I am lucky enough to have the freedom to take short photography trips out of season – when the wedding bookings are a bit quieter, the kids are at school and the weather at home is rubbish! I never really have a clear destination in mind, it is more a case of seeing where the cheapest flights are to and seeing which photographer friends might be able to come along too.
This year Skyscanner led us to Malta, with great value Ryanair flights to Luqa from Manchester. I managed to bag a window seat both ways and enjoyed stunning views over the Alps, Sicily and even saw Mount Etna! We can be quick to criticise budget airlines, but I’m not sure where else you can get an experience like that for £23.99 and finish up somewhere cool at the end of it! They’re also more eco-friendly as they tend to be newer aircraft and fill up most of the seats on each flight.
I travelled with Bruce, Lucy and Jaye & Matt, and we stayed in this fab Airbandb in Valetta for 3 nights. We then spent our final night across the water in Sliema in these great suites. They were both cheap as chips – all about £30pppn and we could have fit twice as many people in both!
Accommodation can be a bit thin on the ground in Valetta compared to other more developed Maltese towns, but if you go out of season like we did, you shouldn’t have a problem whatever your budget. It is a gem of a place to be based. It is full of character in every way, has everything you need and great bus and ferry connections to all the other main parts of the island (as well as neighbouring Gozo and even Sicily).
We all loved exploring Valetta’s narrow, steep streets, with cafes and bars spilling out onto them – mis-matched chairs and tables all at different heights and garlands of fairy lights strung above. Around the edge of the town you’ll be amazed by the huge fortification walls – a constant reminder of Malta’s history and how hard it had to work to defend itself. Also fascinating is the range of different cultural influences you can see everywhere. There have been many different rulers over the centuries – Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs to name a few – and the British period (which encompassed the World Wars) has left a strong legacy – language, architecture, the George Cross, driving on the left, red phone and letter boxes and a bloody great cup of tea everywhere you go!
Obviously I’m no expert after just a few days, but below are a few of my top tips if you’re considering a trip to Malta and would like to photograph some of the local life. We all left wanting to go back again – there’s so much more to see!
- Pick a base with plenty of character. Many of the coastal resorts offer lots of comfortable, swanky accommodation options at low prices, but you can’t beat being based somewhere with more of an historical feel. Valetta was brilliant, but next time I think I’d be tempted to try to find somewhere in the nearby Three Cities – Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua) – which were even quieter.
- Early morning and evening are the best times to see local life. Even in winter most people seem to siesta between 12-4pm, which meant streets were deserted and smaller shops closed. Get up early and you’ll see everyone jostling at the veg vans to get their daily supplies. Venture out at dusk and you’ll enjoy the streets coming to life again with jazz bands, buskers and some wonderful light displays making the most of the architecture and artwork.
- Take time to wander around all the back streets – there are some amazing sights in the tiny alleyways and just when you think you’re getting lost you’ll soon pop out into a bustling square.
- Chat to the locals – everyone seemed so friendly and happy to have their photo taken – perhaps because it was the quiet season – everything seemed to move nice and slowly!
- Shop like a local – there’s no need for a big supermarket trip. Enjoy the teeny tiny “confectionary” stores with their beautiful old signs – our local was so minute it was literally one in one out, but it had everything you could need! Eating (and drinking) out is incredibly reasonable – and portions are enormous – so there’s no need to cook unless you want to.
- Explore the churches. You could easily walk past the 19th Century facade of the Church of St.Paul’s Shipwreck but if you pop in off the street you’ll be treated to an amazing example of 16th Century treasures. The chandeliers all wrapped up in sheets hung like giant cocoons from the ceiling, making it feel even more magical. Many of the churches have two clocks on the outside – one telling the right time, the other purposely set wrongly to confuse Satan!
- Take a bus tour. On our final day Bruce and I decided to do a hop-on-hop-off tour to see as much of the island as time would allow. This was great value (15Euros) and still allowed us some independence. Mdina was stunning and Mgarr was random but great (we were the only people to get off the bus there – only the bar and a petrol pump were open!) Top of the list for my return are Marsaxllokk and Popeye Village (which Jaye and Matt loved). I can’t wait to go back!