The Island of Malta – Review

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I went to Malta in April. Yes, April. Why on Earth has it taken me so long to write about it? Maybe because writing about it so soon would mean that the holiday is truly over or maybe because I wanted to go back to find more things to write about and write an epic review the size of the Bible, who knows…

Malta is home to sea, sun, sand and fabulous food. Yes, although the same can be said for many other destinations…there’s definitely something special about Malta (and it was never even on my list of holiday getaways… now).

On the very first day, we arrived at the airport to be greeted by our hilarious guide Mr Vince Debono who drove us to our Palace (I mean hotel) ‘The Palace Malta‘. The Palace Malta is a stylish five star Boutique Hotel in Malta with distinctive elegance and is in close proximity to the sea.

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It has a rooftop outdoor swimming pool and bar, a spa of the highest quality and I was treated to a huge top rate premium suite with a balcony overlooking the wonderful gem that is Sliema. I felt like a princess (actually a queen) and did not want to leave the room for the whole holiday however, we were tourists and had to do touristy things, so we refreshed and went to do what makes everyone happy. SHOP.

We visited The Point Shopping Mall which opened its doors early 2010. It is the newest most modern development of its kind and now one of the largest shopping malls in Malta. Since The Point Shopping Mall is located within Tigne Point, in Sliema, it is also a residential and business area buzzing with life.

It was scorching, all the running around and shopping got us feeling pretty hungry so our lovely guide brought us to Gululu Restaurant in Spinola Bay where the talkative Mr Julian Sammut – A prime promoter of Maltese Food, was our host for the entire evening.

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Gululu – Kcina Maltija, is the only casual diner in St. Julian’s with a full menu of Maltese food and is situated on the waterfront in picturesque St. Julian’s bay . At Gululu they keep things simple. Their food is homely, their style casual and friendly, and the décor contemporary with a local flavour. We sampled such dishes such as a ‘Gbejna tal-bzar Moqlija’ – Deep fried fresh sheep cheeselet, served with salad leaves and sun-dried tomatoes and ‘Zalzett Mixwi‘ – a typical Maltese pork grilled sausage as starters.

 

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For mains, we were highly impressed with dishes such as ‘Ghagin Grieg‘ – Little pasta beads cooked with minced pork, finely chopped onions, parsley and a generous dose of Parmesan cheese, ‘Klamaretti fit-tagen‘ – Pan Seared baby calamari with garlic, white wine and parsley, ‘Fenek Moqli bit-Tewm u Mtektek bl-Inbid‘ – a moreish dish of fried rabbit in garlic, simmered in white wine, rosemary and marrowfat peas. The real winner in my opinion was a delightful plate of ‘Xikel tal-Haruf il-Forn‘ – Oven braised lamb shanks flavoured with lemon, white wine and fresh herbs.
We washed down all the calories and the perfectly executed cuisine with wine. And lots of it. Absolutely stuffed and merry, the other journos and myself rolled back to the hotel, had some chats and giggles in my room and an early sleep ready for the next day’s adventures.

On the Friday morning, I woke up in my beautiful king size bed, soaked in the sun rays through my princess balcony, and aimed to get ready to meet everyone else in the lobby.

Our next activity was honey making with Mr Arnold Grech in Mellieha. He was a lovely man with a huge passion for bees and honey.  The taste of honey comes from the types of flowers the bees visit during their forage time. This also gives different properties for honey. Arnold, explained that the bees collect nectar form flowers and store it in their honeycomb cells. After this the bees add enzymes to the nectar and dry it from water.  When honey is ready they cap each cell with a piece of wax (like a kind of lid). The beekeeper encourages the overproduction of honey so it can be harvested without endangering the bee colony. When he takes the frames containing honey the beekeeper removes the wax cappings by an uncapping fork for an uncapping knife.

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After all caps are removed he puts the frames in the honey extractor and honey is taken out of the frames. The honey that gathers at the bottom of the extractor is than filtered and after left to settle in the settling tank is than bottled.
We wore protective clothing and by that time I was a bit nervous, however Arnold’s calmness and passion opened my mind and I was fascinated by how interesting bees actually are. He gave us a pot of honey each and then we were on our way to Cirkewwa for a ferry crossing which would bring us to Gozo.

