This is a selective round-up of some of the more unusual and we hope more interesting pastimes, excursions and tours to think about if you are holidaying in Malta. If you’re coming with a tour operator, the chances are that the rep assigned to your hotel will have regular packages on offer. But what about the things to see that are more off the beaten tourist path? The quirkier, more eclectic museums or the more sensual or adventurous ways to see the Islands?
Here, we hope to give you some ideas about what else is on offer in Malta and Gozo, when the guides, guidebooks and reps’ choices leave you, well, feeling a little like you’ve done and seen the things before (the Balearic Islands perhaps on last year’s hols?!).
Wind, Sea & Sky
A friend of mine took her mum up in the seaplane for a birthday treat. Apart from running the regular hourly shuttle to Gozo and back, the plane also offers scenic flights over Malta. It does recall the glam ‘flying boat’ era of the ’50s even if it’s a thoroughly modern descendent of those planes. What is interesting about seeing Malta from the air is that you discover hidden coves, swathes of walkable countryside and landmarks that you just don’t know about, even if you’ve lived here for years. Places you are eager to seek out later on land. And of course, there’s the thrill of landing on sea, not runway! Contact Harbour Air for details.
If you are keener to ‘have a go’ and do more than see the scenery, then try one of Malta’s light aircraft flying schools, most of which offer a trial, orientation flight to would-be pilots. Again, like the Seaplane, prices are reasonable, and you do get a go on the joy stick and learn about flying with natural and screen horizons. The instructors are happy to let you treat it as a scenic flight if you prefer! Don’t forget the camera. One school we’ve tested out ourselves is Diamond Flight Training. See our write-up here.
Near Ta’ Qali crafts village and right next to the National Stadium is this fascinating aviation museum housed in what were hangers of the old RAF aerodrome. Run as a non-profit organisation, the museum has gone from strength to strength in its work salvaging, acquiring and doing up an eclectic collection of planes and plane bits (mostly World War II era) such as a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire as well as having display cases packed with fascinating memorabilia. EU funding secured it a new hanger and the collection, layout, and information are admirable. Kids love it! So do grandads. See its site here.
You need to plan this rather than expect to get it sorted when you’re here, but a private hire of sailing boat is an amazing experience, whether you’re out for a day or are more flush for cash and hire it for a three-day trip to Sicily. The tourist boats that start from Sliema ferries are fine for a quick family outing, but if you really want to experience Malta from the sea, you’ll need to sail. Most higher-star hotels with lidos and beach concessions offer sailing instruction, as does Vikings Sailing Club based in Hay Wharf (near the Excelsior Hotel), Valletta. Vikings has three-day (half day) courses in the summer for newbies to the sport. Well worth fitting in if you can and the Valletta bus terminus is conveniently nearby. Other clubs and schools operate too, especially in the St Paul’s Bay area in northern Malta.
Open-top Bus Tours
Malta doesn’t have the space and roads to offer real motoring pleasure while on holiday (nor the road etiquette). There’s little point in hiring a vintage motor (we don’t mean old banger) to cruise the scenery. Leave that to larger countries. But what it does have is its quirky London-style double-decker bus tours. You can sit up top, sun or rain permitting, feel the wind blast your cheeks out of shape and rattle along spying over those rubble walls at a ‘hidden Malta’! Choose the southern or northern Malta tour, and hop on and off at will. Commentary in eight languages. I’ve not tried the tour, but my son wants to next holiday!
Classic Car Museum
If you aren’t getting your fix of old cars on Malta’s road, try out this museum to glimpse some that have had real tender loving care having been restored to near pristine condition. The museum is in one of Malta’ most touristy towns – Qawra – but often gets overlooked. It is privately run, and well kept and has a vast collection, so you can easily pass two or even three hours eyeing up the motors.
Quad Bike Tours
Very popular in Malta over the past five years are quad bikes. I suppose they give a feel of US-style beach riders. Though they are road bound here. The enterprising Malta Quad Bike Association offers all you need to find a tour or jaunt that suits you, from half days in Gozo to tours to Sicily. You need a valid drivers licence and must be over 25 years to take out a quad.
Wayside chapels, watch towers and quirky sites
A non-profit heritage organisation that does jolly well in keeping interesting gems of sites and buildings going for the pleasure of visitors is Din L-Art Helwa. We’ve given it several mentions on this site because we feel the places it cares for make interesting, more off-the-beaten tourist path places to visit. Red Fort (mentioned on a walk here), Bir Miftuh, the Wignacourt Tower are all ones we’ve covered. It is now on the verge of completing restoration of the Delimara Lighthouse which will be run also as holiday accommodation. See the organisation’s site for more hidden gems to visit – most are accessible within a short walk of public transport, and all make for an hour’s diversion from the regular tourist fare.
Wine & Food
Winery Tour – Meridiana Wine Estate
If the tour operators tell you only about the crafts village at Ta’ Qali, try to steal away when you’re there to Ta’ Qali’s other business – wine making. Meridiana is a small winery has been going just over 20 years and had start-up know-how from Marchese Piero Antinori, Tuscany’s famed wine lord. The estate produces what is calls ‘world-class wines of Maltese character’, not in great quantities, but all are well worth seeking out in restaurants and wine merchants if you don’t get to make a winery tour and tasting.
Maltese Olive Oil & ancient Olive Trees
The Romans introduced the olive tree to Malta, and it’s been proved in recent years that a few ancient olives growing in Barija, in the North, are around 1,000 years old, and therefore the offspring most likely of those Roman trees. One man, Sammy Cremona, is responsible for reviving this ancient root stock unique to Malta with the help of EU, government, and private sector funding. His own olive farm in Wardija offers tours, tastings and a typical Maltese farmers lunch with all the trimmings. By appointment only and usually run for small groups. His wife Matty is a well-known local cookery expert. Call Sammy Cremona on: +356 79582294. See more on olives here, and about Sammy and the project here.
Photo: Therese Debono