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Trip Report Trip Report: Malta in February

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We just returned yesterday from 1 week in Malta (14 - 21 Feb). Since a few people requested a trip report on our return, here it is. We are a family of 2 adults and 2 children - ages 8 and 7 (our daughter turned 7 during the trip).

We flew from London Gatwick. We had an early morning flight so we spent the night at a hotel near the airport so we could be as rested as possible our first day in Malta. We arrived on schedule just before noon. We had arranged a rental car with one of the local companies - Swansea Rental Car - because the price was good and we wanted an automatic. They were one of the few companies that listed an automatic online. My husband and I can both drive manual, but since we knew the steering wheel would be on the right side of the car, we did not want to shift with our left hand in a country where people had already told us the driving was a bit stressful. The representative was a few minutes late, but that gave me time to pick up some tourist info. He arrived about 12:15 and just as we started to walk out to the car waiting in the car part, it started to hail!! It came down hard and heavy just as we started to our car. We had the kids get in the car quickly, tossed the luggage in and then stood out in the hail/rain as we went over the car with the agent.

It was still coming down as we pulled out to head toward our hotel - Club Dolmen by the Sea in Qawra. The hail stopped soon enough, but our initial drive was still quite stressful to start. As people had warned us, most signs just point you toward a town, but we weren't always sure when to stop following signs to one town (since we didn't want to go into the center of that town) and when to follow for the next town. For the first 15 minutes we drove around the same area near the airport trying to figure out where we were supposed to go. Finally we got sorted and on the correct road. We found that many of the roads - even the main roads, aren't marked well. We often thought we were on a one lane road, only to have a driver pass us along the center. You have to keep alert and not assume you have the right of way, but we got used to it. We continued to get turned around several times during the week, despite having a few different maps including a proper road map we'd bought before our trip, but we were never really 'lost' since the island isn't very big and we could always get back on track fairly quickly. We found as the week went on that sometimes sites are not marked well at all, or they are only marked well if you are coming in one direction. Frequently we'd drive right past a turn off because it wasn't marked, but when we realized we'd passed it and turned around, it was marked well with signs coming from the other direction. All in all, we are very glad we had a car since it let us travel where we wanted, when we wanted, and we really covered just about all of Malta.

Back to our journey...we reached our hotel without too much trouble. We had a small apartment which had a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living area with two twin sofa beds and a balcony overlooking St. Paul's Bay. We always try to stay in an apartment so we can eat breakfast in, have a little more space, and so the kids can go to bed earlier than us. We didn't have big plans for the first day. We walked around Qawra near the hotel a bit and found not much open during Feb. We never found any great places to eat during the week. Rabbit seems to be the main Maltese dish, but other than that, we didn't find many specialties. Often we try to find a restaurant that we enjoy and return to multiple times during a 1 week stay, but we never found a place we really wanted to come back to. The food was never bad, just nothing special. Expect the Malta bread with olive oil. That was delightful! We ate a late lunch/early dinner and then stopped at the grocery store for breakfast foods, items to make lunches, and food to make one dinner at the apartment. By far, our favorite food was the Malta bread and we went back to the grocery store a few times to get more Malta bread and olive oil to have at the apartment.

The hotel had an indoor pool - we made sure of that before we booked in February, so I took the kids swimming as an end to our first day in Malta.

A quick note on the weather. It was colder in Malta than expected. We knew from checking weather reports that the temperature was going to be below average during our stay, but it was also quite windy on several days which made it feel much colder. I don't know if Malta is always windy at this time of year, but it was windy most of our days there. After our initial hail, it was sunny most of the trip. There was only one other day that we got any rain so overall we were happy with the weather although it would have been nicer to be a bit warmer with less wind.

On Sunday we had breakfast in the apartment and then headed to Valletta. We found parking on the street and walked into the town. It was very quiet. We went to the Archeological Museum to start with which we thought was quite good. We then walked down to Fort St. Elmo since the reenactment was taking place at 11:00am. We got there around 10:00am and explored the fort a bit before taking seats around 10:30am and waiting for the reenactment. It started at 11:00 and they gave some narrative in three languages – English, French and German. The reenactment was called Alarme! and portrayed the military encounters between the Maltese militias and the French troops (1798-1800). We enjoyed it although the acting was not great – so don’t expect a spectacular show. It was still informative and entertaining. Following lunch we headed to the Cathedral of St. John only to discover that the cathedral and all the churches we looked at were closed completely on Sunday. We hadn’t checked this ahead of time. We expected there might be services in the morning, but weren’t expecting them to be completely closed. Next we went to the Armory at the Grand Palace which we all really enjoyed. We walked up through the Upper Barrakka Gardens and then left Valletta.

