Malta’s Blue Lagoon: The Most Beautiful Turquoise Water And The Most Tourists.

The Blue Lagoon is a pristine lagoon with crystal clear turquoise waters on the tiny, car-free island of Comino, Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Lagoon is truly stunning and one of the “must see” activities in Malta. I’m talking paradise pretty and waters as turquoise as those you see in travel magazines. Since its so pretty, its super, super, super popular with tourists and a crazy amount of people descend on the Blue Lagoon everyday. Despite its touristy nature, I loved the Blue Lagoon and was more than happy to spend a day there! Dan on the other hand, thought it was just too touristy. We’ve summarized our experience in this post and how to make the most of your day!

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The touristy, yet gorgeous, Blue Lagoon.

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Two Days On The Mediterranean Island Of Gozo.

Gozo is one of three Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea (the other two being Malta and Comino). Gozo is the middle island in terms of size and a world apart from its big sister Malta. On our trip to Malta earlier this year, Dan and I ferried over to the Maltese island of Gozo for a couple nights to experience old school Malta, and that is exactly what we got.

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Mgarr Harbor, Gozo.

If you told someone that you were traveling to Gozo on vacation, they may have no idea where or what Gozo is. That’s because Gozo receives a lot less tourism that Malta or Comino, despite being close neighbors. This is probably due to the fact that Gozo lacks an airport, so you must go through Malta to access Gozo.  In any case, we found Gozo to be very chill and laid back, gorgeous, a bit of a time capsule, and less expensive than Malta.  

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Quiet Gozo.

Many companies offer day tours to Gozo from Malta and some Blue Lagoon tours offer a couple-hour stop off in Gozo, but I would not recommend these. You will miss out on what makes Gozo special.

WHAT TO SEE ON GOZO, MALTA

Gozo’s most famous site, the Azure Window (of Game of Thrones fame, Dany and Drogo married there), sadly crashed into the sea during a storm in 2017.  You can still visit the site where it was located, Dwerja Beach, and that’s just what we did! Even without the Azure Window, Dwerja Beach is very pretty and an interesting place to walk around a photograph. Just across the street is a popular swimming hole with crystal clear water. There is a parking lot at Dwerja Beach, a handful of kiosks selling food and beverage, and a sit down restaurant on site. I would plan to spend 30 minutes at Dwerja Beach, longer if you want to swim or eat.

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Former site of the Azure Window.

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Swimming behind Dwerja Beach.

Quite close to Dwerja Beach is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Ta’Pinu, for short, is a gorgeous basilica overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. And I mean GORGEOUS. Ta’Pinu is particularly well-known for a chapel that, as confirmed by the Catholic Church, has asked parishioners to say Hail Mary three times and then performed a miracle.  Many people make pilgrimages here, and the Pope has even visited Ta’Pinu. Entrance is free and you are not supposed to wear short shorts or tank tops, but this rule was not strictly enforced in the Summer heat.

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Interior of Ta’Pinu.

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View from Ta’Pinu.

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Danny at Ta’Pinu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite places in Gozo is Xlendi, a cute seaside town! Xlendi has great views, cool water front restaurants, and some walking trails. It also has a very small beach that is not exactly swimmable due to its size and boats; however if you take the path around Xlendi to the water, there are fabulous views and a few diving boards built into the coast! Swimming in this area seemed more sanitary than right in the port. There is parking around town. Xlendi would also make a nice town to stay in if you want to be in a town.

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Xlendi Bay.

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Swimming near Xlendi Bay.

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Xlendi at sunset.

Marsalforn is another cute little beach town with lots of restaurants and bars. The beach here is slightly larger and the water is gorgeous. Marsalforn would make another cute town to base your stay on Gozo.

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Marsalforn.

Just next to Marsalforn are the famous salt pans of Gozo. There is not much to do here except snap a picture and buy some salt from the older gentleman selling freshly made salt but its a cool place to see and quite close to Marsalforn. Tip if you’re planning on buying salt, which you should, bring a plastic ziplock bag to put it in. The bag our salt was sold in started to leak.

