Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Malta: Mediterranean Isles Of History, Cuisine, Adventure

July 02, 2024 Michelle Buttigieg, Director of the Malta Tourism Authority, loves her country and shares its joys. Season 1 Episode 107
Malta: Mediterranean Isles Of History, Cuisine, Adventure
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
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Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Malta: Mediterranean Isles Of History, Cuisine, Adventure
Jul 02, 2024 Season 1 Episode 107
Michelle Buttigieg, Director of the Malta Tourism Authority, loves her country and shares its joys.

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Michelle Buttigieg, Director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America, helps us uncover the secrets behind Malta's skyrocketing popularity. Michelle offers an insider's perspective on Malta's rich history, from ancient Roman rule, to Knights, to British influence, and its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the awe-inspiring megalithic temples and the cultural capital, Valletta.

We'll explore Malta's role as a favorite filming location for blockbusters like "Gladiator" and "Game of Thrones," and learn about local traditions such as the lively village festas and outdoor activities like diving and yachting.

We'll discover Malta's culinary landscape, where fresh seafood from fisherman villages meets the sophistication of Michelin-starred restaurants. We also discuss Malta's vibrant nightlife, from jazz clubs to summer festas, and the island's recognition as Europe's most gay-friendly destination.

Finally, we share a heartwarming memory, capturing the essence of Malta's harmonious blend of history and new experiences. With its sunny weather, stunning beaches, and dynamic nightlife, this episode reveals why Malta should be one of your travel destinations.
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Michelle Buttigieg is Director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America.
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Podcast host Lea Lane  has traveled to over 100 countries, and  has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember  (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and  'one of the top 100 Indie books of  the year'). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
_____
Our award-winning travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane, has dropped over 100 travel episodes! New podcast episodes drop on the first Tuesday of the month, on Apple, Spotify, and wherever you listen.

T
ravel vlogs of featured  podcasts-- with video and graphics -- now drop on YouTube in the middle of every month! Please subscribe, like, and comment.
****************************************
Website: https://placesirememberlealane.com
Travel Blog: forbes.com
X (Twitter):@lealane
Instagram: PlacesIRememberLeaLane
Facebook: Places I Remember with Lea Lane
YouTube Channel: Places I Remember: Travel Talk with Lea Lane


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Michelle Buttigieg, Director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America, helps us uncover the secrets behind Malta's skyrocketing popularity. Michelle offers an insider's perspective on Malta's rich history, from ancient Roman rule, to Knights, to British influence, and its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the awe-inspiring megalithic temples and the cultural capital, Valletta.

We'll explore Malta's role as a favorite filming location for blockbusters like "Gladiator" and "Game of Thrones," and learn about local traditions such as the lively village festas and outdoor activities like diving and yachting.

We'll discover Malta's culinary landscape, where fresh seafood from fisherman villages meets the sophistication of Michelin-starred restaurants. We also discuss Malta's vibrant nightlife, from jazz clubs to summer festas, and the island's recognition as Europe's most gay-friendly destination.

Finally, we share a heartwarming memory, capturing the essence of Malta's harmonious blend of history and new experiences. With its sunny weather, stunning beaches, and dynamic nightlife, this episode reveals why Malta should be one of your travel destinations.
_____
Michelle Buttigieg is Director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America.
_____
Podcast host Lea Lane  has traveled to over 100 countries, and  has written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember  (Kirkus Reviews star rating, and  'one of the top 100 Indie books of  the year'). She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.
_____
Our award-winning travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane, has dropped over 100 travel episodes! New podcast episodes drop on the first Tuesday of the month, on Apple, Spotify, and wherever you listen.

