5 Reasons Why Malta is Marvelous in the Off-Season

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Malta Island Europe Valletta

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Pinterest Note: Hi there! If you found this post through Pinterest, my apologies that an account called “Curiogo” has linked a random photo of Thailand to my post on Malta. (Why do people do these things? Sigh.) I have asked them to remove it and I have reported it to Pinterest. And yet, it remains. But still, I’m happy you’ve found my site. And if you want actual information on Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands (pictured in the image), I’ve got that, too!

Read More: 5 Dreamy Day Trips from Krabi that Prove Thailand is Drop Dead Gorgeous

But for now, let’s talk about Malta. Because it’s pretty darn dreamy, too!

It’s inevitable that in the course of my annual January round-the-world trips, I will sometimes be visiting a destination in its off-season.

This is especially true since I always include at least one European stop on the itinerary. I mean, you can’t just skip over an entire continent.

It’s simply not practical.

I learned my lesson the hard way with an ill-advised frigid stop in Berlin on Round-the-World #1. Since then, I have become much smarter about my choice of January European destinations.

On Round-the-World #2Round the World #6, I chose Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, and the Amalfi Coast for my European stops. Without exception, I found them all to be delightful – with mild weather and without the hordes of summer tourists.

As it turns out, an off-season visit is rarely detrimental to my enjoyment of a country. In fact, in many cases, I prefer it to high season visits I’ve made later (Croatia and the Amalfi Coast are two perfect examples).

Read More: In Dubrovnik Summer Sizzles but Winter is Wiser

Read More: The Best of the Amalfi Coast Italy in 4 Amazingly Affordable Days

So this year, for Round the World #7, the island nation of Malta is on deck for an off-season visit. And I have a feeling this popular Mediterranean holiday spot will not disappoint.

Malta in the off season
Planning a trip to Malta? Pin it!

Is Malta part of Italy?

With over 7,000 years of history, the culturally-rich Maltese Islands are literally saturated with attractions and places of interest.

Made up of three main islands – Malta, Gozo, and Comino – the islands lay virtually in the center of the Mediterranean, about 60 miles south of Sicily and 140 miles north of Africa.

Despite their close proximity to Sicily, Malta is no mere Italian outpost.

In fact, Northern African and Arabic influences are much more prominent than Italian. This is true in the architecture and in the local language which is Semitic in origin.

Which Maltese island to choose?

Each of the three islands has its own unique charm. So which should you include in your visit? Here’s a brief summary of each:

  1. Malta – By far the largest of the three Maltese islands, Malta is home to the capital city of Valletta and most of the nation’s population. It also has the vast majority of hotel options so it makes the most sense as a home base.
  2. Gozo – Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Malta, Gozo is home to numerous towns and villages boasting Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque architecture. It’s also known for its clear waters and lovely beaches. If you’re looking for a peaceful, quiet holiday, Gozo is a terrific choice.
  3. Comino – The smallest of the islands, Comino is largely uninhabited. However, in the summer months, visitors flock to the island’s stunning blue lagoon on daily boat trips.

Arrival in Malta

I land in Valletta at 1:00pm on a Thursday afternoon after a 48-hour travel odyssey from my last stop on Easter Island (involving 3 connections and 2 nights spent on airplanes).

Read More: The Mystery of Easter Island

My first surprise on arrival in Malta is how inexpensive it is to get to my hotel.

Despite the fact that my hotel is about 30 minutes from the airport, the ride only costs me EUR 8. In other news, the sun is shining, it’s about 60 degrees and I’m greeted at the hotel with an upgrade to a suite.

I think I’m going to like it here.

Which brings me to…

Reason #1 to visit Malta in the off-season:

It’s not cold!

Especially compared to the rest of Europe in January.

My hotel of choice for Malta is the fabulous Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa.

Le Meridien St. Julians Valletta Malta
The beautiful view of St. Julian’s from my room

The St. Julian’s neighborhood is considered the prime resort area on the island. Most of Malta’s high-end resort hotels and casinos are located here. The area is dotted with shops, restaurants, bars, and miles of oceanfront boardwalks.

And the best part? I snagged a room at this posh hotel for less than half the price of their high season rates.

And yes, that is…

Reason #2 to visit Malta during the off-season:

Hotel rates are a steal!

Not to mention the increased odds to score an upgrade.

As excited as I am to finally be in Malta, I’ve been up for 51 hours straight (a new record for me). So after a stroll around St. Julian’s and an early dinner, I’m out cold in my fancy suite by 8:00pm.

