The main reason for our epic first sailing adventure from Gibraltar to Malta had to do with taxes rather than sightseeing priorities. When buying a boat, the VAT (Value Added Tax) is either paid or not paid. On Britican, the taxes were not paid so the hefty liability was handed down to us.
That being said, whatever country we sailed the boat to would want to charge us tax
Originally, we were going to sail to Spain, as the powers that be agreed a set price with us. Unfortunately, three days before we set sail, Spain decided to double the agreed tax amount. Nice surprise – eh?!
To buy us time, we instead sailed our boat to Gibraltar, a tax-free haven, to determine the most economical way to pay tax on Britican. One thing led to another and through word-of-mouth we discovered a leasing system offered in Malta. After researching all our options, Malta offered the most economical solution.
So that’s why we had to make such a long trek – over 800 miles – across the Mediterranean for our first sail! If we stopped in Europe before taking care of our taxes we could have been landed with a very heft tax bill. A bill that would have left us with a boat but no money to sail it anywhere.
Our expectations on Malta were minimal
The plan was to get to Malta, sort out our taxes as quickly as possible and then head to Crete, Rhodes, Simi, Turkey and then over to and around Italy. Malta was only on our list out of necessity. Rather than spend three days in Malta, however, we extended our stay for almost two weeks. We were so impressed with the country, the people, the sights, and so forth that we just couldn’t leave.
Malta is absolutely amazing in so many regards
The family and I have been blown away by Malta’s beauty, diverse history, incredibly tasty cuisine, multitude of things to do/see and the incredible kindness of everyone we’ve met.
Let’s start with how amazingly beautiful the country is! Malta is a small island surrounded by the beautiful blue Mediterranean. Most of the buildings are beige, gray and/or sand color so the blue water contrasts with the natural colors of the buildings, greenery and ground.
As we traveled around the island by foot, ferry or using the very inexpensive bus system (€1.50 all day pass), we saw monumentally large fortresses, walled cities, amazing cliffs, Maltese boat-filled harbors and a wide range of palm trees, pink and purple flowers and rows of huge bulbous cactuses.
To break us into Europe easily, we were comforted by the large British influence on the country. Dotted throughout the island are the iconic red British phone boxes, Marks & Spencer’s stores in addition to most British high-street shops. I felt as if I had one foot back home in England and another foot in a foreign land!
The capital of Valletta is spectacular with it’s massive fortress walls. High up on a cliff with very narrow gridded streets, buildings tower about 5 to 6 floors above you – all having beautifully colored bay windows stretching the width of the house. Overall, the fortress walls and buildings are all very natural colored but the bay windows shout out with personality. Furthermore, most homes have vibrant red or blue colored doors with a porcelain Mother Mary and Baby Jesus plaque above or beside the door.
I could have easily spent day’s just taking pictures of doorways and bay windows
As I passed each vibrant door, I couldn’t help but wonder what was on the other side? The contents, views, stories and history that each door hid. Aside from the beautiful buildings there were several squares with café’s, restaurants and shops. Filled with wonderful smells of cheese, garlic and flowers I noticed several tourists looking around in awe, Maltese gentlemen in suits doing business over a coffee and local children in groups perhaps out on a field trip?
And Malta’s ancient capital, L-Imdina or ‘The Silent City,’ is a breathtaking site. In the center of the country rose a huge hill and upon the hill was a walled city in the color of sand. The city seemed to rise up from the Earth rather than be placed on top of it. When we entered the walls I felt giddy with excitement – everything was so clean, narrow and ancient looking. I couldn’t help but wonder who roamed these streets thousands of years ago?
With church bells ringing in the background, my family and I walked around taking in the beauty of more colorful bay windows, glossy colored front doors and hand-created porcelain street signs. We enjoyed the cobbled streets, tiny alleyways leading to new sights and little eateries dotted throughout the walls. As usual, my cousin and I had cakes on our mind, and as luck would have it, we found a restaurant overlooking the countryside and cities by the sea. The cakes and sweets we’ve enjoyed in Malta have been some of the best we’ve ever tasted.