Upon our arrival to Gozo (meaning ‘Joy’) we proceeded to Vineyards in Marsalforn to meet Rikkardu of Ta’ Tikardu at his local farm for a goat milking session and learn the process of making Gbejniet. Gbejniet is an authentic Gozitan cuisine– a hard, white cheese traditionally made from unpasteurised sheep or goat’s milk. They are dried in baskets and served with olive oil or flavoured with crushed peppercorns and salt. It’s best eaten with hobz, crispy Gozitan bread, which is similar in taste and made using production methods akin to sourdough.

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He was one of the most amazing hosts I had encountered, highly accommodating and super friendly. I was in love with all the goats and sheep that were running around. I thought that milking a goat would be something I’d never want to find myself doing, but it was pretty fun and somewhat calming.

The milk we captured was then used to make fresh cheeselets and the process was a simple and easy one. He showed us three kinds. The fresh variety had a smooth texture and a milky flavour and were kept in their own whey in a similar manner to mozzarella.

The sundried variety had a more definite, nutty almost musky taste, and were fairly hard and the peppered variety were covered in crushed black pepper and cured, after which they may be stored in oil or pickled in vinegar. Their sharp taste become more piquant the more they age and they also develop a crumbly texture.

923419_731216097745_1270840023_nIt was around 1pm and time for us to proceed to Ta Mena Estate -to meet with celebrity chef Mr George Borg for a cooking demonstration of typical dishes and lunch.  We were greeted at his beautiful, picturesque restaurant which had an infinte outdoor seating area (which was perfect for the heat that day).

We all stood around him as he showed us how to make the Maltese equivalent of pizza and we all tried to recreate the dish ourselves. We rolled the dough and added an array of ingredients such as mushrooms, olives, sausages and popped it in the oven. They came out fluffy and delicious and went very well with the wine he had chosen for usHe prepared for us a wonderful three course meal which consisted of fresh and colourful salads, an exquisite chicken fillet stuffed with cheese. His passion and culinary skills passed my test and it was apparent why he was a successful TV chef.

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Leaving once again stuffed, we headed over to Dwejra to do some sight-seeing of what the wonderful Island had to offer.
The Azure Window was an impressive natural arch standing some twenty metres high. The Inland Sea is a secluded bathing pool with crystal clear waters and surrounded by sheer cliffs. A small tunnel connects it to the open sea.

We saw the Fungus Rock which was atop this 60-metre monolith,growing a rare tubular plant that was believed to cure dysentery and many other illnesses. It was truly captivating and pretty sure it made everyone’s jaw drop.  Hours passed (and boy did they pass fast) it was time to head back to the hotel. I took a nap, refreshed, dressed up and went back to the lobby with everyone else to go for dinner.

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We dined at the Terragon Restaurant, a casual but very designer-smart, with a lovely outside area and inspiring views, Tarragon restaurant offers delicious, casual fare that goes down a treat. I had a an exquisite starter of ‘Tiger Prawns in a light Champagne tempura‘, served with a chilli & honey vinaigrette. The prawns were well-seasoned and very fresh and I found it to be an innovative, yet simple dish which I would have many times over.

For my mains, I indulged in scrumptious ‘Chicken tenders in a mild curry, sweet chilli, coriander & cashew nut sauce’. I could see everyone getting serious food envy by looking at my plate. It was a truly delectable meal and the staff really knew their stuff.

The next morning we decided to visit the infamous Farmers Market – Ta Qali which sells fresh local agricultural produce directly to consumers. The market features a range of other locally produced goods, including Bigilla, gbejniet, honey, bread, fish and meat products.

Happy with our purchases and food porn, Valletta (Malta’s capital city) was our next destination. We walked around this baroque city and admired the Auberges, Palaces, churches and open-air market before heading over to the Upper Barrakka Gardens. These gardens occupy the elevated space on the ramparts of St. Peter and St. Paul Bastion. The garden was laid down in the mid 17th century to provide a peaceful retreat for the pastime and relaxation of the Knights.

