Imagine yourself out for a brisk walk on a sunny, warm and bright winter morning. Now picture yourself gazing at the deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea, just outside the mostly intact walls of an ancient fortress. While taking in these stunning sights, a sweet aroma begins to fill the air. Your sense of smell dominates and changes your course, now bound for the bakery across the narrow cobblestone street.
The smell of Maltese bread, often baked in wood ovens, permeates nearly every inch of this small archipelago at varying times throughout the day. This particular sourdough bread is baked fresh daily in just about every local bakery and restaurant. While Mexicans are known for their tortillas, Italians for their pizza, and Germans for their sausages, the Maltese are known for their bread. This crusty bread can be eaten plain, with olive oil, or filled with olives, capers, tuna, onions or even sweet jam for breakfast.
While some may consider visiting Malta without trying their delicious bread reason enough to be locked inside a padded room, there are many other compelling things to see and do in this small republic nation.This archipelago consists of three islands: Malta proper, Gozo and Comino, and is home to over 400,000 friendly inhabitants. The nation’s only international airport lies on the island of Malta, southwest of the capital city of Valletta. Reaching the other islands is as easy as a climbing (or driving) aboard a ferry for a short, 25 to 45-minute ride.
While on the island of Malta, put the following on your to-do list:
St. Paul's Cathedral
Stroll through the ancient capital of Mdina (and neighboring Rabat - meaning suburb). On top of a hill in the center of the island, encircled by dominating fortifications with commanding views of both land and sea, the oldest city in Malta deserves some attention. Established around the 8th century BC, the rich history of Mdina is displayed everywhere. Stroll through the quaint narrow streets and marvel at the eclectic mix of architecture, from medieval to baroque. For a taste of Malta’s religious history, visit St. Paul’s Cathedral (Mdina Cathedral). Dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle, this gorgeous baroque-styled cathedral opened in 1702. Be sure not to miss the attached museum for a better understanding of its historical significance. The Knights of Malta Experience, also located in Mdina, is an award-winning museum featuring mannequins, special sound effects and lighting. Game of Thrones fans will be excited to know that Mdina was the filming location for King’s Landing in the HBO series’ first season.
St. Paul's Grotto
Not to be confused as the same, St. Paul's Church and Grotto are located in nearby Rabat. According to legend, St. Paul sought refuge here after being shipwrecked, and spent much time praying in the subterranean grotto beneath the church. Another interesting site in this area is St. Paul's Catacombs, which proudly shows off the earliest evidence of Christianity in Malta.
The UNESCO-listed capital city of Malta, Valletta, is located on one of the Mediterranean’s grandest harbors. Aside from strolling the cute little streets, be sure to visit the Grandmaster’s Palace and Armory. Commissioned in the 16th century, this palace is the city’s most monumental building, with part of it serving as today’s Presidential Palace. Both of these sites are located in the center of Palace Square. Not far from there is Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. This incredibly opulent display of wealth honors the Knights of Malta and houses some gorgeous works of art worth a look. Other things not to be missed in this area are the Lascaris War Room and Fort St. Elmo. Just outside Valletta, take in the sweeping views over the famous “3 cities” of Malta at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. For a bit of rest and relaxation from all the walking, take a harbor cruise and see the city from a different angle.
Elsewhere on this island, make sure to see the Tarxien Temples. These well-preserved ruins date back to 3250 BC. On the north end of the island, Popeye Village is a hit with kids and adults alike. This carefully preserved movie set offers boat rides, puppet shows and plenty of opportunities for some fun photographs.
By Lisa Osborne Blalock
Footloose Travel & Tours