Where the heart loves,
that’s where the legs walk.
– Maltese proverb
Having grown up in one, I always have a soft spot for islands. Livable size, soothing breeze, coastal trails. And island time…
After the first few days in the beautiful capital, Valletta, I head to the former capital city of Mdin before roaming around the photogenic historic Tri-Cities – Birgu, Bormla, and Senglea – chasing light. Mediterranean summer is in full swing. I make a refreshing excursion to the Blue Lagoon and exquisite Gozo island up North. Then it’s time to hug the western coast to hike along the cliffs in Dingli and enjoy a fresh seafood dinner in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Two weeks of plenty of Maltese Kinnie (a bittersweet soft drink brewed from bitter oranges and extracts of wormwood) and imqaret (a date snack), served always under the blazing sun and a gentle sea breeze… What a gem of an island!
Two days prior to arrival, I slipped and fell, fracturing my left patella/knee in Paris, and was almost grounded. Everything in Malta is a bonus. For four days, I mostly stay put, adjusting to the new normal, giving myself a little challenge every day to test my body’s limits.
Day 1: Successfully enter the pool, yeah! I still can’t bend my knee, so it is a bit of acrobatics even just to get in! It feels so good to let that injured leg – and the rest of the hyper tensed body that goes into OT mode since the accident – float! Who said that life is made of little joys?
Day 2: The enticing Maltese sun is beckoning me! Maybe I can go for a short walk… I take a deep breath – and my cane – and aim in the direction of Fort Manoel in bustling Sliema, which would normally require 20-30 min max. It ends up being a 3h round trip and my efforts are handsomely rewarded by a fabulous view of Valletta. Tourists and residents alike head to the beach, and it dawns on me then that I couldn’t even sit! (Try it now: extend your left leg, bend your good right one and sit down! Tell me if you manage to do it!) Alas, this ain’t going to be a beach holiday for me.
Day 3: My leg does not complain, and neither do I. I get bolder and sneak out for an impromptu evening date in Valletta. Oh, an enchanting evening with Maltese raviolis and head-spinning conversations. My leg stops hurting…!
Day 4: I could do (slow) laps! You are preparing for the Paralympics! my friend teases me. Mine, the body is resilient!
Enough of my “quarantine”! I install the Malta bus app, Tallinja (one of the most impressive and accessible bus system in the world!), and head out to town. Beautiful Valletta has everything that a capital city offers, plus so much more: postcard balconies, waterfront promenade, old piazzas, all the highly edible pastizzis, and Mediterranean night life where one lingers till the wee hours…
From Valletta, it is a short bus ride to the photogenic former capital, Mdina. Narrow lanes, photogenic lanterns, mesmerizing shadows… What an enchanting place! In the spirit of Monet in Gare St. Lazare and Cezanne in Mont St. Victoire, I return to the medieval city three times the same day – morning, late afternoon, after dark – chasing light!
The Tri-cities – Birgu, Senglea, and Bormla – are a real gem and are alone worth a trip to Malta. As the first home to the Knights of St. John in the 1500s, the towns pack more history and beauty than any photos can capture. My favourite is old Birgu where the light on old shops, sun washed doors, and peeling walls in the city oasis is irresistible!
The picturesque harbour inlets have been in use since Phoenician times and the palaces, forts, and bastions are straight out of a film set. And when you are tired, you can just take a dip, or hop on a ferry crisscrossing the islets all day long! The best is, of course, a sunset ride when the salty air, changing colours, and magical shadows on sailboats make it an unforgettable experience!
Most travellers visit Malta for one reason alone: sunny beaches! The famous Blue Lagoon tops it all. Then there is Gozo… Turquoise water, natural wonders, and sunsets that make you regret to leave…
Gozo remained an utterly private place, an island in petto… and lucky the man who could find the key, turn the lock, and vanish inside.
– Nicholas Monserrat
Back in the capital city, I have a reunion with Robert, a fellow traveller I met in Oman in 2017 who gave me the desire to visit his tiny, gorgeous island. Together with his girlfriend, Claudia, he drives me around the island, through country roads and hidden beaches while giving me a super concise history of Maltese politics from WWI to the Daphne murder. The assassination of journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, in 2017 put tiny Malta on international spotlight. The ongoing trial opened up more questions than answers about shady deals, offshore accounts, Panama papers, middlemen… and the ongoing power struggles between the Partit Laburista and the Partit Nazzjonalista. Arriving at the Dingli cliffs just in time for sunset before settling in the quaint fishing village, Marsaxlokk, for a long Maltese evening dinner of freshly grilled garlic octopus, washed down with many glasses of Kinnie, Robert laments about Air Malta restructuring and shares his dreams for a long journey, from Turkey to Mongolia… What a memorable soiree!
As always what interests me the most is everyday Maltese life, a certain island dolce vita that makes a visitor want to linger, and all this under an invisible virus and equally impenetrable Maltese politics…
Malta stole my heart. It’s meant to be; I shall return!