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A Mediterranean Paradise in Malta

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

During my whirlwind two months of living in Stockholm in the spring of 2018, I spent my weekends bouncing through the Baltics and exploring the rest of Scandinavia. But given that spring in Sweden is equivalent to winter in Los Angeles, I was in desperate need of sunshine. On a whim, I booked spontaneous tickets to the cheapest and warmest corner of Europe Ryanair would fly to: Malta. Little did I know that this would become one of my new all-time favorite destinations.





With its honey colored limestone houses, sapphire harbor, and cascades of bougainvillea crawling up towards emerald balconies, Valletta is a feast for the senses.

I chose to stay in Valletta as opposed to Malta's legendary beach towns for three reasons: convenience, ambiance, and serenity. Having only a few short days to explore, I wanted to be central to my desired destinations. I'm also a big fan of wandering around gritty cities, especially of the Mediterranean seaside variety. But above all, I was not in the mood for a fratty beach atmosphere teeming with hammered Brits. I wanted a quiet and tranquil escape, and Valletta checked all my boxes.



Valletta in bloom


Though there were plenty of sights to explore in Valletta, like the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens and St. John's Co-Cathedral, I spent most of my time aimlessly wandering with no particular destination in mind. Every corner I turned was more picturesque than the last, every hill surrendering even more sparkling vistas.

In typical fashion, I also spent a fair amount of time sipping Aperol Spritzes in bustling plazas, people watching, and soaking in the joys of solo travel. 




I didn't mind climbing the hilly streets of Valletta when they looked like this


If you avoid the tourist trap restaurants in the city center, Valletta is also an surprising culinary destination. Here are my favorite restaurants with gluten-free options in Valletta:

211 Republic Street

Trouncing all previous meals in Malta, Noni was my most memorable gastronomic experience in Valletta. With its rustic yet elevated cellar vibes and impressive wine list, this upscale eatery was an experience I'd like to relive over and over again. I indulged on the local sheep cheese salad with beets in mead vinaigrette, smoked pork belly with braised pigs cheeks, and creamed cabbage with bacon.

Guzé Bistro
22 Old Bakery Street

Serving up classic Maltese dishes with a gourmet twist, this bistro is situated in a 400-year old palace built by the Knights of Malta. This rustic cellar is an ideal place to try local delicacies such as rabbit, Malta's signature dish.

Trattoria Romana Zero Sei
75 Old Theatre Street

When you're so close to Italy, it's not a crime to suddenly crave Italian food. Bypass the tourist traps in central Valletta and head to this authentic joint run by sassy Romans. With its cozy interior and comfort food, you'll feel right at home here. Gluten-free pasta and other GF dishes abound.

Piadina Caffe
24 St. Lucia Street

Every morning I'd come here for a cappuccino (and sometimes a gluten-free baguette). Lounging on the hilly sidewalk and people watching as the city awoke was surely one of my favorite pastimes in Malta.






No weekend in Malta would be complete without a day trip to Gozo. In typical Mediterranean fashion, it was a serious pain in the ass to get there. Also in typical Mediterranean fashion, the trek was 100% worth it.

The stops on my itinerary were Victoria (Gozo's capital, also known as Rabat), Dwejra, and Xlendi Bay. I contemplated renting a scooter, but I also wanted to wear a sundress. (Can you blame me? I had been freezing in Stockholm for the past two months, and seriously needed to defrost.) Fashion always trumps function because of who I am as a person, so I chose the sundress and took one of those "hop on, hop off" bus tours that I would normally scoff at.

I swallowed my pride and surprisingly enjoyed the freedom of the big red bus. Uninterested in the bus tour's mundane sightseeing facts, I plugged in my own music and enjoyed the scenery with the wind whipping through my hair, exploring as I pleased and answering to nobody.

The views of Gozo from Victoria's Citadel


The highlight of my day in Gozo was undoubtedly Xlendi Bay, with its crystal clear water an unbelievable shade of turquoise and quiet harbor glistening in the sun. Though the town itself was tiny, I dreamt of spending a few days here swimming, napping in the sun, and drinking spritzes on the sea.


My favorite places to visit have never been pristine or picture perfect. I'd rather travel somewhere colorful, crumbling, and full of character. From Havana to Hanoi, I've fallen hard for the cities that are gloriously gritty. Needless to say, Xlendi Bay was love at first sight.



I'm no Game of Thrones fan, but I still wanted to visit the arresting cliffs of Dwejra. Although the Instagram famous Azure Window had recently collapsed, the striking cliffs were still worth visiting! 

As a side note, how many Game of Thrones filming locations do I have to visit before I actually need to start watching the show? 




Malta may be a small country, but it is packed with natural beauty. Just a 30 minute bus ride from Valletta, the sapphire waters of the Blue Grotto are absolutely not to be missed. 

After being dropped off at the bus station, I leisurely walked down the hill towards the harbor. From there, I explored the best vistas and made my way into the small town to catch a boat tour. I use the term "boat" liberally here; it was actually more of a crowded dinghy. But the captain was kind enough to give me the best seat for photos, frequently stopping to let us soak up the Blue Grotto's splendor. 




Not a day goes by that I don't think of Malta's pure magic, and I'm aching to go back and spend more time there. Though the island is small, there's still so much to explore. Maybe I'll even pack an appropriate wardrobe and rent a scooter next time. (But then again, who are we kidding.)

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