When I told people I was going to Malta, the most common reaction was “what is that?” and “where is that?” Malta is a small country made up of a few islands in the Mediterranean, south of Italy (Sicily) and north of Africa (Tunisia & Libya).Malta is relatively off the radar for Americans, although Europeans have been vacationing there for ages. It is a country full of history, situated in a crucial location in the center of ancient activities. Malta is home to the oldest standing buildings in the world (yes, even older than the Stonehenge and Egyptian pyramids)! .
“Why Malta?” people asked.
I’ll let the rest of this blog be the full answer to that question, but in short the gorgeous blue Mediterranean sea, stunning caves and coves, charming architecture full of history, friendly locals, and sunny summer weather. Plus I had never been to Malta before and I love exploring new places! Malta’s capital, Valletta, was named Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture, so it was fitting that I visit as SWISSGEAR’s 2018 Travel Ambassador. Since Matt had to work, my sister Kathryne happily joined me on this adventure.
Packing smart and light with SWISSGEAR.
With ten days abroad and just a little over a week in Malta, I put my packing skills to the test with SWISSGEAR and fit all my travel necessities in carry on luggage. Since I was taking flights on different airlines with self-transfers, I wanted to make my long travel days as seamless as possible without having to worry about rechecking bags or the possibility of lost luggage. I chose the SWISSGEAR 7850 Checklite 20″ Expandable Liteweight Pilot Case because I knew I would be able to fit as much as possible with the expandable section and additional zipped pockets on the front of the bag. I loved the Deep Navy Velvet color, which is dark so it won’t show the wear of travel, but a little more fun than your standard black.
Luckily Malta is the sunniest and hottest country in Europe (summertime highs can reach 90 degrees and lows are in the 80’s and 70’s). This attributed to the ease of packing light since I wouldn’t need any heavy warm layers. Aside from the one hoody and cropped yoga pants for air travel (planes always seem to be so cold!), I only packed sun dresses, swim suits, shorts, tank tops, and flip flops! I had no problem fitting these in my carry on, rolled tightly in SWISSGEAR Packing Cubes. Then I used the SWISSGEAR Luggage Scale to ensure my bag would meet the airline requirements for carry on bags to avoid extra fees and repacking my bag at the airport.
I selected the SWISSGEAR 1900 Scansmart TSA Laptop Backpack in Heather Gray to carry my laptop and other everyday necessities that were kept organized in abundant pockets and divided sections. My sister brought my SWISSGEAR 7272 Energie Hardside Spinner in 19” with USB in Gold (from my trip to New Zealand – link to NZ blog) and my SWISSGEAR 6393 Scansmart Backpack, which easily stores both my camera and drone.
To reach Malta from the United States we had a layover in Rome. Thanks to our SWISSGEAR Memory Foam Pillows and SWISSGEAR Eye Shades & Earplugs, we slept peacefully across the Atlantic and woke up ready to go at wheels down. We planned to make the most of our 8.5 hour layover in Rome, without sparing any time at baggage claim thanks to packing only carry on luggage. You can read more about our layover in Rome on go4theglobe.com (link to blog coming, will feature SWISSGEAR). From Rome, Malta was only a short 1.5 hour flight. We boarded our flight in Rome as the sun was setting and arrived in Malta in the dark, excited to see what the light of following day would bring.
Exploring the Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture – Valletta.
We awoke the first morning and stepped onto our balcony to witness the sun illuminating the green shutters and balconies on the old stone buildings surrounding us. We rented an Airbnb in the neighborhood of Floriana, which was a short walk into the walled city of Valetta, the capital of Malta. Valletta was named Europe’s 2018 Capital of Culture and the capital city is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Malta due to its well-preserved 16th century architecture. The city sits on a small peninsula and was built by the Knights of St. John.
Malta was a British colony for nearly 150 years until it became independent in 1964. Many elements of British culture remain, from the country’s two national languages (English and Maltese), to driving on the left side of the road, to the red telephone booths, and three-prong UK power outlets. Luckily I had packed the SWISSGEAR Worldwide Adaptor Plug to keep my electronics charged.
We wandered through Valletta without an agenda, finding beautiful surprises around each corner. The old mixes effortlessly with the new, from historic plazas and churches to displays of modern artwork around the city. Outside the City Gate of Valletta, we visited the Triton Fountain, which consists of three large bronze tritons (mythological creatures that look like mermen) holding up a giant platter cascading with water. We admired the charming and colorful doors of Malta, stopping often to snap photos of the intricate architecture. After grabbing a gelato to keep cool in the hot afternoon heat, we headed into the Upper Barrakka Gardens for a panoramic view of the Grand Harbour (where two cruise ships were docked) and the Three Cities across the water.