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Real salt from Marsalforn – just used it Tuesday!

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Salt pans.

If you are a history buff, you cannot miss a visit to the Ggantija Temples on Gozo. Similar to the Hypogeoum on Malta, the Ggantija Temples are ancient temples that were somewhat recently discovered and not much is known about their background. However, the temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and date back to around 3500 BC (older than Stonehenge!). There is an interesting museum that you visit before seeing the temples, which provides some interesting information and gives some suggestions as to what the temples may have been used for!

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Ggantija Temples

Just next to the Ggantija Temples is the Ta’Kola Windmill, which is an old windmill that you can visit and climb to the top. We did this, but only because our ticket to the Ggantija Temples included entrance to the windmill, as well. The windmill was interesting, but I probably would not go back. The most interest part was viewing it from the outside.

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Ta’Kola Windmill.

We also visited the Ta’Mena Estate, which is sort of a famous Agritourism farm and winery on Gozo. Ta’Mena hosts tours and tastings every Thursday (and I think Saturday), which you need to book in advance. The tour was quite long, but it did come with a substantial food and wine tasting after the tour. Ta’Mena also opens a shop after the tour selling all sorts of its organic products. The food tasting is enough for lunch.

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Welcome to Ta’Mena Estate.

Victoria is Gozo’s capital city, and its quite a lovely city. Victoria is home to quite winding streets, old school public squares, lots of churches, and a number of restaurants and shops. We spent an afternoon here and really enjoyed this picturesque town. If you are looking to shop, Victoria is definitely the spot. My favorite store was the adorable House of Gozo located right off Gozo’s main square.

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Adorable Gozo.

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So charming.

Victoria is also home to the Citadel, which was way cooler than I anticipated. The Citadel is the old walled-city and it looks straight out of Game of Thrones. It reminded me a lot of Dubrovnik, too. While its a steep climb uphill, the views from the Citadel are worth it. The Citadel is home to some shops and restaurants. Be sure to bring water in the summer.

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Top of the Citadel in Gozo.

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Inside the Citadel.

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Reminds me of Dubrovnik a decade ago.

WHERE WE STAYED ON GOZO

We stayed at the adorable Cescas Boutique Hotel, halfway between Xlendi and Victoria. Cescas is owned by the same people as Ta’Karolina Restaurant in Xlendi and like Ta’Karolina, the hotel is quite modern and swanky.  Cescas is located in a remodeled farmhouse and its really in the middle of nowhere – definitely a place to get away from it all. Cescas has a lovely pool and serves a nice breakfast each morning.

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Dining room views at Cesca’s.

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The pool at Cesca’s.

WHERE WE ATE

As mentioned in my previous post on my week in Malta, we ate pretty well on Gozo.  My favorite restaurants were Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria and Ta’Karolina and The Boathouse in Xlendi. Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite foods.

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Dan and me at Ta’Karolina.

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Fried Gozitan cheese.

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English breakfast at Cesca’s.

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Nutella milkshake paired with Maltese red wine in Marsalforn.

Also, while not technically a restaurant, Lord Chambry Beer is a local craft beer brewed in Victoria. Its available all over Malta in general, even on the Gozo Ferry line(!), and each beer is named after something Malta-related. Definitely worth trying on Gozo!

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HOW WE ARRIVED

The only way to reach Gozo is via the Gozo Channel Line car ferry from Cirkewwa (Malta) to Mgarr (Gozo), which run every half-hour. The ferry was easy and only took 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip (more for a car, clearly). You do not need to buy tickets in advance and you actually don’t even need a ticket on the way over from Malta; tickets are only checked on the return trip from Gozo. The ferries have a cafe serving food and drinks, as well as some small souvenirs. There are taxis meeting the ferry in both Cirkewwa and Mgarr.

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Ferry to Malta.

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Ferry to Gozo.

