Kicking back in Malta

Lying 50 miles south of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, the island of Malta is a popular holiday destination for couples, families and, well, pretty much anyone. Spanning an area of just 122 square miles, Malta is the world’s tenth smallest sovereign country. But don’t let its size fool you, this tiny island has something to offer everyone and is the perfect place for some much needed rest and relaxation.

Marsaxlokk fishing village

Beautiful beaches, glorious sunshine and pretty ports, Malta isn’t short of picturesque scenery that leaves you feeling relaxed and fulfilled. Head to Marsaxlokk fishing village on the southern tip of the island on market day to sample fresh seafood caught that morning, and once you’ve had your fill wander through the stalls filled with trinkets and goods sold by the locals.

Make sure you visit Malta’s Blue Grotto, where you can take a short boat trip out to the caves to glimpse the piercing blue hues in the water around the island’s southeast coast. This is a really popular diving and snorkeling spot attracting around 100,000 visitors every year. Don’t let the crowds put you off though, as it really is worth the trip.

And if boat trips are your thing, then why not make a day out of it and catch the ferry over to one of Malta’s sister islands, Gozo. The ferry ride to Gozo takes around 25 minutes, and if you book an organised tour you’ll be met at the dock by an open top bus which will take you to the island’s capital, Victoria (Ir-Rabat). Here, you can weave through the cobbled streets, ducking inside the many shops and stop at one of pretty the open air cafes for a bite to eat. Take a trip up to the Citadel, where its towering fortifications provide superb views across the whole island. St George’s Basilica stands in a square in the heart of the Old Town, and the tiny winding streets around St George’s are some of the oldest in town.

Many of the boat trips to Gozo will also stop off at the striking Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino on their return leg. Here, you can swim for hours in the island’s crystal clear waters, and if snorkelling is your thing then you’ll be spoilt for choice with an abundant variety of sea life on display. A word of warning: it does get very busy at peak times in the main lagoon, and with more and more tour operators mooring up in the bay it can spoil the tranquility. However, if you’re prepared to take a short walk around the bay’s headland to a quiet stretch of coast it really is stunning, and provides a really relaxing, wholesome place to whittle away a couple of hours.

While it would be easy, and completely understandable, to spend all your time in Malta on the island’s idyllic coast, there is plenty more to see inland. One of the biggest pulls to Malta is its capital city, Valletta, which was named the European Capital of Culture in 2018. It’s definitely worth a day trip to the city to glimpse the mid-16th century baroque to modernism architecture of the Old Town, and have a look around its unique collection of churches, palaces and museums.

One of the buildings of significant historical importance is St John’s Co-Cathedral, which visitors can enter inside for a small fee, and which holds the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. Take a stroll through the picturesque Lower Barrakka Gardens and gaze out over the port city’s 100m high fortifications, built by the Maltese Knights as a magnificent series of bastions, cavaliers and curtains.

Prepare to navigate a few steps in Valletta, with the city fortifications standing at 100m tall

It comes with the territory of holidaying on a Mediterranean island, but the seafood on offer in Malta is really something. Caught fresh and prepared with local flair, there’s little better than a delicious seafood platter to top off a day of sunbathing or exploring one of Malta’s many cultural hotspots. Due to Malta’s history of British colonisation, it’s really easy to find something familiar on the menu. But if you feel like pushing the boat out (so to speak…) then tucking into some fresh, local seafood is definitely something you should try while on the island.

Malta also has its fare share of decent nightlife for those who like to make an evening of it, with popular hotspots such as St Paul’s Bay and nearby Bugibba offering an array of restaurants, bars and clubs to suit all manner of tastes. The bottom line is, Malta has something to tickle the fancy of anyone – from a tranquil, relaxing beach break, to a cultural exploration of its many historical and cultural delights, to catering for those who prefer to party through the night and sleep throughout the day.

A weekend getaway in Prague

Prague has become one of the major tourist destinations in Europe, receiving more than 20 million visitors yearly. And it’s clear to see why, as it really does have something for everyone; history, architecture, great food and, of course, more varieties of beer than you could count on your fingers and toes.

