Time is flying by during this period of living in a pandemic and during this time I have experienced varying degrees of emotions. Initially, I felt disbelief, panic, and irritation regarding the virus itself, how healthcare became political, and all the misinformation being spewed on numerous platforms. And yet, I also embraced the sacred moments of peace and tranquility at the overall silence when the world briefly shut down. I acknowledged the fact that these moments of solitude were indeed, and probably will always be extremely rare occurrences. However, my overall biggest emotional burden over the past year was longing for the return to traveling again.
Last summer I did manage a few small getaways, but this year has allowed for greater mobility. The EU coordination of the digital certificate along with the fact that I am fully vaccinated brought forth easier accessibility for international travel (at least within the EU). While I will backtrack at some point on my past travels during the pandemic, today I want to talk about my most recent solo travel which was to the petite European island country of Malta.
When borders began to open back up, I was looking for sun and sea destinations. As I searched the internet, I discovered the tiny island country of Malta. Malta is an independent European country that has Phoenician, Italian, and Great Britain influence. Official languages include Maltese and English, while many locals can also converse in Italian, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, and Russian. It is also a place I had never been to before and I found a direct flight from Luxembourg. I nabbed myself an inexpensive round-trip flight with RyanAir for 3 days in mid-August. Although travel may still seem risky to some, the flight was not fully booked, masks were required throughout travel, and the digital certificate and electronic passenger locator form were all that was required to enter Malta.
Malta’s average temperatures in August are hot, a high of 88F/31C. However, for my 3 days there, that was low. I was dealing with daily 93F/34C and sun with not a cloud in the sky. Located in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is famously known for its 300 days of sun. When determining where you will stay and what to do, air conditioning is your friend when it comes to staying on the island in the summer.
As I knew very little about the island, I also did not know where I should stay. Further research led me to learn that the major city of Malta is Valletta while the smaller towns of St. Julian’s and Sliema, all within 10-kilometers of each other, also offered nice hotels with coastal views, restaurants, and nightlife. As a solo traveler, I like to stay safe but also keep my options affordable so I ultimately decided on a beautiful villa through Airbnb in Ta’Xbiex centrally located amongst the 3 towns.
Malta and its sister islands, Comino and Gozo, are small. The main island is 17 miles by 9 miles (or 27 km by 14.5 km). While I am known to be able to run those distances, I was relying on mostly walking or public transport to get me to where I wanted to go. The bus and ferry systems are quite good as they are reliable and affordable. However for late-night excursions, one will need to take a taxi. A fun fact: they drive on the left!
Now onto the good stuff, what I did in Malta! Here’s my 3-day itinerary:
Sea Trips Malta: I booked a day-long catamaran tour with Sea Trips Malta, departing from St. Paul’s Bay in the town of Bugibba in the North. The new boat held about 150 people with 2 levels, numerous sunbeds, snorkel gear, a bar, and bbq. After a 20-minute ride, the first stop was to the Blue Lagoon at Comino Island. The boat anchors for an hour and a half allowing you to swim, snorkel, hike, and take in stunning views of Gozo island.
The next stop was to Crystal Lagoon, also at Comino island, however, it is less crowded and more picturesque with the cascading rock formations.
The final stop was in the bay of Popeye Village back on the northwest side of Malta. This now quirky amusement park was once the film set for the 80’s movie “Popeye” with Robin Williams. Although we did not have enough time to venture into the theme park, we got to swim in the lagoon and explore nearby caves while grabbing a scenic photo of the misshaped architecture of the set. After we returned to St. Paul’s Bay just before 4 pm.
Pros: The trip allowed me to see and swim at many of the highlights Malta and its islands have to offer in a beautiful and modern boat.
Cons: While they follow masking and hand sanitizing protocols to board, the boat trip does consist of a lot of people. If you are looking for a private and personal experience, this is not the tour for you.