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Pulling into Mgarr Harbor.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING GOZO

As of July 2019, there are no ride sharing apps working in Gozo. I.e. no Uber, Lyft, ECabs, or Bolt. There are buses that run around Gozo, they are not frequent. If you do not rent a car, a taxi is probably your best bet.

In the summer, its HOT on Gozo. Take a hat and carry water with you everywhere. And on that note, while water is easy enough to find (usually for 1 euro per bottle), places in Gozo did not seem to have great air conditioning. We had trouble cooling down.

Try to spend at least 1 night on Gozo, if not a few, to get a feel for the island.

Take cash out on Malta. There are ATMs on Gozo, but they have been known to go out island-wide.

SOME PICTURES OF GOZO

And, since Gozo was so gorgeous, I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from Gozo!

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Walking to Xlendi.

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The famous fishing boats.

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Kinnie soda.

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In Xlendi.

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View of Victoria.

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Victoria.

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Outskirts of Victoria.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.

Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday).  Book in advance via email.

The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.

Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!

Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.

Gozo Ferry Line: Official website with timetables.

Gozo Taxi Service: The taxi service that I used to organize a day tour to some of Gozo’s most famous sites. They were very responsive via email and the driver was good. Would use again.

A Glorious Week in Mediterranean Malta!

Malta is a small country of of three islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino, in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and Tunisia.  Part of the European Union, Malta is a popular European beach destination that is fairly easy to reach from mainland Europe. Dan and I spent a week in Malta in July, 2019, enjoying the sun, the crystal blue water, and the summer vibe! I definitely recommend Malta as a getaway from Europe or Northern Africa! For now, coming from the US, is a long ride, but that could change as Air Malta is allegedly looking to expand to the US East Coast… We shall see – fingers crossed!

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Summer in Gozo, Malta.

While currently a popular vacation destination, Malta has a long history, dating back to 5900 BC. Malta has been home to ancient indigenous populations, some of whose structures are still intact(!) and ruled by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. We got a lot of British and Sicilian vibes, as well as a bit of Arabic. Malta also played a large role in World War II. I had no idea about Malta’s interesting and lengthy history, and it was definitely fun to learn about its history on our trip!

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Historic Valletta.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MALTA

If you’re planning to visit Malta, these are my personal highlights, but, rest assured, there is more than enough to keep one busy for more than a week! However, I thought a week was the perfect amount of time to explore Malta. Here are some of my favorite Maltese activities!

The Blue Lagoon on Comino island was probably the biggest highlight for me; the turquoise water in the Blue Lagoon was absolutely stunning and I had a great time swimming in the Blue Lagoon for a day, despite it being heavily touristy. I would note that Dan did not enjoy the Blue Lagoon as much as I did, mainly due to the crowds.

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Blue Lagoon. Comino, Malta.

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a gorgeous capital that feels like its stuck in a time capsule. Do not miss a morning walking around this gorgeous city. And I do mean morning in the summer, to avoid the heat!

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Valletta, Malta.

Mdina, Malta’s former capital, is an impressive walled city, and it was also Kings Landing for Season 1 of Game of Thrones!! I found Mdina to have a similar awe-inspiring feel to that of Dubrovnik (Kings Landing post Season 1), but without the hoards of tourists. Go in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat.

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Mdina, Malta.

Malta is famous for its colorful doors and balconies for good reason. Valletta and Mdina are two of the best places to see and photograph Malta’s famous doors and balconies.

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Balconies in Valletta.

Gozo, the middle Maltese island size-wise, is a short ferry ride from Malta island. We spent two nights on Gozo and Gozo has a completely different, laid back feel than Malta. If you have more than a few days in Malta, I recommend venturing to Gozo for at least a day and night.

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Breakfast on Gozo.

