I would rarely write a tip about a "fast-food" chain as I generally dislike them. Operations like MacDonalds, Burger King and KFC are usually anathema to me and I prefer to find little local places to eat. In this case, however, I am going to make an exception and I am not even sure if eight takeaway outlets in a place as small as Malta constitutes a chain.
Let me first explain the concept of the pastizzeria which is possibly not peculiar to Malta (although some of the savouries served certainly are) and of which there are many all over Malta. Many are small family run places and are perfectly good to eat at. The pastizzeria is really "takeaway" food and only the occasional one will have a small table and couple of plastic chairs outside to eat so I have not included this in a restaurant tip.
The food centres on a couple of little pastry savouries, one filled normally with a ricotta style cheese and the other with a pea filling. Both are extremely tasty. Most now will also serve other items like meat pies, individual slices of pizza, timpana (a sort of macaroni lasagne) and various other things. They are a great source of good quick food for the traveller on a budget and / or in a hurry. The Maltese seem to be inveterate snackers and you will regularly see them wandering along the street eating a small snack from an outlet such as this.
As I say, many pastizzerias are small individual operations, although more organised chains like this are also common. I did happen upon this place early in my stay on the island and subsequently saw and used several of their other venues with uniformly satisfying results. I have included the website below but I shall reproduce addresses and telephone numbers here. The image accompanyhing this tip is of the Tower Road, Sliema branch and is fairly indicative of what to look for.
Champ Ltd, 7,
Sqaq Il-Barriera Tal-Handaq,
Limits of Qormi
Tel: 21 442 020
Mob: 77 880 679
Champ, Triq San Guzepp,
Tel: 21 231 111
Champ, Tower Road,
Tel: 77 880 679
Champ, Naxxar Road,
Tel: 27 373 301
Champ, Merchants Street,
Tel: 77 880 679
Champ, Triq Il-Kbira, Mellieha
Tel: 21 525 050
Champ, St. George’s Road,
Tel: 21 388 768
Champ, Triq Tumas Fenech,
Tel: 27 480 012
They are all open Monday to Sunday 6.00am till late with late in this case being dependent on location and day of the week, check locally.
Definitely recommended for a quick and inexpensive snack.
Malta is an extremely Christian country and this is reflected in quite an unusual and appealing way.
A huge number of Maltese homes will have some sort of Christian icon at the side of the front door and, whilst not of that faith myself, I did find them rather appealing. You will see various Bible figures represented although I would suggest that the Virgin Mary is overwhelmingly the most popular. When you are walking aorund this excellent country, and it is the best way to see anywhere, keep your eyes open, you never know what you will come across.
I do not know how it works in other countries but certainly in the UK anything calling itself a club is generally members only, partially to do with the wishes of the members and partially to do with the UK licensing laws. In Malta things are much different and there seem to be almost as many places calling themselves clubs as there are bars. However, do not let this put you off. I ofund out fairly quickly that these clubs are open to all and, in truth, apart from the sign you would be hard pushed to tell the difference.
Many of the clubs are politically affiliated, tending either to the Labour or Nationalist paties but again, don't let this put you off. Whatever your political affiliations, you will be welcomed with typical Maltese hospitality. Many of them also serve food and seem to be marginally cheaper than comparable restaurants. Some of the clubs even have signs outside now stating "visitors welcome".
I have included here an image of the St. Publius club, near the church of that name in Valletta, where I had a few beers on several occasions whils waiting for my bus. Don't let the idea of a club put you off at all, it is not what you might think.
Rabat is the bigger than its Siamese twin town of Mdina. It's name derives from the word "suburb" in Arabic, a name it shares with the capital of Morocco, and once upon a time it was exactly that: the suburb of Mdina. There's not a huge deal to see in Rabat, but if you are visiting Mdina (and you should) it's a shame not to make Rabat a little side-trip. The church of St. Paul's in the centre is particular worth a visit.
