Malta, a small and beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It is a destination known to every sailor around the world. Due to it’s central location, today it is an International hub for container transshipment, and also a major financial hub. Although I had the opportunity to visit the port many times, due to the short stay in the port (usually 12 to 18 hours), I never had time to really enjoy the island.
That is until the summer of 2016 when due to an unexpected engine problem, we were instructed by the shipowner to go to the Palumbo shipyard in Malta. When I started to plot the route, to my surprise I saw that the site is located straight in the heart of Valletta harbour, the capital of Malta.
The entrance to the bay was very narrow, the pilot carefully maneuvering our 300 meters ship through the walls and medieval fortifications of the entrance to the port of Valletta. But at the same time, this does offer some very nice views, being the same views as the tourists on the cruise ships enjoy when they come here.
Once we have been brought in position, I notice that we are exactly opposite to the castle of Valletta, the main attraction of the city. Later when we visited the castle, we could admire our ship from the castle walls. Now that’s a great work place location! 🙂
After we finished the work day, we quickly changed and went out to see the city. Summer days are long here so there was plenty time to enjoy after work. We were in the “three cities” area on the opposite side of the Valletta peninsula, an absolute beautiful area full of fishing and tourist ports, huge cathedrals and neighborhoods of yellow-gold houses. This beautiful color of the houses is found all over the island and is given by the limestone used in construction, being the most handy and the only available material on the island.
The architecture looks a lot like in Italian towns, the heritage and proximity to Sicily is quite obvious. Maltese, Italian and English are officially spoken languages on the island. The English have left their legacy on the island, in Malta pretty much everyone understands and speaks English, they drive on the left and use the English type G outlet. So if you come here on vacation be sure to bring British power plug adapters and look left first when you cross the street. The island of Malta uses the Euro currency, so you don’t have to worry about exchange rates.
Although the Valletta Metropolitan area is quite large, wherever you are, it does not feel like you are in a big city. The low density gives you the impression that you are always in a small town or small Mediterranean village, where the everyone enjoys their life on a slower pace. The Maltese like to gather in the evenings on the coast promenades, piers or on beach with their extended family and talk and drink until late at night. A beer in a small shop on the coast costs only one euro and if you stay at one of their tables it is recommended and polite to order some food as well (their kebab is fantastic). You can have a drink and stay on the beach or on the pier, nobody in this country will be upset if you do something like that. The view in the harbor during the sunset when the golden buildings change their shade is gorgeous.
The 3 cities area is composed of 3 smaller peninsulas, each having a fort or a medieval fortification at the end, which offers magnificent views towards Valletta and the rest of the bay. The most beautiful I would say is the town of Birgu, where we find the Church of Saint Laurentiu, the Maritime Museum of Malta and the marina full of luxurious yachts at the end of the Saint Angelo Peninsula. Also here we find the ferry station to Valletta. I recommend using this kind of public transport. It is much faster than the bus, cheap and offers unrivaled views of the bay. A trip costs just 1.5 EUR one way, or 2.8 EUR one way. There is also a night service that costs just a little more. More details on the transport company website here. It costs about the same on the bus and tickets can be purchased from the drivers.
Arriving by ferry to Valletta, we are landed near the cruise terminal, not too far from the Triton Fountain and the Main City Gate of Valletta. From these walls starts the small fortress capital of Malta. With only 0.8 square kilometers and just a few thousand permanent inhabitants, it is one of the smallest capitals in the EU. The small medieval town is full of narrow streets, old buildings and apart from a few government buildings, it is largely dedicated to commercial and tourist activities.
This is the tourist epicenter of the island. Attractions include Saint John’s Bastion, Saint John’s Cathedral, Saint George’s Market, Rocca Piccola Royal House, countless other churches and especially the Barrakka Superior Gardens where the line of defensive cannons still face the bay. Unfortunately we couldn’t get down to the cannons, because the whole terrace was rented for a wedding event. The view from the gardens is among the most beautiful in Valletta.
You will often see here the name of Saint John, who is the protector of Malta. In the Middle Ages, the Order of Saint John Knights was respected and feared during the Crusades.
From the Republic Street, which is the main pedestrian street and crosses the whole city, there are numerous secondary branches on the slope, full of cafes and slick elegant bars. If you enter any venue on the main street you you will probably pay exaggerated tourists prices for drinks or food. Just go to any secondary side street and you will find great quality and prices. We ate and drank on a terrace on the north bank of the fortress, with a very nice view towards the financial district of Saint Julian and we paid only 3 euros for a beer and 12 EURO for food. The Maltese cuisine is very good, there are many Italian dishes and many fresh seafood. I can say that the price to value ration in Malta is very good.
I’m sorry we didn’t get to see more of the island due to work times. We did take a ride by bus from Valletta to the main container port of Marsaxlockk. The villages on the way are very beautiful and the landscape resembles what you see in Southern Italy, Sicily. The buses are new, they run very well, on time and are quite convenient and easy to use.
For those who have not been, I recommend Malta with pleasure. However, do not book more than a week here, because you simply do not that have much to do or see here. Valletta is for me in my Personal Top 10 Beautiful and authentic places to visit in Europe, so it’s a bit hard not to recommend it. 🙂
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