OUR MALTESE ITINERARY

Our first full day in Malta was spent on a day trip to the Blue Lagoon with Hornblower Cruises, departing from Bugibba Jetty (we took a Bolt, Malta’s version of Uber, from St. Julian’s). Our day trip lasted from about 10:00 – 17:00 and it was totally amazing! The blue lagoon is awesome and while touristy, I think its totally worth fighting the crowds! We also took a 15 minute tour of some of the caves around Comino, which was organized by Hornblower. Highly recommend a tour of the Blue Lagoon to Malta visitors.

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Me in the Blue Lagoon. Not a bad way to spend a Monday.

Our second day started with a visit to a well-known Maltese winery, the Meridiana Wine Estate. The wine was okay, but the tour was interesting and it is located on land that was bombed during WWII. We sampled 4 glasses of wine for 12 euro per person.

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Meridiana Wine Estate.

After our wine tasting, we toured the Hypogeum, which is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. There are no pictures allowed inside the Hypogeum, but the Hypogeum is an ancient underground temple. Buy your tickets far in advance to tour the Hypogeum, only 80 people are allowed in per day. It was definitely an interesting site to visit, but I wouldn’t kill yourself to ensure a visit.

Our second day ended with a swim in the Intercontinental’s Sky Bar and dinner at the most delicious pizza restaurant – Restaurant Sotto! The pizza was amazing and deliciously Italian.

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Sky Bar at the Intercontinental. 

On our third day, we took the Gozo Channel Line ferry over to Gozo island for two nights. The ferry was super easy and only took about 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip. Upon arrival in Gozo, we walked into its capital, Victoria, and had a tasty good meal at Stanley’s Chippy Shop (of TripAdvisor fame).

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Victoria, Gozo.

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Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria, Gozo.

We ended the afternoon with a break at the hotel before walking into Xlendi for a romantic dinner on Xlendi bay at Restaurant Ta’Karolina!

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Dinner at Ta’Karolina.

Our second day on Gozo was spent driving around the island and seeing some of its beset sites. We saw Dwejra Bay (the former home of the Azure Window), the salt pans in Marsalforn, Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica, and the Ggantija Temple.  All of these sites were really cool, and I felt like we saw a lot of Gozo!

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Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica.

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Salt pans of Marsalforn.

After touring around the island, we did a wine tasting at Ta’Mena Estate, which was more of a farm than a winery.  Our day ended with another dinner in Xlendi, this time out The Boathouse.

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Ta’Mena Estate.

On Friday, we took the ferry back to Gozo and after checking into our new hotel, the Hilton St. Julian’s, we took a Bolt to Mdina for the afternoon, which was absolutely lovely!

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Gozo Ferry Line.

We ended Friday with a dinner at the Leglin wine bar in Valletta.

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One of the courses at Leglin Wine Bar.

On our final day in Malta, we took a food tour around Valletta, explored Valletta a bit on our own, and ended the evening with an Italian dinner in St. Julian’s.

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Valletta.

FAVORITE MALTESE EATING AND DRINKING HIGHLIGHTS

I’ll post about some of our favorite meals but in short, Malta is home to some interesting food that is not easy to find off the islands. That being said, I unfortunately kept comparing it to Italian food and, I just did not find it as good as Italian food… In any case, we still had some excellent meals and dishes. Here is a short list of some of my favorite Maltese finds!

The local Maltese soda, Kinnie, is every where in Malta; there are even vending machines and a diet version. Definitely worth trying when in Malta.

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Kinnie Soda!

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Kinnie vending machine on Gozo.

Fried foods, like British and American-style fried foods, are strangely popular and well-done (er, fried) in Malta. I guess its due to its close ties to Great Britain. We had quite good fried food (though it wasn’t the most exotic or healthy) all over Malta, including on Comino Island where the only food options are food kiosks geared strictly to tourists. Malta is also a good place to find a solid fish and chips.

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Fish and chips at Hugo Pub in St. Julian’s.

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Fried mozzarella sticks on Comino. Might as well be the USA.