Fortunately, our stay in Malta was around Easter time so I purchased a Maltese favorite – Figollia Cake (pictured). It’s made with blanched almonds, pastry and icing. I like almonds but I prefer chocolate so I wasn’t sure if I’d like the cake. I couldn’t understand why it was the countries favorite until I tried it. Holy smokes – it was AMAZING. My husband, cousin and I ate the whole cake in one sitting. It’s not too sweet. The cake has a lovely consistency and it’s impossible to eat just one slice!
And while touching on food, I have to say that every meal or Maltese traditional food that we tried was excellent
Half the time I couldn’t pronounce what I was eating, but never the less all our meals were tasty and enjoyable. While waiting to go to the Bank of Valletta for a meeting, I test out a Qassata,or Maltese ricotta pie. It was so simple yet so delicious. I wonder why certain foods travel to England or American yet others remain hidden away in the country of their origin? I suppose it’s a good thing. Whenever I travel, I’m eager to see new things and I definitely want to try new tastes!
Let me touch a bit on the history of Malta now because it is fascinating…
Throughout history it seems as if every nation has wanted to claim Malta as their own
Historically, Malta is home to some of the oldest ruins – dating back to 3600 BC (that’s 1000 years before Egypt’s first pyramid). There is speculation that that inhabitants lived in caves starting around 7200 BC. The tiny country has been ‘ruled’ or invaded by all sorts of nations. Arabs, Knights, Spanish, French, Italian…British. Geographically, Malta is a gateway between Africa and Europe. Everyone has wanted her as a stronghold at one time or another. In 1964 they finally became independent from Britain.
The one thing I did know about Malta before my visit was that it had something to do with Knights. After asking around a bit, I learned that while Malta was under Spanish rule (1282 – 1530), Charles the V gave the island to the Knights and they ruled it until 1798. The Knights built Valletta along with several fortresses and the Wignacourt Aqueduct. Furthermore, they defeated the Turks in the Great Siege of 1565 keeping it away from Muslim acquisition. When you visit Malta, ask any Maltese person what happened during the ‘Great Siege’ as its an amazing story.
In 1798, Napoleon took Malta from the Knights and took all the valuables. The Maltese asked Britian to help and in 1814, the island came under British rule.
During WWII, Malta was the most bombed place on earth – 6,700 tons fell in just 6 weeks. Interestingly, you’d think that everything would have been destroyed during the war, however a Times of Malta journalist told us a story about an amazing miracle. A church that was having a mass had a bomb crash through the top of the dome and then land on the alter. Miraculously, the bomb failed to explode.
The journalist also gave us a little history lesson and gave us tips on what to do and where to go. She told us about the influence of the Arab, Romantic (Italian, Spanish) and British languages they’ve had on the Maltese language. With having such a variety of rulers from different nations, Malta has taken a bit of all of them to create a very unique and beautiful language.
Interestingly, and if I understood correctly, the Maltese speak an Arabic style language but write it with the English alphabet. And I thought America was a melting-pot! I think Malta definitely started the concept
Also, the journalist explained why the steps in Valletta are short and long – making it hard for us to climb them. Apparently, they were created for marching. The military march with their legs going outward and the steps were spaced for such marching. How cool is that little tid-bid? The quirky facts always appeal the most to me.
Almost two weeks wasn’t enough!
During our stay in Malta we had a few major repairs to fix in addition to recovering from our weeklong sail from Gibraltar. There was a ton of laundry to do, stocking up our supplies, writing up our experiences and sorting out our tax situation.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or energy to see everything. On our next visit, we’ll go to Gozo and Comino (islands), visit the three cities, see the ancient temples and much more.
Malta offers something for everyone – beautiful views, incredible history, excellent food and loads to see and do. If you’re going to visit the amazing country by boat, please read the review I wrote about the Manoel Island Marina, where we stayed.