Thursday, 25 February 2016

Malta – A church for every day of the year

February 13-21

Hello everyone!

As I mentioned in my last blog, Malta is a tourist hotspot in the summer months. However, there are many reasons to visit this small country even when the sun isn’t strong enough to burn you to a crisp.




If you like history…
The main islands of Malta and Gozo are home to some of the oldest temples in the world, some of which pre-date the pyramids of Ancient Egypt by over 1000 years. The most famous is the Hypogeum. The government restrict visitor numbers to preserve the temple so only 80 people can visit per day. I wholeheartedly support the idea, even if it meant that it wasn’t possible for us to visit. On Gozo, the Ggantija temple complex dates from a similar era.

Entrance of the Ggantija complex, Gozo
Forts and towers are numerous and often dominate a village or vista. The Red Tower in Gozo, whose colour has faded in the 300 days of sunshine Malta claims to receive each year, is particularly striking. We enjoyed visiting it mainly because we found a geocache in its surrounding wall.

The Red Tower, northern Malta

Our geocache found at the Red Tower
  
The Cottonera (Three Cities) are a short boat ride from Valletta, the capital. The journey itself actually gives great views of both sides, as well as allowing one’s imagination to drift to how the various invading armadas must have felt when approaching this strategically important landmass. Admittedly, the modern Maltese Falcon wasn’t around when the Ottomans, Napoleon and co. were leading their respective charges. Having seen this behemoth of a boat up close, I can imagine it would have scared prospective invaders away.

Boats docked in Birgu, one of the Three Cities known as the Cottonera

A view of Birgu, one of the Three Cities known as the Cottonera

The Maltese Falcon
  
What wouldn’t have given these invaders the heebie-jeebies is the Great Wall of Malta, a not-so-great-in-any-respect stone wall which zig-zags across much of the main island. Makes for a nice walk, though.






If you like buildings…
Look, more forts!

The fort at Mdina, one of Malta's first capitals

Malta’s history is often linked to the Knights Hospitaller, a Western Christian military order which operated in Malta for much of the Middle Age period. Their religion of choice is omnipresent on the islands in the form of numerous cathedrals, basilicas and chapels. On the plane to Malta, a man told me that ‘Malta has a church for every day of the year.’ I can certainly attest to that.

A religious complex near Mellieha, Malta
  
A small chapel near Dingli, Malta
  
If you like being in nature…
Malta’s islands are small yet are home to many excellent hikes and walks. The main hike we undertook initially led us from Gozo’s largest town of Victoria to the southwest of the island, before moving along the cliffs on the western side of the island.

A vegetable patch in Gozo

Gozo's stunning coastline
  
The west of Gozo is home to Malta’s most spectacular sight: the Azure Window. We got an idea of how the rock has been eroded so spectacularly as the wind was blowing a gale, resulting in the waves crashing onto the land with brutal force. Walking along the cliffs was quite a challenge.

The Azure Window, Gozo

Crashing waves on Gozo's western shoreline
  
If you like the sea…
With the wind whipping across the island and temperatures hovering bellow the twenties, entering the sea would be brave/foolish/plain stupid (delete as appropriate). I took the plunge on one of the calmer mornings, as you’ll see below. Having tunnel vision for only the sea, I didn’t spot that the golden sands quickly turned into rock…

video


The beaches are lovely and were incredibly quiet, possibly owing to the fact that natives feel that this weather is fairly chilly.

Golden Bay beach, Malta

Ramla Bay beach, Gozo
  
If you like food and drink…
There are local vineyards in Malta and the wine is fairly quaffable. Unlike the beer, which was pretty ordinary.

A taverna selling Malta's national dish

We didn’t sample the local delicacy of rabbit as restaurants were fairly expensive. We did try some traditional desserts, with our favourite being kwarezimal, a chewy cake eaten during the period of Lent.

Kwarezimal

Malta is a lovely place to visit. As I’ve mentioned before, it is probably an entirely different beast in the summer when millions flock to its sandy beaches. Malta Island has been affected by tourism much more than Gozo, resulting in us preferring the smaller landmass. Both are pleasant destinations where one’s sense of adventure can certainly be satisfied.





Love you all


Matt

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