I don't have a home of my own anywhere in the world, and sometimes I daydream about where I might want to have one. But Malta has been the first place I have visited that I consider a practical choice based on my aspirations: It has functional infrastructure and usable public transport, Italian food and British pubs. But the main reason I might not want to live there is because everybody else wants to, too. Malta is getting into the tech and financial industries, but it's pretty clear that it still relies heavily on seasonal tourism for its subsistence.
Luckily, I went during low season, so I wasn't surrounded by the hoards of people I presume overrun the country at other times of the year (perhaps in keeping with the islands' history of being invaded). And they come for good reason: for a collection of islands, Malta has a lot to see. I started with a sight profiled in my in-flight magazine: Mdina, nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site (top left). Despite the broad promotion, I had the quaint streets mostly to myself (top right), except for the occasional clip-clop of a carriage passing by, like in front of St. Agatha's Chapel (bottom left). The city was the capital until the Great Siege of Malta, when it was strategically moved to the coast, and Mdina was abandoned. That might be the reason for its nickname, the "Silent City," or it might be that it's easy to find some solitude within its walls, such as at the Carmelite Priory (bottom right).
The city was far from packed, but still, there was some competition to find a table at Fontanella Tearoom, especially one with a view, which I enjoyed as I ate a slice of baci cake and drank a bottle of Phoenix Raw Beer's Tar porter (top left). I enjoyed my brown glassware, but the city is known for its more colorful varieties (top right), whose shades are mimicked in the balconies of the adjacent, unwalled suburb Rabat (bottom left). My guidebook had suggested a free stroll through Rabat's Casa Bernard (bottom right), but now a tour of the 16th-century mini-palace involves a fee, a entrepreneurial indicator to me of the island's growing tourist appeal.
Luckily, Malta is unlikely to monetize all of its beauty. I doubt anyone will ever be able to charge admission to Dingli Cliffs, a precipice on the southern coast that provides sweeping views of the Med and Filfla Island (top left). The unobstructed horizon explains the placement of the Tal-Hamrija Watchtower (top right). The signaling tower is located between the Blue Grotto, a popular scuba-diving destination, and Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom left). The prehistoric monuments were built to align with the solstices. After visiting the temples and hiking along the coast in the sun, I treated myself to a refreshing Kinnie, the national drink, similar to a non-alcoholic Campari (bottom right).
Upon reaching the Three Cities by bus, I skipped Cospicua and Senglea to focus on Vittoriosa. First, I headed to Kalkara Harbor, where the wounded were brought by boat to the infirmary during the Great Siege (top left). Before the Ottomans tried to take over the island, it was ruled by the Normans. Their 12th-century architectural sense has been restored at the Norman House (top right). Nearby are a couple of the first auberges built by the Knights of St. John. The nation's ruling and protective order also created the distinctive Maltese cross, which was on prominent display at St. Lawrence Church (bottom left). Their triumphant defense against the Turks is memorialized around the island, including by Vittoriosa's Victory Monument (bottom right).
I toasted my own successful day of touring with a Farsons Blue Label Ale at D Centre, just a block from the monument (top left). I had a second helping, a Hoppy Lager, with dinner at Brew, a restaurant near my hotel that, well, brews its own beer (top right). My hotel, the aptly named Sliema Marina Hotel, sits on Sliema Bay. Breakfast was served on the 7th floor, so you could survey the water while eating your waffles (bottom left). The hotel is conveniently located steps from the ferry that zips over to Valletta, the old city and current capital that is a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom right).St. John's Co-Cathedral, whose dome stands out amid Valletta's skyline (top left). As the boat rounded the capital isthmus, it maneuvered through Dghajsa water taxis heading to the Three Cities (top right). From Gardjola Gardens in Senglea, a turret keeps its eye and ear open for all vessels entering the harbor (bottom left). Perhaps it even listens when the Siege Bell War Memorial on the opposite side of the water rings out its daily tribute to World War II victims (bottom right).
A little later, I landed underneath the bell itself as I wandered around Valletta (top left). From the bell tower, I climbed up to Upper Barrakka Gardens (top right), right above the saluting battery where cannons are fired at noon and 4 p.m. each day. I heard them my first night in town, although I didn't realize what they were at the time. Next, I sauntered through the city's solitary streets (bottom left), passing by many historical buildings, including the Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck, whose name I particularly enjoyed. The Royal Opera House is being reconstructed after its destruction by WWII bombings, but some locals, likely this resident feline included, want to leave the landmark as ruins (bottom right).Winter Ale from Lord Chambray Brewery, at 67 Capitali (top left). Later, I had a late lunch of sun-dried tomato ravioli with a Barbuto Craft Beer Marzen Lager at Taproom (top right). I cleaned my plate just in time to take one last look at Triton Fountain (bottom) before I headed to the airport, my hunger and wanderlust satiated for the time being.