Rabbit is the national dish of Malta, and many restaurants offer rabbit every night. I am not a rabbit lover, but Dan tried it a few times and enjoyed his dishes. If you’re adventurous or a fan or rabbit, Malta is definitely a good place to have the dish.

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Maltese rabbit dish at Ta’Karolina on Gozo.

Another must try in Malta is Italian food, since its so close to Italy! Italian food is readily available on Malta, and Italian coffees, cannolis, pasta, and pizza were everywhere. We had some AMAZING pizza at Restaurant Sotto in Valletta. Highly, highly recommended.

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Pizza at Restaurant Sotto!

Along the fried cheese theme, I had multiple Gozotian cheese served fried as an appetizer on the island of Gozo. The cheese was soft and white and often served with a berry sauce. Big fan! This dish was easy to find all over Gozo – less so on Malta.

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Fried Gozotian cheese.

Any and everything fig. I love figs and, lucky for me, figs are very popular in Malta, especially so in desserts and liquors. On our first night, I had a great fig pie served with homemade ice cream at Restaurant Peperoncino on Malta. 

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Fig cake with homemade ice cream.

In addition to fig liquors, Malta makes a lot of liquors from everything from fig to prickly pear to carob to limoncello. We tried a few different types on our trip, often as a complimentary after dinner drink at restaurants. Since these were liquors, they were not too strong and could easily be drank without a mixer.

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Maltese limoncello.

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Carob liquor.

We also tried Pastizzi on Malta as part of our Valletta food tour. Pastizzi may be the most famous Maltese food and its ubiquitous in Malta. Pastizzi is basically a puff pastry filled with a variety of fillings, from peas to cheese to Nutella. I tried the cheese, but pastizzis are quite cheap so you can try them all.

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Pastizzi.

Finally, Malta’s local beer, Cisk! Cisk is everywhere on all of the islands, and they even have some fun summer shandy-type flavors. I had a few Cisks on this trip and for a mass produced beer, its quite good! 

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Cisk on draft.

WHERE WE STAYED

On Malta, we stayed in 2 hotels in St. Julian’s – the Intercontinental and the Hilton. We choose these hotels because of points and status that we have at the hotels. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but they were both nice.

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View from the room at the Hilton Malta.

As mentioned, both hotels were in St. Julian’s, a very popular tourist area on Malta. If you stay in St. Julian’s, know that there is a party atmosphere (clubs, bars, hookah), lots of chains, and loads of tourists. Stay elsewhere if you are searching for a more local feel.

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Dan having a hookah in St. Julian’s.

On Gozo, we stayed at Cescas Boutique Hotel, between Xlendi and Victoria. While it was a bit out of the way, Cescas was gorgeous and a complete 180 from St. Julian’s. We did not have a car and were fine, but renting a car is helpful at Cescas on Gozo, as its at least a 15 minute (somewhat dicey on the side of the road) walk from the nearest restaurant (except the one onsite).

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View from Cescas with Victoria in the background (a 30 minute walk uphill).

PRACTICALITIES

  • The Maltese speak English and Maltese, and many speak other languages.
  • Malta uses the euro. Large stores, hotels, and most restaurants accept credit card, but smaller shops, kiosks, and some restaurants only accept cash. As such, its advisable to carry cash, especially when not on Malta island.
  • Malta generally uses the UK 3-prong electric outlet, although some hotels also have the European 2-prong outlets.
  • The well-known white Malta taxis are pricey. We used the app Bolt and it worked pretty well, very similar to Uber (which does NOT work in Malta). Ecabs is a similar app that was recommended, but we did not try it. If you use Bolt, be sure to check that you want to pay by credit card if you do not have cash – otherwise the app defaults to cash payment. Note – as of July 2019, neither Bolt nor Ecabs work on Gozo or Comino.
  • Malta is by far the busiest and most modern of the 3 Maltese islands. You can find whatever you need on Malta. Things are much harder to find on Gozo and Comino.
  • Bring a cover for your shoulders if visiting churches; the Maltese are quite religious (Catholic).
  • Sicily is only a 90-minute ride away via fast ferry, making the two Mediterranean destinations an easy pair.
  • The island of Comino is tiny; there is only 1 hotel and restaurant on the island, and the Blue Lagoon is the primary site to see there. Don’t plan on spending more than a day unless you are staying at the hotel on the island.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Intercontinental Malta: St. George’s Bay St. Julian’s STJ, 3310, Malta. Located right in the middle of St. Julian’s with two pools.  The Sky Beach Restaurant and Champagne Bar costs money to access if you are not staying in one of the Executive Level rooms. Good AC and awesome gym.

