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Report on a very mini-trip to Malta

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Just returned from a four-day, three-night stay in Malta (booked as a last minute "get-away" weekend), staying at the Imperial Hotel, Sliema.

Weather: Hot and humid (36 - 38 degrees). Made visiting inland areas or towns pretty unappealing. Cool breeze in coastal areas made temperatures quite bearable, however.

Air-conditioning: Everywhere we went was air-conditioned - hotels, restaurants, shops, the lot. Our hotel room aircon was extremely efficient.

Transport: Most of the time we stayed in and around Sliema, although we did catch a couple of local buses and the Valetta - Sliema ferry. Buses were fun to look at but cramped and hot inside, not necessarily on time, and didn't always stop where they were supposed to.

Accommodation: Imperial Hotel fitted in well with my overall impression of Malta - "Crumbling elegance" was the phrase that sprang to mind. The hotel is well located on a quiet street within easy walking distance of the main restaurants, shops, buses, ferries and seafront. Entrance hall and first floor landing are very grand looking, although as you walk down the white-painted, tiled corridors on either side décor seems somewhat institutional. Room was large, cool, with two twin beds, easy chairs, tea-coffee facilities, and small balcony overlooking pool. Bathroom was decorated in 70's style brown tiling, could have done with a makeover. Water pressure was minimal.
Hotel had small pool and sun terrace area, although we didn't have time to test it out. Lots of families around the pool during the day.
Lounge bar open in evenings was rather grand, and cool and pleasant. Evening entertainment was pretty cheesy - possibly aimed at the "senior" market - singalong country music sessions, that kind of thing. We stayed well away, although plenty of older guests seemed to be enjoying it!

Food: Hotel breakfast was pretty dismal. Breakfast room was another throwback to the 70's, brown being the dominant colour. Sliced bread, soft rolls, processed cheese or ham slices, and some of the worst coffee I have ever drunk in my life :& (a shame because coffee elsewhere on the island was excellent!).
Evening meals - we ate in Sliema every night and were not disappointed. First night at Divino, a Meditarranean restaurant on Triq-i-Torri in an old vaulted "fortizzi" next to TGI Friday. Had delicious metze followed by grilled swordfish, and good local wine.
Second night we ate at a wonderful place called Trattoria d'Ico, a fabulous Italian restaurant where we had great pasta followed by grilled Spnotta (bass) with prawns, served with roasted potatoes and fresh spinach. Yum. On the last night we ate at a place called Vino Veritas, a popular restaurant-winebar with a good selection of (mainly Italian style) dishes. Had grilled vegetables followed by artichoke ravioli, and a bottle of rather good local Green Label Dry wine, made from Maltese grapes. Also, the local beer, called Cisk, was excellent.

Snorkelling: one of our main motivations in going to Malta was the snorkelling - I'm not a diver, though I'd love to be, so for the moment I have to content myself with a birds'eye view of the fish. We booked a day-long snorkelling cruise with Hera Adventures, cost LM 26 per person. On a pretty twin-masted yacht, we sailed (well, motored) along the coast to Comino where we were divided into groups (snorkellers/divers) and given a briefing before jumping into the clear turquoise water and setting off with our dive master for a leisurely snorkelling tour of the lagoon. Visibility was excellent, fish everywhere! After an hour or two we returned to the yacht and were served an excellent buffet lunch. In the afternoon we moored in a different lagoon and snorkelled through various caves, where again, the sea life was stunning.

Visits: Decided (foolishly, it turned out) to visit the fishing village of Marsaxlokk which supposedly had a good market. Took some time to get there by bus, and discovered the market to be full of tacky touristy junk (and some smelly fish). And it was far too hot to be wandering around market stalls! We took a few pictures of the prettily painted traditional fishing boats and then escaped back to Valetta on the bus, where we had a bite to eat before returning to Sliema on the ferry.

Sliema: We loved the town, as it feels untouristy, quiet, pretty, with excellent transport, shopping and eating options... No big sights or monuments to see, just the winding streets of pale honey coloured buildings with their coloured balconies, the sea-front with its pretty promenande and rock-shelf beaches, the open air bars and laid-back atmosphere. We just enjoyed wandering round and taking it easy. The town comes alive after dark when the temperature is lower. We were amazed to walk past a children's playground at 10.30pm, which at 6pm had been deserted, but was now thronging with gleeful infants watched over by granny, grandad, mum and all the family.

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