto both suggested that we eat lunch at ‘Gesthers’ which is near the village square beside a snack bar place. It is inexpensive and has really good local food! We had a vegetable soup and a delicious fish. We only saw locals coming in and out of the place so know it was a good find!

Next stop was Marsalforn. Lovely beach and sea views. There’s supposed to be a small coffee shop here called “Jessica’s Delight” with a delicious selection of cakes, however, they may have been closed during Winter so we didn’t find it. This place was highly recommended to us by a friend so maybe on another trip in the summer. ☺

We drove along the coast from Marsalforn towards Ta Pinu Church.
Saw the Marsalforn saltpans along the way which was very interesting. It was nice driving through small villages and seeing the coast along the way.

Dinner: Le Val D’Or in Xlendi.
Food here was nice however wouldn’t suggest coming out of your way to come here. The owners are very friendly and personable and don’t rush you out. We ordered the grilled king prawns and the duck with honey and lemon. The owner also gave us some complimentary bruschetta as a starter which was yummy. Both mains were good.

Day 3: Dwejra and the East coast.
It was a rainy day! We drove out to Dwejra Bay to see the Azure window and the tower which you get to visit for free, donations welcome. The views were lovely despite the rain which just allowed for bigger waves. Tower was also interesting and the views from the top were lovely. You can also walk around the Cart Ruts however we didn’t because of the rain and wind.

Lunch: C Seven in Xlendi.
Food here was lovely, and the café latte was very very good. They prepare all the food fresh so it takes a while for some dishes, however the wait is worth it. We ordered the fennel and orange salad which was nice, the pepperoncini pasta which had such simple flavours but was delicious and cooked just right, and the pizza which was very fresh, hot, and what we were craving. Highly recommend this place. Décor is very nice, and the owners are very efficient and courteous. Relaxing music playing in the background if this is important to you. ☺

Next, we drove around the East Coast. Visited an old windmill from the 1800’s in Qala. We only saw the windmill from a distance. Not sure if you can see it in person. It’s a very cute little local village with lovely homes and a village square. We drove down to the coast from here and this was one of the highlights of our trip to Gozo. Lovely views of Comino island, the Mediterranean sea, and a pretty rainbow after the rain.

After, we drove to various points on the East side of Gozo…..Dahlet Qurrot, San Blas Bay which was very lush, and Ramla Bay for its pretty little beach. Each was very different but nice in their own way. Ramla Bay was our favourite of these three.

Dinner: Ta Frenc……thought we’d try the top rated restaurant of the island. They’re only open from Fri to Sun for lunch and dinner during Winter.
We were the only ones in the restaurant which added to the appeal of it. It’s set in a gorgeous renovated farmhouse with lovely little details. Staff is very professional which is true of most Maltese restaurants we’ve been to. The food was delicious from beginning to end. They served hot homemade bread with amazing olive oil and Gozo sea salt. Meals were based on local produce. Lots of meat and vegetarian options. The tortellini was divine, soup was incredible, and both of our mains were amazing. It is pricy however they have a reasonable 4-course market menu for €28. We preferred It Tmun for desserts though and still dream about their chocolate chilli cheesecake. ☺ However we had a lovely night out at Ta Frenc and would recommend it for a one-time splash-out experience.

Day 4: Xlendi Cliffs, Victoria (Gozo), and Sliema, Malta.

Stopped for a café latte next door at C7 to start the day of right. It was still good. ☺ Next we walked along the staircase path of the cliffs on the right side of Xlendi Bay. It’s a very short and easy walk, about 10-15 minutes, and there is a surprize beautiful view at the end which I won’t say more about.

Afterwards, we drove to Victoria and walked around the Citadella area for impressive circular views of Gozo. There is also a Museum of Archaeology and the Prisons to visit here, however, we didn’t have time. The views from here are absolutely stunning. We then walked towards Piazza Indipendenza and walked through some lovely small streets and alleyways which was the highlight of the entire day. We got a bit lost but it didn’t matter as we somehow ended up at the Piazza again. There is a free parking lot in the area. We found parking in Gozo to be very easy as long as you read the signs around you.

Next stop, ferry back to Malta and bus to Sliema.

We booked a hotel through Agoda.com in Sliema called The Palace. It was approximately £28 per night. It is a 5-star deluxe hotel with an indoor swimming pool as well as a top floor pool deck, sauna, steam room, and restaurants. Modern décor, very comfortable beds, good service, breakfast was not included with our rate.

