Malta is a land of limestone buildings, colourful balconies, Land Rover Defenders, Kinnie, Cisk and rabbits on a plate. Do not plan to visit this island to the centimeter, especially to the minute, because it will simply not work. Just get lost and enjoy your life!
ROTTA Early in the morning, especially in August, Malta is much cooler than during the day. I step out in front of the hotel in the center of sunny and modern Sliema. At the side of the road, between the palm trees, a blue VW Karmann Ghia from 1962 was waiting for us, with our guide Matthew next to it. There are people whom you see for the first time in your life and you already know that you will like each other a lot. This is exactly what happened with Matthew, co-founder of ROTTA together with his colleague Andrea Camilleri. We were connected on Instagram by automotive passion which is reflected on their page slogan – Sharing a Passion! They have been promoting the Maltese automotive culture for almost two years now. In Maltese rotta means route. Malta is 80 km away from Sicily by sea, so you’ll find plenty of lovely Italian cafes, bakeries and restaurants all along the island. What is more interesting, is that local cuisine is dominated by Italian influences.
NEW LIFE is a little pub in il-Baħrija about 30 km away from Sliema. This small place is definitely one of my best memories from Malta. Beautiful weather, great views, the wind blowing through the open windows and the sound of Karmann. In a small square, between New Life and St. Martin’s Bar, vehicles owners of all ages meet every Sunday morning. From buses, to Italian beauties, American cruisers and small French racers, to the newest Porsche 911. Paradoxically, fans of the classics definitely prefer New Life, to which we were invited to a beer. Nobody plans such meetings here. There is also no specific hour of the meeting, and even less nobody has to say where, because it is obvious. You just come and celebrate life with your friends. So simple, so beautiful! This is how we met Benny, who has been working at the Malta International Airport in Luqa for 28 years as the head of security, which he is extremely proud of. After a while, we already got to know the history of all his American classics. Time passes slowly with water biscuits and bigilla a pea paste resembling hummus which is a very popular snack in Malta. Of course, on the table you cannot miss some Italian accents in the mix, i.e. bruschetta, which you can get everywhere here, but at New Life you will eat the best one! Every once in a while, the conversation is interrupted by another arriving siesta participant who, before deciding to park, makes two honorary circles around the square. Pure automotive dolce vita!
SAFARI We continue our journey across the island with our pastel Karmann. We spend time talking about the local automotive culture, which turns out to be even more fascinating. Matthew tells us about Maltese collectors who can have a dozen of rare cars in their collections, and since Malta is an island, they also usually have impressive collections of yachts. Interestingly, on the island you can pay for car insurance periodically, which is only when you intend to use it. We stop at the side of the road for a moment to say hello to another automotive enthusiast Malcolm and take a closer look at his newly built Porsche 911 Safari. Amazing car! Literally a moment of conversation and we are already exchanging small gifts like players of two national teams with their shirts. Malcolm gets a poster Safari Splash from us and in return we get a small old school notebook. After a while, Malcolm comes back with a marker and asks Mirovvska to sign the hood of his car… right next to RUF. This is Malta! Spontaneous, open, surprising. Later Matthew takes us to his garage, which is the definition of a man cave. On the walls there are old school posters, polaroids from Karmann tours, Matchbox models and a huge neon banner with the name of the cave owner.
MALTA CLASSIC The most popular form of motorsport in Malta is hill climb and drag racing. Around the historic walls of Mdina, a special edition of classic car culture celebration is organized by Malta Classic, this is set on 4 days with Hill Climb, Concours d’Elegance and Grand Prix. Unfortunately this is the second year which is not happening due to the pandemic. Mdina itself is a very interesting city and definitely worth a visit. It is a place where you do not know if you are on a movie set or if this whole “set design” was really created hundreds of years ago. Coffee in a café from the 15th century is nothing special here.
