I have just returned from a trip to Malta, a needed break after a hugely busy period. I thought I may write a few lines about islands in the Med’. Not that I have visited them all by any means, but there are some that I would return to and some not.
My favourite is still the first trip to Majorca, or Mallorca as we now write spell it. We were younger and fitter then and walking amongst the orange blossom at Easter is one of my favourite things to do. I adore that scent; the world seems a better place if I get a sniff of it. It’s like sitting in a café in a shaded French square when the lime trees are in bloom. Perfection. We backpacked on that occasion by catching the old wooden train through the mountains from Palma to Soller. We fought the German tourists to get a seat on local buses to take us to lovely little villages and walked the ancient paths. My favourite café near Deià was featured in the Night Manager on TV last year. Just a shack overlooking the sea, a more humble place you cannot imagine, but it was paradise.
Last year we visited the east coast. Nowhere near as dramatic, it is full of hotels for tourists and seemed an easy option. We needed easy at that time. Ten years had taken its toll on fitness. This was a test to see if we could consider another long haul flight and to build up strength after a bout of sciatica.
Gentle walking beside a sea of remarkable colours soothed us. It was quiet, early on in the season and although we did not venture far, we enjoyed the peace.
It’s sister island, Menorca, has two very picturesque towns Mahon and Cuitadella, far more historically attractive than Palma, I felt. Those were towns you could wander around for hours admiring the architecture. The countryside is like Malta, a series of tiny fields with dry stone walls, marking small patches of land where little seems to be cultivated. We found an outstandingly beautiful bay, no roads within a mile, untouched, romantic and not crowded. We cycled from our hotel to a nearby ancient village and ate fabulous food by the sea. I think again that this is an island worth visiting. My photographs, unfortunately, are not accessible.
Cyprus – perhaps my feelings are coloured by having visited twice and been ill there both times. The first time, I don’t remember, I was two and ended up in a Nicosean hospital, dangerously ill with dysentery. My mother had always commented on how beautiful Kyrenia was and I looked forward to seeing it. I visited on my birthday. It was an endless bus journey from Paphos on the south coast, across the border into Turkish held Cyprus, and all I wanted was my bed. Some virus, no doubt caught on the plane laid me low for the week. Nothing about that journey attracted me. Neither did Paphos, although we had a good hotel. Perhaps it would be more beautiful at a different time of the year, February was early. However, I returned home unimpressed with Cyprus.
Which brings me to Malta. First impressions were good. We stayed at Sliema, across the bay from Valetta. However, as soon as we began to walk from our hotel, we found that we were in one of the largest building sites we had come across. It appears to cover most of the island. Dust, broken pavements, hammering, lorries, litter provided the backdrop to our trip. This is not to say the island does not have its pleasures. Valetta itself is a Unesco World Heritage site deservedly. It is a remarkable city for having raised itself up from the ashes. Malta was the most bombed place on earth during WW2. However, they appear to be destroying the rest of their heritage by tearing down the old villas and building high-rise flats and hotels all along the coast. It’s maybe good for tourism income, but I don’t go on holiday to find a concrete jungle.
Having said that, the people are extremely friendly. We had some of the tastiest pasta I have ever had in a little restaurant, The Black Sheep in Sliema, and the wine was both cheap and very good. I drink little normally but I enjoyed a glass of rosé most days. Some of it was the best wine I have tasted. We won’t return to Malta. I recommend a weekend in Valetta to anyone, but without trees and flowers and peace, it’s not a holiday for me.