 

Next on the agenda was a trip to The Valletta Waterfront. The Valletta Waterfront Project is aimed at regenerating the Grand Harbour waterfront into a cruise and ferry passenger terminal. The plans also include the creation of new transport links from the harbour using water taxis/ buses and a cable car system. Valletta waterfront has given services, on a 24-hour, 365 days a year basis. This will give the island a new state-of-art facility that fits sympathetically into the unspoilt historic setting of the walled city of Valletta.

We met with Mr Walter Ahar for a ‘Dghajsa’ Trip around harbour. The ‘dghajsa’ is a typical Maltese gondola shaped boat, used extensively at Grand Harbour to ferry sailors and seamen ashore. It was escapism at its best, and wish I could’ve stayed on that boat for longer but alas, we had to return to the hotel.

Evening came and our next culinary adventure was to Sciacca Restaurant for Dinner in St Julians. Named after the Sicilian fishing village that inspired its creation, Sciacca is a fish bistro that goes beyond its culinary calling. Within Sciacca’s confines, we found the kind of effortless taste that enveloped our stay and exalted our senses.
Memorable dishes included starters such as ‘Marinated whitebait and prawn salad‘ tossed in citrus vinaigrette, ‘Beef carpaccio‘ with baby spinach and parmesan crisps and spicy roasted almonds.

I had a fabulous plate of ‘Carnaroil risotto‘ covered with champagne and smoked Scamorza cheese as a main, which I would highly recommend. One of the girls couldn’t stop talking about her dish of ‘Carved milk fed veal rump’, tossed cabbage and pancetta.

Sunday was our last day and arrived way to quickly for my liking. I wanted to handcuff myself to my suite but sadly, it was time for us to check out of the wonderful hotel (I almost shed a tear or two).

We drove through Mgarr Village which is a typical rural village, and lies in one Malta’s most isolated spots. It is surrounded by rich farmland and vineyards and most of the local population is still engaged in agriculture. Mgarr’s rustic environs embrace several picturesque spots – Bingemma, Wardija, Fomm ir-Rih and Gnejna Bay.
We came across examples of Giren (which are circular stone huts used by farmers), natural landmarks such as the characteristic flat-topped hills, ancient rubble walls and typical Mediterranean garrigue, or scrubland.

The Dingli Cliffs were an impressive sight. They are the Island’s natural fortress, one bastion the Knights did not have to build to protect themselves. From the cliff tops, one of the most striking views and sheerest drops was just west of Dingli village.

My last ever meal in Malta was Rogantino’s Restaurant in Landrijiet Rabat. The building is a late 16th century hunting lodge and is a fine example of Maltese architecture with vaulted ceilings, original stone floors and small, segregated dining areas.  The restaurant is cut off from all the noise and congestion you are bound to experience daily. It makes you feel like you are entering into a different ‘world’. The service was excellent and the food was very good value for money. Ample choice on the menu, specialises in pork, and you are sure to find a wine which not only gratifies your taste buds but also your pocket. It is a restaurant worth visiting.
We were served great starters like salami, bigilla, cheeslets, chicken on skewers, gammon and bruschetta. The suckling pig was exceptional.

All good things must come to an end and unfortunately, it was time to head over to the airport.

I will never forget my time in Malta, I still find myself daydreaming about my hotel suite, the seafood at Terragon, milking goats and I smirk everytime I see a bumblebee. It was a very humbling yet luxurious experience and I will definitely make a visit in the very near future.

Forget Ibiza, St Tropez, Spain or Italy for your summer holiday, it’s all about Malta and I would have never have said that a year ago.

“National carrier Air Malta continues to operate an extensive year-round scheduled service of 26 flights per week from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester with fares from as little as £62 one way, inclusive of taxes and 20kgs of baggage. Air Malta also operate regional Summer charter flights from Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Newcastle, Exeter, Norwich and new for 2013, Glasgow. For more information visit airmalta.com”

www.airmalta.com

www.visitmalta.com

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