Dinner: Ta Kris in Sliema. It’s on a little alley off a main road. We had a lovely dinner here! You should make reservations if you can, as we went early and they only had 2 tables available. It’s a rustic atmosphere and the staff is very good. The food was delicious! We ordered the pasta with marrow and a creamy oregano sauce…….amazing! And we had a grilled local fish called Aurat which was also very nice. The chocolate mousse for dessert was so-so.

Day 5: Marsaxlokk’s Sunday Market and Three Cities

We bought a 3-day bus pass from the bus driver for €9.32 each. Took a bus from Sliema to Marsaxalokk for their Sunday market. The market was a bit like a flea market selling lots of clothes, shoes, cookware items, and some stalls sold vegetables and fresh caught fish. The most interesting part for us were the fishing boats, water, lovely views, and the fishmonger stalls. We tried the ‘date cake’ and hot fresh doughnuts which were cheap and tasty. It’s a nice atmosphere as there are many locals as well as tourists wandering around and stopping for lunch on their outdoor tables.

Lunch at Mathew’s Bar and Restaurant
The seafood in Marsaxlokk looked amazingly fresh so we were really looking forward to lunchtime. We ordered the King Prawns with garlic, lemon, and parsley on rice, and it came with loads of extra sides such as potatoes, vegetables, salad, and French fries. The food here was delicious. Their fresh orange juice was also so sweet. The prices here were much better than the other restaurant menus we saw. We had a yummy lunch.

Next, we decided to take the bus to Three Cities which we had passed on the way to Marsaxlokk. We spent most of our time in Vittoriosa. We walked along the waterfront here with its stunning views. Looked at the sailboats, fancy catamarans, and passed several museums, Maritime and Malta at War museums. We then walked around the backstreets where we passed by the Inquisitor’s Palace and lots of historic buildings from the era of the Knights of St. John. This walk was very enjoyable and we highly recommend it.

We then took the bus back to Sliema, and enjoyed some lovely sunset views from the roof deck of our hotel.

Dinner: I won’t be talking about this place for long and really want to forget about it, but give it a mention so you can avoid it.

First of all, we had heard some good reviews from friends about Bouzouki, a Greek grill restaurant at Spinola Bay, St. Julian’s. We went there and it was closed! So, we decided to just find another place nearby and try it. We went to this place called something like Giotto or Gotto. The food was not so nice compared to all the fresh, delicious food we’ve had so far, and it was a huge disappointment. Now, that’s that. I’ve mentioned it and you know, and I’ll move on.

Day 6: Hypogeum & Central Malta (Mdina, Rabat, & Mosta Dome)

We ordered our tickets for Hypogeum before leaving based on what we had read on the boards. It is advisable to book your tickets online about two weeks beforehand during busier months. We booked ours a week in advance for Winter. It cost about €20/21 per person, and the tour lasts about 50 minutes. Only ten persons at a time are allowed entry at a time. No photos are allowed.
First, all group members have to put their bags and belongings into a locker. Then you walk around the exhibit which tells a bit about the Hypogeum, followed by a short video about its history where you listen with the Audio Guide in your preferred language. Then you get to walk along a platform by specific markers based on the Audio Guide as a group.
It’s amazing to think that the Hypogeum was not discovered until 1902 under some homes while they were putting in water cisterns. Yet it has existed since 3000BC. Despite earthquakes and WWII in Malta, it is still in pretty good condition and it’s amazing to see the little details still present from that era. You can also still see some of the red ochre markings on the walls. We really enjoyed this visit and highly recommend it. We would have also liked to see the Tar Xien Temples nearby but didn’t have much time.
We then walked back to Paola Square and took a bus to Valletta. From there, we took Bus 80 or 81 to Mdina which took about 45 minutes.

In Mdina, there are a few museums, houses, and exhibits that you can see however we skipped all of that and just walked around aimlessly which was really nice for us. We arrived in Mdina around noon and had a chance to listen to some lovely church bells ringing. This area is also known as the ‘Silent City’ and it is so peaceful and lovely. There are also very nice views of Malta nearby Fontanella Tea Gardens where we had some delicious cakes, mocha, and fresh orange juice. This was a highlight of our trip to Mdina.
We also had a ftira sandwich at the Old Priory Café and that was a nice snack. We decided that we would come back to Mdina in the evening to see how it looks lit-up with the street lamps, and have dinner too.

Next we were off to Rabat which is just 5-10 minutes walk south of Mdina. On the way there, you’ll pass by a couple of local shops with a few café tables inside, where they sell hobz biz zejt and pastizzi’s, local snacks. We had some delicious cheese filled ones and they were very cheap at €0.25 each. Highly recommend this and the shop owners are very nice too.

