The wish list is long for our European vacations, but we chose Malta for Luke’s fall break because it is still relatively warm in October and is said to have some of the best scuba diving spots in the Mediterranean (Luke and I needed to complete our open water certification.) With direct flights from Heathrow on discount airline Malta Air, it was an easy decision for our first family trip!
Malta is made up of three main islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino. We spent our first four days on Malta and immersed ourselves in its multi-layered history. Because the island is situated south of Sicily and north of Africa, it has exchanged hands many times, leaving behind a now fiercely independent and eclectic culture. The capital of Valletta is a stunner, with pops of color on windows and doors in shades of blue, green and red and imposing church domes and spires rising up along the skyline.
We took a free walking tour of Valletta to understand the history and its people (very laid back but CRAZY drivers!). And, we had arguably our best meal of the trip at La Pira, a sidewalk cafe in the shadows of St. Johns Co-Cathedral. Luke’s homemade pasta with Maltese sausage was delish!
While I love adventure and exploring, I look forward a bit of downtime by the pool or on the beach. Well, that doesn’t really happen anymore since I’m outnumbered by boys. Even when I try to sneak in a “down” day, Mitch fires up Google and finds an activity to keep us moving. Hence, the action-packed agenda. But Malta delivered with reasonably-priced activities that were interesting and accessible. (And I was able to soak up lots of sun most days, too!)
When I thought I’d be lounging poolside, Mitch found a very fun self-guided golf cart tour around the “three cities” area of Malta. We whizzed along tiny, winding streets that skirted the yacht-filled harbour.
One of the villages, Birgu, was hosting its annual Candlelight Night. After the sun went down, we wandered the festive streets glittering with thousands of tiny lights. Alongside locals celebrating their beautiful corner of the city, we took advantage of the Italian influence eating our fair share of gelato and cannoli.
As luck would have it, the Malta Classic was on the same week we were there. Luke knows and loves cars from all eras, but particularly anything pre-1975. We bought 10€ tickets to the paddock to walk amongst the sleek and fast cars and enjoyed a day of racing in the gorgeous walled city of Mdina. We enjoyed another memorable meal under bright yellow umbrellas on the rooftop at Palazzo de Piro. Their Maltese platter was quintessentially Mediterranean with local sausage, cheese, hummus and marinated olives, artichokes and sundried tomatoes.
It’s best to rent a car while in Malta (and drive with caution!) so that you can explore the smaller coastal villages and stunning scenery. On the south side of the island, we hopped on a boat tour of the Blue Grotto cliffs and caves. In the heat of the afternoon, we joined a few other tourists for a cool dip at St. Peters Pool (October is not busy at all compared to the summer crowds we heard about!) In the nearby picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk, we dined al fresco at Capo Mulini to taste their catch of the day, a local Lampuki, similar to swordfish.
We were all anticipating our main event—scuba diving—and took the 25-minute car ferry to Gozo for our final three nights of the trip. We based ourselves in the gorgeous bay of Xlendi because our dive shop was located there, but we got the surprise bonus of stunning cliffs and sunsets.
The guys at St. Andrews dive shop were celebrating their 30th year in business, so we felt safe in the hands of our instructor, Charles, as he led Luke and me on our final training dive. We quickly learned that two days wasn’t nearly enough to dive all of the spots we wanted to explore, so we’ll be heading back to tackle the famous Blue Hole, a shipwreck and underwater caves in the Blue Lagoon. And, we’ll plan to dive on the front end of our trip next time since you cannot fly within 24 hours for safety reasons.
Gozo is only 8 miles long and 4.5 miles wide, so for our day exploring above the sea, Mitch found ATV rentals and we discovered that Gozo was really our favorite part of Malta. Smaller and less trafficked than the main island, we were able to drive our four-wheelers on the main roads, along the coast and off road through the dusty hills and salt flats (Luke’s favorite!)
Our diet of seafood and pasta continued in Gozo, trying out a few of Xlendi’s waterfront restaurants (Pirates Galley was our favorite). One night we splurged on a fancy meal at award-winning Ta’ Frenc and learned that Brad and Angelina had dined there while filming a movie on Gozo in 2015! At every restaurant, we found the food to be fresh, homemade and very reasonably priced. If you love Italian and/or seafood, you’ll never have a bad meal in Gozo.
Before our afternoon ferry back to the airport, I couldn’t resist a morning visit to the tiny, undeveloped island of Comino that sits between Gozo and Malta. Leaving our car at the ferry port, we hopped a quick boat across to the Blue Lagoon and swam in water as clear as a backyard pool. To avoid the throngs of other tourists, we hiked further into the rocky island to find a quiet cove for cliff diving and cave swimming. It was worth the salty ride back to the airport to spend a few final hours in the warm sun and cool, blue Med. And, we’ll be back!