T
ravel vlogs of featured  podcasts-- with video and graphics -- now drop on YouTube in the middle of every month! Please subscribe, like, and comment.
****************************************
Website: https://placesirememberlealane.com
Travel Blog: forbes.com
X (Twitter):@lealane
Instagram: PlacesIRememberLeaLane
Facebook: Places I Remember with Lea Lane
YouTube Channel: Places I Remember: Travel Talk with Lea Lane


Lea Lane:

The sunny islands of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and the North African coast, are home to the highest density of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in any nation state anywhere. Malta and its sister islands Gozo and Camino offer 8,000 years of history, with diverse foods and an endless calendar of events, festivals and activities. Our guest is Michelle Buttigieg, Director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America. Welcome, Michelle, to Places I Remember.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Thank you so much, Lea, for having me.

Lea Lane:

Pleasure. I read that the number of tourists from North America has quadrupled in the last 10 years. What are a few of the reasons, do you think?

Michelle Buttigieg:

We've opened our offices here in North America again in our presence about 10 years ago. So I think, working with the trade, educating the trade about Malta, what it has to offer, and also when it comes to the consumer. We had a lot of campaigns and we're a popular filming spot, so Malta's always on?

Lea Lane:

Yes, I was noticing a tremendous number of films. What are some of them?

Michelle Buttigieg:

Oh, Gladiator. They just actually finished filming the second Gladiator there, the Count of Monte Cristo, Game of Thrones first season. So it's a lot out there on the screen and North Americans love going to places where they've seen on the screen.

Lea Lane:

I know you can tour. There's special tours y

Michelle Buttigieg:

Yes, you can. You can take a tour to all the locations where the movies are filmed. People are looking for that hidden gem, for that place off the beaten path. It used to be a disadvantage before. It is now an advantage. We're getting a lot of those travelers that are looking for something different.

Lea Lane:

I would say also that English is frequently spoken, so that helps. It's a safe destination and it's not very crowded compared to mainland Europe, especially off peak, and it's a very popular cruise stop. I've stopped several times on a cruise. It's a wonderful place to spend just even if you have a day, it's compact so you can see many, many different historic things.

Lea Lane:

It's a nation known for historic sites. There's a succession of rulers, including the Romans, Moors, Knights of St John, the French and the British, and Malta has fortresses and megalithic temples and a subterranean complex of halls and burial chambers dating to around 4000 BC. Tell us about a couple of the historic places that we should not miss.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Well, as you said, Lea, we have about 8,000 years of history. So if you look at it like a bird's eye view, you have megalithic temples dating back 1500 years, older than Stonehenge, from a civilization that scholars don't know much about, all the way to the British rulers in the 1960s, with everybody in between, as you said, the Romans, the Knights of Malta is actually predominantly very visible. The beautiful thing about Malta is all these different civilizations left a footprint and this footprint is still very visible. So when you are there, it's a very intense cultural and historic experience because everywhere you look there is something to see. If you're looking in one corner, you're looking at these megalithic temples. In another corner, you're looking at these medieval cities, hat the knights built. Everything tells a story. So if you're a storyteller or if you're interested in the history and the history doesn't only reflect in the buildings, the history also reflects in the way people still live, in the culture of the islands, the traditions of the islands. There's events going on all year round, so some of them are historical, like the village festas every weekend throughout summer.

Lea Lane:

I could just say that every town seems to have their own patron saint. Yes, all weekend, and I participated in that and they open the houses, they clean the houses up, open them to the public. And I walked in a house and the lady was so kind and she opened the door and there was a man waving from his bed. He was waving at me. I guess he had a cold or something, but it was a friendliest interaction. There was food out. It's so much fun, fireworks and all kinds of yes.

Michelle Buttigieg:

So traditions are still very strong within the Maltese, the way we eat, what we eat, how we celebrate things. You know it's 300 days of sunshine, so you're always outside. If you go in what we call the shoulder seasons, you still have beautiful weather, Great for soft adventures and activities: diving, scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, cycling, cliffhanging. Of course, we are surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean, blue Mediterranean. A lot of people come and yacht around private boats where you can visit Camino. So Malta is an archipelago of three main islands, so the main island of Malta where you stopped in your cruise ship.

