I had high hopes for Malta, well, for me enjoying the island and making it a guided tour destination, for a couple of years of short duration tours. But, alas, that will not happen.
My main motivation, following the loss of flights to Tenerife from Cardiff and a huge increase in both cost and difficulty in getting to that wonderful destination, was price. I flew to Malta for £27.98 return. That would certainly encourage booking on any holiday I chose to list there.
Upon arrival all was as clockwork. I was met by my prepaid taxi and taken to my hotel. All had been arranged in advance and for quite some budget price, the trip being about £100 plus food costs. The hotel was standard travel lodge style and very welcoming and inclusive of a buffet breakfast. No complaints then…
I only had three full days to explore and my agenda was relatively full, lots of exploration with points of interest fixed as the megalithic remains dotted across the island.
Day 1 saw me explore the south, and first impressions weren’t good… First off everything in Malta appears to be covered by a fine layer of dust and initially I couldn’t work out what the cause for this was. Windows, cars, street furniture., all coated… Then there is the abandoned buildings, very similar to Tenerife, concrete constructions half finished and simply left to rot. And the construction, new buildings being built, roads being dug, cranes, diggers, piles of rocks.
But the construction seems erratic and never to be finished. Unlike Tenerife where perhaps the best roads in the world (in my experience) can be found, the roads in Malta are very poor. I even had one elderly gentleman accost me and complain to me, saying he had been highlighting the poor road by his house with the local politician but that he blamed the ‘Mafia’ for such conditions. And maybe corruption is the problem here…
I visited a sustainability centre which had long ago failed. Paid for by grants from Iceland and Norway and Liechtenstein. I assume once the grant money ran out the sustainability project could not be sustained… Continuing along the coast I encountered a rather nice harbour area with an array of brightly painted boats. This was near the cave, Roman Villa and megalithic temple that were my destinations for the day. The cave was unimpressive and was complimented by a very tired foyer area and a small bone room. I went on towards the Roman Villa but it would appear that not much remained and what remained was not accessible. And so to the temple… It wasn’t much to ‘get in’, 2 euro, but it really was just a few large rocks in a field that had access only from one side and was surrounded by a seemingly hastily erected rope barrier. I think it could only be getting a handful of visitors a day with the 2 euro not covering the extremely dour guards pay. There was no signage or interpretation for the temple…
I revisited the harbor and there had food and coffee before heading back to the hotel. I used maps.me which served me well, keeping me off roads and on farmland tracks where possible. It would appear that where the land is not built upon it is farmed and I guess that is to be expected for such a small island.
Day 2 and I took the bus to Valletta, the capital of Malta and in contrast to the town where I was staying, Marascalla, Valletta has much to offer. It is a bustling city built amongst ancient fortifications which define it’s many harbours. This must hark back to times of strategic importance for Malta. Valletta is impressive and although I was only there for an hour I could have spent the day. A highlight here was descending a long spiral staircase to take a traditional boat ride across the harbour. The boatman and I waited but there was no one else about so we went, my own private water taxi. It was meant to be 2 euro but I felt I had to give more and so ended up paying 5 euro. I then walked to the Hypogeum. This I had wanted to visit for some time but I wasn’t prepared for the need to have booked or the price. I could have gone in but for 40 euro. I declined. This high cost was a shock given the low cost of almost everything else on Malta. I understand the need to protect ancient monuments but this was too high a cost and so not available to the majority of tourists who would see a guided visit of under an hour, costing 130 euro for the average family of four, prohibitive. And I didn’t want to be video tour guided round the place in any case. I would definitely have found that annoying.
I therefore walked on a short distance to the Tarxien Temples which in contrast were a fair price, 6 euro, and self guided. I would recommend a visit here if you are on the island. After all, until the discovery of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey in 1994 the megalthic structures of Malta were claimed to be the oldest man made structures in Europe. From here I headed, a little despondent, back to the hotel.
Day 3, my final day of exploration, was one of exploring the rest of the Southern coast, from Marascalla towards Valletta but it soon became apparent that this was uninspiring, beachless and again, in places, abandoned buildings were the main feature. I had kind of given up with Malta by now. It was a destination that did not offer the magic of Tenerife or great antique attractions of France or fine walking associated with Iceland. So, I made my way back toward the hotel and to a cafe and caught up with a little work.
My impressions of Malta are not impressions that have me recommending it as a destination despite it’s out of season low costs. But please bear in mind I only visited mid and south Malta and so I can’t comment on the nature of the island in the north.
Valletta is well worth a weekend city break. But I won’t be going back.
I think I worked out an understanding of a key island problem. It’s the reliance on concrete… The dust everywhere is coming from the building works for sure but I think more problematic, as this won’t go away, is that most pavements are concrete and this creates huge amounts of dust and dirt. For such a small island the air should not taste of concrete and petrol. But it does. I would be worried for my long term respiratory health if I lived on Malta.
So do go. But not for the ancient temples or for the over priced Hypogeum. Go for an inclusive hotel deal and experience some winter sun. And here is a true mystery…
Overseas temperatures… When I was in Malta the weather forecast consistently reported a maximum temperature averaging 14 degrees. If in Wales and it were 14 degrees I would certainly be wearing several layers and would like an additional heating supply. But in Malta or Southern France or The Canaries 14 degrees, for me, is warm enough to sun bathe in, I was walking around with summer strides and a t-shirt on. And I felt so much better for that 🙂