Lively playground on the Mediterranean – Jumping into St. Peter’s Pool.
After a day full day of exploring the city, the cool blue Mediterranean sea was calling our names on day two in Malta. We ventured to St. Peter’s Pool, a natural swimming pool in the sea surrounded by smooth cliff edges with several additional rock formations to jump from. We arrived “early” at 10 a.m. to find only a handful of people and snagged a shady spot to put our SWISSGEAR backpacks and towels. As the day went on, more and more people arrived until the pool was packed. People snorkeled in the sea, lounged on floats, and jumped off rocks. The atmosphere was fun and lively and it was a great place to people watch with visitors of all ages and backgrounds, evident from the multitude of languages audible.
The jump at St. Peter’s Pool appears higher when standing above it, perhaps due to how clear the water is below with a sandy bottom that you can see all the way down to. It is a few meters tall, or roughly 12 feet high from the cliff edge to the sea. My sister and I both jumped in several times. Everyone took turns jumping, diving, and flipping in, and whenever someone was scared, everyone would encourage the jumper and cheer when they finally got up the courage to make the plunge!
A local and his dog have become quite the internet sensation from their duo dives into St. Peter’s Pool. If you Google “man and dog cliff jump in Malta” you will find them right away, as they have gone viral with tons of YouTube videos taken of them with millions of views and articles featuring them by publications such as The Daily Mail. I had actually seen videos of them previously (likely Matt showed me) but didn’t realize beforehand that the videos were taken in Malta. The dog is a small Jack Russel Terrier named Titti.
While my sister and I were swimming out in the sea, we heard loud cheers (even more than usual). I looked back at the pool just in time to see the man and his dog launch from the cliff edge and dive together. The crowds went wild! When we were back on land at our spot around the base of the pool, we also saw the famous diver, Pele, whose name is tattooed across his chest and carved into the surrounding rocks. Pele performs beautiful dives, with quick and graceful rotations. Some dives appeared to be olympian in nature while others resembled the pirate Jack Sparrow.
All the sun, swimming, jumping and excitement left us worn out and we took a long afternoon nap in the shade. When we awoke, we gathered our things and walked back to Marsaxlokk Bay, known for it’s display of colorful Maltese boats. From Masaxlokk, we caught the bus back to the capital.
Charming and tranquil island – Gozo
After a few days exploring the main island of Malta, we took the ferry over to the island of Gozo. Gozo is smaller (a third of the size of the main island of Malta), less inhabited (accounting for roughly 30,000 of Malta’s 430,000+ population), and more tranquil than the main island. The short half-hour ferry ride to Gozo crosses a span of 5km over the Mediterranean where it reflects a dark deep blue hue that sparkles in the sunshine.
I couldn’t help but notice how my SWISSGEAR luggage mirrored this brilliant blue and how the functional yet fun accessories I added gave my travel gear an extra pop of color against the shades of blue. The SWISSGEAR Travel Sentry 3-Dial Combination Lock kept my bag locked and secure while the SWISSGEAR Jumbo Luggage Tag kept my bag identifiable in case I became separated from it while shooting photos of the gorgeous scenery from the ferry deck. I chose both accessories in my favorite color pink to further personalize my gear while protecting it.
We stayed in the charming town of Nadur on the island of Gozo. From the rooftop of our Airbnb we had views of the Mediterranean off in the distance in every direction, as the island is small enough to grant 360 degree sea views from above. We had a stunning view of the town’s cathedral, one of 359 churches in Malta. The rooftop was the perfect spot to watch the sunset, we loved the view so much that we woke up early to catch the sunrise from the roof the following morning! The sun set behind the cathedral while it rose over the sea.
When we arrived in the town on Sunday afternoon, it appeared to be a ghost town, with no one in sight, but after visiting the beach and returning in the evening when the temperatures dropped, the town was lively with what appeared to be every one of it’s inhabitants out and about. Every sidewalk and plaza table was filled with people of all ages, from young children to elderly couples. We ate our dinner outside at the restaurant The Fat Rabbit (rabbit is a Maltese specialty), enjoying the warm evening air and fun atmosphere.
Red sand beaches – San Blas Bay & Ramla Bay.
