Holiday Diary: Malta & The Islands and Top Recommendations

Tranquil. Hot and sunny. The perfect summer getaway.

As you may have seen from my social media, I was away on holidays in Malta for a short week in mid-July with my best friend Lorna of Fashion Boss. It was a truly wonderful holiday, stress-free and just what I needed after the past few weeks. I had not been on holidays since March when I visited family in Lisbon, Portugal and as I was let go from my job two days before my birthday – this was exactly what I needed! Lorna and I decided upon this holidays back in May,  booking the flights & accommodation within days of the conversation to head away – spontaneity at its best! Neither of us had yet been to Malta, though a handful of friends, travel websites & blogs recommended it and thus we set off for our summer vacay!

Travel & Accommodation Details

We flew via Ryanair from Dublin to Luqa Airport (Dublin-Luqa 3 hours 50 mins direct; Luqa-Dublin 4 hours direct), and we stayed at Alexandra Hotel, in the Paceville area of St. Julian’s, both booked via Expedia. The flights were fine, though our return flight was delayed by 25 minutes boarding the plane. The St. Julian’s area was only a 15-20 minute taxi ride, and cost €20 from Luqa Airport, €23.50 from the hotel back (surcharge of €3.50 to the hotel). There are national buses that take you across the whole country, with tickets as cheap as €2 each route (see Malta Public Transport for more info). As English is the second language in Malta, it was very easy to get around, ask for information and interact with locals.

The Alexandra Hotel itself was impressive upon arrival; the lobby is well air-conditioned, spacious and the front of house spoke excellent English. Located on Schreiber Street, it is only a 10-minute walk from the main Spinola Bay in St. Julian’s, with many bars, cafés & restaurants and shops nearby, as well as bus routes. We had paid for the room in full beforehand (flights & accommodation combo deal via Expedia), however we had to pay a city tax of €2 per person, plus a €10 deposit for the keycard, the latter of which would be returned on check-out. As we’d arrived early in the morning, our room was not yet ready (check-in is officially 2pm, we arrived at 11.30am) but we were able to leave our luggage in a holding room. Eventually we were able to access our room, a Standard Double Room (2 single beds) on the 6th floor. It featured a small balcony with 2 outdoor chairs & mini table, a shower & WC bathroom with minimal toiletries, a desk & 2 chairs, 2 wardrobes (with only 7 hangers and only high shelf space), a fridge and two mirrors, alongside a bedside locker. There is pool access to both their indoor pool with massage and sauna rooms, and their rooftop pool from 10am-7pm, and breakfast is served daily from 7.30-10.30am. Below you’ll read the pros & cons I found of the hotel – overall our stay at Alexandra Hotel was fine though next time, I will book elsewhere.

  • The Pros: The room was clean upon arrival, and kept so by the cleaners throughout our stay, who also replaced towels daily. The room’s air conditioning worked very well, and we had zero issues with bugs. The beds were comfortable and our floor was one below the rooftop pool, and we had easy access via the staircase next to our room. As mentioned above, the location of the hotel is a short walk from the centre of the town, which is great as it made getting around very easy. Supreme Travel have an in-house representative for sightseeing tours & cruises, making plans much easier for us, and we did avail of the Gozo & Comino Blue Lagoon Sunset Cruise and the Grand Harbour Cruise tours (see below). We did avail of the rooftop pool a few of the days, which has a nice view of the sea. The pool area is large enough, though very popular with guests and can get very crowded – we found the evenings from 5pm to be less busy and more enjoyable. There is a rooftop bar too, with cheap cocktails, which is a nice touch. Though the hotel is located in Paceville, known for being a party & bar area, we never had issues with noise, and slept soundly each night. The staff was friendly and as helpful as possible.
  • The Cons: The balcony had awkward access as the door opened very closely to the bed and it also had direct view to the two neighbouring rooms/balconies (we kept our curtains closed for the majority of our stay). Of the three lights in the main bedroom, only two worked. The long mirror seemed as though it were distorted, which was awkward for using when applying makeup. As the wardrobe only had 7 hangers and only high shelf space, it was a bit awkward for Lorna and I to store our clothes, the shelves weren’t even at eye level. Use of the fridge is an extra €3.50 per day, which is a lot considering most hotels always include this (it would have cost us €14 just to use the fridge!). The shower head didn’t have great water flow, it took about 3-5 minutes to heat up, and the water drain was directly in the middle where one would usually stand when showering – not very ideal as the floor is tiled and cut possibly cut you. We did opt for the Continental Breakfast in our booking, and availed of this 3/4 mornings. However, this breakfast is nothing special; it was a standard hotel breakfast with few hot options available. There is free WiFi but it’s not great, and also paid internet access within the hotel: €3 for 90 minutes, €6 for 24 hours, €15 for 2000 minutes (1.3 days) or €30 for 6000 minutes (4.1 days). Furthermore it costs €2 per sheet to print any documents – I advise downloading the airline’s app for mobile boarding passes.

