MALTA (2/4): When in Valletta, always look up! But look down for food !
Malta is a hidden gem in the Mediterranean sea. It’s a small archipelago with its sun-drenched islands, with only 3 of them inhabited: Malta, Gozo and the smallest of all, Comino. Valletta on the main island is Malta’s capital. There is a saying that goes
"When in Valletta, always look up!"
Cause Valletta reveals its secrets best when looking up in the sky.
It’s a hard thing to say to those who fear traveling, but this November 2020-month is the ideal time to visit Malta. With the second wave of Covid-19 hitting Europe hard, many European countries have entered into a new lockdown and tourism has, once again, come to a complete halt. Except for in Malta.
My Belgian tango friend who’ s been living in Malta for the past five years confirms that October and November normally are the busiest months. She describes how one can literally walk over the tourists’ heads, that’s how busy it usually gets. One can also tell by the number of coffee bars, fancy fashion shops, restaurants and bars. There are just too many to cater to locals only.
Blessed with a mediterranean climate, temperatures easily reach well into the 20s ( that is Celsius ) till mid November. I can confirm. I arrived in Malta on Oct. 29th and till my day of departure, November 11th, I was spoiled with early Summer-like weather.
I grew up in Belgium and visited many European countries before moving to Argentina. I even lived in Bologna, Italy, for one full year. Yet I never made it to Malta before. The coronavirus forced most countries on the planet into a total lockdown and Malta was no exception. Planes were grounded, borders sealed, restaurants, bars, shops closed. But Malta reopened after less than 3 months in lockdown and unlike The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain as part of a growing list, Malta reopened. The only exception are the pubs and bars which were ordered to stay closed till December.
Why did I choose Malta as a Covid holiday destination as well? Because capers grow in Malta. The caper filled stuffed artichokes and the typical ftira ( Maltese bread ) with tomato paste, tuna & capers are ‘almost’ national dishes here.
Malta, a short introduction
Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta and formerly Melita, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 515,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world’s tenth smallest country in area and fourth most densely populated sovereign country.
Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km2 (0.31 sq mi). The official and national language is Maltese, which is descended from Sicilian Arabic that developed during the Emirate of Sicily, while English serves as the second official language. Italian and Sicilian also previously served as official and cultural languages on the island for centuries, with Italian being an official language in Malta until 1934 and a majority of the current Maltese population being at least conversational in the Italian language.
How I got to Malta?
My daughter and I invited my mom on a surprise trip whilst visiting her in Europe. Late September ’20 Europe was still ‘re-open’ to tourism. With tickets to first choice Sicily, – where I have a friend who runs an amazing bed & breakfast near the wonderful UNESCO World Heritage cities of Modica, Ispica, Noto, Scicli and Ibla, – too expensive, Malta popped up as the most accessible & affordable South European destination.
Ahead of our departure for Europe I booked 3 round trip tickets Brussels – Malta on eDreams for just 100 $ per person. One week into our stay on the island on the day we were supposed to fly back to Brussels, I extended my stay with a 27 € one way ticket ( 1 € for the ticket + 26 € on taxes ) bought directly on the Air Malta website.
Air Malta is the national airline of the Maltese Islands. Air Malta operates a conveniently timed flight schedule to/from main European city airports, offering easy access and connections with a reliable flight schedule. Together with partner airlines, Air Malta offers a network of over 100 destinations.
With only 19 passengers on board ( 10% of full capacity ), we landed safely after a short 2,5 hour flight. I suspect we were the only tourists on flight KM421. Having filled in the 2 health forms before landing, 8 passengers were picked out randomly for the Covid-19 test. I was one of them. Luckily for all, the results came out negative and we were instantly cleared to leave the airport.
Our holidays could start !
Coffee in the Capital, Valletta
Caffe Cordina 1837
‘Caffe Cordina’ enjoys an incredible location in Pjazza Regina ( Regina square ) in front of The National Library and Republic street. Its terrace is supposed to be terribly busy, but because of covid restrictions worldwide, this time of year it is not. Our waiter tells us 30 staff members have been laid off for lack of business. Inside the place is empty and on the outside terrace only 3 in stead of the usual 10 waiters are attending to what are mainly locals.
Nerjis loves their smoothies and the chocolate croissant. I stick to my daily expresso macchiato, my personal ‘second best’ after Gourmet Kafe.
Since its opening in 1837 Caffe Cordina with its classy classical interior has evolved to incorporate a restaurant, tea rooms, pasticceria, coffee bar and gelateria. Because of it’s location and it’s history, it remains the place to be.
Go & sit on the terrace, order yourself a drink and watch the crowd passing by, from lawyers on their way to the courthouse, church goers & tourists . The Saint Johns co-cathedral is just around the corner.
244, Republic Street – www.caffecordina.com
became our morning coffee spot as of day 2. Here they serve Austrian brand Julius Meinl which stands for premium quality. I much appreciate the medium roast as it brings out more of the bean subtleties, aromatic, caramelized, slightly less acidic, even when I always drink espresso.
