If you ever make it to the Maltese Archipelago, consider yourself lucky. It's a very special place, comprised of three main islands (Malta, Comino and Gozo), in the central Mediterranean, between Sicily and the North African coast. The climate is great, there's an exceptionally friendly culture and it's stunningly beautiful. Also, for its small size, it packs quite a punch with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Using my Starwood points, I was able to stay, for free, in the lovely Le Meridien hotel, which overlooks Balluta Bay in St. Julian's. The hotel staff is wonderful and St. Julian's is a lovely area of Malta (right on sea, with several good restaurants nearby). From the hotel, it is only about 30 minutes to get anywhere on the island. And, if you fancy a bit of pampering, the Myoka Spa at the hotel, is absolutely amazing and the facilities are free to hotel guests.
Some of the highlights of Malta, that should not be missed include:
Visit the Blue Grotto, near Weid iz-Zurrieg, in the south of the island. Pull over along the main road to see the cliffs and caves from above. Then, walk down to sea-level and take a boat trip through the sea caves (€8). If you're interested, visit the nearby Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples before going to the Blue Grotto (to eliminate walking up a lot of hills), but I would recommend skipping them both. They're not worth the €10 entry fee, in my opinion. The history is interesting but the temples are not that impressive now that a white dome has been constructed over them, obstructing photos and taking away from the authenticity.
Marsaxlokk is a cute little fishing village near to the Blue Grotto. Both of these places can be visted in the same day. I'd suggest visiting Marsaxlokk on a Sunday morning (before noon) to see the fish markets, grabbing a fresh seafood lunch and then taxiing/driving to the Blue Grotto. If you can't make it on a Sunday morning, it's also very pretty at sunset.
Visit Valletta, the country's capital. If you've rented a car, park in Sliema and take a water ferry over, so you can get the view of Valletta from the sea. If not, taxi or bus to Valletta and then hire a little boat to take you around the harbor. Wander around the narrow streets by foot. Visit the gardens and St. John's Co-Cathedral (which was, sadly, closed when I was there).
The ancient, walled city of Mdina is a must. Go in the late afternoon and get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets. Be sure to catch the views of Malta at sunset. It's a very small area, so you don't really need to more than an hour or so. Be sure to factor in time for a drink (or two) at Bacchus to kill some time before going to dinner at de Mondion in the Xara Palace (it doesn't open until 7:30pm Monday-Saturday). Book in advance because you do not want to miss out on this meal.
Visit Gozo by Ferry. Depart from Ċirkewwa, on a 25-minute journey through the Gozo channel. Gozo is the second largest of the Maltese islands, but is quite small. Whilst there be sure to see the Azure Window, Cittadella and the UNESCO World Heritage Ġgantija Temples (which are older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge). Do a quad tour if you're feeling adventurous.
Comino Island, which sits between Malta and Gozo, is meant to be a paradise for swimmers, snorkelers and divers alike. Unfortunately, in December, there are no boats running so I was unable to visit. I'm told that the Blue Lagoon on Comino is absolutely amazing!
The food in Malta is really fresh and delicious, although it contains quite a lot of garlic. Pasta dishes are a staple at almost any restaurant, which makes sense given Malta's proximity to Italy. You'll also find heaps of seafood options. Your trip to Malta cannot be considered complete without trying a Pastizzi (a savory pastry stuffed with either mushy peas or ricotta). The local wine is also good in Malta - Believe me, I tried a lot of it! Below are some restaurant recommendations in various areas of Malta:
Raffael, Spinola Bay, St. Julian's - Try the Crispy Spaghetti Carbonara for a new take on spaghetti. And the Mozzarella di Bufalo con Prosciutto di Parma Crocante salad is pretty much the best salad I've ever had.
Rampila, Valletta - Sit on the terrace if it's warm enough. If not the cave-like atmosphere inside is also very cute.
Barracuda, Balluta Bay, St. Julian's - Sit on the covered terrace and enjoy the waves crashing below your feet.
Ta' Frenc, Gozo - Award winning.
de Mondion in The Xara Palace, Mdina - Amazing food and spectacular views.
Known Before You Go:
The public bus system is easy enough to figure out and gets you almost anywhere you want to go. The buses are new and never seem to be too crowded. That said, our hotel offered taxis on a flat rate system, so we used that mode of transportation most of the time, purely out of laziness and convenience.
Avoid Paceville, unless you're seeking gentlemen's clubs, ice bars, very young bar goers and/or late night McDonalds.
Malta is part of the European Union and uses the Euro. Most things are pretty inexpensive, in comparison to London.
The people are incredibly friendly, helpful and wonderful - One guy even stopped his car in the middle of the road and waited for me to finish taking a picture before he carried on driving.
Tipping: 10-15% in restaurants. There's no need to tip taxi drivers unless they are helpful.
People drive like maniacs and do not appear to know how to use roundabouts. Be careful if self-driving and buckle up. Safety never takes a day off.
Malta is known for lace and glass-making. Who knew?