We decided on Malta after hearing about it from some co-workers. First question was where the heck is Malta? Located South of Sicily (and the toe of Italy), and north of Tunesia, Malta experiences hot and sunny weather most of the year. We wanted a warm destination for our Labor Day trip to have more beach and pool time for our two young girls and with cheap Ryanair flights we made our choice. We decided on Gozo Island, the smaller of the two main Maltese islands, as it is more spread out than the main Island and less crowded. The trip to Gozo was amazing and had too many highlights to even describe, but we will mention a few.
Some incredible features of Villa Palma were the massive entryway with stone arches and columns, three balconies, rooftop terrace, courtyard with BBQ and pool, and amazing 360 views of the island.
We enjoyed waking up to the sunrise, relaxing outside by the pool multiple times per day, cooking dinner at home, and watching the countless stars come out at night. As a bonus we were able to see the Fireworks display from three miles away at Xaghra the days leading up to September 8th. That day is a special one in Maltese history, being a religious festival of the birth of Mary, the day the siege of 1565 ended, and the day on which the Italian Army was defeated by the British in WWII.
Gozo has been inhabited for thousands of years, and we saw evidence of this by visiting the Ggantija Temples. The UNESCO site was well worth the visit and takes you through both a museum and into the ancient temples themselves. The oldest part of the temples dates back to 3600 BC, over 5600 years ago!
A feature of Gozo that is impossible to miss are the many Churches on the Island. Each town has at least one, and these are visible for miles away. The largest of which is the rotunda of St. John the Baptist in Xewkija. Completed in 1978 on the grounds of the previous church, it is now the second largest unsupported dome in Europe after St. Peters in Rome. We did a quick tour of the church which includes a museum and observation deck with some great views! Each church is uniquely different and is the centerpiece of the town.
This incredible natural limestone arch was breathtaking and we visited twice to get different perspectives and pictures. There is parking close by and countless hiking and viewing options for the Azure window, fungus rock and the surrounding cliffs and sea. This area was filmed for several movie and TV shows including Game of Thrones. We also had a wonderful dinner at the Azure window restaurant which was surprisingly not touristy, had great and friendly service, and delicious food.
This lovely little inlet can get quite crowded, as we found out during lunch on Sunday, but otherwise is an ideal spot for great food, activities, and views. There are several restaurants lining the U-shaped inlet including a nice little spot, Churchill’s, that we had lunch at while watching the inlet. We saw several types of fish and even a jellyfish! There is some shopping in Xlendi also, mostly trinkets from the area and beach supplies. The main shopping areas on the Island are on the main street just east of Victoria. We went for a nice walk around the harbor also and got some great pictures.
Our trip highlight, by far, was our boat tour of the southern and eastern part of Gozo. We rented a private boat with driver for a very affordable price and saw so many amazing sights during the two hours. First of all, the water around Malta, Gozo, and Comino is some of the bluest you will ever see. You can’t see this in the deep spots but when you approach the coastline, any shallow water, or caves, it turns a bright blue. The coastline southern Gozo is all massive cliffs, some as high as 470 feet at Ta Cenc, and this was incredible to see from the water (note – I also saw these running as well and the view is scary to say the least!). The boat trip took us through several caves where the driver pointed out coral just below the water surface. We went into the inlet at Mgarr Ix-Xini, where the film By the Sea starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt was filmed. Better to visit this by boat as we read the roads down to the Inlet were terrible (as were many roads in Gozo!) We traveled passed Mgarr where the Gozo ferry line lands dozens of times per day, as the standard means on and off the island. Our driver pointed out Fort Chambray on the hill over Mgarr which was an important means of protection throughout history. Finally we approached Comino Island, the smallest of the three Malta Islands, and home of the Blue Lagoon beach area. The water was incredible to see! The crowds not so much and we were much happier on the boat instead of having to navigate through hundreds of young beach goers all competing for sunbathing space on the rocks.
Driving in Gozo
Driving is more than a little challenging in Gozo. The roads are terrible, you drive on the left, GPS/Google Maps/Apple Maps don’t work well, there are tiny streets and several one ways, some streets are under construction and not marked well, and there is this island mentality to slow down (note: speed kills signs were everywhere…really?) while competing with the locals and tourists trying to get to places efficiently. Not much more to say other than it was quite an adventure! By day 3 we were pretty used to it and it helped that the furthest point to drive was only 20 minutes away, so eventually you learn the best ways to go.
Beautiful red sand beach area on the northern coast. We visited one morning to walk the beach and take pictures. Parking at 0930 was easy and close, though imagining it fill up during peak times would make for a parking and traffic nightmare (one way in and out). Our 3 year old loved the red sand and walking in the water!
In summary, we would highly recommend Malta as a travel destination, even for families. The people were very friendly and English is spoken literally everywhere, making it much easier than some of our prior destinations. We certainly recommend staying in a Farmhouse as this gives you nice amenities at a great value. We hope to be back someday!