After Valletta we drove a bit around the northwest of the island and explored a bit just using the map. We stopped at the Skorba Temples and the Ta’ Hagrat Temples only to find that both of them were only open on Tuesdays; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They didn’t look like much anyway so we took a few pictures from the outside and moved on. We also stopped at some Roman Baths marked on the map, but those weren’t much at all either. After exploring a bit we went back to the hotel, went to the indoor pool, cleaned up, and made dinner at the apartment.

On Monday we drove to Mdina. We got there by 9:10 or so and absolutely nothing was open. The town was so quiet and all the stores were shut. We were able to get great pictures of the town without all the people. At 9:30 the cathedral and cathedral museum opened so we went there. They were both very nice. While at the cathedral we noticed that there was red drapery on much of the marble of the church and there were two guys there starting to take it down. Next we went to the Mdina Experience which is a 30 minute movie. We thought it was worthwhile and gave history of more than just Mdina. We did the combo ticket of the Mdina Experience, the Knights of Malta, and the Medieval Times although I would recommend just doing the Mdina Experience and one of the other two. The Knights of Malta started with a 10 minute movie and then we walked through some areas with an audio guide. The Medieval Times was just an area we walked through where they had scenes of different time periods and we read the information as we went along. When we came out of the Medieval Times everything was open now and the difference in the town was huge. We were glad we had the town to ourselves for the first half hour although it still was one of our favorite towns even when everything was open. We then had a picnic lunch in the park in front of Mdina before heading in to Rabat. We walked to Rabat where we saw St. Paul’s Grotto and church. This church also had the red drapery and they were starting to take it down. I asked the man what the drapery was for and he said it had been for the celebration of St. Paul, which had recently ended. We walked on to St. Paul’s catacombs which were excellent. I highly recommend a visit.

Following Rabat we drove to the Dingli Cliffs. My husband’s serious hobby is landscape photography and we had planned to walk the cliffs and spend sunset there. We weren’t very impressed however – they just weren’t very scenic. We found that although Malta is rich in history, the island itself (in our opinion) is not very scenic as far as natural landscape. There were little huts or houses everywhere. The coast is also lined with towers which were simply built for defense and are not much to look at. So in this sense, we were a bit disappointed overall in the landscape of Malta. We moved on to Golden Bay, but found the beach to be dirty. We walked along the trails a bit, but in the end we just went back to the hotel and went our to the rocky beach area in front of our hotel for sunset. Our rocky beach looked across at the St. Paul islands with the statue of St. Paul. We had some beautiful sunsets, but we wished we had a better backdrop then the touristy hotels or huts along the coast. The wind also made it hard for my husband to take photos at sunrise and sunset since nothing in the foreground would stop moving! He still went out early several mornings and went out for photos on a few evenings, but didn’t find a great number of locations for landscape photos. We ate dinner at one of the hotel restaurants that night and went back to our apartment.

On Tuesday we decided to go to Gozo. The ferry leaves about every 45 minutes and we were aiming for the 9:00 ferry. We got out a bit early and happened to arrive just before they shut the gates for the 8:15am ferry. We pulled up, paid for tickets, drove on to the ferry and had a quick 25 minute trip to Gozo. Very easy! After we arrived in Gozo we went straight to the Ggantia Temples. They were just opening as we arrived at 9:00am. After visiting there we walked to the Ta Kola Windmill. We were happily surprised with the windmill. The museum inside is quite interesting and they have it set up as the house would have been. We only went because it was a combo ticket with the Ggantia Temples but we were really glad we did. We could even go up the stairs all the way to the top. We then tried to find the Xaghra Stone Circles, but gave up after driving around the area for a while. We drove on to Victoria where we went to the Citadel. The Citadel includes the cathedral (which had scaffolding over the entire front for restoration work) and the entire area inside the walls. We also stopped in St. George’s Church and then had some lunch. We drove on to the Ta Pinu Church and then to the Azure Window area. I really liked this area and the kids enjoyed playing in a small sandy area. We let them play for a while and just sat and enjoyed the area. We had thought about staying for sunset but it was still early so we drove to Xlendi Bay for a while and then caught the ferry back to Malta. We let the kids play in the sandy beach in front of our hotel for a while, but this was really quite dirty…the rocky beach area was much nicer. We then cleaned up and went to dinner.