Luckily, I still have 5 more days to explore all of the Maltese Islands.

Exploring Valletta

After a rejuvenating night of sleep, I awoke this morning ready to play tourist.

For my first full day, I’m starting with a visit to the capital city of Valletta.

My hotel advises that I can take a taxi for about EUR 8 or take the convenient bus located right outside the front door for just EUR 2. I look at my map and realize Valletta is only about 5 miles away via scenic waterfront paths.

So I decide to make a day of it and just walk. It’s exercise and sightseeing in one!

Valletta Malta
The view along my walk to Valletta, Malta

It’s a bit chilly (low 60’s F) as I set out, but the sun is shining and it’s perfect weather for a long walk. I walk the whole way along the sea and see every inch of the magnificent Grand Harbour that surrounds Valletta.

It’s a terrific way to start the day!

Ninety minutes later, I arrive at the fortified walls of Valletta. The city of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the world’s few surviving inhabited walled cities.

Valletta Malta
The fortified city of Valletta

Valletta’s narrow streets are adorned with beautiful Baroque buildings and churches. From the bastions of the city walls, the panoramic views over the harbour and across the island are amazing.

After a stop for lunch at a café in Valletta, I take a water taxi back across the harbor for a different view of the city before continuing my walk back to St. Julian’s.

It’s a perfect winter day in Malta.

Spa Day in Malta!

This morning I awoke to a decidedly gloomy day outside my window. It’s overcast and much cooler, and the forecast isn’t encouraging.

Time to pivot.

I still have several more days on the island, so I don’t feel my usual need to rush out and see everything, weather be damned.

Instead, I pick up the spa menu in my room and start planning my day. One of the wonderful things about the off-season is that you can decide on a whim to spend a day at the spa and they can actually work you in. (I get the impression that’s nearly impossible in the summer.)

The winter prices are so good I decide to splurge on a package that includes a massage, scrub, wrap, facial, and manicure. All for the very reasonable price of 150 euro.

Which brings me to:

Reason #3 to visit Malta during the off-season:

Spa deals aplenty and appointments available all day, every day!

It’s a terrific way to spend the day and by the end of it, I am relaxed to within an inch of consciousness.

A Day Trip to the Island of Gozo

The weather isn’t much better when I awake on Day 4. But at this point, it’s time to get down to business.

I really want to visit the neighboring island of Gozo and I only have two full days left to do it. So, I chose to ignore the weather and book the ferry.

In Malta, one of the most popular ways to see the islands is via the “hop-on, hop-off” open-top buses. Now, I’m not normally a fan of anything involving the word “bus” when I travel. But I’ve seen them all over the island and my concierge recommended the company, so I decide to give it a shot.

There are specific buses that work the island of Gozo and they run regularly to all the various attractions on the island.

The first thing I discover when I board the bus was that there is no way to visit all the stops in one day. In order to catch the last ferry back to Malta tonight, I will need to pick and choose.

So, for the first few stops, I remain on the bus. When we arrive at the Ggantija Temples, I opt to get off and check out the temple regarded as the oldest free-standing structure in the world. It’s yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and I’m a sucker for World Heritage Sites.

The temple is interesting, but it’s also very small. So I’ve seen all there is to see in about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the next bus isn’t coming by for another 30 minutes. And that’s when I remember why I don’t like bus tours.

Upgrading to a private tour of Gozo

As I’m standing at the bus stop contemplating my next move, I’m approached by a very nice taxi driver. He’s in the process of giving an island tour to two girls from Italy who are currently inside touring the temple.

He has one seat left in his taxi and he’s clearly looking to fill it.

He offers me the chance to join their tour for just EUR 10 (which is about what I spent on the bus). After the tour, he’ll even drop me back at the ferry.

They are planning to hit all of the places I want to go and the girls are not opposed to a third, so I happily join them. After all, it’s basically a private tour of the island for just EUR 10 and too good to pass up.

Over the next few hours, we visit everything on my wish list and even a few spots I didn’t realize I wanted to see. Our driver, Joe, is a charming character and provides plenty of information along the way. It’s far more personal than a bus tour!

Ramla Bay Gozo Malta
Ramla Bay, Gozo

We visit a local fishing village, the red-sand beach of Ramla Bay, and the Ta’ Pino Sanctuary (which is believed to have miraculous healing powers).

