Early November in England is a strange old time. The clocks have already been put back by one hour so it starts to get dark by 5pm, the weather gets a little wilder and the sun makes very occasional appearances. The festivities of Christmas are still weeks away so it’s easy to feel a little seasonal dip.
Luckily for us several months earlier we had booked a couple of cheap flights to the Mediterranean island of Malta. We were heading over to visit friends who had moved out there in early 2015 and the trip was perfectly timed to ward off any winter blues we might be feeling.
Our base in Sliema
After a smooth 3 hour flight over from London on Thursday afternoon we landed around 7pm local time. Our friend picked us up from the small but perfectly formed Malta International Airport and we were soon speeding through the busy evening traffic, enjoying the welcome humid air on the way.
They are currently renting a lovely 2 bed apartment on the top floor of a block just a few streets away from the sea front in a district called Sliema. This was to be our base for the next 4 nights and after a spot of food and a catch up over some local wine and beer we called it a night.
Few things can beat the feeling of waking up somewhere new at the start of a trip. All those possibilities ahead of you. No work for a few days/weeks. All the new stuff to go see, smell and taste. Brilliant.
It was lovely to roll out of bed and head to our friends terrace area which looks out towards the local bay. What a treat to stand there with my morning cup of tea in the sunshine surveying the jumble of buildings and churches as far as the eye could see.
We were soon out in our friends car and whizzing around the streets once more, en-route to our first stop of the day. Neither of us paid too much attention to the plan for the day as I usually do the driving and Kristina the map reading when we go exploring so we were happy just to be driven around and soak up the atmosphere for once.
San Anton Garden and Palace
Our first stop was the hidden gem of San Anton Gardens and Palace. We had a quick look around the gardens but can’t comment on the palace itself as we didn’t have time to explore that but it did look lovely from the outside.
The site was originally established by a French knight and the palace is now the official residence of the President of Malta. The gardens have been open to the public since 1882 and seem to be a firm favourite with the locals and tourists alike. They are free to wander round and contain many interesting trees, flowers, water features, a funky little maze, strutting peacocks and very friendly cats.
I’d recommend stopping here if you have the time, an hour should do it. Although not high up on the must see list for many visitors I found the gardens very relaxing and would be a welcome place to cool down on a hot summer’s day.
Stunning views from Dingli Cliffs
After a short drive we jumped out to take in the stunning view from the edge of Dingli Cliffs. This is one of the highest points in Malta which is a relatively flat landscape so you can see for quite some way along the sweeping coastline.
It was nice to get our first glimpse of the Maltese countryside as up until this point we had only seen the built up parts of the main island. As we stood on the edge of the cliffs the land below us steps down towards the sea with a few buildings dotted along the steep coastline. It looked almost manmade, as if someone had cut giant chunks out of the rock, but it might be the geological makeup of this area forming giant natural steps down to the water.
I’d really recommend a stop here for the stunning views if you can. If traveling by bus you would stop at Maddalena along the costal road.
The bizarre Popeye Village – Anchor Bay
Before heading out to Malta I had watched a few short videos on the main sights not to miss when visiting and by far the most intriguing of these was Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village.
Nestled in Anchor Bay on the north west coast of the main island the ‘village’ is a complete film set remaining from the 1980 live action film Popeye starring Robin Williams. It has since been converted into an attraction and costs about $12 per adult to enter with various entertainers and shows around the complex of ramshackle buildings.
We decided just to park up on the cliff opposite to get a good view across the rooftops so I can’t vouch for it as an attraction but the online reviews seem very mixed depending on the time of year people visited. For more details check out popeyemalta.com.
Mellieħa Parish Church and Village
Another short drive later and we arrived in the hilltop town of Mellieħa which offers great views across the bay below. Perched up on the hill is one of the 360 or so churches and chapels which are scattered across the tiny Maltese islands.
It was at this point we realised we were all getting a little bit peckish so headed for a local bakery to pick up a few treats. It was the perfect opportunity to try some Pastizzi, a Maltese snack with either a ricotta or mushy pea filling wrapped in a filo pastry shell. We took our selection of local pastries down to the beach to nibble on whilst watching the waves roll in.
Mushy peas in pastry might not sound all that appealing to some but it was a delicious little snack to keep us going, at around $0.40 each I’d recommend you sniff some out when in Malta.
A quick swim at Ghadira Bay Beach
After eating it was time for an impromptu dip in the Mediterranean Sea at the deserted Ghadira Bay. Despite being early November the water was more than bearable and I’m a firm believer that you should never miss the opportunity to strip down to your trunks and jump in.
The stunning bay views at Għajn Tuffieħa
After our refreshing dip and another short drive we arrived at Għajn Tuffieħa back on the west coast of the island. From the parking spot we descended towards Għajn Tuffieħa Bay and wandered along through the scrub and bush back from the beach until we started climbing again. We scrambled up the fairly steep rugged rocks until we were met with a stunning view over into the next sheltered strip of sand, Ġnejna Bay.
From the hilltop we paused for a while and watched as the sun began a slow decent towards the sea. It was one of those moment that makes traveling so worth it, a peaceful place with stunning views late in the afternoon sun. Even our friends who had been to the area before hadn’t climbed up this high and witnessed the vista, they said they wouldn’t be sharing this place with the countless friends who come to visit them, rightly so.
I’d thoroughly recommend seeking out these two secluded bays as they seem to be popular with locals, a good sign of something special.
Quick look inside Mdina fortress
One of our friends manages a club so had to begin heading home to get ready but we had just enough time for one last stop on the way back, the ancient walled city of Mdina.
Known as the ‘Silent City’ you are struck by the quiet and respectful atmosphere as soon as you enter across the impressive stone bridge and into the main gate. It does seem very tranquil compared to the busy streets around Malta as only residents, of which there are 300, and a few select others are allowed to drive inside the city walls.
We did have a very brief visit, running through the maze of dimly lit alleyways was great fun if a bit frustrating for Kristina who likes to linger to get the perfect shot. We both agreed that the place had a great atmosphere and we could have easily ducked into one of the wonderful smelling restaurants for an evening bite. It will be well worth a second look on a future visit to Malta.
A nighttime coastline stroll
After being fed and watered there was still plenty of time for an evening walk with one of our hosts. We made our way down to the sea front and wandered for a couple of hours by which time we were ready to call it a day. But what a day, our minds where whizzing with all we had seen as we fell into a deep sleep.