Tucked away in the former Carmel convent, the place usually opens till late at night. But these are unusual times and I noticed that once past 2 pm, they were already gone for the day.
Where we dine & wine
Our flat, Independence Boutique Apartments, is so ideally located it takes 10 minutes or less on foot from the many prime dining places Valletta has to offer.
“Taproom” is a blend of vintage-bar-meets-rustic-brasserie contemporary restaurant with cool, industrial detailing. Whether you’re after lunch, a late afternoon-drink or expertly-prepared cocktails with dinner, it’s all possible here.
We arrive early for lunch and my mom claims she’s not very hungry. She orders the ‘crusted peppered gbejna* salad with blackberry, pickled beetroot and candied walnuts’. I choose the local version of the steak tartare and Nerjis picks the ‘fresh salmon pappardelle with cherry tomato sauce, basil and cream’.
All our dishes are delicious and for 53 €, a glass each of excellent Maltese red wine included, we did not need to break the bank.
* Ġbejna is the diminutive of the Maltese word ġobna, which means “cheese”; it is synonymous with the Maltese English word “cheeselet”, i.e. “little cheese”. Ġbejna tan-nagħaġ is a small round cheese made in Malta from sheep milk, salt and rennet. Most sheep’s milk produced in Malta is still used for the production of these small cheeses. Milk in Malta was traditionally sold by milking goats
Themistocles Zammit is credited with stopping the pandemic.
Another eatery from ‘around the corner’ is 67 Kapitali. This laid-back spot is a cross between an artisanal café and a craft beer bar, known for its incredible range of beers from around the world. Expect beer on draught from Malta, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Italy and up to 60 bottled options to boot.
I wanted to try the local Lord Chambray Flinders beer as it is brewed with caper flowers. But the latest Covid restrictions forbid beer with alcohol being served. In stead I opt for an alcohol-free Danish beer brewed in Belgium, ‘The Radar’, and it’s excellent!
67, Old Bakery Street, Valletta
N Japanese Bistrot & Sake Bar
Correction ! For obvious reasons, without the sake these days ! But no need to worry. Cause the charm of N lies in the quality of the food and its cosy atmosphere.
Nerjis & I never say no to Japanese food and my mom goes along with our craving. This tiny eatery is designed in an authentically Japanese style, using natural wood to create a relaxing space. The menu consists of delicious sharing dishes and salads, deep-fried items and main courses, prepared and served in a traditional method. There’s an entire page devoted to sake, hence the name ‘sake bar’.
But for me, Japanese is equal to sushi, and that’s what the 3 of us go for. The sushi is excellent, the service a bit slow. But we enjoy our evening.
The place is tiny so next time you visit you might want to book in advance. N also delivers through Wolt ( orders are accepted till 20:00 h ).
139, Saint Christopher Street, Valletta
Only accolades are in place here ! Located in a 17th century palazzo built by the Knights of Malta, Guzé offers an innovative dining experience. A Michelin restaurant offering local and Mediterranean food, at the heart of Valletta, yet without the usual Michelin prices.
They call themselves ‘simple but complicated individuals, creating food stories with ingredients mother nature provides’. Since 2010 Mark and Joseph have worked through the season, for one main reason, making us happy.
22, Old Bakery Street, Valletta
Casa Vostra ( Gozo )
During our weekend on the island of Gozo, dinner at Casa Vostra turned out to be the unexpected culinary highlight. Marga ( my tango friend of Malta ) and I took a weekend trip to stunning Gozo. Most visitors leave the island straight after watching the sun going down at Fungus Rock. Hoping to avoid the cue of cars on their way to the boat terminal, we decided to have dinner first. We caught the last early table available at a tiny restaurant on Republic street, the main street of Victoria, the capital of Gozo.
‘Casa Vostra’ is a brand new restaurant located in the heart of Rabat, the other name of the city. It combines an innovative menu and unique interior design. And its cuisine is outstanding.
62, Republic Street, Victoria, Gozo
I must have had the best gluten free pasta dish with fresh truffles ever: ‘spaghetti guanciale e tartuffo‘.
Casa Vostra certainly made up for our disappointment at Il-Kunvent in Gharb, the evening before. The website makes you believe otherwise, but I was sick as hell because of dinner here till well late in the afternoon the following day.
Whether you like churches, musea, architecture, Malta feels like an open air museum and has it all. But food lovers, bring some extra pocket money to sample its exquisite food. Malta may produce less than 11% of its own needs, the rest being imported, but its close ties with Italy combined with local culinary traditions make Malta one of the best places for dining out.
Maltese wine deserves a place next to its great Italian competitors! For cocktail lovers and pub goers, there is a favorite drink for us all. Because of Covid, pubs & bars were closed, but it did not spoil the island spirit !
Malta, here we come !
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