It had been a long dark winter in Ireland. One full of various bugs and illnesses. And one that seemed to be in no hurry at all to end this year. We were craving a change of scenery and some sunlight. So the other half booked us a very cheap budget holiday to Qawra in Malta at the end of February. Not the most ideal time of year, but it did allow us to swap a snowy week in Ireland for a bright and windy week in Malta.
Malta has been on our travel bucket list for a while. Ryanair flies direct to the island and there’s plenty of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. At this time of year you avoid intense heat and masses of holidaymakers. But the island is still bustling and busy with tourists – particularly from the UK. So while services are more limited, you won’t find that absolutely everything is closed outside of peak tourist season. I’m looking at you, Croatia! The only downside is, unsurprisingly, the weather. It’s definitely a lot warmer than Ireland in general, but ‘good’ weather is not guaranteed this time of year.
Our accommodation was in Qawra, which is on the North-East coast of Malta. Ryanair flights arrive late so the airport bus wasn’t an option when we arrived. Rather than deal with taxis, we booked a transfer to our accommodation with maltatransfer.com who conveniently have a desk in the baggage pickup area. We opted for one-way as we would be travelling home during daytime and the airport bus would be running past right our hotel then. Once we were through customs we followed the directions given to a smaller hall where other groups of passengers were waiting to be taken to their accommodation. We only had a few minutes wait before we were boarding a minibus with other travellers heading in our direction. In turn, we were dropped at the door of our hotel at about 1am.
For the return journey we simply waited at the bus stop outside and got the X3 to the airport. The bus was very crowded and takes its time passing through Medina and Rabat before taking a circuitous route down to the airpot. It was a surprise that the overloaded bus actually made it all the way up the many steep hills it had to endure. Definitely allow at least an hour for the journey. Also allow for the heating to be on full blast in a packed bus on a warm day. The fares are cheap though, and it’s fine if you’re not in a great hurry.
Sunny Coast Resort Hotel
The Sunny Coast Resort has self-catering rooms in the hotel, and conveniently for us given our arrival time, a 24 hour reception. The guy on reception duty patiently filled our forms and explained the facilities to us with only a brief interruption when he realised that a very inebriated resident had decided the hallway outside the elevators was a perfectly acceptable location to urinate in. The receptionist was remarkably polite as he sternly lectured his wayward charge on inappropriate behaviour and left him propped precariously against a wall while he finished dealing with us. Then he went off in search of a room to deposit the problem man in, and most likely a large mop and pail. We decided to take the lift on the far side of the hall up to our room…
Our apartment was more spacious than we expected. There was a kitchen/living area, a bathroom, a bedroom, and another tiled room between that and the balcony. A decent size for a 3 year old to run about without too much damage. The kitchen was well stocked with utensils and had a sink, stove and fridge. More than enough for basic cooking which was great considering you had to pay 10 euro a day for a measly portable hob in the accommodation for our last holiday to the beautiful, but much more expensive Ile de Ré. Just across the road from the hotel is a large complex with outdoor pool, gym and sauna/spa/indoor pool. In February there’s no one using the outdoor facilities for obvious reasons. We found the small pool in the spa was quite crowded during the hours when children were allowed. It was also a bit dark and murky which put our 3 year old off going more than once. Overall we were a bit disappointed with the facilities for children when the weather isn’t good enough to be sitting outdoors.
Qawra in February
Qawra is nestled up alongside the noisier Buggiba town. It’s compact and easy to get around. The promenade beside us offered a number of restaurants in the evenings, but you needed to walk across to the far side of town for a better selection of sandwich/coffee places during the day. A small shop across the road had a basic selection of foods, and a few minutes walk away was one with a larger choice. We were able to stock up on breakfast cereals and the basics for having lunch in our apartment. Along the road were the usual tourist centres where you could rent cars or book the various tours available in Malta. A fairly standard tourist town, not particularly picturesque. You would need to rent a car and brave the roads to visit the beautiful parts of Malta.