Recommendations – Sightseeing

Malta is a small island with plenty to see and much to do. Lorna and I are active gals and were very much up for the sightseeing around the island. In St. Julian’s, the main Spinola Bay allows for swimming in the waters with many spots for sunbathing, which we happily did on our last morning. The water is clean & clear, and though boats are also anchored on the bay, there are designated areas for swimming.  We also noticed a few neon Dghajsa (gondola) that took on a couple of people at a time for a unique evening ride across the bay. Restaurants are aplenty around the Spinola Bay, notably Gululu, which was voted 2017 best for Maltese cuisine. We also dined here (see below). Many cities around the world have the kitsch padlock feature, and in St. Julian’s there are two upside-down LOVE monuments to which tourists & locals have ‘locked their love’ to. If you’re Irish, or a fan of Irish pubs, then do check out the aptly named Dubliner.

Down from Spinola Bay is Balluta Bay, which also hosts clear waters for swimming and a sandy beach for sunbathing and playing. There is also a designated water football area, though this may be a private paid-for feature. Again, there are many restaurants around the bay with stunning views, including Paul’s Sea Breeze and Peperoncino, both of which we visited (see below). There is also a beautiful church worth visiting, the Knisja tal-Karmnu (Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). The walk from our hotel to Balluta Bay or vice versa was only 20 minutes.

One of the day trips I definitely recommend is to visit the Gozo & Comino Islands. As part of the Maltese archipelago, there are daily cruises that take you. As mentioned above, our hotel had an in-house representative from Supreme Travel, and we availed of the Daily Gozo & Comino Blue Lagoon Sunset Cruise. Catherine explained what we’d be doing on the day, what the price included and when to be at reception, as the coach picks us up, to bring us to Sliema Ferries, and returns us later that evening. We were collected at 9.30am from the hotel, and boarded the Geraldine, a triple-tiered cruiser that left Sliema around 10.20am. It brought us around the Northern coast of Malta, from which we had great views of St. Paul’s Islands and Mellieha, before stopping into Bugibba to collect more passengers. From there we continued towards Gozo, briefly passing by Comino.

When we arrived at Mgarr Harbour, Gozo, the double-decker tour buses (via Malta Sightseeing Tour) awaited us, though we unfortunately didn’t get a seat upstairs. Our driver on the bus was a nice guy, and tried to accommodate all the languages of his bus’ tourists, (English was channel #12). However, his female colleague who came on board to repeat what our driver had told us wasn’t as nice, but rather a little rude and brash – she also called out one tourist who had reported a complaint, then name & shamed him aloud, on the bus! Very unprofessional. We had one stop after a 10-minute drive for 10 minutes, at Belle Vedere that showcases beautiful views, and then we continued towards the capital town, Victoria (Rabat). Annoyingly, there was a couple who didn’t abide by the common courtesy of taking your original seats after the short stop, resulting in Lorna and I not having the same seats, nor seats at all or headphones-access so we had to continue the rest of the bus ride commentary-less. Upon arrival to Victoria, we were given 75 minutes to roam around, do our own thing and explore Gozo. Myself and Lorna opted for gelato from a little side street café, and wandered through more side streets and little lanes, in awe of how beautiful the buildings & structures are, and were especially in love with how quiet it was. From colourful doorways to artistic door knockers and oasis-like greenery, the design of Victoria is just beautiful. Basilica San Gorg (St. George’s Basilica) was also impressive, and the time we had to ourselves just flew by.

