One of the immigration forms to enter Malta lists eight check boxes of possible reasons for your visit. This is a problem. Not one of them lists ‘pastizzi’ or ‘a swim’.
Both proved chief motivations for our most recent minibreak. You see, there are orange leaves lining the paths of London. The air now has a mean bite. But October in Malta still promises daily temperatures of 27 C.
The highlights of the principle island of Malta are relatively spread out across cities, farming land, vineyards and coastal grottos. When you’re in a city for a good time, not a long time, it can be worth leaning on the tourist infrastructure that’s available to you- and yes, I am talking about the open topped buses.
So for those of us who are short on time, but in need of some sunshine, here’s 24 perfect hours in Malta; found.
8 pm – Dinner and a drink at Terraza, St Julian’s
The bay of St Julian’s is a gentle one in Malta, chocked with bobbing boats and overlooked by restaurants with terraces. It’s a midge more civilised than some of the neighbouring party towns, which seem to specialise in happy hours and sticky cocktails.
The furthest restaurant on the promenade is Terrazza. Climb the stairs and if the night is clear ask for a table on the balcony. You’ll share it with some locals and a few soft haired cats, who will wind their way around the legs of you and your chair in an attempt to garner affection.
It’s the sort of place where you’ll sit and nurse a Campari on ice while musing on just how close to Sicily Malta really is. It’s a thought that will stay with you while you share a portion of the house made rabbit confit and pear raviolli with rosemary butter sauce.
If you’ve still got room after the suckling pig or game hen then treat yourself to a hazelnut cannoli or two before you embark on your walk home. Don’t worry, it’s not far.
102 Spinola Road, St. Julian’s, STJ 1275, Malta
11 pm – Sleep at Hotel Juliani, St Julian’s
Hotel Juliani is a five minute walk from Terrazza and it’s everything you want from a grown up mini break hotel. Originally a sea front town house it’s small, with only 44 rooms (as opposed to the neighbouring monolithic Westin). A good smattering of them have sea views and if you feel like springing for a suite, you’ll find jets in your bath. The windows are sound proofed, there are king beds with soft sheets, flat screen televisions, chocolates are left out for you at night and there’s free wifi for multiple devices.
St George’s Rd St Julians, Malta
9 am – Wake up at Hotel Juliani and admire the view from the roof top pool.
You then want to walk quick smart around to your right to the Sliema Terminus to jump on the the 9.30 or 10 am City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus, on the North Route. Yes, it can feel a little cheesy, but in a small country where everything is spread out this means you’ll get to see everything you want, without having to hire a car (which means a sneaky glass of wine at lunch and no arguments with your spouse about who is in charge of navigation). The walk from St Julian’s to Sliema should take around 20 minutes if you don’t hug the harbour path the whole way around. Ask for a map at reception.
10.30 Mdina and Rabat
The bus will snake you past Valletta, the capital city created by the Knights of St John. You might be tempted to get off, but I was you, I’d stay on the bus and save your stop off for the old walled city of Mdina. Because that way, you get a sterling late breakfast too.
If you get off the bus at the Mdina Main Gate it’s just a five minute walk to Triq San Pawl for what is probably the the best pastizzi in Malta. Pastizzi are a winning snack, cheap as a song and made of brittle brik like pastry which flakes over your fingers. Inside there’ll be either a gentle mound of ricotta or lightly spiced mushy peas.
The best pastizzi in Malta are found at Crystal Palace Bar. It’s tucked away on Triq San Pawl (Street Saint Paul). It’s royal blue awning is dwarfed by advertising for Kinnie- a local soft drink flavoured with orange and aromatic herbs. It’s the sort of place where local workers come at the end of a shift and taxi drivers park themselves at 2 am. You’ll probably come across a few local seniors perched outside, drinking sweet tea, smoking and shooting the breeze. Go inside. Order a few pastizz, hot from the oven (30c each). Eat them from paper bags while you explore the Mdina and its views down over Malta. The walled city was once referred to as a silent one. That may be because everyone’s mouths were still too full of pastizzi to do much else.
Crystal Palace Bar
Triq San-Pawl, Rabat, Malta
For more on the best pastizzi in Malta, go here.
12.05- get back on the bus
1 pm – arrive at Golden Bay for a swim and a salad
If you’re after a swim in Malta, this is one of the best places to do it. Golden Bay has proper sand. It’s got clear blue water. And for additional novelty value, it’s where they shot key scenes in ‘Troy’. Brad Pitt may have had a thigh double for his role, but you’ll probably need to show your own skin. If you’re not up for stripping down then the small beach clubs banking onto the sand are a perfect spot for a light lunch. At Spiaggia D’Oro a prosciutto salad will come in sturdy bowl filled with leaves, fresh vegetables and some rustic shavings of parmesan. When you’ve spent the last 16 hours eating variations on pastry and pasta, you might be grateful for it. You’ll find local Blue Label lagers and Maltese rose to boot – though not by the glass, just in a half bottle. But there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour or two than sipping pink wine overlooking the water.
Nb, there are also public showers and changing rooms at Golden Bay if you want a rinse off before getting back on the bus.
4 pm – get back on the bus and get off at the St Julians stop- conveniently located just opposite the hotel.
7 pm – Dinner at Mama Malta
There are plenty of cheesy tourist restaurants as you venture further into the thick of St Julians. There’s sushi, scads of pizza and a few questionable British style pubs. But when you really press and ask people where you can go for Maltese food, they’ll probably send you to Maltese Mama.
It’s homely and warm- you can hear the slight muffed energy from the main street of Paceville- but the sound track is mainly the hum of conversation and guitar music
The wine list has a decent selection of Maltese wines (brassy reds and sweeter roses) and the pastas are made by hand.
Pumpkin ravioli are plump and soft, given a sunny glow from burnt butter and the local classic of Stuffat Tal-Qarnit; octopus, slow cooked with tomato, olives and onion until it is as soft as dough is a delight. You may have come to Malta wanting pastries and a swim, but it’s probably the memory of this octopus that’s going to prove the hardest to escape.
19/21, Paceville Avenue, Saint Julian’s,
Why go to Malta?
It’s part of the EU, so that’s easy entrance and currency conversions. It’s only a 2 hr 45 minute flight from Heathrow. English is the second language, so it’s incredibly easy to get around. The water is turquoise, the sky is often blue. There’s 7000 years of history, laced between the Arabs, Phoenicans, French and Knights of St John. And did I mention the pastizzi?
But if you’re really after a Mediterranean weekend paradise- I still maintain it’s very hard to go past Dubrovnik.