As 2018 drew to a close, I found myself with several valuable things risking expiry: a stash of (unusually) time-limited avios; a few unclaimed days off from work; and – depending on the shape of Brexit – my EU citizenship. So in the spirit of use-it-or-lose-it, I threw together one more international trip for the year.
During the summer, Iberia offered a brief promotion on which opinions swung from “unbelievably good” to “outrageous scam”. This depended largely on how well you read the T&C’s – or rather how much wishful thinking you read into them. I worked the deal at face value: 9000 bonus avios for any flight booked, regardless of price and with no need to fly… but those points would evaporate by the end of the year despite whatever hopes you might have of transferring them away. I also expected that Iberia’s IT should not be entirely trusted, and sure enough one booking never registered.
Ultimately though, slightly under £200 of spend set me up with 45,000 avios; topping up by a mere 700 more points allowed me to book three nights at the Radisson Blu Resort and Spa, Malta Golden Sands. With breakfast included, this meant a solid but not spectacular return against cash rates of £120 a night. Whilst I could have probably found a flight that offered a better notional value per avios, availability for hotels was much better and this left me free to fly from my local airport (although my actual travel arrangements turned out rather complicated).
Nearly a decade after my first trip, Malta was somewhere I’d long been considering for a return visit, and its Mediterranean location seemed ideal for a winter sun top-up. The small size of the island also meant I’d be able to fit in a few sights despite only having a long weekend to play with – helped by my week’s worth of experience from last time.
But let’s start with the hotel… The Radisson Golden Sands is, fittingly, located on Golden Bay – a fairly remote spot relatively far north along Malta’s east coast. Until I arrived, I hadn’t really grasped the scale of the property: at first I’d assumed I’d been upgraded, but it turns out even the entry-level ‘Serene’ rooms feature a handy kitchen area; a living space that easily fits in a dining table, sofa and coffee table; and an extensive balcony (although my view was in-land rather than across the bay). Beyond the room, there’s several restaurants, bars and social spaces; multiple pools, a spa and a private beach; and even a grocery and gift hops. Given the location and occasionally mixed weather, I made good use of all of this, including having all three evening meals on site: sampling the Agliolio restaurant, Swizzles bar, and my own best efforts self-catering with provisions from the store! Gold Status with Radisson Rewards got me a discount at the first two, plus several thousand points as well.
The Tourist Attractions
I had many fond memories of Malta, but top of my list was the original capital – Mdina, the silent city. This fortress-like town occupies an imposing hill-side position, made all the more impressive by my decision to hike there from the outskirts of Mosta rather than wait for a second bus to transport me to the more modern side, Rabat.
Thus I entered via a side gate, and was almost immediately immersed in the maze of side streets – generally too narrow for traffic, this warren is a delight to explore by foot (my favourite way to experience a city). Hemmed in on all sides by tall buildings, you never know what you might discover around the next corner – during my wanderings I encountered nuns, a horse and cart, couples on engagement photoshoots – plus at least one actual wedding, riots of Bougainvillea, my seatmate from my flight two days prior, and (less delightfully) a sudden cloudburst of rain. Through more luck than judgment, I also found some of the ‘proper’ landmarks – St Paul’s Cathedral, Bastion Square, and the main city gate – but to me the real appeal is to get properly lost! Don’t neglect neighbouring Rabat entirely though – pastizzi from the Crystal Palace near the bus stands are a delicious bargain to fuel your visit.
In the interests of truth in advertising, I should admit that I had to write off any hope of sightseeing the first of my only two full days, as stormclouds rolled in. I did attempt a brief hike along the coast path, but I think I brought about a kilo of sand back into the hotel cemented to my boots!
However, it was always warm during my visit – temperatures around 18C easily a marked improvement on December in the UK – and although it was a little frustrating to have the best sunshine on my travel days, I made the most of them despite a full backpack and definitely-unwanted coat. Since almost all public transport connects via the present-day capital, Valletta, I made that my first stop after the airport. A couple of hours can’t even scratch the surface of this history-laden entry on the world heritage list, so I didn’t try. Instead, I took in the views across the harbours from two pleasant spots flanking either side of the city, the Hastings and Barrakka gardens; as well as enjoying the architectural treats in-between.
On my final day I took an extra detour to visit Birgu, one of the ‘three cities’ which I remembered for its impressive harbour and another charming set of inner streets, the Collachio. On the warmest day of my trip, the christmas songs playing in cafes and locals adding traditional winter decorations to their homes seemed particularly at odds with the distinctly Mediterranean surroundings!
As with Valencia, a solo trip lead to an excess of photos… hopefully I’ve whittled them down into an acceptable selection, which you can find here.
Getting to and from Malta turned into a four flight project – on four different airlines, and involving four countries. Along the way, I also added overnight stays at two airports, and checked out one of the better lounges I’ve used in a while. So all that felt like it warranted a separate post too!