Lea Lane:

Capital, Valletta, which is a total UNESCO World Heritage. Tell us what we should not miss there.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Oh, Valletta is one of my favorite places, actually Built by the knights, as they called, a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. There's eight auberges because there's the eight representations of the knights. If you look at the Maltese cross, you have eight points that represented the eight languages that the Knights spoke and they came from different parts of Europe and each point, Part of the knights, had an auberge. So Aubergine de Castile, Aubergine d'Italie and these auberges are still there today. Like Aubergine de Castile is the office of the Prime Minister of Malta, Aubergine d'Italie is a museum Today. Valletta is an open-air museum the Co-Cathedral of St John is our gem Beautiful.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Beautiful.

Lea Lane:

Beautiful marbles and ceilings and floor.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Gold, gold gilding. The knights were supposed to be humble, but St John Co-Cathedral is not humble, so in the Co-Cathedral is the beheading of St John the Baptist. It's the only Caravaggio painting, because Caravaggio never signed his paintings, but he did on that particular and it's a majestic 3D effect painting that I still stand before it and feel like that little girl that went to see it for the first time. I still stand before it in awe because it's so majestic. The streets of Valletta, the restaurants, the gastronomy experience one can have a lot of cute shop the traditional Maltese lace and the Maltese filigree and the jewelry, gorgeous pieces. I always get myself jewelry enough for a lifetime, but every time I go it's so beautiful and handmade. But Valletta, it's alive. You know, at night there's jazz bars open, with the restaurants as well. It used to be a little quieter. After 2018, Valletta was the Capital City for Culture for Europe. Valletta got a lift. More businesses opened. I mean, you have some beautiful hotels, and what's Valletta known for is its boutique hotels.

Lea Lane:

Tell us about it.

Michelle Buttigieg:

You could be in a palazzo you could be in a palazzo that was owned by the auberge, one of the knights. So you're living in history. We do have a couple of nice hotels, the bigger ones. That is, the Fenicia Hotel, which is a leading hotel just outside the gates of Valletta Beautiful property. And then inside of Valletta there's mostly Rosselli Iniala, which is a super luxury hotel overlooking the Grand Harbor, on the bastions of St Barbara. Beautiful restaurant up there as well, Michelin star. You can have the private club experience at Gracie's, these beautiful palazzo. They turned it into like a private club. It's open for public. You can go for drinks, lunch and dinner. But you're sitting in history.

Lea Lane:

Right, what about budget travelers?

Michelle Buttigieg:

There's a budget for everyone, from Airbnbs all the way to five-star hotels. You're spending a little bit less than mainland Europe, so your budget is going to take you a little bit further.

Lea Lane:

Another reason that Malta has become extremely popular. Of course, tell us about the walled city of M'dina. It's a beautifully preserved former capital. I remember walking at night through the walls. All the candlelight and the echo of the stone all around you is so magical. What is it about that?

Michelle Buttigieg:

For me, M'dina is a gem. It's definitely one of my favorite places to go when I'm in Malta. As you said, it is the former capital city of Malta. It's called the silent city because no cars are allowed in there. It's a fortified city built by the knights. It consists of palazzos. Most of the nobles of Malta lived there and still live there. The houses are still in the families, so these are really well-preserved palazzos and palazzinos. There's cloisters of nuns. There's the cathedral, the original cathedral. That's why the St John's is co-cathedral, because the original main cathedral for the Knights was the cathedral in M'dina, which is dedicated to our Father, St Paul. So the St Paul Cathedral is beautiful.

Lea Lane:

There's a very interesting story.

Michelle Buttigieg:

So we are officially the islands of St Paul, because the Apostle St Paul was shipwrecked in Malta on his way to Rome to be beheaded. We are mentioned in the Bible, which is a beautiful thing. He was stationed in Malta for a while, but he brought us the new religion. The Maltese were under the Roman rule, so we were pagans and then they adopted the new religion, Catholicism. Yeah, and we are Roman Catholic and we have over 250 churches. You've seen that when you were there. There's a church in every corner.

