In spite of all the trials and tribulations attached with modern, international travel, I still enjoy flying, and have to admit that every time I’m flying back home to Malta, I continue to derive great pleasure from observing the scene unfolding beneath me as the aircraft manoeuvres those last few minutes before landing.
Where to sit to see more
To do this, a window seat is obviously a pre-requisite. A day flight offers a much more graphic experience, although Malta at night is reasonably well lit up to afford the recognition of towns and landmarks such as the well lit battlements surrounding Valletta and the Three Cities.
There are also tactics as to which window seat! Although both left and right stand good chances of excellent views, I always ask for an “F” seat given that most approaching aircraft, from Europe in particular, tend to fly southwards with the islands lying to the right of the aircraft. This usually takes place to reduce noise pollution over land, although air traffic control often also requests aircraft to land by over-flying the three main islands, in which case an “A” seat comes in handy to enjoy the more heavily indented and developed eastern coastline.
What you glimpse and when
Cloud cover is rarely a problem so the last few minutes of the flight generally allow for excellent visibility as the plane reduces altitude to make the final approach. On most flights, the first sight of Maltese territory usually consists of Gozo which rises solidly from the blue Mediterranean with its straight, golden limestone cliffs. The harsh cliffs eventually dissolve to show a highly contoured landscape with terraced fields and hilltop villages, foremost amongst which is Victoria and its imposing Citadel. The period between October and May generally affords a much greener landscape while the summer months are obviously drier.
Mgarr Harbour with its toy-like ferries and boats gives way to the channel separating Gozo from Malta, with Comino and Cominotto looking like two oversized pebbles in the azure water. Under the right conditions, Comino’s Blue Lagoon stands out in sheer contrast and the numerous pleasure boats sailing Maltese waters become very visible.
The north of Malta comes next, with the Ahrax peninsula, Mellieha Bay and village, Xemxija and St Paul’s Bay successively drifting into view to be followed by the sprawl of Bugibba and Qawra with the Wardija heights in the background. Alternatively, when flying overland, the wide expanse of rural landscape punctuated by small settlements such as Mgarr, Zebbiegh, Bahrija followed by Rabat and Mdina.
Marsamxett Harbour and Grand Harbour and their urban hinterland next float into view, with Valletta jutting out in all her glory: a scene hard to describe and a privilege and pleasure to behold, whether in daytime or darkness.
Have we overshot Malta?
If approaching from the sea, and with only a couple minutes to go before landing, the aircraft generally overflies the rest of the island to the south of Marsaxlokk Harbour: a move that shocks and confuses most newcomers who mistakenly assume that the pilots have overshot the island and the runway!
The aircraft then affects a 180 degree turn, aligns itself for the final approach and generally descends over Malta Freeport and Birzebbuga before landing at Malta International Airport.
I have the opportunity to repeat this experience around eight times a year, and after twenty-five years of doing it, I still feel fascinated with the experience each and every time I’m flying back home.
Malta benefits from very good, direct links with the major European and North African urban centres and enjoys year-round flight services by Air Malta and several other airlines. Flying times to most major European cities served are around two to three hours.
See: Malta International Airport to check arrival & departure schedules, and the near real-time updates.
Photo: Leslie Vella