Last week, Andrew and I went on an “off-season” holiday to the island of Malta. For my American readers, Malta is one of those “lesser-known” countries so here’s a bit of background about Malta.
It’s a tiny island country in the Mediterranean south of Italy and north of Libya. Despite its Mediterranean location and its proximity to Africa, they speak English. It’s actually one of Malta’s official languages, along with Maltese. It was a colony of the British Empire (1813-194), but was also ruled by the French, Spanish, Sicilians, Normans, Moors, Romans, and Phoenicians.
You might remember Malta from the Book of Acts (29:1-11).
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.
It’s also the country where the Maltese dog originated from.
You might also recognize parts of Malta from movies. It was a film location for Game of Thrones, Munich, Gladiator, Troy, Da Vinci Code, and World War Z.
For this trip, I didn’t really plan anything. First of all, there are less bloggers who visit and write about Malta so it was hard for me to do my research. Secondly, it was off-season, so most of the normal tourist experiences were not available due to the weather. Malta is known for warm weather and sunshine. Andrew and I generally travel the most during the off-season because the rates for flights and hotels are so much cheaper. Normally it’s not an issue, but we experienced crazy heavy rains and wind (we were soaked) on our last two days, which I imagine to be the same experience Paul had when he was shipwrecked in Malta. Most importantly, I just wanted to relax…so that’s what we did. We got to enjoy a resort hotel for 30€ a night including breakfast with a pool and views overlooking the Mediterranean and just chilled.
Our first tourist spot we had to visit was underneath Malta’s Wignacourt Museum in Rabat and the Collegiate Church of St. Paul. Underneath the museum is Paul’s Grotto, bomb shelters that were used during World War II, and catacombs. Tickets for entrance were 5€.
Paul’s Grotto is where Paul is said to have stayed when he was in Malta for three months. It is believed to be the place where first Christian community on the island was founded so the cave has become a pilgrimage site and place of worship.
The World War II bomb shelters were further underground. There about 50 rooms and about 350 people used to take refuge in these shelters during air raids. Each family would pay to have a room dug up for them. Some of the rooms even had tiles and painted walls. Air raids alerts were sounded often so I imagine the locals having to spend a lot of time in them. I think it’d be fun to play laser tag here.
Further below are catacombs dated from the 3rd century that provide the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Malta. We were able to walk through the catacombs during our visit.
Mdina is a city surrounded by walls that was once the island’s capital. It has been inhabited for 4,000 years. When the capital was moved in the 1500s, it became a ghost town so it’s now known as the “Silent City.” It’s still really quiet. There are signs reminding people to be quiet and only residents’ cars can enter the city walls. Inside, there are restaurants (we got gelato there!), a church, and shops. I enjoyed getting lost inside its narrow streets and couldn’t believe that people still live and work there since it felt like a living museum.
We spent a day in Valetta, the capital of Malta. The city is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. It was founded in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John as a place of refuge for soldiers returning from the Crusades. Even though it was raining the day we visited, the city was still busy. Do you notice that every building seems to be the color of sand?!
Our walks around Valletta brought us to the Lower and Upper Barakka Gardens and wonderful views of the Grand Harbour and Fort Ricasoli.
Of course we had to end the day with Nutella and mint gelato from Sottozero.
On our last day, we found Popeye’s Village in Anchor Bay. It was the film set for the Popeye (1980), but it’s now an open-air museum and theme park. Did you know that Robin Williams played Popeye in the movie?! We didn’t actually go in, but we got see really nice views of the area from across the Bay. It was raining, but in the summer, you can actually swim and dive there! Isn’t the water so clear? It’s practically the color of Listerine.
On our way back to the airport waiting for the bus, we watched the storm and waves crash. Thanks Malta. You’ve been lovely.