Travel Diary: Slow Traveling in Malta
My partner has been talking about the sunburnt Mediterranean island of Malta since our dating days. He (an indie screenwriter) would show me photos and articles about artists, poets and filmmakers heading to the tiny nation to get a good dose of solitude and fresh inspiration for their novels and screenplays. Still not impressed by the monochrome buildings and unassuming ports, I managed to brush it off for years (and never actually read those articles, I’m awful).
But the day came, as I knew it would eventually. He's mighty pushy when it's something he really really wants, and to be fair, he doesn't want much. So as we were already living in Europe and the airfare was much lower than it'd be in the States, I decided that then was as good a time as any to give the man what he wanted so I could stop hearing about it. We'd been doing a lot of travel my way up until this point, so I had him take the reigns on the trip. I really wanted Shannon to organize any and everything while we were there. I needed a break anyway. I'm the planner and we had just gotten back from the chaos of Marrakech, Morocco, where I had every must see and Instagram-worthy spot accounted for. It was beautiful but exhausting, and I was tired of being tired after a vacation. We decided to take our time with everything, not have an itinerary, not be such tourists, and agreed that whatever we saw or experienced we'd be happy with. We'd rent a car and take our time roaming from place to place, or staying local and not moving much at all. That is the idea behind slow travel. And so, we commenced.
It was the end of March and after realizing some real spring weather would be a welcome break from cold and damp Ireland, we boarded our small budget airline. A sign of good things to come manifested in the full church choir on board, who sang Oh Happy Day for all the passengers. A short 4 hours later we deplaned outside, giving us a much anticipated breath of Maltese air. It must have been close to midnight but my first few gulps were downright balmy. Airport signs were easy to follow and we collected our car reservation with no issue. About a 10 minute walk, the carport was filled with tiny white cars, vintage feeling and toy like. I immediately thought of Cuba. Our reservation turned out to be a convertible and when I tell you we got in and felt like we were about to have some circa 1950s fancy film moment on the highway! Only to realize it was a stick shift, and we were smacked back down to reality. We ended up having to take a taxi to our Airbnb and attempt to get the car replaced in the morning.
Checkin with Airbnb was flawless. The real adventure began when the host handled over the keys to the most beautiful, airy, relaxing loft with views of the bustling port.
When I woke up the next morning (first of course), I ran right up to the windows and threw open the shutters. It was unbelievable. The cityscape, which may look bland in pictures, was blinding in person. The off-white and sand-colored facades on every building let the water sing. The shores were a brilliant blue and the boats chugged along as if it were any other day; but for me it was a breath-taking, possibly life-changing moment.
So in taking a backseat, I patiently waited for Shannon to spend the morning working on a screenplay. I let him drive us to the center of Valetta, the old walled city on the hill. When we first get to a new place our excitement is unbearable. We can't wait to burst out of the car and start walking, so after we found parking we basically ran to the square, dipping in and out of side streets, our mouths gaping at the views of the sea left and right.
Being the foodie that I am, my first impulse was to eat. We found a pretty unimpressive spot where I tried snails, or escargot, for the first time. I have to say eating them was a struggle. I was disappointed in myself, feeling less cultured for not liking the slimy, earthy taste, but honestly once out of the shell, they looked like little turds. My husband watched me eat a few with a pained expression and not wanting to suffer alone, I harassed him until he tried one. I erased the memory on my tastebuds with a glass of champagne and we kept it moving. Not far from the main square is a vista with an awesome view of the rest of Malta, and along the way we found a tasty gelato spot. We watched day turn to night and all the buildings light up before taking a massive elevator back down to the ground.
Waking up to sounds of the port and opening the windows became a joy on the daily. Another morning of sunshine (it gets more sunny days than L.A.) had us on a mission to Mdina, an awe-inspiring ancient and fortified city on the north side of the island. Steeped in history, this used to be the capital until medieval times, and is mentioned serval times in the Bible. The apostle Paul was once shipwrecked there and healed a dignitary of a terrible disease. I could feel the ancient energy in that place, a maze of stone houses, churches and now a few restaurants and gift shops. We didn't do much here. Again, the idea of slow travel is just to be in a place. Not to do. So we walked. Took a picture here and there. Didn't buy one thing. Stared at horizons for hours. Back at home we slept long and ate well.
Speaking of eating, I really only have one restaurant to recommend, because we went there three times. Paranga. It was just that good. And to think we almost didn't go because it was in St. Julian's, an area known for its nightlife and catering to tourists. Luckily we were tired of walking and our phone service wasn't great, which meant looking up other places wasn't happening. As a result: w had. The best. Pasta. In. LIFE. A creamy, salty, savory carbonara with panchetta, sundried tomatoes and the thickest, chewiest noodles that were hollow in the middle. And giant prawns. And ravioli. Oh and risotto. And red wine. We went HAM in that place. The service was amazing. They remembered us the next night but who wouldn't? I doubt many couples like us frequent that area! How could I almost forget the white chocolate soufflé! We couldn't even speak while eating it. We left overfed and in pure bliss.
We did want to see the beaches though, so on our final full day we slowly made our way from one end of the island to the other, after a brief google search for the best views. Our first stop was Popeye Village, the location for the 1980s film starring Robin Williams. At the time we didn't realize the village was a set, but once seeing the closed shutters and roped off areas the lightbulbs went off. Still, the water was clear and turquoise, and the shabby buildings were other worldly. I was pretty jealous of the group of friends next to us, who were smart enough to bring pizza and beer and laze about on the rocks watching the soft waves. Hindsight indeed.
Now greedy for more spectacular views, we chased the sunset to Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, a cove in Mellieha overlooking the sea with a restaurant at the bottom. You can stand on the cliff's edge here if you dare and look down at the waves hitting the rocks. We climbed the stairs of some ruins next to the Għajn Tuffieħa Tower and watched the sun go down. This area is also home to the Gaia Peace Grove, a walkable conservatory trail, home to over 20 species of indigenous plants. We headed back to St. Julian's that evening for dinner, and then had a few puffs at a terrace hookah bar. We had a late night snack of olives, cheese and red wine over some spirited conversations with the staff at White Wine & Food before calling it a night. Side note, this was the third time someone thought my husband was Steve Aoiki, and I'm not really sure how I feel about it.
Anyhoo, in spite of our goal to take it easy, it's just like us to race the clock at the end of a trip and try to squeeze in one more thing. On the morning of our flight we just had to have the same pizza we sampled on our first day. We try pizza wherever we travel to honestly! So we rushed back to Valetta to grab a to go box from Sotto Pizzeria Italiana, complete with salty toppings like kalamata olives and sopressata. Then it was a mad dash to the airport and a stressful check in but hey, pizza makes everything better.
All in all our attempt at slow travel was decent. We basically ate, slept and wandered our way through our short island getaway. I let Shannon be in charge and loved it. He got a chance to write, and it was the happiest I'd seen him in months. We had moments of weakness where we pushed ourselves past a level of lazy comfort, but we definitely didn't try to squeeze it all in. Heck, there are two whole other islands that are part of Malta, accessible only by ferry. A ton more beaches, hidden coves and caves, Game of Thrones film sites, art galleries, and fishing. Temples, ruins, churches...the list goes on. But we look at it this way: it leaves us wanting more. We'll get back there some day. Maybe it will be our summer home, a little villa on a sandy hill. Until then, we are content.
More pics below! XO