At landing, Malta feels a lot like Italy. People at the public transport counter at the airport barely speak English, the bus runs every hour, it was 10 minutes late and fully packed with people with luggage. Not a great start.
But once you catch a glimpse of the limestone houses and the narrow streets through the bus’ windows, everything will be forgotten. Malta is love at first sight.
As you know, I am now enjoying the life of my dreams (AKA digital nomad lifestyle = work + travel anywhere in the world), but since I got back from my long trip and settling back in Italy after 10 years of living abroad, I much more enjoy shorter trips and I’m hoping to find a base somewhere one day. Since last summer I’ve taken loads of short-ish trips all around Italy and Europe and I’m amazed by the number of things I didn’t see despite having spent the first thirty years of my life in Europe.
NOTE TO SELF & THE READERS: I still have loads to see and I’m super excited about my future trips (more to come in the next few months, make sure to follow my instastories where I constantly share insights about my itineraries!)
So when CoCoHub Malta invited me to stay at their newly opened co-living space in the heart of Malta, I was super excited. I had never been to one, I’ve tried and experienced many co-working spaces all around Asia, but I had always been a bit afraid of staying in a co-living for the lack of privacy and the usual hostel-feeling.
But CoCoHub was a pleasant surprise, keep reading to find out more about CoCoHub.
Top things to see & do in Malta
The Renzo Piano-designed City Gate, Parliament Building and Opera House have dramatically changed the cityscape of Malta along with Valletta’s status as European Capital of Culture for 2018. The city is reborn, with new museums, new hotels and bars and restaurants. Malta’s capital and the largest settlement on the island, Valletta is a great city, despite maybe not being the most beautiful Maltese one (in my humble opinion). It has a neat grid street system, so even if you try, it’ll be extremely hard to get lost. The centre is pedestrianised, but it is hilly – it reminded me a lot of Lisbon – so wear comfy shoes and opt for a backpack rather than a trolley.
Valletta was built on a 1km by 600m peninsula by the Knights of St John after they withstood the Great Siege repelling a huge Turkish army in 1565 (this is a super fascinating story which deserves a separate article, or just pick up any books about the Knights of St John). Its founders declared that it should be ‘a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen‘, and in fact to today, it retains its 16th-century elegance. Valletta is packed with interesting sights and that’s why when Unesco named Valletta a World Heritage Site, it described it as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’.
Start on the bridge across Valletta’s ditch, which opens into Renzo Piano’s City Gate (1) built atop the ruins of Valletta’s Opera House. Beyond it, you can wander around the spaces created by the Italian architect’s new Parliament Building (2), a huge sandstone block that has been machine-sculpted in the old Maltese style.
Walk down Strait Street (3), once known as “the Gut”, a notorious hang-out for off-duty sailors and the red district. The street still has the faded bar signs from its former life and today it hosts nightly clubs and hole-in-the-wall bars.
From City Gate (1), Republic Street runs straight to Fort St Elmo (4) at the peninsula’s tip. It’s a very busy street, filled with a permanent crowd of tourists and locals alike, take a side street and explore in peace.
I’ve seen incredible churches and Italy has probably the highest percentage in the world of gorgeous frescos and statues, but the magnificent St John’s Co-Cathedral (6) left me truly speechless. It was packed with people, I will never understand why they still allow groups of 30-50 people in spaces such churches and museums. Rant over. The floor is made of polychrome marble and the ceiling is the work of the Italian artist and Knight of St John, Mattia Preti. Its other great treasures include two paintings by Caravaggio, who fled to Malta after committing murder in Rome. He spent several years on the island, becoming a Knight of St John (though he soon ran into trouble here too and ended up fleeing back to Italy)
Upper Barrakka Gardens (13), which offer wonderful views over the piercing-blue Grand Harbour, the Three Cities and Fort St Angelo (14),
The Three Cities
Despite their picturesque narrow streets and stunning views, the ‘Three Cities’, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, are surprisingly off the tourist radar and the perfect Maltese towns to absorb some local atmosphere. Vittoriosa and Senglea occupy two narrow peninsulas connected by a pedestrian bridge while Cospicua merges into Vittoriosa and lies just south of it.
Marsaskala (also spelt Marsascala), gathered around the head of a long, narrow bay, was originally a Sicilian fishing community: the name means ‘Sicilian Harbour‘. Today it is an increasingly popular residential area and a seaside resort among the Maltese. It a great place for a wonder or some fish-based meals by the harbour with its tiny colourful boats dancing on the water.
The mysterious golden-stone walled citadel of Mdina perched on a hilltop was fortified from as long ago as 1000 BC when the Phoenicians built a protective wall and called their settlement Malet, meaning ‘place of shelter’. Later, the Romans built a large town here and called it Melita. It was only given its present name when the Arabs arrived in the 9th century – medina in Arabic means ‘walled city’. The Arabs dug a deep moat around the wall which has recently been landscaped as a lush garden.