The temperature in Malta is quite respectable in February. It was bordering on 20 degrees celsius most days. This was a huge improvement on the 0 to 5 degrees back home while we were away. Detracting from the warmth and sunshine were the gusty winds sweeping along the coast and making the days quite chilly. You didn’t see many people out in shorts, and definitely no sunbathing outdoors. The outdoor facilities were left unused during our stay. The promenade in Qawra is very exposed to the wind and not pleasant to walk along when it is blowing. It brings quite a lot of dust in the air aswell. Weather this time of year is always going to be hit and miss though. We were a bit unfortunate that the winds didn’t ease up a bit more for the week we were there. The sun did brighten up parts of the days but dull skies weren’t unusual while we were there.
Food in Qawra
We had high expectations of Maltese restaurants so we chose to have dinner out each evening. We found it a mixed experience of highs and lows. The first evening was a Sunday. Many restaurants were already booked up. In the end we ate at the Cheeky Monkey Gastro Pub. We ordered a bowl of pasta for the Rascal which was pretty good, though he managed to pass out asleep halfway through it. The starter Brodie had was poor, and the burgers were average. The live music provided a nice background atmosphere, but the drinks menu looked much more attractive than the food.
Our second dining experience was very poor. We had promised the Rascal a meal of curry and rice, but found that the Indian restaurant Garam Masala was actually shut that night. So we ended up much further away at Chilli’s Restaurant trying to fulfil the promise of Indian food. We could tell as soon as we walked in that this was not going to be a great experience. Unfortunately the place was empty and the owner was already bustling us down to a table so it felt too awkward to leave. A lot of the menu options didn’t seem to be available. It seemed like the food was being prepared and served by one person and came out too quickly – we definitely got the sense that there was a lot of reheating going on. The poppadums we were first served were dripping in oil and not very appealing at all. The main courses were okay, but quite bland. It was the most expensive meal we had in Malta despite being the worst quality.
Our next dinner was at Quattro Frattelli’s. This is an Italian restaurant with an extensive menu. Brodie wasn’t entirely convinced by the exterior, but while there were few customers mid week, the food was excellent. Two big fish tanks entertained the Rascal a bit too much as it was hard to lure him back to the table to actually eat. Large portions of bruschetta and pasta for us while the Rascal ate the currently popular chicken and ‘ships’. The pasta was delicious. One arrabiatta sauce, the other a creamy creole sauce. Highly recommended for a meal and infinitely better than our dining experiences up to then. And the cheapest bill at the end of the night so far.
Yet another high the following night was Garam Masala. A modern Indian restaurant with open view of the kitchen area and the team working in there. The owners were also present and very friendly, stopping to chat with our little guy. This time we had the kind of poppadums we would expect from a quality restaurant. Our main dishes and the naan bread were just the right level of spiciness. We’d asked for medium, which was exactly what we got. Often you end up with Indian food that’s too bland or too hot for your taste. When a restaurant gets the balance right you can see why they’re almost full every night even when everywhere else is almost empty.
We also had a couple of lunches next door to our hotel in Chaplin’s bar. They served basic, but tasty and good value food. The service was quite haphazard though, depending on the time of day and how many staff were there. This was more of a problem when you’ve a hungry and tired child at the table.
It’s not surprising that for our last couple of nights we returned to Quattro Frattelli’s and Garam Masala again. Both have excellent quality food and are really good value. It’s safe to order anything off the menu and expect that you’ll enjoy it. The ambience is pleasant. On our last night the Rascal passed out after eating his fill and was quite comfortable snoozing on a couple of chairs at our table while we enjoyed the rest of the meal. These two restaurants proved to us that the reputation for good food that Malta has is well-deserved. We would definitely go back to Malta again for the food, but preferably at a warmer and less windy time of year to get the very best of what Malta has to offer.