Gozo is know for its gorgeous red sand beaches (although the color of the sand looked more like a golden brown than red to us). On our first afternoon in Gozo we headed to the small San Blas Bay. To reach the bay you have to take a very steep walk downhill (although it is possible to jump in a 4×4 for a couple Euros to avoid the high incline hill). When we arrived at the bay on a Sunday afternoon, the beach was packed with tourists under umbrellas. Boats filled the bay and people swam and snorkeled in the sea. We walked along the beach through the warm reddish sand and around the orange rocks to a more secluded part of beach. This section was absent of sand but lined with smooth boulders that stretched into the sea and only a few people left soaking up the last of the afternoon sun. We toted along the SWISSGEAR 5675 Foldable Backpack, which was perfect for the beach, carrying our towels, sunscreen, a change of dry clothing, and snacks. The water was warm and we had fun splashing around in the sea.
The next day we adventured to one of the most popular and biggest sandy beach in Gozo, Ramla Bay. Ramla Bay boasts a long, wide stretch of golden red sand, lined with umbrellas. Even in the peak of summer, the length of the beach helps disperse crowds so you don’t feel like sardines stuffed into a can. Walking into Ramla Bay, we passed stands selling ice cream, smoothies, snacks, floaties, hats, towels, and other fun beach items. It wasn’t long after laying out on the beach that we found ourselves swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean sea.
After drying off, we hiked up to Tal-Mixta Cave from Ramla Bay. The hike is short with a quick elevation gain and trekking in the heat of the day didn’t make it any easier. We reached the top drenched in sweat, but it was a small price to pay for the best view of Ramla Bay. We enjoyed the cool ocean breeze wafting up through the cave, which we had to ourselves. We sat and admired the view for a long time, reveling in the shade before taking photos. On the other side of Ramla Bay lies Calypso Cave, which is allegedly the cave referred to by Homer in The Odyssey, although it isn’t supposed to have the same gorgeous views.
On our walk back from the cave to our Airbnb, my sister stopped to pet a small orange cat in the street. We were slightly startled when we heard a “hello” and turned to find a man standing at a gate. A dog appeared from behind him that came out to greet us. The man told us there was another cat, and then told us he had chickens too. He motioned to show us, then told us to come and follow him into his yard. Following a stranger into their property might not be something we would do back home but it seemed like it would have been weird and rude not to in Gozo.
We were surprised to find pens filled with several breeds of turkeys, pigeons, and chickens. He led us further to show us a giant pig, followed by two donkeys, a ton of guinea pigs, and a pony all in their separate pens. We stopped to pet the donkeys before he led us to see two ostriches! Then we came across peacocks, followed by more species of birds. The man was very friendly and told us he had lived in this home in Gozo his whole life along with his family. When we came back out to the road, he pointed out to the sea and told us on a clear night he could see the lights from Sicily. He then pointed further away and called out the direction of Africa. We told him how beautiful his home was and thanked him for the tour before continuing on our way.
In the evening, we headed to Marsalforn Bay, a charming bayside town where seafood restaurants line the waterfront. We walked around the bay to view the sunset with original plans to visit the famous Xwejni Salt Pans, but the sun was sinking faster than we could reach them. To our surprise, we stumbled upon another set of smaller salt pans (Salins de Marsalforn) and stopped to watch the sunset there. As it grew dark, we headed back to Marsalforn Bay and drank a refreshing Aperol Spritz at a bar across from the bay.
Kayaking to the Blue Lagoon and around Comino – Malta’s smallest inhabited island
On our last morning in Gozo, we were picked up in the main square in Nadur in a yellow 4×4 Land Rover. We had a full day adventure planned with Kayak Gozo! The driver Julian was an expat from the UK and shared his own personal experiences about living in Gozo as well as a bit of history of the island. We were driven to Hondoq Bay to start our kayaking trip. After we were given basic instructions, our life vests and paddles, my sister and I were on the water in a bright yellow kayak built for two!
Our friendly guide Laurie led us to nearby caves to get the hang of our kayaks before we paddled across the channel to Comino, Gozo’s smallest inhabited island. Julian told us only three permanent residents live on Comino (Sicilian farmers) and that once they die, no one will be allowed to live on the island. The island also houses one hotel and short term apartments to rent. One of Malta’s most popular attractions is the Blue Lagoon, which is located on Comino. The lagoon is a brilliant light crystal blue thanks to its shallow sandy bottom. This tourist attraction gets extremely packed with visitors coming in on boat tours and water taxis throughout the day and it was nice to beat the crowds on our kayaks. We paddled through a small arch in the Blue Lagoon before making our way around the edge of Comino.