While in Mdina, explore the hidden roads and avoid the tourist crowds who mainly stick to the main street, wander around the Città Notabile as it was called in medieval times because it was the favourite residence of the Maltese aristocracy. When the Knights of St John arrived in Malta and made the Grand Harbour and Valletta their centre of activity, Mdina sank into the background. as a holiday destination for the nobility.
Former Malta’s capital, Mdina, was my favourite city during my stay in Malta. The beautiful honey-washed and colourful doors and balconies filled my Instagramming eyes (and camera roll).
If you, like me are a Game of Thrones
fan obsessed, you might be glad to know that several locations around Malta have served as GOT’s backdrops like the picture below. Do you remember what happened in this square in the popular TV HBO series?
Here’s the scene (spoiler alert!)
And what about Ned and Catelyn Stark farewell? The Vilhena Gate in Mdina is where the Stark see each other for the last time (sob!) and served as the entrance to King’s Landing on many other episodes.
While in Mdina, eat at Coogi’s: amazing courtyard, incredible and tasty food and super friendly staff. I choose spaghetti alle vongole and a mini bottle of white wine. Definitely the best meal in Malta.
Once you leave the walls of Mdina behind, the street leads you to Rabat. It’s a short and gentle walk which takes you to the equally cute town minus the walls. It’s filled with even more gallerias (Maltese balconies) and there are far less tourists around than Mdina. This is Instagram heaven for real! I even found several vintage cars on my way so some #soloparking shots are guaranteed there and I had one of the best of my Maltese days.
More Game of Thrones in Rabat as you walk to Saint Dominic’s Priory or the Red Keep courtyard is where Ned Stark signs his death when confesses to Cersei Lannister that he knows the truth about his children (don’t watch the clip – spoiler alert!)
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” she whispered.
The ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk (meaning southeasterly harbour) feels like an unchanged slice of real Maltese life, despite the arrival of hundreds of tourists every Sunday for its weekly fish market.
A very photogenic fleet of brightly coloured luzzu (fishing boats) and fishermen sat by the waterside mending nets, make the subject for perfect Instagram shots.
Marsaxlokk is the perfect base for those looking for a relaxed place (if you can overcome the Sunday hoards).
WHERE TO STAY IN MALTA AS A DIGITAL NOMAD:
Nestled in the cute village of Birgu, also known by its title Città Vittoriosa, CoCoHub Malta is a great option for those who like peace and tranquillity, without feeling totally disconnected (Valletta is only 30 minutes bus ride away). Vittoriosa is an old fortified city on the south side of the Grand Harbour and it occupies a promontory of land with Fort Saint Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base.
Why choose CoCoHub:
If you are looking for a great, lively, fun space to live and -as they put it – #getshitdone, this is the place for you. The vibe is great and you can meet loads of people in a matter of seconds.
CoCoHub is managed by three brilliant, young and entrepreneurial guys with lots of digital experience. They chose the perfect location and managed to create something great in a 400 years old building in just a few months. Choose CoCoHub if you are looking for:
- community vibe
- good location (away from busy Valletta but not too quiet )
- reliable and fast wifi
- arty feeling and settings
- fun and interesting events
- young environment
The only downside I could find during my week-long stay was a lack of an actual cleaning schedule or a professional cleaner (especially in the kitchen and bathrooms). But sorting that out, CoCoHub has the potential to be the number one reference for digital nomads in Malta.
If you’re like me, you may not have realised that the island nation of Malta is actually an archipelago, made of two other islands on top of Malta. Gozo and Comino, only a short ferry ride away are in fact two beautiful additional destinations which are well worth a visit. Comino is inhabited but home to stunning Blue Lagoon, while Gozo offers the perfect middle ground between busy Valletta and super quiet Comino.
How to reach Gozo
Board the #222 bus from Valletta to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal at the very northern point of Malta. The bus is slow and it took about an hour and a half despite being only a few kilometres away, but embrace the journey and look outside to breath more of Maltese life. The ferries run about every hour during low season and more frequently during summer months. It was just a quick 25-minute journey before arriving at the town of Mgarr in Gozo. Oh! Remember that you will board the boat “for free” since you only pay on the way back from Gozo!
Click here for the ferry schedule.
The capital city of Gozo is Victoria, and in the heart of the city is the Citadel, which has been the centre of activity since the Neolithic ages (that’s 10,200 BC – 2,000BC!), but it was first fortified during the Bronze Age (1500 BC). Right at the centre of the Citadel, lies St. George’s Basilica, which was built between 1672 and 1678, with (you guessed it) limestone blocks. Once I was inside, my jaw dropped: the interior is filled with colourful frescos, stained glass windows and all its 11 chapels are uniquely beautiful.
When in Victoria, make sure to stop for a pint or two at the Jubilee Cafe, a pub-like institution in the main square.
These megalithic temples with its 6m high walls and 40m are the largest as well as Malta’s oldest temples (3600BC). At the visitor centre, you can see several of the famous “fat ladies”.