When we returned to the tour bus we were brought back to the harbour, to board the Geraldine again, that then took us over to the Blue Lagoon at Comino Island. As we opted for the sunset cruise we had a few hours to relax and swim in the waters, taking many fabulous photos too. When we boarded the boat one last time, we managed to get a lovely spot at the front of the boat on the top-tier, giving us a wonderful view across the seas as we set back to Sliema via Bugibba as the sun set. Our coach & driver awaited us at the ferry, and brought us back to St. Julian’s, though Lorna and I were very hungry so we went straight to the restaurant instead! Overall this Cruise Tours and Sightseeing Bus Tours were enjoyable, bar a few hiccups. We paid €45 per person, which included the coach, the cruises and an open bar. Though our tickets did not include lunch, they were still good value, and we had a whole day of fun activities!

We also opted for the Grand Harbour cruise tour, which was included within the above ticket. This tour also set off from Sliema Ferries, on a smaller and more colourful boat, which took us all around the harbours of Sliema, Floriana and Valletta. The commentary during this was done by both the skippy and on tape, though we sat on the wrong side of the boat to sync with the commentary, but it didn’t bother us too much! We learned that the Grand Harbour is the busiest harbour in the Mediterranean, while taking in the sights of historical buildings, military and passenger ships, and even discovering set locations from films Popeye and Gladiator!

When researching where to visit in Malta, the old city of L-Imdina (Mdina) was high on the list of recommendations. Mdina itself is still confined by its high city walls, giving an aura of a castle town, which was also a film location for ever popular TV series Game of Thrones. Almost hidden away in the countryside, Mdina has a wonderful view of the Maltese coast cities and the sea. Similarly to Gozo, it was a quiet city in which we enjoyed walking through and taking in the architecture, the doorways and the glass work.

Another city you must visit when in Malta is its capital, Valletta. A walled city overlooking the aforementioned Grand Harbour, there is a lot to see and do in Valetta. It’s full of shopping, with big high street stores & brands as well as little boutiques and tourist stops. But there are of course plenty of beautiful buildings and intriguing architecture, including the New Parliament Buildings that you see once you enter past the City Gate; the Pjazza Teatru Rjal (Performing Arts Theater), in which a jazz band was setting up and warming up; the 16th Century Kon-Katidral ta’ San Ġwann (St. John’s Co-Cathedral); the Misrah San Gorg (St. George’s Square) that is opposite the Palace of the Grand Master & the Palace Armoury, both of which are stunning buildings, the former also has a stunning and serene garden before its museum. Within Valetta there is of course a lot of restaurants and cafés, many with stunning views across the waters and the Grand Harbour. I recommend visiting the Upper Barrakka Gardens for a great panoramic lookout, below which are The Lascaris War Rooms, a historical museum with preserved military artefacts from the World War II–era as well as underground tunnels and canons, the latter of which we witnessed being fired for demonstration! Valletta is also the main bus terminus, from which you can hop on a bus to pretty much anywhere!

Recommendations – Dining

Well you know that with Cookie FM, many blog posts revolve around food. And my gosh was the food in Malta absolutely delicious! We were also impressed with the value for money, as portions were generous and dishes affordable, (though seafood/fish & beef dishes are more expensive), and the wine list was well priced too. Below are the details of where Lorna and I dined, the food I tried as well as the wine & cocktails.