Hilton Malta: Vjal Portomaso St Julian’s PTM, 01, Malta. While in St. Julian’s, the Hilton Malta is located a bit away from the hustle and bustle of St. Julian’s, but still within walking distance to the bars/restaurants of St. Julians. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but we also had lounge access in the Hilton (and not the Intercontinental (like we did in Singapore), and that may have swayed my opinion. Good AC and multiple pools on property.

Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.

Hornblower Cruises: Dawret Il-Gzejjer, San Pawl il-Baħar SPB 1480, Malta. One of the more popular Blue Lagoon cruises in Malta. Book in advance online to secure your spot.

Peperoncino: 8 Triq Il- Bajja, San Ġiljan, Malta. Open daily 18h30 – 22h. Reservations recommended for the best tables!

Sotto Pizzeria: 32 South St, Valletta, Malta. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12:00 – 14:45, 19:00 – 23:00. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended, as this place is popular! Casual attire.

Hypogeum: Triq Ic Cimiterju Raħal Ġdid PLA, 1116, Malta. Open daily 9 – 5. Book your tickets via my link months in advance, or be prepared to pay $$ via a third party vendor. Only 80 people allowed in per day. The Hypogeum was quite interesting, but not a “must do” if you are short on time or cannot procure tickets.

Meridiana Wine Estate: ATD 4000, Malta. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Use the “Book A Tour” feature on the bottom of their website to inquire about a tour/tasting, which are usually held during the week between 10:00 and 15:00. Our tasting was 12 euro/person for 4 wines and some crackers. I recommend upgrading to their full tray of snacks, which costs a bit more but is enough for lunch.

Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday).  Book in advance via email.

Leglin Wine Bar: Old school wine bar in downtown Valletta. Book in advance via Facebook Messenger.

The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.

Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!

Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.

Off Beat Malta Food Trails: Great food tour of Valletta – you try delicious food and walk though a good bit of the city. Book online in advance.

 

 

 

Mdina, Malta: One Of The Most Gorgeous Cities I Have Ever Visited.

Mdina, Malta is a walled, hilltop town on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, which stood as the capital of Malta until the Medieval period. Mdina is commonly known as the “Silent City,” its a UNESCO site, and Mdina is a hugely popular tourist destination in Malta. More importantly, its also Kings Landing from the first season of Game of Thrones!!!!

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Mdina or Kings Landing?

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A Day Trip To The Abu Simbel Temples – Worth The Time And Effort.

Prior to planning our trip to Egypt, I hardly knew anything about Abu Simbel. Yes, I had heard of it and I *kind of* knew what it looked like, but nothing more. At all. But, as soon as I dug into Abu Simbel, a visit was absolutely non-negotiable. Planning this “must do” activity turned out to be more work than anticipated, as its a flight from Cairo or Luxor or 6-hour round trip drive from Aswan! In any case, we worked it out and it was one of both Dan and my favorite activities in Egypt, rivaling even the pyramids!

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Shara sunrise en route to Abu Simbel.

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Eating Our Way Through Downtown Cairo!

Dan and I were very interested in trying Egyptian food, so in planning our trip to Cairo, we booked a food tour shortly after we booked our flights! For any foodies planning a trip to Cairo, this is a GREAT idea (especially if you are not Egyptian and/or don’t speak Arabic) because it allows you to try really local food from vendors who may not speak English and see the heart of old Cairo (which can be quite overwhelming!). Its also a good idea if you are taking a Nile River cruise, because the food on those cruises is usually not Egyptian!