We kayaked through many caves and under arches before stopping to snorkel at a little bay around the bend from the Blue Lagoon. There we jumped off the rocks into a sand bottom pool and ate a snack of homemade peanut butter granola bars. We continued our journey through a narrow inlet to Sea Urchin alleyway. Many of the spots we visited were only accessible by kayak as boats could not fit through.
Our next stop was at Santa Maria Bay, where we got out of our kayaks to visit another cave. Inside the cave we ventured over an underwater archway into a stunning cove dubbed Smuggler’s Cove. Apparently there was a time when Malta aimed to produce all of their own goods so importing outside items was illegal, and this cave was used by pirates to store foreign exports (rumor has it some of these items were wine and chocolate!). We watched as scuba divers passed through the archway into the cave. Malta is a diving hot spot with all of its underwater caves, shipwrecks, and ancient ruins. We enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch of a chicken potato wrap, watermelon, and banana chocolate chip muffins. Then we took a quick dip at the beach before getting back into our kayak to paddle through more archways and cross the channel back to Gozo.
Tourist hot spot – Bugibba
For our final two nights in Malta, we returned to the main island. Our last Airbnb was located in Bugibba, which had a distinctly different feel from the both of the towns we had previously stayed in Malta and Gozo. Bugibba is much more modern and touristy with a plethora of hotels. The main square is lined with palm trees and surrounded by bars and restaurants, in addition to a McDonalds. The square opens to a rocky beach, sandwiched between sea view restaurants. The sidewalks are sprinkled with salespeople aiming to entice you into their boat tours to the Blue Lagoon or bus tours to Malta’s most popular beaches and historic sites.
We wanted to try more traditional Maltese food, so my sister and I headed to Ta’Pawla for their “Taste of Malta” meal. They have a set menu where you select three courses from several local dishes for 15.90 Euro a person. Rabbit is a Maltese specialty so we knew we had to try it before leaving Malta. The rabbit was tender and covered in rabbit gravy, and it was certainly tasty. We both ordered Imqaret for dessert, a date filled pastry that was served warm with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious!
The silent city – Mdina
On our last day in Malta, we ventured to the old capital and walled city of Mdina. Mdina is a charming city that’s history dates back over 4,000 years and is known as the silent city. One of the reasons for this nickname is because when the capital moved in 1530 to one of the Three Cities (Birgu), Mdina became somewhat of a ghost town (the capital was moved to its current location of Valletta in 1571). In modern times, Mdina is known for being a prominent film location in the first season of Game of Thrones (King’s Landing).
We entered Mdina through the main gate, as horse carriages passed by aiming to pick up tourists for city tours. Our first stop in the city was Fontanella Tea Garden, which is known for their cake and sweeping views of Malta. We sat outside in a table under umbrellas at the top of the wall, enjoying our cake for breakfast along with the gorgeous view into the valley, of vineyards, other cities each speckled with cathedrals and the sea off in the distance.
We continued to wander around Mdina with the SWISSGEAR 1651 City Pack Backpack in Noir Satin/Raffia Teal carrying my camera and tripod, as well as a water bottle to keep us hydrated, easily accessible in the side pocket. We constantly stopped to take photos of the adorable alleyways and colorful doors. I was in search of one door in particular that I had seen several times on Instagram before, a robin’s egg blue door engulfed by bright magenta bougainvillea flowers. Mdina is small and it didn’t take long to stumble across it. While my sister and I were taking a photo, I leaned back accidentally on the door bell causing the women who lived inside to come out. She didn’t seem thrilled, but wasn’t rude in her interactions as I apologized for accidentally disturbing her.
Leaving the walled city behind, we walked through Rabat down small streets home to more colorful doors and houses. We passed St. Paul’s Catacombs, which were used to bury the dead in Roman times and also used as bomb shelters during WWII. We reached the Dominican St. Dominic Monastery, which has a beautiful courtyard and is another iconic Game of Thrones film location (my sister is a fan).
Malta is an absolute gem of a country with an impressive history, beautiful architecture, and gorgeous coastline on the brilliant blue Mediterranean sea. I was sad to leave Malta behind, as I felt there was still so much more to see and do. I hope to return one day and highly encourage adding Malta to your next Europe trip itinerary, although it is certainly worthy of it’s own trip!
In the meantime, I am excited for my next adventure with SWISSGEAR – follow along to see where Matt and I are headed next!
Check our next Adventure at go4theglobe.com