Day 1

Upon arrival to Malta and St. Julian’s, we were early for our room to be ready so we left our luggage at the hotel and headed into the town for lunch. We stopped into Raffael, due to its good prices, variety of food and stunning views across Spinola Bay. Here I ordered the Bruschetta Maltese and we shared a ½ bottle of the Palazzo Verdala white wine. The bruschetta was quite a generous portion, three large pieces of toasted Maltese bread, topped with an array of chopped tomatoes, onions, basil, olives & Extra Virgin olive oil. Delicious, fresh and just the right first taste of Mediterranean cuisine to perk us up after our early morning flight. The panoramic views from this terrace were gorgeous too, so much so we returned for dinner another night (see below). The wine was also beautiful, refreshing and light.

Visit Raffael, 9 Triq Xatt Ta Spinola, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2135 2000

For dinner that evening, we walked down to the Balluta Bay, and nabbed a bay side table at Paul’s Seabreeze. Here the menu was plentiful, full of tasty-sounding choices. We opted for the Paul’s Sharing Platter as a starter and for my main I ordered the Grilled Tuna Steak, with a bottle of white wine between us. The starter consisted of the traditional Maltese Ġbejna cheese & Galletti water crackers, along with parma ham, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and a dressed salad. Everything on this platter was delicious, and complimented each other very well. I was very impressed by the Ġbejna cheese, creamy and full of flavour. I always get excited when ordering tuna steak, and this dish did not disappoint. A large piece of well seasoned, perfectly seared & cooked tuna, served with a portion of chips and a fresh salad. Every bite of the tuna was heavenly, and I polished off my plate without regrets. I could have eaten that plate over and over again it was that good! With a fabulous evening view across the bay, excellent service and value, Cookie FM recommends!

Visit Paul’s Seabreeze, George Borg Olivier Street, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2136 6169

We headed to Playa Del Sol for a nightcap, I ordered the Mai Tai and we enjoyed them with another bay side seat.

Day 2

When we headed to Valletta, after a long few hours of exploring, we found a little café restaurant to lunch in where we shared another traditional Maltese dish. In South Street Lounge we ordered the Braġjoli; braised traditional beef olives filled with ham, cheese, bacon, egg, tomatoes and parsley. Two pieces were served in a jus with vegetables atop, and sides of chips & coleslaw salad. On first taste it was flavoursome, however it became too much as three meats in one was a lot for me. The sides helped break through the meat overload, and though it was tasty to start, I’m not a fan. I am glad Lorna and I shared this dish though, as two pieces for one person is a tad excessive.

Visit South Street Lounge, 11 south street, Valletta, Malta // Website // Call +356 2122 7780

After our sightseeing day, we headed back to St. Julian’s to our hotel, had an evening swim and then out for dinner, returning to Raffael. On this occasion we skipped the starters and went straight for mains; I opted for the Farfalle al Salmone, as I had a sudden craving for pasta and was intrigued by the vodka ingredient of this dish. The dishes arrived in good time, and the smells from mine were beautiful. Made with smoked salmon, fresh cream, vodka, lemon zest, butter and topped with caviar, this sure was a unique and very tasty dish. The flavours really complimented one another, the salmon was fresh and well-enhanced by the lemon and caviar. It was such a comforting meal! Following on from our lunch here the day before, we had a wonderful view across Spinola Bay, enjoyed a tasty meal with the same wine as before, Palazzo Verdala, with excellent service and value for money – Cookie FM recommends!

Visit Raffael, Triq ix Xatt Ta Spinola, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2135 2000

Day 3

While in Gozo, we enjoyed delicious gelato though didn’t have a sit-down lunch. Due to this, when we arrived back to St. Julian’s we were very hungry! When researching & receiving recommendations, Gululu Kcina Maltija was added to our list of places to dine in, especially as it was voted Best Restaurant for Maltese Cuisine 2017. Funnily enough, myself and Lorna had the exact same orders (great minds think alike!) and we both opted for the Ġbejna Moqlija to start, followed by the Spaghetti biz-Zalza tal-Klamari. The starters were the traditional Maltese cheeselets but deep-fried cheese and served with a tomato chutney, candied walnuts and a rocket salad. The Ġbejna cheese was sublime. It had a peppery coating before being breadcrumb and deep-fried, that was perfectly matched by the chutney, rocket and walnuts. I could happily eat an entire plate of this deep-fried cheese! The spaghetti mains were rather interesting, and we were slightly taken aback by the calamari. Having only ever eaten calamari rings, the tentacles were a new experience for us both, but we just got on with it and ate our pasta dish – and it was delicious! The flavours of the tomatoes, the garlic and white wine with the squid go exquisitely together, and as a pasta dish it’s truly filling. This was such a satisfying meal after the long day around the islands. We had also ordered a Negroni cocktail each, a classic Maltese apéritif, alongside a bottle of the Les Tournesols Rosé D’Anjou. The rosé wine was absolutely beautiful, light and refreshing and complimented our mains very well. The standard was very high and the service in Gululu was superb, the staff was very friendly and accommodating – big shout out to our waitress Michaela! Cookie FM highly recommends!