A cruise around the Grand Harbour is a must for any visit to Malta, and trips are easy to arrange from the Strand in Sliema where the water taxis go from. In fact you'll have salespeople falling over themselves to sell you tickets. In the off season you can even bargain the prices down a little if you have patience. A typical cruise of the two harbours will take about a couple of hours and cost around 10 and 15 Euros. It can get quite choppy out on the wild Mediterranean when you are switching between harbours, so pick your day and take a bigger boat if you suffer from sea sickness.
Birgu is the original city of Malta's urban sprawl, and its second capital after Mdina. It's older than Valletta. In fact the reason Valletta was built was to protect Birgu from attack: The Ottoman Turks laid siege to Birgu from the peninsula that Valletta now occupies. Birgu takes its other official name, Vittoriosa from Malta's victory in that battle (Città Vittoriosa or "victorious city"). Today it forms part of the history area known as The Three Cities.
The city grew out of a need to protect this Grand Harbour from attack. Fort St Angelo, sitting at the end of the peninsula and jutting out into the waters, was the perfect place for the Knights of Malta to build their new capital; Mdina was far too inland to be practical. Birgu continued to be strategically useful long after capital status past to Valletta, and the British navy made the city its base of operations in the Mediterranean.
Birgu was smashed to pieces during World War 2, but has been partially reconstructed. It's a little off the tourist trail, but combined with the rest of the three cities makes an interesting, and less touristy, day trip.
Malta is tough going at times with its forty degree inclines straining your hardening calves. But there is now at least some relief. In 2012 a new elevator was opened: the Barrakka Lift. And its quite something. It's looks like a lift without a building, like some great metal monolith stretching up over 50 meters to the streets above.
It connects the newly redeveloped waterfront with the beautiful Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. It's currently free, but I saw what looked like ticket machines standing nearby but not operational. I'm guessing at some point they will sell tickets for it. At least then the enormous queues for the damn thing might reduce!
Easily the most outstanding feature of Valletta's skyline is the dome of the Carmelite Church. It was Valletta's first church, built in 1570, but has been damaged many times since. The greatest damage came during World War 2, and Axis bombs forced the reconstruction of the magnificent 62 meter high dome.
Inside the Carmelite church is less spectacular, especially when compared to the Co-Cathedral nearby. The interior of the dome, however, is impressive and covers the atrium and altar.
Looking at it from the outside, St. John's Co-Cathedral could easily be overlooked. There's nothing outstanding about it. It's not particularly high, the architecture is rather ordinary, and there are no great expanses of stained glass, no ornate figurines, no fantastical carvings. It looks like any church anywhere in the Mediterranean.
But the interior must be one of the great theistic masterpieces of the world.
Built with the vastly accreting wealth of the Knights of St. John (Knights of Malta), everything inside the Cathedral is richly decorated. It's a sumptuous display of fine art from the great masters adorning every surface, all delineated by acres of gold filigree. The highlight is a one-off masterpiece, painted by the erratic Caravaggio, who was interned on the island as a Knight to escape his colourful history in Italy.
The interior of the church is actually the "Cathedral Museum" and it costs six Euros entry. The best part is the Caravaggio room, but unfortunately you aren't allowed to take pictures in there.
Tiny Valletta. It's the smallest capital in the EU, and at just over 6000 people it's one of the smallest in the world. It's no wonder it's small: With so many important buildings, churches, government offices, museums and shops, there's not much space left on the cramped peninsula for people to actually live on. Instead they spill out into the city's only suburb, Floriana, and all the connected small towns that make up the patchwork super city of urban Malta.
It may be small, but it is still magnificent. It draws comparisons with other great Mediterranean cities, and the likes of Benjamin Disraeli considered it an equal of Venice and Cadiz. Certainly its skyline, especially when viewed from Sliema across the harbour, is stunning, but there are many delights to discover too within its small, tight, steep streets. The highlight of all is probably the St. John's Co-Cathedral, a sumptuous palace of a church built with the overflowing coffers of the Knights of Malta.
