To be transported back to a simpler time (and to the glimmering sea), we’re heading to this week’s travel crush: the Mediterranean island of Malta.
I root for the Mets; Elizabeth Warren is my candidate. What can I say? I like the underdogs—a philosophy that carries over into travel preferences, as well. And Malta—the tiny European island country situated due south of Italy—happens to be the underdog of the Mediterranean. Though it has many of the things that make Italy (its hotter and more popular cousin) so great, from exquisite cuisine (very fish-forward!) to Renaissance art and stunning, almost ungodly crystal blue water, Malta hardly gets any of its well-deserved attention.
I’ve been to Italy once, and while it was all the things I always hoped it would be, it was, expectedly, over-touristed at practically every turn (and I didn’t even make it to Rome). Cinque Terre is one of the most aesthetically beautiful places I’ve been lucky enough to visit, but it was a challenge to find spots on the coast that didn’t feel like they had been fabricated for the express purpose of luring tourists. Malta, on the other hand, has similarly jaw-dropping views without the crowds or phoniness of a tourist trap. For my ultimate Mediterranean moment, I’m heading to Malta for some fresh fish, some delicious peace and quiet, and some OG Caravaggio.
When in Malta, I’m going for the most traditional meals I can get, enjoyed in the most traditional way I can enjoy it—which is to say, savored slowly alongside a couple glasses of local wine, preferably overlooking the sea. And while Maltese flavors have developed a palate all their own, the cuisine takes inspiration from Italy, especially Sicily, and nearby North Africa. Popular dishes often utilize the national fish lampuka (or mahi-mahi), and local folks love a good fish soup called aljotta. For inventive twists on old classics, I’ll be heading to Legligin where I’ll be ordering some combination of hobz biz-zejt (a crisp bread topped with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and assorted spices and herbs), fish carpaccio, and Maltese sausage.
Aside from perusing fish markets on weekends, lounging on beaches, and taste-testing everything in sight, I’ll be heading to Mdina, an ancient walled city, and to St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the capital, to get a glimpse of the original Beheading of St John the Baptist and the St Jerome Writing—two of Caravaggio’s most famous paintings.