On Wednesday we had tickets to the Hypogeum at 10:00am. We left by 8:30am to allow time for traffic and getting turned around (which we did), but we made it by 9:30am with no problems. It was the 18th of Feb when we were there and they were sold out until the 28th. While waiting we watched quite a few people walk in thinking they could just come on the day and they were turned away. So if you want to see the Hypogeum, definitely book in advance. We enjoyed the Hypogeum although my son does not like tour groups and kept complaining about being in a group even though it was only 10 people. After the Hypogeum we walked to the Tarxien Temples which were quite good. We then decided to drive back to Valletta to visit the churches we had missed on Sunday. First we went to the Hard Rock Café along the harbor. We enjoyed that meal and were glad that we went looking for it since it led us to a nice area of the harbor with restaurants and shops that we would have missed otherwise. After lunch we went back to the main area of Valletta. My husband had brought his camera backpack containing all his camera gear and his good tripod hoping to get pictures inside St. John’s cathedral. But not only could he not use the tripod, but they told him he could not wear the backpack since he might accidently hit the walls. This seemed ridiculous since there is plenty of room and the aisles are not small. He did not want to leave all of his gear just behind the front desk so he didn’t even come in. I went in with the kids and we walked around listening to the audio guide. I thought the museum portion was the best. After a bit I went outside to see if my husband wanted to switch with me and discovered it was pouring down rain! I found my husband, who said he didn’t want to go in, so I went back in and let the kids finish looking around. It had stopped raining by the time we came out and we walked to St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church to look around. We then drove back to the hotel and I took the kids to the pool. After the pool we were still fairly full from lunch so I went to the bakery to get some Malta bread and we just had bread and olive oil as a light snack for dinner in the room.

On Thursday we drove to the Blue Grotto. The wind was too strong and the water too choppy so no boats were running. We still took pictures. We then drove to the Hagar Qim Temples. We found these disappointing. The Mnajdra Temples right next to them were closed and they are in the middle of building an enclosure over the Temples to protect them from the elements. We moved on to the Ghar Dalam caves which were fairly nice. We couldn’t go the full length of the cave because, once again, they were under construction/restoration. It seemed everywhere was undergoing work for restoration or conservation. We then went to Marsaxlokk on the southern coast. We loved this little town. It was by far our favorite town for the view and the feel. The harbor was filled with the typical Maltese boats and we spent 3 hours here just walking along, visiting the market and eating lunch. Today was our daughter’s birthday and she simply asked for some hot chocolate for lunch. So we stopped at a restaurant overlooking the bay and had lunch including thick hot chocolate for her. After Marsaxlokk we drove back along the Valletta harbor, then along the Mdina for some photos of the town from a distance, and went back to the apartment. Our daughter wanted to eat in for dinner so we went to the grocery store and got a cake for her and had dinner in.

On Friday we went to Mosta to see the Mosta Dome. There was a funeral just ending as we arrived so we waited for that to finish before going in to take pictures. We then went back to Mdina to visit the Roman Villa we had skipped on our first visit. We then had an early picnic lunch in the park area before driving along the coast. We stopped near the Ghajn Znuber Tower in the northwest – near Rdum id Delli and walked for a while along the coast taking pictures as we went. We drove along a small coastal road toward the Popeye Village. We didn’t go in, but took pictures from above. We then went back to the hotel and I decided to quickly walk the coast out to Qawra Point. We then had an early dinner before going to the pool while my husband went out to take photos.

On Saturday we drove to the airport, turned in the rental car, and caught our flight back to Gatwick (which actually arrived early).

This is the first time I’ve written a trip report so please let me know what you think and if you have any questions! Overall we enjoyed Malta, more for the history than the scenic value, but I wouldn’t put it on my top list of places to visit.

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