Visit Gululu Kcina Maltija,133 Triq Spinola, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2133 3431

Day 4

For our last full day, myself and Lorna decided on a more special breakfast, especially as we weren’t impressed with our hotel offerings. Lorna had researched Riva Reno as being the best for gelato in Malta, and luckily there was a café a few minutes from our hotel. We each had a waffle & gelato; I opted for the cioccolato (chocolate) ice cream & strawberry sauce. This was just divine! Such a delicious start to the day, and filling too. The waffle was soft but had the right bite to it, the ice cream velvety and full of flavour, and the sauce brought it altogether. We didn’t have lunch, but did enjoy an iced chocolate & iced coffee in Coogi’s, Mdina, overlooking the countryside and the coast on their terrace.

Visit Coogi’s, ST. AGATHA’S ESPLANADE, MDINA, Malta // Website // Call +356 2145 9987

At the end of this day, we were again very hungry after all our exploring. My friend John had recommend Peperoncino, having visited it numerous times on his last trip to Malta, so naturally I added it to our list – and I am so happy I did! The menu was so varied, it was hard to decide on just one starter and main, but eventually I ordered the Beef Carpaccio followed by the Suckling Pig. We were offered Maltese bread and a garlic butter to start, which was a nice beginning to the meal. Beef carpaccio is one of my favourite dishes, and I don’t eat it too often so I was very excited to have this. The portion was plentiful, and as the beef is cut so thinly, it’s an extremely enjoyable dish without feeling full. The flavour alone was just fantastic, enhanced by the its own marinade and parmesan shavings. This in particular was well complimented by the red wine we ordered, a Maltese bottle of Falcon Merlot. When our mains arrived, I sure was in for a surprise. The suckling pig dish was an impressive dish; three pieces of slow roasted piglet, served with its own crackling, a side of vegetables & potatoes, and a gravy. I cannot get over how delicious this all was; the pork was succulent and full of flavour, intensified by the gravy and well-rounded by the vegetables. The crackling was especially fun and added a great texture contrast, and was also well complimented by the wine. I was truly defeated by this pig though, and couldn’t finish my dinner but I would easily come back just for this! For me, this was the standout dinner & meal while in Malta. The staff was wonderful & very accommodating, the manager even offered us a nicer table in the main dining room after our initial table on the upstairs indoor terrace, and overall the vibe within this rustic restaurant was lovely. Cookie FM highly recommends!

Visit Peperoncino, 8 Triq il-Bajja, Ballutta Bay, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2138 8872

Day 5

For our last day, we had lunch in Haze Cafe & Restaurant, a terraced restaurant overlooking St. Julian’s Bay. As I was rather hungry, I decided to order the BBQ Chicken Pizza. Though it did taste nice and was a generously sized pizza, it had a distinct creamy flavour & texture to it (perhaps the cheese used), that I wouldn’t associate with pizza, and unfortunately made it hard for me to want to finish. Lorna and I decided to end our holiday on a high with a couple of cocktails, I opted for the Mango Daquiri then the Mojito provided by Playa Del Sol, the same bar in which we had nightcaps on Day 1!

Visit Haze Cafe & Restaurant,George Borg Oliver Street, St. Julian’s, Malta // Website // Call +356 2138 9544

    

Images © Nirina Plunkett

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