The streets of Rabat also have nice alleyways and a serene feel to them. We visited St. Paul’s Grotto which is free. There is a guide at the Grotto who explains some of the history, sculptures around, and will show you the actual grotto. You can then leave a donation which goes toward the renovations if you’d like to.

I had made a copy of the Top 100 things to do in Malta from the Fodors forums. It had listed the Mosta Dome which we originally weren’t going to see but last minute decided to do so and we’re happy we did. So, we then took the bus from Rabat to Mosta Dome.

The church is very pretty from the outside with its impressive dome. It’s also interesting on the inside with its blue, gold, and white details on the dome. It’s supposedly one of the biggest unsupported domes in the world. There is also an interesting story regarding bombs being dropped in the church during mass from WWII which we’ll leave you to read about.

We then returned to Mdina by bus. We were actually hoping to go to Dingli Cliffs for sunset but didn’t realize that the buses back to Mdina and then going forward to Dingli are not very regular. So, we ended up just going to Mdina for dinner.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had passed two restaurants where the menu looked really interesting to us, and there was an interesting history behind the buildings. First was Bacchus which was an old gunpowder magazine of sorts. We decided to have a couple of appetizers here. We ordered a sole with orange and green peppercorn sauce, a lobster ravioli type dish with ginger sauce, and a ‘porcini mushroom cappuccino’, basically a fancy name for soup. We were expecting these dishes to be very tasty and flavourful, however, everything except for the mushroom cappuccino was bland. And they charge an extra 18% VAT tax as well as a €1 per person cover charge. We weren’t aware about the tax which was a bit annoying. The food was nothing special and we wouldn’t go back. You are allowed however to enter the restaurant and take a look around if you like.

We had also seen Mdina Restaurant which had nice reviews on Trip Advisor. So we decided to have a couple of starters here as well. This is supposed to be a top-notch restaurant. It is very pretty inside with nice architectural and design details, as well as a warm ambiance. However, our food had come cold to the table and it was very below average. E.G. the parmesan crisps with our risotto were mushy and the gnocchi with mushrooms was bland. The waiter did not seem happy to heat our food and the service was very hurried. This restaurant also charges an extra 18% VAT tax which we were unaware of. We have not encountered this earlier in the cafes in Mdina or any other restaurants in Gozo and Malta.

All in all, Fontanella Tea Gardens and the pastizzi shops on the street get our top votes for food in Mdina.

The last bus back to Valetta is around 9:15pm so we hurried to get back to the bus stop.
Day 7: Valletta

Enjoyed a long swim in the pool this morning. Realized it was the best time for a swim as it was less crowded. Other half went for a long run along the waterfront which was invigorating. There are even water drinking fountains along the way to St. Julian’s. Enjoyed a delicious café latte and cookie from Mint afterwards.

After a relaxing morning, we then took the bus to Valletta. There are loads of museums, churches, courts, etc to see in Valletta if this interests you. However, we spent most of our time soaking in the views from the city walls.

Had lunch at the much talked-about Caffe Cordina. The décor is over-the-top as others have said, however, the food is very average tasting and priced.

We were planning to see St. John’s Co-Cathedral which Lonely Planet said was free, however it now costs about €6 per adult. Instead, we visited St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church which was free, beautiful, and peaceful in spite of its extravagance.

We then headed toward the Eastern walls for some sea views. Walked up to the WWII Memorial and Lower Barracka Gardens for views of Three Cities and more. While in Lower Barracka Gardens, a girl approached us asking for money for a friend with Leukemia, and also asking for our home address so she could send us a postcard. Something seemed strange about this so we said ‘no thank you’. Oddly, later on near the main gate to Valletta, another “student of geography” wanted to take our photo which also seemed strange to us. This was our only odd encounter in Malta and we weren’t sure what to make of it at all.

We also visited Upper Barracka Gardens which had outstanding views of the harbour and Three Cities. These were actually some of the best views we had in Malta.

For dinner, we headed back to Ta Kris Restaurant in Sliema as we had a great meal there before. Ordered the pepper steak and a pasta dish, and both were delicious.

Next day…..back to London.

Wish we had time to visit Dingli Cliffs, particularly at sunset and for some walks, as well as Blue Grotto and Comino Island. …….and perhaps Tar Xien Temples, Museum of Archaeology, and some scuba diving. Another trip? ☺

In conclusion, we had an amazing trip to Malta and would definitely recommend it to anybody even in the off-season with fewer tourists Highlights of the trip include the kind and helpful residents who are always guiding you in the right direction. We also enjoyed the food, beautiful land- and seascapes, relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere in Gozo and the buzz of Malta.

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