I visited Prague in November for a weekend getaway with my boyfriend, staying for three days and two nights. With the city being fairly small in comparison to the likes of London or New York, and very easy to get around, it was an ideal amount of time to spend in the city centre and we fit a lot into a few days.

You’re spoilt for choice with places to stay in and around the city centre, ranging from hostels to hotels to Airbnbs. We stayed here, a lovely little reasonably-priced hotel just off of Charles Bridge in the Malá Strana district which served as a great base for us to explore from.

Because we were right in the heart of the city, pretty much everything on our list of things to see was in walking distance. We must have covered in excess of 20km per day exploring the cobbled side streets of the Old Town, or hiking up to Prague Castle.

Food, glorious food

We took some time to mosey through Prague’s Old Town, armed with a hot cup of mulled wine from one of the many vendors dotted around the square. The Old Town Square is full of enticing food stalls and restaurants serving local delicacies such as Halušky (potato, sauerkraut and bacon) and ghoulash, which I would absolutely recommend giving a try.

A word of warning, though – Old Town Square is notoriously expensive for food due to the amount of tourists that flock to it, and it’s easy to pay more than you should for a meal. A hunk of pork and Halušky to share ended up costing us the equivalent of £40 because we asked for ‘two servings’ instead of weight in kilograms – a rookie error, sure, but a useful lesson in avoiding some of the more obvious eating spots where you’ll likely be overcharged (even so, the pork was delicious).

Continuing on the topic of food, make sure you try a traditional hot dog with sauerkraut from one of the many stalls within the city centre, and have you really been to Prague if you haven’t tried a Trdelník? These ‘chimney cakes’ are made from rolled dough which is wrapped around a stick and grilled over charcoal, then dusted in sugar and walnut mix (I had far too many of these but, while in Prague, it would be rude not too, right?).

If you’re looking for something with a little more luxury attached, and don’t mind paying a little extra, then look no further than Restaurant Mlýnec, a Michelin-recommended restaurant which overlooks Charles Bridge. We had our anniversary dinner here, and the food was exquisite – make sure you try the degustation menu, which gives you a taste of five or six authentic Czech dishes and a wine-pairing option. Lahodné!

Castles, clocks & culture

We did many of the classic touristy activities during our time in Prague, including watching the chiming of the famous anatomical clock (I found the figurines a little creepy, if I’m honest) and meandering through the local market.

We also hiked up to Prague Castle; according to the Guinness Book of World Records the UNESCO monument is the largest ancient castle in the world, built in the 9th century. The view from the Great South Tower is definitely worth the 280 steps to the top and is the best place to snap that classic photo of Prague’s red roof skyline. Stop by the vineyard in the castle grounds where you can enjoy more great views (and more mulled wine).

There are plenty of other things to see and do in the city centre; visit the Lennon Wall – a graffiti-style wall art piece dedicated to Beatles star John Lennon; take a walk down the ‘world’s narrowest street’; or wander across Charles Bridge and look out onto the picturesque River Vltava which bisects Malá Strana and Prague Old Town. Try out the many varieties of Czech-brewed beer by taking part in a beer tour, or by dropping into a pub or two as you explore Prague’s many cobbled streets (we did the latter).

We also took a trip to Wenceslas Square in the newer business centre of Prague. By coincidence, we had booked our trip on the same day that the Czech Republic was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, which culminated in the overthrowing of communism and the crowning of democracy in the country. In the centre of Wenceslas Square a huge stage had been erected for musicians in front of a growing memorial shrine of candles and flowers, on the spot where Czech students and friends Jan Palach and Jan Zajic set fire to themselves in 1969, in protest to the crushing of the Prague Spring.

It was a very moving day to be part of, witnessing the celebration of independence and democracy, but coming to the square also served as a poignant reminder to me of the struggles so many go through to secure what I, ashamedly, all too often take for granted.

As I said at the start of this post, I visited Prague in the middle of November so it was pretty cold (hence the scarves and coats) so we stuck to mainly wintery activities.

However, I’ve heard that Prague’s beer gardens are incredible in the summer time, so I’ll definitely be returning in the warmer months to try them out! All in all, if you’re looking for somewhere that offers culture, architecture and some great food and drink all for a reasonable price, then Prague should be at the top of your weekend getaway list.