Then we stop at the most famous attraction on Gozo, the natural rock formation known as the “Azure Window.” (2017 Update: Sadly, the Azure Window collapsed into the sea during a storm on March 8, 2017.)

Azure Window Gozo Malta
The Azure Window – Gozo, Malta

It’s an excellent day despite the less than ideal weather conditions. In winter, you win some, you lose some.

A Driving Tour of Malta

For my last day on the island, I decided to rent a car to get out of town and explore the countryside of the main island of Malta.

Traffic on the island is pretty intense. The lack of road signs makes navigation difficult and they drive on the left here, so it’s a bit of a challenge.

But I do love a challenge!

Reason #4 to visit Malta in the off-season:

Plenty of rental cars available on a whim and less road traffic to deal with!

My plan for the day is to visit the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk, which I flew over on the flight in. Then the Mdina in the center of the island, the Blue Grotto on the southwest coast and – just for kicks – the Popeye Village.

Yes, the actual Popeye Village where they filmed the 1980 musical starring Robin Williams.

Malta’s Luzzu Boats

I set off from St. Julian’s and hit the road.

The fishing village of Marsaxlokk is really beautiful. I just love all of the colorful luzzu boats.

Luzzu boats Malta
Luzzu boat, Marsaxlokk

The boats are derived from Phoenician vessels and are painted in vibrant hues of blue, red, yellow and green. They look a bit like a floating box of crayons.

The most distinguishing feature of the luzzo boat is the eyes carved into each side of the bow. These are known as the “Eyes of Osiris.” Osiris was the god of fertility and of the dead.

Luzzu Boats Malta
The “Eyes of Osiris” stare out from a luzzu in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk

Maltese fishermen believe that the eyes of Osiris ward off evil spirits and keep them safe from the dangers of the sea. Every year in the spring, before the fishermen put their boats in the water for summer, they paint the eyes afresh to give them maximum protection.

The Blue Grotto

From Marsaxlokk, I make my way along the coast and stop at the Blue Grotto.

Like the Azure Window on Gozo yesterday, it is a little more grey than blue on a day like today, but impressive nonetheless.

Blue Grotto Malta
The Blue Grotto

From there I work my way back inland to Mdina, the old capital of Malta with origins tracing back to 1500BC.

Like Valletta, the streets of this fortified city are lined with palaces on narrow shady streets. Both Medieval and Baroque architecture feature prominently in the design and Mdina is one of the finest examples of an ancient walled city in all of Europe.

Malta’s Popeye Village

After leaving Mdina and being quite impressed with my navigational abilities thus far, it’s time to seek out my last stop for the day, the Popeye Village.

Starring Robin Williams as Popeye and Shelly Duval as Olive Oyl, the mythical village of “Sweethaven” was created in Anchor Bay in the latter half of 1979 for the filming of the 1980 musical production, Popeye.

Tree trunk logs were shipped in from Holland and wood shingles used in the construction of the rooftops were imported all the way from Canada.

Construction of the authentic wooden village took an international crew of 165 people 7 months to complete. Filming commenced on January 23, 1980, and wrapped later that year on June 19th.

Popeye Village Malta
Popeye Village on the island of Malta

Today, the Popeye Village is one of Malta’s top family-friendly attractions. During the summer season, there are Popeye-themed boat trips as well as games and water sports on the village beach.

It’s possible to walk right along the cliffside and get a perfect view of the village so that’s what I do. It’s such an odd contrast to see something that looks like a shiny, new Disney set on an island where everything is so ancient.

But the village is seriously adorable. I bet it’s crawling with kids and families on the average summer day.

With my island tour complete, I head back to town and return my car. Over dinner along the water in St. Julian’s, I ponder what it would be like to visit Malta in the summer.

Reason #5 to visit Malta in the off-season is probably the #1 reason for me:

The lack of crowds.

I just love to visit a place and feel like I’m the only tourist around. And that’s pretty much how I felt during my entire visit.

Though, I do admit it would be amazing to actually be able to get into that beautiful azure water. But considering the trade-off is bigger crowds and higher prices, I think an off-season visit was just the thing for me.

Thank you Malta and the Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa for an incredible week.

Up next, another island in a different ocean, next stop Mauritius!

4 Comments

  1. Wow these pics are amazing… Gives us thought how much beauty there is in the world 🙂

  2. Wow! Your visit to Malta sounds amazing … the beauty, rich history of the area AND Spa Day!! 🙂

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