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Fruit market in Downtown Cairo.

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My Best Meal in Malta: Sotto Pizzeria in Valletta!

Being so close to Italy, Italy heavily influences Malta’s cuisine. Pasta, cannoli, and pizza are everywhere in Malta, and we ate a lot of it. However, I kept thinking that it was just not as good as Italian food; a second best so to speak. However, when we dined at Sotto Pizzeria, I was completely blown away and had, by far, the best meal of the entire trip!

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Malta on a map.

Sotto Pizzeria is located in Malta’s capital, Valletta, in a nondescript basement with only a small sign announcing the restaurant.

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Dan Dan at Sotto Pizzeria in Valletta, Malta.

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Wareontheglobe’s 2019 Guide To Visiting The Great Pyramids In Egypt.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Dan and I checked off a big bucket list item earlier this year – visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!! It was truly a 10-year in the making trip (due to safety concerns), and we loved every minute of our holiday! So much, in fact, that we are planning to go back in a couple years when the Great Egyptian Museum finally opens! While everything was fantastic, I was shocked at how difficult it is to find information about visiting the Pyramids, and Egypt generally, online; it was really tough! I put together this guide to help future travelers cut down on the planning stress! Note, this information is as of 2019. Definitely check for updates and more recent information in the future, as Egypt’s tourism industry is only moving forward!

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The pyramids!!

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Airport Lounge Review: No. 1 Lounge, London Heathrow.

En route back from Malta, Dan and had a little over three hours to kill in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 before flying back to New York via Virgin Atlantic. Since we flew economy class, we had two options for airport lounges via Priority Pass – the Aspire Lounge and the No. 1 Lounge. Since we had visited the Aspire Lounge (albeit in Terminal 5) previously, we decided to check out the No. 1 Lounge this time, as it was new and it gets pretty good reviews.

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Welcome to the No. 1 Lounge!

The No. 1 Lounge is part of a chain of lounges in the UK. The public can buy access to the lounge for 40 Pounds, and the No. 1 Lounge also accepts Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Diners Club, and Wexas, and acts as a lounge for certain carriers. As such, it can definitely fill up and lock out Priority Pass members. To avoid this, the No. 1 Lounge offers an option for Priority Pass members to purchase guaranteed access for 5 Pounds/person. We did purchase this option, but it ended up being unnecessary.

The No. 1 Lounge is located post-security on the second floor of Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport, just next to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and very close to other airline lounges. It was easy enough to find, just follow signs for airport lounges and don’t get distracted in crazy Terminal 3! There is an elevator and stairs to access the lounge. Entrance was quick and easy with our Priority Pass, and there were no restrictions for entry at 11 AM on a Sunday morning in June.

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Pricing scheme.

Upon arrival, you are given a menu with hot meal choices for the day, a bit of general information on the lounge, and the wifi password. 

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Daily menu/literal meal ticket.

Upon entry, the No. 1 Lounge is quite large with decent airport views (the exact same as the Virgin Clubhouse, only 1 floor higher). Just past checkin is a pretty large bar with bar stool seating. Just past the bar is a small buffet and coffee area with table seating.

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Cool runway views.

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The lounge. I failed to get great pictures…

Moving around the corner from the buffet area, there is a lot of seating, both nice sofa like chairs, tables, and seating overlooking the runway.  While there was a lot of seating, it was pretty crowded.  In addition to this area, there are a few private rooms that can apparently be rented out for private groups (or possibly airlines).  We ended up in one of these rooms at a large table just in front or a large TV playing BBC. These small side rooms also had small fridges with soda and water. 

