Full disclosure: I adore Malta.
My other half has his family roots there and although he’s never lived on the island full time it has been a constant comfort throughout his life. I can visibly see him brighten as soon as we step off the plane. A homecoming can be a tranformative thing and although I can still count my visits to the rock on one hand, I have very much fallen for it.
From the moment I step onto Maltese soil and raise my face to the sun, there is something that settles on the shoulders and yet lightens, as if the rays of sunshine physically force off the grime and grit that build up in everyday life. Time slows, all urgency drains out, loosening muscles and tingling the skin. You might say that any Mediterranean island or holiday in the sun will do that for you, but for me, it’s Malta.
The rock and I have a real thing going on, this is much more than some holiday romance.
Ten reasons to fall in love with Malta:
- The history. Malta may be a small island but it is steeped in history – the site of St Paul’s shipwreck, the home of pygmy elephants and hippos during the Ice Age, bombed more times than London during the second World War, there’s a lot to be discovered within the shores of this small Mediterranean island and beyond.
- But don’t expect the full British Museum experience… Maltese historians have a more relaxed approach to neolithic exhibits and world war relics. It’s not uncommon to come across a museum exhibit with the simple, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin narrative “Rocks”or to discover, as we did at Tarxien Temples, that the oldest neolithic structures on the island, have been adopted by a clan of the island’s famous stray cats. Personally, I find it charming but I expect that my mother, a history teacher and onetime archaeologist, would shudder at the laissez faire approach of the Maltese.
- And it is that very laissez faire attitude that makes the Maltese so endearing. Perfectionists have no place on this sun soaked rock. Relax, things will take care of themselves. Why worry? If it’s broke, we’ll fix it, if it still doesn’t work, mella*, it’s fine.
- The Maltese don’t answer questions. They tell you a story. I’ve been privileged to see the Maltese way of life up close, I’ve heard families talk to each other, listened to old friends catch up and even when I can’t understand the language, the storytelling, the patter of speech, it’s a pleasure to listen to. There’s a warmness to the Maltese people that welcomes you into their home and will feed you beyond belief, but does not extend any overly-spurious courtesy. You are welcomed and then you are at home and treated as such. They have a charming familiarity that never looks up or down on anyone, but eye to eye with respect and kindness. The Maltese love to say no, you will never hear it alone, le le le rolls off the tongue while yes, iva is pronounced firmly and with real gut, because you will only hear it uttered the once and with purpose.
- Pastizzi. I mean, my god. Beautifully flaky pastry. Delicately rich ricotta cheese. And only 30 cents a pop. I could live off these and Cisk Lemons for the rest of my life and happily expand to the size of a house.
- The food really is something that has to be seen to be believed. The national cuisine has its roots in fuelling agricultural workers and as such, it is gloriously carb-heavy. Timpana, for example, is essentially a pasta bake pie. Order with caution and perhaps with a few friends to share. But there are so many dishes that really shouldn’t be missed – Ross il Forn is like a rice lasagne; rabbit is a Maltese speciality; ricotta cannot be avoided and is an acceptable addition to every meal (ricotta triffle – I kid you not); and Twistees!
- A bag of Twistees, a kind of baked crisp, usually comes hand in hand with a can of Kinnie as far as my other half is concerned. Kinnie, a bitter orange soft drink, is like life’s sweet elixier to DH. As for me… I prefer Cisk, the local beer. In particular, Cisk Lemon which is practically a breakfast beer it’s so refreshing.
- After several visits to the island my Liverpool home boasts a whole host of Malta’s beautiful crafts – Mdina glass elephants and bonbon jars, a beautifully delicate Maltese cross chain, illustrated cityscapes, and snaps of those things which you can’t quite fit in a suitcase like the churches, the luzzo boats.
- The Mediterranean. I do love to be beside the seaside. Personally I find being by the sea is the most invigorating experience which never fails to blow my cobwebs off. While my Irish blood is more accustomed to the chill of the wild Atlantic, I can certainly appreciate the azure depths of the Med. In parts the crystal clear water invites you in, even in the bite of January. When the weather does stir up a storm, the power and intensity of the waves that batter the salt pools, cliffs and natural arches along the coast are glorious to behold.
- The sheer breathtaking beauty. From the sandstone city streets of Valletta to the natural brilliance of the Azure Window on Gozo, there is so much diversity to be found in this little island. On this winter visit I saw a new greenness to Malta which was a shock but a welcome one. The churches, the bays, the snapshots of life caught in between, the riot of colour that cascades from overhanging plants, the stillness of the evening along the waterfront, the awe inspiring crags of cliffs that roll into the sea. Expect everything.
*mella is one of the most commonly said Maltese words, I’m told it’s an all-encompassing term like ‘Ok’ and it’s meaning relies heavily on the tone and stress with which it is spoken. As someone who doesn’t speak Maltese I’ve gathered that mella is a perfectly acceptable reply to pretty much anything asked.