Malta is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it

As this is my fourth visit to Malta and Gozo you may have guessed I am partial to a little Marmite! Malta is a wonderful mixture of history, culture and of course the ‘tea like Mother makes’ English bars in certain areas. 

Radisson Blu Resort, Golden Sands, MaltaOur visit this time was to the beautiful area of Golden Sands to the Radisson Blu Hotel. This five-star hotel is set on a stunning headland overlooking this beautiful beach. The main reception area is what you would expect from Radisson Blu – grand and luxurious. A welcome drink was offered as we sorted out our room booking with a calm and efficient staff. Henri the concierge is a mine of information and will keep you amused with his take on life.  If you need anything, ask Henri.  

Our suite was on the 4th floor and had a sea view, which is certainly worth the extra cost. The room had excellent facilities including a small cooking area and a fridge, so if you wished to do self-catering then this was certainly possible, but the hotel had an Italian restaurant and Flavours which doubled up as a breakfast venue then in the evening a carvery which had ‘themed’ food nights’. The hotel is made up of three buildings that are linked by corridors and lifts and is disabled friendly.  

The Spa and indoor pool area are excellent and many Maltese people come just for the weekend to enjoy the Spa facilities. The swimming pool is the longest in Malta and has plenty of sunbeds, but not as many sunshades as I would like. The steps down to the beach can be difficult for some people, but a lift is available from the main building of the hotel. A private area has been marked out for the hotel guests only and there are lots of sunbeds and shades available, an adults’ area has been created and sunbeds are at a premium but very good with shades over the chairs and the waiter from the Beach Bar is only a bell push away on your table or chair; a very nice touch indeed. 

Our hotel balconyThe hotel is on the north-west side of Malta and there are no villages in the area to walk to, the nearest being about two kilometres away. The hotel has an independent mini coach service which goes to various places around the island, and the local bus stops down the road from the hotel for you to visit places independently. I would recommend a hire car or taxi as this gives you a quicker, more flexible mode of travel. We hired a car and the cost was approximately £50 per day. Malta isn’t a big island and places are easily navigated to, but if you haven’t got satnav then a very good map is required. The Maltese are not very big on road signs, and it can at times be quite confusing. 

We did ‘chill’ out for the first few days, but then the urge to see this lovely island took over. We booked a trip to Sliema via the independent tour operator in the hotel and for a cost of £10 return we had a mini bus ride to Sliema. Sliema has a lovely harbour with many boat trip operators wanting you to go with them to have a harbour cruise. We didn’t have too much time, so we opted to catch the local bus to Valletta. Maltese buses are an experience of their own with people squashed together to reach their destination and no one seems to mind the crush or the body odour; they just keep moving up the bus. The famous ‘old’ style buses are still seen around Malta, but now the new modern style have taken over. 

VallettaWe stopped at the main bus station in Valletta, the capital of Malta and wandered down the historic, fascinating main boulevard. The history and charm of this lovely town seep out of every walkway. Malta has been invaded and fought over for many centuries, and the buildings show how the different cultural influences have stayed in Malta. Discover this fortress city with palaces, museums and the magnificent St John’s Cathedral. A walk down the main street will reunite you with many shops, cafes and outlets that you are familiar with at home, for instance Marks and Spencer’s! 

Many people enjoy Malta because of the English-speaking community, the familiar shops, the good bus service, all these things give many people a ‘comfortable’ feel to this lovely island. It is a Winter Sun destination for many senior travellers as the mild winter and the familiar feel is a big draw to many people.  

We took the car ferry to Gozo, one of my favourite places, it has a charm and tranquillity all of its own. We went back to visit the Grand Hotel that we had stayed at 5 years ago and the waiter we had had was still there and pretended to remember us! He must serve hundreds of people per year, but this is the charm and pleasantness that is all over the island. Sadly the famous Azure Window, a limestone natural arch that is on all the postcards of Gozo, has fallen into the sea recently. Now people take pictures of where it was!! The capital of Gozo is Victoria, a buzzing small town. Mind you, Gozo doesn’t buzz really, it hums in a calm gentle way. Time allowing, take a boat ride across to the pretty little island of Comino situated between Malta and Gozo. Comino is a paradise for snorkelers, divers and ramblers. Car-free and only one hotel on the island, it is virtually uninhabited; ‘bliss’ you may say, but remember every day many tourists land on the island to see this beautiful place. 

Glynis at the Azure Window where a limestone natural arch stoodWe toured the island of Malta extensively and the beautiful town of Medina is a must on any visit for its stunning architecture and history. The Dome of Mosta is also well worth a visit with its fascinating history. The towns of Bugibba and Qwara (pronounced Ora) are very commercial with lots of bars and cafes. St Paul’s and St Julian’s are less commercial and have lovely walks by the sea. The beauty of Malta is the contrast of wild secluded cliffs and bays to walk on with the buzz of cafes and bars where you meet like-minded people.  

The Red Bus Hop on Hop off bus tour covers all these major sites and is well worth stepping on board. The cost is approximately 17 Euros per person, and you can use this for 24 or 48 hours. There are North and South tours and the Red Bus does stop near at the Golden Sands, so if you don’t want to use a hire car then the bus is a very good way to see the island. 

We visited a popular area for tourists on a Sunday when a large market is set out along the harbour at Marsaxlokk, which is in Pretty Bay – well, I am not sure who named it that, and it is a very attractive place if you turn your back on the sea, the reason is that the oil refineries of Malta and the ship container port is directly to the side of this not so Pretty Bay!!!  However, on a positive note it has some of the best fish restaurants on the island. 

Gynis on GozoOn the South of the island is the Blue Grotto, a beautiful area that is made up of sea caverns. This area has been used for many adverts, including the one for Milk Tray where a man is seen diving off the cliff tops. Boat trips can be made into the caverns, but go early in the day to get the best of the different shade of blue as the sun hits the water.   

When booking a trip to Malta it can be rather difficult as many offers and deals can be confusing. Malta Direct, has the expertise and organisation to help with any query you may have and can book you into a hotel of your choice. With over 40 years of experience this established travel operator is providing year round package holidays plus tailor made trips and flights, including villas and apartment accommodation on Malta, Gozo and Comino. 

Our time on this sparkling gem of an island in the heart of the Mediterranean, that has a mixture of culture and colour with its secret coves and rich history, lovely villages and busy towns, had come to an end for another year. Malta doesn’t suit everyone and like Marmite it is an acquired taste, but you cannot fail to be impressed by this sunny, friendly island that feels like home.

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Glynis Sullivan

Traveller and writer for Silver Travel Advisor

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