Lea Lane:

There's a church in every corner and a wonderful festival, as I said. (Absolutely.) We have the main island of Malta, but then the sister islands are Gozo and Camino.

Michelle Buttigieg:

So Camino is a small inhabited island in the middle, surrounded by blue lagoons, great for adventure day trips or, if you want, to rent a boat or a yacht that you can sail around. You can swim, snorkel. And then there's the beautiful sister of Gozo. Gozo is a little bit more rural than Malta, a little bit more relaxed, still has a lot of history. Gozo has the oldest megalithic temple on the island, which is called Gigantia, built by these Gigantia. Gigant in Maltese means giant, and it's called Gigantia because it's built by these really gigantic stones that we don't know how they did that back then. Right, it's like huge stones, and so scholars think that people were actually bigger stature than they are today. So there's a lot of theory there. This is a very mysterious island. In Greek mythology it's the island of the Memphis Calypso, so there's Calypso Cave to visit near Ramla Bay. Also, we have a citadel in Rabat, Victoria, the capital city of Gozo. There is a somewhat mini M'dina. It's fortified and these were built by the knights for protection of people when there used to be attacks from the Ottomans, so the locals would run to the citadels and be protected. You'll find that underneath these citadels in Valletta and in the citadel in Gozo there were a lot of caves that were used in World War II as well, because we played a very important role. But Gozo is special. I actually come from the island of Gozo, so we have a special feeling towards Gozo, as it is definitely a gem.

Lea Lane:

I know that the beaches there and the snorkeling and the boating are special. Tell us about the Blue Lagoon and the Dive Trail.

Michelle Buttigieg:

There is as much to see under the water in Malta as there is on land. There's history, there are shipwrecks dating back to the Phoenicians, all the way to World War II, and also, of course, we've been blessed by nature. So there's beautiful caves that one can discover. There is an archaeological underwater museum in Gozo that one can visit, so there's remains of shipwrecks in there and it's simply fascinating. I don't dive, but I snorkel. The visibility in the water is incredible because of the weather. I mean, of course, the locals won't swim in winter. Most locals because we're spoiled. Tourists swim all year round. If you're coming from New York or Canada, you're like you know what this is not cold at all.

Lea Lane:

So put on a wetsuit or whatever.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Exactly, and Blue Lagoon is, as I said, great spot for swimming and snorkeling. You could take a boat daily or just get a private boat.

Lea Lane:

Now, with all the cultural history, how does this affect Maltese food and drink? I remember something called pastisi, which was a pastry filled with cheese. What are some other local delights of Malta?

Michelle Buttigieg:

Our main dish is actually rabbit stew. It's delicious, especially the way my grandmother cooked it. It's a stew and she used to put pasta in it. It cooks for a long time, very tender. Our gastronomy reflects our history, our culture, so you find a lot of seafood, obviously because we are surrounded by the beautiful waters. I always recommend please eat the seafood because it's fresh. There are places like Marsa Shlog, which is a fisherman village where, like on a Sunday, you have the markets open for the local fish, just fresh, and you have some of the most amazing restaurants down there. The Maltese cuisine is very Mediterranean. You have a lot of pastas and sauces, as you said, the pastasi. We have six Michelin star restaurants, and so you could eat in a Michelin star restaurant. You can eat in the piazza together with the locals and it's equally delicious, it's just and you have wine as well.

Lea Lane:

Lots of wine, it's all over. Yes, I know.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Lots of wine. Absolutely the grape is robust because of the sun, so we have great local Girgantina grape and also olive oil, so the olive groves are pretty special.

Lea Lane:

There's something called Taste History that you have. That's a program which I absolutely love. You introduce the Maltese food, but you do it in a dining experience, in a venue where the corsairs or the knights were themselves dining. It's very special. How does someone do that?

