4 days in Malta
Persuading me to book a holiday really doesn’t require very much persuading at all. So when asked by my tubby friend, Andrew, if I would like to join him and a friend for a few days in Malta, I couldn’t say no. Just 15 days before travelling, I booked up.
I am a bit of a travel snob. I do fly economy everywhere I go since I cannot afford anything better, but I do not fly low cost, so I had few options for getting to Malta. With few scheduled airlines flying direct from the the UK to Malta (three, in fact), there were not an infinite number of choices. Not wanting to pay to check in a suitcase nor for a bite to eat and drink on the three hour flight, I went ahead and booked Air Malta, flying from Heathrow. A last minute fare of £181 was to be expected, but with Easyjet topping £200, I wasn’t disappointed with the value for money.
Setting off on Bank Holiday Monday, 6 May, my 8.30pm flight was due to arrive in Malta at 12.40am. I killed a bit of time in Costa at terminal four, where a small bottle of sparkling water, a cheese and ham panini and the tiniest slice of carrot cake set me back £8. I have no idea what attracts people to these scandalously priced establishments. Whether at an airport or on the high street, such places are always packed, yet the value for money is absolutely appalling!
The very punctual Air Malta got us away on time and soon served a meal. The meal, consisting of a roast chicken breast, mashed potato, peas and carrots, wasn’t the nicest. Juices from the chicken had leaked into the dish and the vegetables were floating, but it was still a full blown meal. I was expecting a complimentary sandwich or wrap, not a hot meal and a slice of coconut cake. The slightly greasy looking staff were attentive for the first hour of the trip but then disappeared – and weren’t seen again until the end of the flight.
Andrew had hoped to meet me in the airport arrivals hall but the early arrival of the flight meant that he couldn’t. He and his friend, Richard, had spent a lot of time making a billboard with my name on it – which actually read ‘Chubby B’Stard’ (it apparently sounded like a believable exotic name by omitting the ‘a’). Instead, the sign was handed to me in the car.
The next four nights would be spent in Bugibba at the 3* Coral Hotel (click for my Trip Advisor review), which was adequate for the stay. Although basic, it was very cheap with my room costing around £16.50 a night, a complimentary cooked breakfast was served each morning and most importantly, it was clean! It was our intention to stay at Blue Sea St George’s Park & La Vallette Resort but the reviews were appalling and many guests complained that the hotel was extremely dirty. For me, it wasn’t an option.
My room on the third floor offered a really disappointing view. It looked out onto a brick wall and it saw nothing in the way of sunshine, but it was perfectly adequate for the four night stay. Time spent in the room was to be minimal since a hire car meant that we could go out and explore by day and night. When in the room, the 14″ television in the corner provided me with sufficient entertainment, but there was not a vast selection of English language channels. BBC World News was my channel of choice for this trip.
Breakfast was acceptable given the price paid. The food was of a good quality and although the bacon was of the nasty streaky variety, the sausages tasted similar to those from home. The baked beans and fried eggs suggested that breakfast was geared more towards British visitors, hoards of which visited at a time. The dining room was full of visitors well into their 60s and 70s on most mornings.
Bugibba was quiet, with plenty of choices for eating and some opportunities for shopping, so it made for a nice base.
On our first day out, we visited the Ta ‘Qali crafts village, which was built on the site of a former World War II airfield. Many of the crafts were made in the village but the prices seemed ridiculously high, so I decided against any purchases. Although it was nice to see various glass objects being made by hand, the €50+ price tags for such ordinary objects seemed unjust. Cost of materials aside, workers in the factory were knocking these items out in 5-10 minutes. Items not considered to be of a perfect quality could be purchased from a discount store next door. The prices were significantly lower but the items on sale were only fit for the bin.
Leaving the crafts village, we set off for the ‘silent city’ of Mdina. Despite its population of around 300, this walled town is far from silent. Still, it was nice to see and exploring the narrow streets was actually quite fun. The highlight of the trip was the food at the Fontanella Tea Garden. Slightly elevated and offering great views across the island, it was great place to enjoy lunch (and cake). My baguette was followed by a generous helping of the most amazing chocolate orange cake, filled with fresh cream. On the whole, desserts in Malta were really quite special.
One of the most amazing sights whilst in Malta (excluding the frankly embarrassing Popeye Village) was the brilliantly clear Mediterranean Sea. In some spots, it was better than others, and it looked really quite inviting. I wanted to jump from a cliff one day into water where you could easily see right to the bottom. Paddling my feet a few days later, I was glad I didn’t since it was a bit chilly!
The Gozo Channel Line ferry was a quick and affordable route to the island of Gozo, situated to the north of the mainland, where we spent another day. The island was very similar to Malta, although with lots more rural spots and a larger proportion of churches. The island also boasted another one of those ghastly craft villages. The village was again pretty awful with the same overpriced tat on sale but it did offer free WiFi, so it was a perfect opportunity to catch up on emails and the goings-on back at home.
After another tasty lunch, we took the ferry back to the mainland headed back to the hotel, where we took advantage of the rooftop swimming pool for the first (and only) time. Although it was another wonderfully warm day, I could last only 10 minutes or so in the ice cold water, and decided to go and stand in the poolside shower, which conveniently offered hot water too. I stayed there for about 15 minutes!
With the short trip already nearing an end, we spent a whole day in Sliema and Valletta – Malta’s capital city and the European city of culture for 2018. We purchased tickets for a 90-minute Captain Morgan sightseeing cruise and sailed around the harbour, seeing boats of varying shapes and sizes, an oil rig which had been brought in for maintenance and the elevated city of Valletta. At €15 a ticket, it was good value, but I thought the staff were a little cheeky rattling their bucket for tips when disembarking.
After a bite to eat back in Sliema, we boarded a ferry for the 5-minute crossing to Valletta, hoping to return again later in the day. But without checking the winter schedule (yes, winter in May), we did not know that the last boat back again was a little after 5.00pm. But we weren’t stranded since Valletta is well served by buses. It’s just not the most exciting – nor comfortable – way to travel though.
On the last morning, I packed and unpacked my suitcase about six times. I hadn’t bought anything to take home, yet I just could not make everything fit. It was like playing a game of Tetris but failing miserably every time!
Before setting off for the airport, we stopped off at the not very fun Playmobil Fun Park, which is really just an eerily quiet shop and café in the middle of an industrial estate – and only minutes from the airport. From there, it was off to the Blue Grotto; a handful of sea caves, which can be toured by boat. Despite not taking the boat tour, it did look like a lot of fun and the online reviews suggest that it is a worthwhile attraction – if not a little short. When inside the dark caves, the water is apparently lit by the sun.
For our last lunch in Malta, our attention was caught by a man employed to yell “restaurant on the roof” at passers by, so we decided to give it a go. The food was again really good value, if not a little ordinary, but the views were good.
Back at the airport and looking a little red, my trip was unfortunately at an end. I set off home, a little sad that my third trip of the year was over.