Reader contribution by Daniel Chua. Daniel is the CEO of AONIA; a seasoned business events professional with more than 2 decades of managing successful events worldwide, he has developed a fine appreciation for the unique elements that go into creating indelible events that engage, energise and empower, beginning with one of the most important elements of all, the right Destination. He was a guest of VisitMalta Incentives & Meetings and Citrus DMC.
TGIFridays Great journeys: Memories of magical Malta
Malta: a name evocative of mediaeval magic and noble knighthood, a land redolent of the rich cultures of the Mediterranean within which it sits like a jewel; I finally had the fine fortune of making a trip 1-6 November 2023 , with gratitude for the privilege demanding I share of the bounty of my experiences.
There aren’t many places in the world where within such a compact landmass, so much richness of history and culture is enfolded, inlaid within narrow lanes and punctuated by massive fortresses.
Enter a world bathed in golden sunshine much of the year, where the local language has Arabic at its core, enriched by cultures that have made the island home, including the Normans, Aragonese, and finally the British, all of whom left their own indelible cultural, linguistic and architectural influences, which is part reason why the island has been such a wonderful backdrop for movie-making.
Gastronomes would savour the literally rich melting pot of its cuisine, made with fresh ingredients fished from sea and shore, from fresh shrimp to rustic rabbit. There are plenty of winning wine & dine delights to satisfy every palate, although one should of course go local.
For those escaping the mundane and seeking some of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Malta won’t disappoint ; the multitude of luxury yachts hint at the luxurious experiences available. Malta is a well-known movie-making haven ; I posed unknowingly in a telephone booth prop and was shooed away by a chagrined guard whilst a bemused crew looked on a distance away; here, you never know if a Hollywood Star might be around the corner.
Touring the grand harbour with its turquoise waters on colourful local boats called Dgħajsa revealed a great geological gift; the deep harbour port that can allow up to 4 massive cruise ships at a time is a gift of nature, with solid limestone walls rising sheer from the waters. The crystal clears waters around are largely free from sediment too, implying few natural sand beaches but excellent snorkelling and diving experiences.
Ornate churches abound on Malta; it is after all 98% Roman Catholic. Of all churches however, a visit to the magnificent co-Cathedral of St John is not to be missed, to revel in the realistic holy imagery, gilded walls carved out of stone, and the life-sized gruesomely life-like masterpiece by Caravaggio of The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
About 30 mins away by ferry (excluding the 30-min coach journey to the ferry terminal from Valletta) is Malta’s sister island of Gozo, where one of the highest points is the imposing Ċittadella or “The Citadel” seemingly hewn from golden rock, from where you may enjoy panoramic views of the island. The Citadel is where you may find the delicate beauty of Bobbin lace made by one of the last living artisans on the island within the majestic brutality of the massive citadel walls.
Gozo is where you may also witness salt making in Qbajjar, done in the traditional manner employed since Roman times; we were informed storms can sometimes wash whole harvests away. If time allows on Gozo, visit the Wied il-Mielaħ (or the valley of salt), a golden sea arch which frames the lapis lazuli blue of the mediterranean. If you enjoy the services of a smaller vessel, you could take a dip in the cool, crystal clear waters of the Blue Lagoon off the tiny island of Camino on the way back to Malta.
Some practical advice: like in many places around the Mediterranean, the sunlight here can be intense. Ensure you have good shades, sunblock and headwear therefore for protection if out for long out in the sun. Malt and Gozo are both hilly places; wear comfortable shoes for the hike up and down smooth cobbles. Flights-wise from Singapore, I’d suggest flying in through Istanbul rather than a Middle Eastern city as the longer journey up to Istanbul allows better rest on a key leg of the journey so you arrive there a little fresher (and homewards, likewise).
Finally, some food for thought ; experiencing the Neolithic remains of Ħaġar Qim, a temple structure and dwelling estimated to have been established about 3600 BC was edifying. Stones weighing up to 20 tons were used to build the structure, testament to the social cohesion, human ingenuity and teamwork that existed even then. Evidence shows it was likely climate change that led to the abandonment of Malta by its earliest dwellers around about 2500 BC; a chilling voice from the past informing Humanity what awaits when Nature’s balance is tilted and we fail to plan for the Future. More on Malta’s history here.
It’s easy to fall in love with Malta; from the vibrant nightlife in St. Julian’sto idyllic neighbourhoods in the Three Cities or Mdina you can lose yourself in with the “time standing still” feel; Yes, a trip to Malta should not be rushed, but to be savoured slowly like a well-aged malt, ideally with friends.