Valletta was born of the famed Siege of Malta, one of the greatest battles in history that lasted four months and cost tens of thousands of lives. The Knights of Malta built a fortress in Birgu overlooking the Grand Harbour. When the Ottoman Turks came for Malta they laid siege to Birgu from across the harbour. This penisula, once cleared of Ottoman soldiers, was quickly converted into a new fortress city: One that would become the capital of the country.
The success of the Siege of Malta, and the fame of the Knights, brought streams of gold into the island and allowed Valletta to become one of the great cities of Europe. Despite some hideous bombing during World War 2, it retains this status of greatness in everything but size.
Floriana is both a town of its own and the suburb of Valletta. It was built as living space for Valletta, but at the last minute it was granted its own name and individual town status. It's surprisingly leafy streets feel much more relaxed than neighbouring Valletta, and has quite an English feel to it, especially the very British Wesleyan Chapel.
Perhaps the best way to experience Floriana is to take a stroll from Valletta's bus station through Maglio Gardens, and the snake your way down to the Waterfront. From here you can take the lift back up to Valletta many stories above.
Recently redeveloped, the Tigne Point area of Sliema offers a quiet, traffic free walk along the coast, with the best views of Valletta in town. This is where Sliema juts out into the rough seas of the Mediterranean, so the breezes are fresh and cool. The walk is worth coming twice a day for, and best of all its kid friendly, with high fences, stone walls, and no cars. While they demolished the old barracks to make way from the shopping centre, hotels, cinemas and recreation areas, they left Fort Tigne, which you can visit on your walk around the peninsula.
Like many Mediterranean cultures, the Maltese share a belief in the evil eye that brings bad luck upon those it gazes. One way of warding off the evil eye is by painting it onto the object you wish to protect, like your house, or in the case of the fishermen of Marsaxlokk: your boat. You'll find these traditional luzzo boats all over Malta, painted in bright blues, and striped in yellows, reds and ochres, but Marsaxlokk is one of the best places to see them. They'll often have two little eyes on the prow of the boat too.
This is Malta's most prestigious museum, and for a country with the history of Malta it's guaranteed to be interesting. Like the island, it's pretty small, but it covers a lot of ground, from the island's early inhabitants, and the mystery surrounding their disappearance, through the unheralded Phoenicians, to the Romans and Byzantines that followed them.
The highlight is probably the "sleeping lady" and the other grossly over-proportioned statues that honour Malta's first women. But the museum also shines a light on some of Malta's best archeological sights, like the Hypogeum, the temples of Ħaġar Qim, and mysterious like the ancient tracks left in the stone at Misrah Ghar il-Kbir ("Clapham Junction").
The first question I asked myself in Valletta's poignant war museum, is why on earth would the Maltese allow themselves to become a target by hosting the British navy during World War 2? The question was soon answered: Because it gave them protection from Mussolini just 50 miles north, an aggressive dictator who wanted Malta to fall under his dominion.
But it was a double edged sword for the Maltese. While they protected their freedom, they drew upon themselves the full fury of the Axis powers. Between them the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica flew 3000 bombing raids over two years of continuous bombardment. In just 12 days the Axis bombers dropped more munitions on Malta than on the entire United Kingdom at the height of the Blitz. Much of Malta, especially areas around the Grand Harbour, were devastated.
To compound the suffering, Malta's position in the centre of the Mediterranean, surrounded by enemy powers, left it vulnerable. Malta was not a self-sufficient island, and relied on imports, but the Axis powers made sure that none got through. Only emergency convoys guarded by the Royal Navy prevented starvation, and only then at great losses to ships and crew. Malta was always just a few days away from running out of supplies, and inevitably surrender.
But the Maltese held out, and to reward their bravery the country was awarded the highest military honour by the British: The George Cross. Malta is the only country where the entire population was awarded this honour. The Maltese are very proud of this award and it forms a part of their national flag.
The National War Museum is dedicated to the Malta's involvement in the two great wars, but especially to the Siege of Malta in World War 2. Here you will find exhibits like Faith, the one of the Gladiator fighter planes that defended the country in the early stages of the war, and an icon of Maltese resistance. But pride of place is the actual George Cross awarded to Malta in 1942.