MUSEUM One of the most significant figures in Maltese road racing was Carol Galea, founder of the island’s only automotive museum – The Malta Classic Car Collection. Carol has recently passed away, but his son Mark is now running it with a great passion. The museum is located in Qawra. It is not only a dozen of cars, but above all a place where you will find a lot of automotive memorabilia from various periods. It’s worth a look here. Funny, but in Malta something may be in another city, and in fact it will be just two streets away. And this way, a few hundred meters behind the museum, purely theoretically already in St. Paul’s Bay, you’ll find the Promenade café which is worth dropping in for a coffee. Especially on Sunday mornings you can meet many interesting cars and people there. We just had the opportunity to see the McLaren 650S, and after a while the classic Honda NSX joined us.
NARROW Driving in Malta is hard. First of all – left hand traffic. Many streets are very narrow, which is due to the historic architecture of the cities. Finding a parking space is also very difficult. I witnessed a funny situation in which the driver, leaving between very tightly parked cars, hit the car in front of him quite solidly and drivers just waved at each other and drove away. In Poland it would certainly qualify for writing an insurance statement at least and this is also how daily vehicles are treated here. Very often they have scratches all around and rims destroyed by curbs. It’s hard to imagine that in this tight world, buses are a huge part of the local automotive culture! Back in the day, here in Malta there were even bus builders who converting trucks to buses. Nowadays there are two such workshops which restore and rebuild classic buses. The characteristic yellow bus can be found daily in Sliema opposite the shopping center selling souvenirs. The next ones can be found at the main station in Valletta, and these will take you on a tour.
KING I have no doubt that if Malta were to be a car, it would be a Defender. There are a lot of them here and in countless configurations – short, long, explorers, tin, convertible, whatever you dream of. My favorite is a typical working one, converted into a greengrocer. The popularity of Defenders is matched only by the tiny but very brave Maruti Gypsy. Which does not change the fact that there is a lot of Porsche on the island. If you are a fan of exotic carspotting at night, then you definitely need to go on an evening, preferably weekend, walk along the coast from Sliema towards St. Julian’s. It’s the party part of this side of the bay, where nightlife is teaming up with loud AMG and Lamborghinis roaming the streets.
PRACTICALLY Once again, do not plan anything and just get lost! Nothing will happen to you here, because according to the United Nations, Malta is the 3rd safest country in Europe, and you will discover what is most valuable – peace and great fun. In Valletta I saw tourists staring at guidebooks, but the city is so small that it’s best to wander this and that. Then you will sit for Cisk (local beer) here or Kinnie (local sparkling beverage with orange and aromatic herbs) there until you discover a beautiful street with iconic colorful balconies. It was the same with the pizza, which we came across by accident, and it turned out that we eat it in a place recommended in all guides. I am talking about Sally Port, which is a great place for a dinner, and by the way you will hear the Polish “dziękuję!” because the owner’s wife is from Poland. Many establishments in Malta have long traditions and are passed down from father to son, so don’t be shy to ask for pictures on the walls. This is how we met the owner of Bellusa, a cafe in the center of Rabat on the island of Gozo that has been around for 65 years. If you are looking for a great and relatively inexpensive hotel with a rooftop jacuzzi overlooking Valletta then I recommend the 115 Strand in Sliema. After a few days in Sliema, we moved to Ta X’biex, where I can honestly recommend the Chapter 5 hotel. Ta’ Xbiex is a great base. And in the morning, on the way to another adventure, it’s best to grab some traditional pastizzi, a kind of pastry filled with ricotta, pea paste or even chicken. And it’s delicious! While in Malta, don’t forget to try the traditional rabbit and remember that the bus drivers don’t spend the change!
Malta captivated me. For over a week we planned absolutely nothing, we woke up in the morning, went to explore the island and everything was fine. The only scheduled event was the sunset on the cliff at Għajn Tuffieħa. And what? And of course, we arrived after sunset, because our bus did not arrive on time. The conclusion is simple – don’t plan, get lost and have fun!
Thank you to Matthew & Andrea from ROTTA, Benny and Malcolm.
Hopefully see you soon, because we will definitely be back!