The Blue Grotto is made up of a few sea caverns – it’s a day trip (or half day) from the Capital city of Valetta, depending on what activities you decide to do. It’s a short distance from a fishermans’ harbour. We took the local bus from Valetta to this harbour and then a very short boat trip to the Blue Grotto area. A friend from home recommended the local buses but on this occasion it ended up being a long day as the bus stopped so many times along the route, plus it was very slow…quite interesting but a slow, tiring way to go. We suggest either driving or organising a small group tour or similar. Most hotels would have brochures on day tours here + perhaps go to the Bird Sanctuary at the nearby island of Filfla.

I was disappointed that the tour did not include swimming…as you can see, the water is mostly a brilliant aqua blue colour. In early May it was warm but not too hot – the sea temperature was v pleasant. Swimming is possible at various location but unfortunately, our boat trip was just a 1+ hour to see the caverns. An enjoyable day but we would recommend organising it a day or so in advance, especially if good weather is predicted, and including other activities such as swimming or snorkelling…if that is available. With all the fauna and sea flora in the area we would imagine that it would be a wonderful experience. The area has been used for filming of various TV and big screen productions eg. Troy. Rock climbing is another popular activity in this area but with my spinal surgery, a few years earlier, I know my Dr would not have been impressed if I did that!

The ferry service around Malta is fabulous!...reminded me a little Sydney ferries – which is also a fabulous service! We stayed in Sliema – a very attractive Harbourside town, a short ferry trip from the City (approx 20 min). Ferries were also inexpensive.

We recommend staying in Sliema as there are lots of restaurants…some very good and others OK. The food is an interesting mix of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/British! See a couple of recipes (photos below) that reminded us of this part of the world.

Where we stayed:

We wouldn’t recommend the big hotel where we stayed – we usually prefer small hotels or a B&B with good reviews…in 2014 that didn’t seem to be available but it might be now?

A little about the limestone:

Malta is a Mediterranean island of beautiful limestone covering just over 300 sq kilometres, including the outlying islands of Gozo and Comino. Dry limestone walls are everywhere…try not to miss the “oldest dry stone temple” on Gozo. There’s also a plethora of active and disused quarries, dating back to Roman times. There are history tours which can take you to some of these quarries. We did a self guided tour using the local buses – it was ok but on reflection, an organised small group tour might have been better. It’s hard not to be in awe of the magnificent stone masonry evident in most of the private and public buildings around Malta, especially in the Capital City of Valetta…we took the ferry there, wandered the streets (not too crowded) and had lunch at a lovely little cafe.

 

 

I was inspired to write about Malta after our delicious Middle Eastern meal last night!…photos below. Of course, Malta isn’t part of the Middle East but there are many, many Middle Eastern influences and traditions – the blend of that and Catholicism made for a fascinating week a few years ago.

The 2 dishes above from Jamie Oliver’s “5 Ingredients” (2017)…highly recommended for people who like the simple combination of beautiful flavours and textures with the ease of shopping/preparing that just 5 ingredients (+ oil etc. from pantry) can achieve, even on a relatively busy day.

Top dish – Watermelon, Radish & Feta Salad P41; Bottom dish – Carrot and Grain Salad P16 (we used toasted seeds but will investigate using grains another time.

CARROT AND GRAIN SALAD – Serves 2…we used toasted SEEDS

350 g baby carrots (mixed colour if available); 1 pomegranate; 1 big bunch fresh mint (60 g); 1×250 g packet of mixed cooked grains (or some toasted seeds is what we used instead eg. Pumpkin, Sunflower – worked well!); 40 g feta cheese.

Method:

Carrots:  Wash and halve carrots if larger ones – cook/toss (med heat for 15 min) in a cold non stick frying pain with 1 tablespoon olive oil + S&P…until golden and just tender.

Pomegranate:  Halve it, squeeze/strain juice from one half into a large bowl; add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar + 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil.

Mint:  Finely chop the top leafy half of the mint (reserve a few nice leaves), stir into bowl, then taste & season to taste.

Assembly of Salad: Transfer carrots to dressing bowl, while you toss grains (if using) in the pan for 1 min with a splash of water to warm through. Tip into bowl and mix with dressed carrots, then divided between your plates.

Step 2 Pomegranate: Holding the remaining half cut side down in your hand, bash the back with a spoon so all seeds tumble over the salads.

To Serve: Crumble or grate over the feta, sprinkle over the reserved mint leaves. Tuck in as Jamie O says!

WATERMELON, RADISH AND FETA SALAD – Serves 2

2 tablespoons pine nuts; 400g watermelon; 200g radishes, ideally with leaves; 4 sprigs of fresh mint; 50g feta cheese

Method:

Toast pine nuts in a dry non-stick frying pan on a medium heat for 1 min or until lightly golden;

Watermelon – cut off rind, pick out any seeds then slice as finely as you can.

Radishes – v finely slice (keep any nice leaves attached) – dress both with 1 tablespoon extra version olive oil and 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Season with S and P to taste.

Assembly – arrange the watermelon and radishes on your plates or a sharing platter; sprinkle over pine nuts, then mint leaves; crumble over the feta and finish with extra pepper.

We served these 2 salads with simple lamb cutlets; of course, you could substitute any meat, fish or protein/veg substitute you preferred. The lamb was particularly delicious and worked well with the Middle Eastern flavours.

 Back to our week in Malta…

There are also so many wonderful countries to see which are not too far from Malta – so it’s location is very central and convenient as well. We flew there from Sicily, Italy – a 3ish hour flight. After our week in Malta we travelled onto Greece for approximately 3 weeks followed by Turkey (a ferry from Samos) another 3 weeks…lots of posts to come when I have the time/energy!

History everywhere!…both ancient and modern:

“Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Order of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands. Malta became an independent state in 1964, and a Republic in 1974” (Wikipedia)

From Canberra Times/Sydney Morning Herald today – Traveller.com.au

The best travel destinations, journeys and culture highlights of 2017″

“BEST FORTIFIED CITY”

Mdina, Malta

“The early Arab capital of Malta sits on an inland outcrop with commanding views. Fortified walls enclose an almost perfectly preserved medieval and baroque town of meandering alleys, honey-coloured stone and sunlit squares. The cathedral is colourful with coats-of-arms and frescoes. Settle into seventeenth-century palazzo The Xara Palace for an old-world feel, spectacular views and a Relais & Châteaux restaurant serving fine Maltese and Mediterranean cuisine.See visitmalta.com and relaischateaux.com.”

Tony and I visited this Chateaux for a light lunch – it was a very busy day and service was reasonable. Beautiful setting and delicious food.