Subject: Memories of Malta
Hi Ziners -

Hope that you enjoy this info on Malta, which we visited before going on to Italy. It is very popular with Europeans, (it's recently become a member of the EU) but there aren't that many tourist from North America as yet.

While planning a trip with a small tour company to Sicily and southern Italy, we noticed that there was a Malta "module" that would work out nicely with our timing. Not knowing much about this small island country, but knowing enough to realize that it had a fascinating history and much to recommend it, we decided to take the plunge and are so glad that we did.

Over the centuries, Malta was occupied by the Romans, Arabs, Normans, crusading knights, and the British which has given it an unusual culture, feel and cuisine. After WW II, there was mass immigration to Australia and to Canada. In Toronto, where we are from, there is actually a Maltese community. Many locals whom we spoke to while in Malta, had visited relatives in Toronto.

Because it had been an English colony, they drive on the left, which can be somewhat difficult for North Americans. However, to make up for that, is the fact that just about everyone speaks English, along with Maltese, an unusual Semitic language, with a lot of x's (pronounced "sh".)

Many Europeans vacation there, and there are plenty of flights from Frankfurt, Rome, and Sicily by Lufthansa or Air Malta.

We were there at the beginning of May, and the weather was consistently sunny, without being overly hot, perfect T-shirt weather. Being so close to North Africa, it's usually warm and sunny, with the hottest season from mid-July to mid-September, when temperatures are higher than 30C. Winters have no snow, and the rainiest months are October to January.

We had a professional local guide with us during four days of sightseeing on Malta, although it is definitely easy to tour on your own. Roger is a freelancer, and we'd recommend him highly as a guide. He knew just about everything there was to know about Malta and Gozo, which is another, smaller island, part of Malta, and a short ferry ride away, and is a must for a day-trip. Our guide was Roger Cauchi Inglott and you can e- mail him at .

We spent five days there. Because it's just a speck on the map, it's entirely possible to do as we did, stay in one location and see the entire island in easy day trips. Or if you like, you could stay in more than one place.

It has ancient ruins and walled cities like the beautiful medieval town of Mdina, where you can spend hours walking through the silent streets. Malta has several gorgeous cathedrals, a blue grotto, picturesque fishing harbours with brightly coloured boats of ancient design. It's very tropical and has an exotic feel with its painted shutters, unusual enclosed balconies, lovely flowers, earth toned buildings, etc.

The other island, Gozo, is similar, although smaller, than Malta. You can take the ferry for a day trip, and enjoy seeing the capital of Rabat/Victoria, the Citadel, and the ruins at Ggantija, said to be the oldest man-made structures in the world, dating from about 3,600 B.C. There are other prehistoric ruins in Malta and Gozo such as Tarxien, Ghar Dalam, and the Hypogeum. Certainly, different from the classical Greek ruins that we later saw in Sicily, but most impressive in their own way.

Many short term tourists stay in Sliema, which is actually part of the capital, Valletta. Sliema is a short ferry ride away from downtown Valletta, or if you have a car, you can drive. Sliema has many large and small hotels, and a wonderful seaside promenade, for a "passeggiata" at any time of day. Sliema has a definite European resort feel, with many, many restaurants, cafes and shops. In Sliema, for casual restaurants with typical Maltese food, we enjoyed Blondino, 15 Ghar il-Lembi Street and Ta' Kolina, 151 Tower Road. Slightly more upscale was The Kitchen at 210 Tower Road. All of these places are on or near the promenade. In Malta, buffet breakfast in the hotels is often English style, and will include bacon, beans, sausages and eggs.

Across the harbour, Valetta is the historic capital with many great buildings to see, including the Grand Master's Palace and the Cathedral, both built by the Knights of Malta. Along the pedestrian mall on Republic Street, there are numerous shops, restaurants and cafes, as well as the interesting Museum of Archeology.

You can also stay in villas and farmhouses throughout Malta and Gozo, and there are numerous websites available ( and members of our tour group had once exchanged their time share for one in Malta, and loved the experience.

Most tourists take a morning cruise of the different harbours surrounding Valletta. It gives you a great perspective of the fortifications around the city, and the recorded narrative gave a lot of information on the history of the country, which came in handy later, as we started to tour the countryside.

We'd definitely recommend Malta and Gozo for a great trip, especially if you're in the area, in the south of the Italian mainland, or Sicily.

Have a great trip - Margaret and Les in Toronto.