Michelle Buttigieg:

It's done through Heritage Malta. So if one visits the Heritage Malta website they can find out. But basically it's a concept that the Heritage Malta created, where one can dine in the style of the knights. We're very lucky that we have documents that date back to the 1500. We know what ingredients they used to use, where they brought them from. I was very lucky to experience taste history with my groups of Americans or Canadians that we go there, and it's always customized too. If I was with Americans, there's some American history there as well, so it's pretty fascinating. So you're eating the same menu that the Knights ate together, paired with the wines that they used to bring from their vineyards in Europe French, Italian, Spanish.

Lea Lane:

I love things like this because it's local, but it's also world class, and I would love to do that. I'm going to go back just to do that. We've discussed the food, but you mentioned a little bit about the nightlife. You get all kinds of things you can do.

Michelle Buttigieg:

All types of things, apart from the local events that are going on all year round the big festivals, the jazz, the baroque festival, musical arts. You have the festas in the summer, but the nightlife like what do the locals do? There's a lot of bars, a lot of in Valletta, and also the coast of Slema, St Julian, St Andrews. That's where all the nightlife is. So for those looking for clubs, that would be in the Parcheville, st Julian's area more bars, jazz clubs and the promenade of Slema, all the way to the coast. You're not going to be bored. The locals like to be outside and like to have fun, so you're always going to find a place to let your hair down. Basically.

Lea Lane:

People are so friendly too. You are in the most gay-friendly place in Europe, for sure. I know you've won all kinds of awards for your absolutely open atmosphere. Tell us a bit about that.

Michelle Buttigieg:

Yes, so it was announced actually last week. Malta is number one on the Rainbow Index again for the ninth year. What Malta did is basically took care of its community first and be able to welcome others that would feel safe. It is embedded in our DNA to be welcoming. Look at how many people came in and out to our island. So hospitality is pretty special while you are there, because people are friendly and helpful.

Lea Lane:

It's wonderful. Well, the name of the podcast is Places. I Remember. So, Michelle, would you please share one of your memories of Malta?

Michelle Buttigieg:

I've lived outside of Malta now for 27 years, so when I go back to Malta now, I'm able to see it as a local, but also as a tourist and doing what I do, obviously. Recently, I had the pleasure to visit this beautiful olive grove farm called Tanishia, which is something I usually would not do, right, and I had this opportunity to go with a special group of people when I heard that this organization called Meril, together with Tanishia Olive Grove themselves, they've created this heaven, like it's a little paradise, where they planted all these trees. You're able to go there, you have lunch. I met Charlie, the local farmer who takes care of this area, and I felt a peace that's all around it, all you can see of the history of the land, the people that still runs it, the lunch that you taste. It was a feast for all senses the smell, what I saw, the colors, Charlie and his hospitality. I met his wife. They cooked lunch for us. We planted trees, which was incredible.

Michelle Buttigieg:

I felt like I've contributed. You know, I left something, and it's an experience that actually visitors can do, and Charlie was telling me all the love they've put in the land and it shows, and for me that was a special moment. I've done it two, three years ago and now every year when I go back I go see Charlie and I go see my tree to see how much it grew With all this history that we have. Obviously I am also Maltese, so I have a lot of special moments and memories. But discovering the new and how it's still blended with history and the tradition of the locals, for me it's really important because we cannot forget where we came from, because this is who we are right. So people preserving it is special for me.

Lea Lane:

What a lovely memory.

Michelle Buttigieg:

That's Malta.

Lea Lane:

You summed it up right there in your memory Well, with its wonderful sunny weather, its attractive beaches, its thriving nightlife, 8,000 years of intriguing history, Malta is indeed a great destination, as you said, just a bit off the beaten path and well worth discovering. Thank you, ichelle Buddigieg, director of the Malta Tourism Authority in North America, for sharing your country's delights. Thank you.

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