Fortizza: Dinner that evening was with a sunset view over the Preluna Beach Club at Fortizza Bar & Restaurant on the Sliema promenade. Known for pizza and pasta but also local seafood and Maltese plates, I opted for the Al Mare pasta dish. The dishes were plentiful and of good value and while I enjoyed the meal and ambiance, the service was dreadfully slow.
Highlights of Malta with a Local Expert: Using Airbnb Experiences for the first time, I booked a semi-private morning tour with a local Maltese native who brought me and 3 other patrons to the South part of the island. Jerome was our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide. Our first stop was at St. Peter’s Pool, a popular swimming spot known for its natural cutout that resembles a pool.
Next, onto Marsaxlokk. A quaint fishing village that is decorated with the well-known Maltese boats, they host a Sunday market where you can buy fresh fish, fruits, and veggies, as well as local souvenirs.
Next up was the Blue Grotto. We lucked out as there was no line for the 20-minute boat ride, so we were able to take advantage and ride around in a small motorized boat to get a good look in and out of the caves as well as the famous Blue Grotto arch.
Lastly, we visited the Prehistoric Megalithic Temples. A UNESCO world heritage site, these temples were claimed to be the oldest free-standing structure (3600 BC) in the world. However, a recent discovery of the Gobekli Temple in Turkey recently beat them for the title. Finishing up before lunch, the tour met all expectations. Additionally, it was personalized according to the preferences of the group and I made a friend with another female solo traveler who was on the tour with me.
Is-Suq Tal-Belt Valletta Food Market: With my new friend, Prasanna, who is Nepali, lived and worked in the US and presently in Paris, we had lunch at the Valletta Food Market where we had way too much amazing Nepalese food at which time we chatted it up & we decided we would also meet up that evening for dinner.
After lunch, I parted ways with Prasanna and decided to rest and take a dip on the Valletta coast off of Boat Street where you have nice views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Fort Manoel, and the Sliema coast and skyline. Beaches in Malta are not your typical vision of a beach setup. While Malta does have a few sandy beaches in the northern part of the island, city dwellers of Valletta and much of Malta must settle for the rocky formations, requiring you to jump in or use the ladders attached to the rocks to get in and out of the water.
Requiring a nap and shower, I went back to my Airbnb briefly before returning to Valletta to meet up with Prasanna. We visited the Upper Barraka Gardens for some photos before grabbing a drink at De Bono’s Coffee Shop and then dinner at Eddie’s Cafe Regina on a pleasant and spacious terrace that had live music. Keeping it cool eating big salads, after dinner, we walked them off as we strolled the historic, hilly, and colorful streets of Valletta. The ambiance was lively with people eating and drinking outside and many of the little restaurants and cafes having chill vibes with several other live performers.
Attempting to avoid the heat of the day, I started my morning early before sunrise at 5 in the morning to get a run in during my trip along the coastal promenade back and forth to St. Julian’s. I was not alone on my 10 km run as many other runners and walkers had the same idea. I highly recommend at least one of these early morning outings as you’ll get to experience one of the most magical sunrises ever.
Ines Bahr Photography: My final day comprised of a walking tour and professional photoshoot with the wonderfully talented Ines Bahr. Another Airbnb Experience and another success. With Ines, her assistant, and a lovely couple, Cha and Matt from NYC, we all explored quiet side streets and sea views in and around Valletta while getting professional shots to capture these moments done by Ines and her team. She made you feel at ease and worked quickly to find the right lighting, colors, and textures to create a stunning photograph. I received the unedited photos the following day and was able to choose up to 30 shots to be edited which I received a week and a half later.
The Phoenicia: As I was leaving to return to Luxembourg later that day my new friends Cha and Matt invited me to benefit from their hotel infinity pool until I needed to head back to the airport. The secluded pool that requires a small walk through a luscious garden, is built into the historic city walls. Here we spent the remaining hours in Malta lounging, chilling, taking in fantastic views, and chatting it up with another friendly couple, Mike and Jane, from the UK.
These are the moments that make travel so special for me, experiencing new cultures, taking in what nature and history offer, and meeting people from all over the world who enhance the whole experience.