For about 4.5 euros each, we took the ferry to Malta’s northern island, Gozo, known for its more rural setting and scenic hills. It famously has been tied to the legendary island of Ogygia, home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s epic The Odyssey.
Ferries from the main island to Gozo and back run 24 hours a day, about once an hour.
While soaking up the sun on the bridge of the ship, a man named Joey approached us offering us 2 private taxis to drive us around to all the main sights of Gozo. His price was 100 euros total for 7 people, which didn’t have to paid for until the end of the trip (and only if we were satisfied). After a bit of deliberation, we decided to go for it.
After disembarking, we got into Joey’s cabs and headed off to our first stop: the capital of Gozo and its largest settlement, Victoria (also known to the Maltese as Rabat).
In the center of Victoria is The Citadella, a citadel inhabited since the Bronze Age and has continued to be the center of the island’s activities since prehistory. It’s free to enter and it layout is similar to Mdina’s walled city, but even smaller.
The views from the citadel’s top over the rest of Gozo are pretty incredible:
After about an hour here we got back into our cabs and headed to the Blue Hole, where we took 4 euro motorboat rides to see the now collapsed Azure Window.
If the Azure Window sounds familiar to you, it’s because just about 2 months ago it was all over international news for having collapsed after decades of natural erosion. It gained fame for being the film location for numerous films and TV shows including Clash Of The Titans and Game Of Thrones:
And so on March 8, 2017 at 9:40am local time (literally 2 months and 3 weeks ago!), this happened (thanks Samin for the find):
Yep, the whole thing’s gone. And we just missed it by 3 months. But we set off anyway to see it for ourselves:
And yet while most of your attention will be looking for where the Azure Window used to be, don’t forget how gorgeous the rest of the grotto is as well, especially for its “Gatorade blue waters.”
After 15 minutes sailing around the grottoes, we headed back into our taxis and took a quick peek at what is considered the world’s 2nd oldest (after Göbekli Tepe) known structure built by humans, the Ġgantija temples.
After a day exploring Valletta, we woke up early to see the way overrated “The Malta Experience” and nearby Saint Elmo’s fort before heading to the Bus Terminal and hiting a 20 minute cab ride to Mdina for 20 euros.
Why Mdina? Well, have you seen Game Of Thrones? King’s Landing was not just shot at Dubrovnik!
If you need a visual reminder:
The Mdina Gate is the very gate to King’s Landing! But more importantly (depending on where your tastes lie), in real life it also served as the gates to Malta’s former capital city during the Middle Ages before the Knights of St. John took over and moved the administrative capital to Birgu.
Within the gates is a tiny, romantic city with a population of 300. It takes a little under an hour to explore its myriad of gorgeous alleyways, but gosh it was a memorable hour.
Need another Game of Thrones reference?
Views from its northern Bastion Square:
Next stop: the northern island of Gozo!
- At time of posting in Mdina, Malta, it was 19 °C -
Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear with periodic clouds
This morning was time to say goodbye to Ann, Joseph, and Mihaela in Luxembourg:
The 6 of us remaining boarded a 10am, 1 hour flight from Luxembourg and had about an hour’s layover in Munich before catching our connecting 2 hour flight to Malta.
And from one microstate to another, Malta is only 316 square kilometers with a population of 450,000 making it one of the world’s smallest and yet the most densely populated countries. Its capital, Valletta, is also the smallest capital city in the EU by area (yes, it’s even smaller than Luxembourg City!).
Malta is also home to some of the world’s oldest free standing structures in the world and its culture has seen influence (and dominance) by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, Byzantine, Arabs, Normans, the Holy Roman Empire, the Aragonese, the Knights Hospitaller, Barbary pirates, the French, and then finally the British before Malta achieved its independence in 1964.
More pertinently to us, Malta is part of the Schengen Agreement so our flying from Munich allowed for smooth sailing to the exit where an airport taxi waited to take us into Valletta.
And once we arrived, we knew why the city of Valletta was one of the first designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The entire place is an open-air museum.
We then checked into our lodgings at La Vallette, located in the heart of the old city. Its rooftop terraces are breathtaking:
And if it was due to fate or by some ironic coincidence, right across our front door at La Vallette was a building designated for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Déjà vu, anyone?
After freshening up, we sauntered around town taking photos of nearly every building around the corner.
Triq Ir-Repubblika is the main pedestrian street that has all the shops and eateries, along with most of the historical buildings that you should see.
Here we stopped for a quick bite of local Maltese spreads and sausages at The Cage:
Nearly every building in Valletta is considered historic (after all the entire city is a World Heritage Site), but one of the more notable one along your walks should be Teatro Manoel, Europe’s 3rd oldest theater and the oldest continually operating theater in the Commonwealth, unchanged since its construction in 1731.
Halfway down the block is Madonna tal-Karmnu – Our Lady of Mount Carmel Carmelite Church:
One block over from the church is the square facing Parliament and the Presidential Palace, aka Palace of the Grand Master:
From there you can make a right down southwest to see the National Library:
….and most grand of all, St. John’s Co-Cathedral. It costs 10-12 euros per person to enter.
Afterwards, we headed out to the waterfront, passing by St. Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral:
Once on the waterfront, we walked a complete 360º around the city of Valletta that took only an hour to finish:
Enjoy the views along this classic Maltese walking tour, as everywhere you walk is a sight to behold of its natural harbor:
On the northern edge of the waterfront is Saint Elmo’s Fort, which fell to the Ottoman’s during the Great Siege of 1565 where all 1500 men under the Knights of St. John fought to the death defending the fort, taking 8000 Ottoman Turks with them. As Voltaire once said, “Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta,” here was the turning point of the war where the Ottoman’s pyrrhic victory caused them to eventually capitulated in their attempt to conquer Malta, ending Europe’s fear that they were invincible and leading to the rise of the Spanish dominance of the Mediterranean.
Inside the fort is a comprehensive and impressive war museum inside the Fort that chronicles Malta’s significance and strategic role in world conflicts.
And right across from the Fort entrance is the entrance to The Malta Experience, a 30 minute audio/visual film that traces the origins and history of Malta from prehistory to present day.
You can get a 10 euro combination ticket to both the fort’s War Museum and The Malta Experience if you find yourself unsure what you could be doing here in the first place other than for some sand and sun.
Another monument you can’t miss along the waterfront walk is the Siege Bell War Memorial:
…and right next to the bell, the Lower Barrakka Gardens:
We then got away from the tourists with views from St. Barbara Bastion, where Samin’s college roommate, Yannick — who happened to graduate with Samin last week in DC at Georgetown University — met up with us after flying in from Milan (just to hang out with his college roommate again!). That’s true friendship right there.
As the two friends “caught up” on the 8 days since they’ve seen each other, we ended up at the Upper Barrakka Gardens:
And and for a moment everyone was quiet taking in the views here.
On the left is Fort Ricasoli, the filming location for Game of Thrones’ Red Keep:
And on the right is Fort Saint Angelo located in the city of Birgu:
We then headed to the open space facing St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity:
A little further down from the square will be the main bus terminal, which directly faces the Valletta City Gate:
We then headed back onto Triq Ir-Repubblika, completing our tour around the city.
Afterwards we had dinner at La Mère Restaurant, where then night fell and the city essentially becomes yours. There is nearly a nonexistent nightlife here other than quiet cafés, bars, and wine bars.
And the views of Valletta from our rooftop at night are no less surreal:
- At time of posting in Valletta, Malta, it was 20 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear