48 hours in Malta

48 hours in Malta

Blue Lagoon from underwater

The water I was looking over right now could only be described as surreal serenity. It was 9:30 on a September morning, 35 degrees, and we had the stunning blue lagoon at Comino almost entirely to ourselves. While there may be hundreds of places in the world to go by the much flogged cognomen of ‘blue lagoon’ – it took away nothing from the one in front of me. And to think that my first murmur as our plane had descended upon this 3 island archipelago had been – dryly – hmm, Malta sure has a lot of barren rock.

As Comino was to be a feature destination of our 2 day stopover, we’d opted to stay outside of Malta’s mighty capital of Valetta on the southern main island and instead base ourselves in the tranquil, 7,000 person town of Mellieha on the north. Asides from been just a 10 minute ride from the Comino ferry port at Cirkewwa, Mellieha is a place of outstanding value. Our hotel – the 4 star Maritim Antonine spa and hotel – was priced infinitely lower than any equivalency in Valetta, with fabulous facilities and service to boot. Furthermore, Mellieha has a plethora of wonderful eating options and is much closer to some of Malta’s more beautiful beaches.

Mellieha

Having touched down late on the previous afternoon we’d settled for little more than exercising the Martitims spa facilities and exploring the town. Though Mellieha is small, there are a few interesting sites to see. The local nineteenth century church sits on the high ground of the towns square and looks not unlike an illuminated gingerbread house by night. When we arrived that evening the square was bustling with locals in what seemed to be the aftermath of a religious ceremony – though the atmosphere was lively as opposed to solemn. Slightly beyond lies an impressive 17th century lookout – the literally named Red Tower.  But we were having too earlier night to get up close. After dinner at the nearby Master Wok Chinese Restaurant  (the duck pancakes are superb) we went to bed. After all, we’d be getting up early to ensure we were on the first micro ferry over too Comino island in the morning.

Of the 3 islands making up Malta, Comino is by far the smallest. This is further reflected by its permanent population of just 4 inhabitants. Other than another 17th Century fort, a tiny chapel and a lighthouse, the island is little more than clayish top soil, rock, and shrub kindling. But its tiny companion – the micro-island of Cominotto – is its greatest asset, having led to the formation of what must be a strong contender for the most beautiful lagoon in the Mediterranean. We spent a good 5 hours here, enjoying the translucent water, clear skies and relatively small number of visitors, whose numbers only increased slightly as the day went on, contrary to what we’d feared.

Returning in the mid afternoon, we took a pit stop and lunch at our hotel – before bussing into the Maltese capital –a 30 minute ride away. After the somewhat docile town of Mellieha, Valetta appears an absolute fortress. It is. At its modern inception during the 16th century, it became one of the greatest cities on earth – a reward in itself for an act of defiant greatness. In 1565 an outpost citadel of the Knights Hospitaller heroically repelled the onslaught of an immense Turkish army – which up until then had been an unstoppable juggernaut and the bane of Christian Europe. This shock, first victory at Malta in the face of impossible odds reverberated around Europe and led to wild celebrations, with the major powers of the time gratefully bestowing vast sums of money to the Knights. With new found riches, Valetta was greatly expanded and built into an ultimate symbol of Christian power, standing today largely as it did back then.

St Johns Cathedral

And it’s all very impressive. St Johns Cathedral, built in the decade following the Knights victory is as emblazoned with as much if not more ornate gildings and Renaissance artwork than anything in the Vatican. Furthermore the cities multiple palaces, theatres, wide streets and plazas all give a feel of almighty security, not to mention the vast network of defensive walls and forts. We spent the evening content to wander about it all in awe, before settling down for dinner in a bistro close to St Johns and enjoying a Maltese perennial favourite – roasted rabbit (I feel an Elmer Fudd reference is needed in regards to my last two dinners).

The next morning we returned to Valetta to see The Malta Experience, a highly compelling and informative movie in a custom theatre which traces the islands fascinating 7000 year history. It was a great way to spend our last bit of time on the island. One feature of the film that didn’t surprise me was how the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Aragonese, Knights Hospitaller, Turks and British all bloodily committed themselves to staying in Malta. By the time I had to go – I felt as though I should be doing the same.

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