FOOD

Since we had limited time in the lounge, we decided to order hot food as soon as we sat down. Dan took our two menus to the bar, where all orders are placed, and placed our orders. The way the hot food works is that your menu is a ticket for one meal. We just missed breakfast, so I ordered the truffle mac and cheese and Dan ordered the bacon sandwich. Our food came out about 15 minutes later and both were quite delicious!! My only complaint is that the dishes were a little small… But we ended up lucking out and our neighbor gave us his menu (he was not eating) and we ordered a third fish wrap, which was served with potato chips and was SO good!! We were definitely plenty full at this point!

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Bacon sandwich with brown sauce. Available all day.

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Truffle mac and cheese. Available after 11 AM.

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Fish finger wrap with potato chips. Available all day.

Aside from order from the menu, which is a really fun option in an airport lounge, we also visited the little buffet area. We visited just as the lunch portion was going out. When we visited, the buffet consisted of a hot soup, a beet salad, a small lettuce salad with some vegetables, fresh fruit (whole apples, oranges, etc.), and some nuts and dried fruit. The nearby coffee bar doubled as a dessert bar and offered cookies and a couple different types of tea cakes. The desserts were really good and the buffet food was high quality, but I was looking for something a little more unhealthy on my last day of vacation….

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The buffet.

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Beet salad and fresh tomatoes.

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Fresh fruit and salad toppings.

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Sweets from the sweets table.

THE DRINKS

While the hot food is understandably limited at the No. 1 Lounge, the drinks (well most) are free flowing (unlike the Aspire lounge). At the No. 1 Lounge, all alcohol beverages come from the main bar, and there are a lot of options. Seriously, Prosecco, numerous types of red and white wines, draft and bottled beer, and cider. There is also Champagne available for purchase. Between Dan and me, we tried the Prosecco, cider, and the Spanish Rioja red wine. I do not recall the brand of wine, but the Spanish Rioja was an excellent wine for a Priority Pass airline lounge.

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Complimentary Prosecco.

In addition to alcohol drinks, the No. 1 Lounge offers complimentary bottles of flat and sparkling wine, a variety of sodas, juice, and a large coffee machine making all of the standard espresso beverages. These drinks are all unlimited and are self-serve via several small fridges spread out throughout the lounge.

OTHER AMENITIES

The No. 1 Lounge has in lounge lavatories, which were clean and large enough to change and freshen up. The No. 1 Lounge also offers showers for 15 Pounds, nap pods for 20 Pounds, and apparently spa services! We did not use these features, nor did I see anyone else using them, but they apparently exist…

All in all, the No. 1 Lounge was a good lounge, and I think that I liked it better than the Aspire Lounge, but only slightly.

STEAL OUR LOUNGE

No. 1 Lounge Heathrow: Post-security in London Heathrow Terminal 3.  Follow signs for Lounge F access. Directly above the Virgin Clubhouse. Open daily 4:30 – 22:30. From 34 Pounds in advance, 40 Pounds at the door. Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Diners Club, and Wexas members have complimentary access. Showers are 10 Pounds extra for patrons with complimentary access.  Pass members can also guaranty entrance for 5 Pounds per person online in advance.

My Review Of Our Nile River Cruise On The M/S Nile Dolphin With Emo Tours Egypt.

As part of our Egypt itinerary in April 2019, Dan and I took a Nile River cruise with Emo Tours Egypt. While we are not cruisers at all (having only cruised once previously), we choose a Nile River cruise because it seemed like the easiest and quickest way to get between Luxor and Aswan, while seeing the sites in between. We very, very much enjoyed our cruise and cruising the Nile is SO GORGEOUS. But, there were certainly some things that surprised us about the cruise, probably because there is not a lot of information online about these cruises except “rah rah, you have to do it!” So, here is my complete review and guide of our cruise down the Nile River!

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View from the ship – the Nile Dolphin.

PROS: Easy way to get from Luxor to Aswan while seeing some sites in between, cruising down the Nile is amazing, generally safe and comfortable, Emo Tours Egypt tour guide was fantastic!

CONS: The food, limited activities on the ship, limited interaction with Egyptian culture.

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