This is Gozo’s main holiday resort with a promenade, its restaurant facing the seas and low-rise hotels and apartments.
The caves aren’t impressive, but the view overlooking Rambla Bay is.
The Azure Window (The Dothraki Wedding)
Daenerys Targaryen is now one of the series’ favourite characters and I hope she’ll be the one to claim the Iron Throne, but at the beginning of Game of Thrones series, she was a fragile bride to Khal Drogo.
It is sad that the arch has now sunk into the ocean, but the sight is still well worth a visit even if just for imaging the Dothraki wedding.
Where to stay in Gozo for digital nomads
When looking for a place to stay, as a DN, the first thing i Check is the wifi connection and most of the time I ask the property to do run a quick speed check for me and send me the results. But in Gozo, I found the perfect accommodation for digital nomads: Calido Hogar. Managed by Mark and Karen, this is the perfect place if you wish to chill, work and maybe jump in the pool. When I’ll go back to Malta I’ll definitely stay there again. You can get €28 off booking through this link.
IS MALTA THE PERFECT DESTINATION FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?
It’s a tough question, but I guess I gathered enough info through CoCoHub and other fellow digital nomads to give you a reasonable answer.
AFFORDABLE, QUALITY HOUSING
Renting an apartment in Malta is not that expensive when compared to other European cities, so if you wish or need to be based in Europe, Malta could be a great option.
The bus system is reliable and cheap, even if slow. A one-way ticket valid for 2 hours is €1.50 whilst a week-long pass will set you back €21 or you can get a Tallinja card for even cheaper fares. Otherwise, you can get anywhere in 20 minutes by car/motorbike and you can easily rent one from a shop in the main cities.
TIP: If you have a smartphone, use the Google Maps app to find bus routes and schedules around the islands. Bus times can be off by 15 minutes or so, but Google Maps is the best way to get around in Malta!
ENDLESS SUMMER (or so)
Malta has been voted as the country with the best climate in the world, so there isn’t much to add to this point. The weather is warm all year round, although you might want to skip the months between December and February, as it tends to get quite chilly inside since houses are not equipped with heating.
European citizens can enter freely, while others visiting from other continents shouldn’t have too much trouble getting at least a 3-month tourist visa.
ENGLISH MAKES IT EASIER
English is one of the island’s official languages, together with Maltese and Italian. If you speak it, this makes things easier. Additionally, since tourism is one of the biggest economies in Malta, people here treat travellers very well.
INTERNET AND WIFI
Being home to several IT and online gambling companies, Malta has invested heavily in technology during the past few years, so you can easily find a good internet connection and, of course, mobile networks. There are several public wi-fi hotspots and most cafes are provided with free wifi.
TIP: there are lots of work opportunities related to IT here in Malta, especially in gaming companies which have relocated here for the favourable tax system. These companies look very favourably on employment of foreigners, so if you are just at the start of your digital nomad adventure, you can find some extra cash working part-time while connecting with other expats.
Maltese traditional cuisine is an interesting mix of Italian, Arabic/Spanish and Greek traditions. The most common local dish is the rabbit stew and pastizzi, while lots of Italian products are also brought over from nearby Sicily, and you can find them in the supermarkets.
Make sure to sample the traditional cheese of Gozo, Ġbejniet and don’t miss the goat cheese stuffed ravioli and of course, the Maltese bread, the ftira.
GOOD CONNECTIONS TO OTHER DESTINATIONS
Malta is an island, so the easiest way to get there is by plane. There are also catamaran services to nearby Sicily. It is quite cheap to travel via air to and from Malta, especially in summer when Ryanair services a number of routes throughout Europe.
VALUE FOR MONEY
When you consider everything, Malta is one of the cheapest places you can choose. It is probably more expensive than places in Asia, but it is much cheaper than living in other European countries.
No matter what part of Malta you choose to settle in, you’ll likely find everything you’re looking for as a digital nomad. Local and international food, restaurants and bars, events and outdoor activities.
Malta also has some of the best weather in the world, blazing fast wi-fi and it’s the perfect place for digital nomads, yet somehow, Malta isn’t Chiang Mai or Bali. There aren’t the same amount of DN events, workshops or communities, but this isn’t necessarily a minus point! I believe Malta could be a great place to spend part of the year.
Useful Websites & Resources for Digital Nomads in Malta
- CoCoHub Malta
- Share / Rent Flats Malta Facebook Page
- Rent In Malta Facebook Page
- Malta Digital Nomads
- Malta Expat Community on Facebook
- Malta Internet Speed
- Co-Working Prints of Wale
- Malta Discount Card
- Malta Transport Card
- Great Walks of Malta
- Great Walks of Gozo
This is only a short overview about Malta for Digital Nomads, obviously, there is much more to see and say. If you have any questions, the comments section is waiting for you. I would also like to hear feedback from some other digital nomads who have been to Malta in the past or are thinking of coming here soon.
NOTE: I was a guest at CoCohub Malta where I was hired as a social media strategist and influencer during my stay – all opinions are my own.