From heritage experiences to seaside fun and dinner in exquisite locations, quench your thirst for post-Covid liberation – whilst keeping your FOMO at bay.
There’s a smell of summer in the air, and, here on the Maltese islands, we have now bid goodbye to those March winds and April showers which have plagued us, spurring our desire for the warmth of the sun on our skin, and the brush of a breeze in our hair.
For it’s that time of year when we can finally swap our dreary winter threads for lighter linens, and brighter colours – and the archipelago really comes into its own over the next few months, with plenty to keep your day occupied.
1. Organise a breakfast picnic on the beach
Tea and coffee? Check. Muffins? Check. Prosecco? Well, maybe.
There is no shortage of stunning sandy beaches on the Maltese islands, although they do tend to get busy as the morning edges towards lunch.
So, beat the crowds by heading to the north of the island first thing in the morning – Mellieħa Bay, Golden Bay or the neighbouring Għajn Tuffieħa Bay (watch out for all the stairs!) – to roll out your blanket and set out a spread of breakfast delicacies.
You can then lounge on the warm sand, satiated and ready to start your day. If you don’t mind really early mornings, try and get there as the sun rises and you’ll be guaranteed a breath-taking view, as the sky changes its colours.
2. Step into La-La-Land at Popeye Village
In 1979, construction began on the Hollywood film set of Robert Altman’s Popeye, starring Robin Williams in the eponymous role, and Shelly Duval as Olive Oyl.
Following the conclusion of the shoot, the 20 colourful buildings which made up Sweet Haven Village – Popeye and Olive’s home – were transformed into a tourist attraction which, today, sees thousands visit, keen to explore the idiosyncratic space built on the shores of Anchor Bay.
The park is open from 10.30am until 5.30pm, although keep an eye out for activities and events which pepper the village’s calendar and – who knows – you might actually catch a glimpse of the sailor man and his friends.
3. Marvel at the masters at MUZA
Malta’s National Museum of Art, known as MUŻA – the Maltese word for ‘inspiration’ – is aptly situated in Valletta, the island’s capital built in the 16th century by the Knights Hospitaller.
The museum, which opened in 2018, features a collection centred on four main narratives – Mediterranean, Europe, Empire and The Artist – with artworks spanning centuries and including paintings by the Italian luminary, Mattia Preti, and Maltese painter Guiseppe Calì.
However, the exhibits are not simply historical and MUŻA prides itself on being at the vanguard of Malta’s cultural scene. This month – until the 22nd June – contemporary Maltese artist Etienne Farrell is showcasing her new collection, ‘Guilty’, using photographic images to probe the societal perceptions of ‘woman’. The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 4.30pm.
Image credit: Alan Carville
4. Explore The Three Cities by boat
Birgu, Isla and Bormla – otherwise known as Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, or The Three Cities collectively – are urban centres clustered around the southern flank of the Grand Harbour, which have borne witness to the spectacle of Maltese history.
During the Great Siege of 1565 this was one of the principal sites in the battle between the Knights of Malta and the Ottoman Turks – more specifically, Fort St Angelo which lies at the tip of Birgu – an event which has spawned myriad myths and tales over the past few centuries, cementing itself as a key moment in the formation of Maltese national identity.
Today, the peaceful waters of the harbour are more likely to see swathes of tourist boats than galleons. Indeed, heading out to sea by taking a traditional boat from the quay in Birgu might be one of the best ways to experience the drama of these limestone walls.
5. Explore the islands’ marine seascapes
The Maltese islands are a mecca for diving enthusiasts, but, even if you have never taken the plunge before, you can explore the deep blue with confidence.
Beginners are well advised to find a diving school which organises day trips with experienced instructors (there are plenty of them about!) to popular local sites, such as the inland sea at Dwejra in Gozo – the site of the infamous (and now defunct) Azure Window – or the Santa Marija caves in Comino, teeming with marine life.
In the meantime, diving veterans can attempt some of the more difficult spots, such as the Blenheim Bomber wreck – a World War II relic which mysteriously crashed into the sea around Xrobb l-Għaġin in Marsaxlokk.
Image credit: viewingmalta.com
6. Peer into the past at the Mdina metropolitan chapter
The fortified town of Mdina, situated in the centre of the island, was the capital of Malta up until Medieval times. Ensconced within the ancient walls, the Metropolitan Chapter encompasses the majestic cathedral, opening up onto a large square in the centre of the town; the archives detailing the operations of the Catholic church in Malta over the centuries; as well as the Mdina Cathedral Museum.
The latter houses one of the largest collections of prints by the 15th century artist Albrecht Dürer, as well as priceless collections of silverware and other objets d’art. The chapel on the first floor is a miniature museum in itself and should also not be missed.
The museum is open Mondays to Fridays from 9.30am to 4.45pm, and on Saturdays from 9.30am to 2.45pm.
7. Stroll around Buskett… or Lunzjata
Malta may be better known for its beaches than for its lush countryside, but, contrary to popular opinion, you can seek out solace from the sun in terrains of fresh reprieve. Buskett Gardens, situated just beyond the central town of Rabat, is one such wooded corner: designed in 1586, and used as hunting grounds by the Knights of St John, the bucolic area is the resting spot to many species of birds of prey.
The routes around the woodland are clearly marked and easily accessible, which makes Buskett ideal for some family fun. And, if you want to experience a somewhat more utilitarian view of Malta’s landscape, head to Lunzjata, also on the outskirts of Rabat and walk along the pathways running through agricultural land still being used by local farmers. Persist through the rougher lanes to get to panoramic views overlooking Miġra l-Ferħa to soak in the best of Malta’s natural offering.
Image credit: viewingmalta.com
8. Sit by a pool in Gozo
The Maltese islands may be surrounded by crystal-clear waters, but if you don’t fancy the trek to the beach – sunbed, umbrella and kids in tow – as well as the clean-up of pesky sand grains afterwards, do like a Malta-based local, and rent a farmhouse in Gozo for the weekend.
Gozo is replete with such leases, some oozing glamour and photoshoot-worthiness, where you can chill by the pool in lush surroundings – your holiday snaps will definitely perk up your Instagram feed! However, before you settle on the right pad, do your research, particularly if you’re staying for more than one night: make sure you’re provided with all the essentials, and – as a bonus – keep an eye out for a BBQ area so you can grill your night away, following a long day on the sunbed.
9. Sip aperitifs in Sliema, or Valletta
The coastal, central town of Sliema is where everyone goes if they want to be seen.
It’s Malta’s equivalent to Soho in London, Tarifa in Spain, and the New York rooftops in downtown Manhattan (albeit on a much smaller scale, of course!). However, while the trendy have traditionally congregated in Sliema’s lounge bars, today there is a competing star across the bay, with the capital, Valletta, also throwing its doors open to the pre-dinner sophisticate.
Here, head to the historical Strait Street for an intimate 21st century cocktail.
10. Have dinner in the Grand Harbour
Long days in Malta stretch the light into early evening, allowing the island’s picturesque limestone cityscapes to capture the pink, purple and blue tones of a drowning sunset. And, there’s no more stunning sight than the Grand Harbour as the light begins to fade.
Fortunately, several restaurants have opened in recent years around the waterfronts and vantage points of Valletta, Senglea, and Birgu – nab yourself a first-row seat, sit back and celebrate the peaceful slice of time.
This feature was first carried in the May 2022 edition of the Guide Me magazine, the sister brand to GuideMeMalta.com.