Last updated on August 3, 2023
As one of the first trips I planned from start to finish, Malta will always hold a special place in my heart. Recently, a little over 6 years since my first visit, I was lucky enough to return to this stunning country for the KeyFrame 23 conference. This time, however, we left most of the planning to the Traverse team, and they truly delivered.
While the actual conference took place on Saturday and Sunday, the hosts also put together a schedule of mid-week activities in the 2 days leading up to the main event. For Thursday, we could pick from a long list of shorter activities. Friday, on the other hand, was a so-called Experience Day where we had 6 full-day tours to choose from, each with a different theme.
We didn’t think twice about booking the Grapes & Gastronomy tour, during which we got to explore Malta’s rich culinary heritage in different locations around the island, including several historic sites and the Maltese countryside. Every single activity we tried during our week in Malta felt pinch-me special, and I feel extremely grateful to the Traverse team for making it happen.
And the best part? These activities were in no way exclusive to conference attendees! This is why I decided to share my round-up of the 8 best experiences you can have in Malta, so that you can also book them for your next trip.
Ready? Let’s dive right in!
1. Attend a coffee cupping workshop
If you’ve read any of my other travel guides, you’ll know that I’m a self-taught coffee enthusiast. I try to visit specialty coffee places wherever I travel, but up until now, I didn’t have a chance to attend any official workshops.
That’s why when I saw coffee cupping on the schedule, I jumped at the chance to learn from the expert. Deandra Gauci is Malta’s only licensed Q grader, aka a professional qualified to assess the quality of coffee. One thing you should know is that there are only 6,000 certified Q graders around the world! The process of becoming one is extremely difficult and rigorous, as you need to pass 22 exams over the course of just 3 days. So, when you meet a Q grader, be aware that you’re talking to someone who truly knows their coffee inside out; the best of the best.
During our session, we started from the basics, such as the main coffee varieties, exporters, and thoughts on the quality of Starbucks coffee 😉 Then, we moved on to more advanced topics, like the main factors that can influence the quality of coffee and the journey from a bean to a cup. Once the theoretical part was over, we could put our skills to the test. We were given 2 cups of freshly brewed coffee containing specialty coffee and a low-quality blend, and had to tell them apart based on their appearance, smell, and taste.
If you’d also like to give it a try, Deandra runs an espresso bar in Sliema called COFFEE & strangers. They host various workshops on a weekly basis, so everyone will certainly find something for themselves. Or, start by popping in for a cup of coffee served with a side of an espresso brownie – I promise you won’t regret it!
2. Step back in time inside a 16th-century noble palace…
Afterwards, we headed to Valletta for an exclusive tour of Casa Rocca Piccola led by none other than Clement de Piro, whose family has owned this historic palazzo for over 400 years!
While this entire experience felt truly special, what I personally loved the most was the fact that Clement was able to provide some unique insights into the life of the Maltese nobility and share personal stories about some of the artefacts on display.
For example, if you read my Gozo guide, you may remember that one of the places we visited was the Basilica of Ta’ Pinu. The de Piro family actually used to own the land it’s located on. After the miracles started happening, the church contacted them about buying it, but it was legally impossible. Unsurprisingly, the church officials eventually managed to find a loophole and purchase the land, giving the family… a pair of golden earrings, which you can now see on display. Worst transaction ever? I thought so too.
Clement de Piro also told us an interesting story about the time his grandparents attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It ended up costing so much money that the royals decided to make at least some of it back… by offering guests a chance to purchase the stools they sat on! You can now see these in one of the rooms, along with the framed invitation.
Once we finished exploring the palace’s magnificent interiors, we also got to visit the underground air raid bunker and talk to another family member… a blue and gold macaw named Kiku! A little fun fact is that he spent a month living with horses on a farm, where he learned to neigh in order to get food – all we got from him was “hello” and “uh oh”, though 😉
…or stay in one of its rooms!
Another thing I loved about Casa Rocca Piccola was that Clement’s father, Marquis Nicholas de Piro, insists on displaying family pictures in various rooms throughout the palace. While Clement himself admitted he hates it, I think it makes you feel like you’re walking through a warm family home rather than another soulless museum. As a matter of fact, the Marquis and Marchioness live in a flat on the top floor to this day!
If you’d like to live like the noble families too, you can stay in one of the 5 rooms which have been restored to provide accommodation for visitors to Valletta. Each stay at Casa Rocca Piccola B&B also includes a private tour of the palace with the Marquis!
If it’s slightly out of your budget, it’s also possible to enquire about booking a private tour without staying at the B&B, but I’m not sure about the pricing. I honestly couldn’t recommend this experience enough, though – I was blown away by how down-to-earth, kind, and knowledgeable Clement de Piro was. In an age where many of us (myself included) would struggle to talk about our great-grandparents, the fact that he was able to go several generations back and tell personal stories about each family member deserves massive respect!
3. Buzzing with life: commune with the Maltese bees
While I know a lot of people love bees, I’ve personally always found them terrifying. When an opportunity to try my hand at beekeeping presented itself, though, I didn’t think twice before jumping into a beekeeper’s suit… Well, maybe apart from “How the heck am I supposed to wear this with my maxi dress on?!” 😉
But, let’s backtrack a little… What does Malta even have to do with bees? The name of the country actually comes from the Greek word “meli” which means honey. The Romans later called it Melita, so Malta is essentially the island of honey 😉
I initially thought we were only going for honey tasting, but I’m honestly so glad to have had this experience, as it encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone. It was a really strange feeling at first when hundreds of bees started flying all around us, as it felt like they were actually inside our suits. The apiarists at Golden Island were so wonderful through all this and truly put everyone at ease, though.
They taught us all about how bees produce honey and allowed us to watch them at work. I even got to hold one of the hive frames! Can you see those strange peanut-shaped cells? They’re queen cells, and they’re a sign that the colony is making a new queen and building these for her to grow to maturity in!
Afterwards, we also got to try 3 different types of honey, as well as some honey mead. I was a little apprehensive about this part, as I’ve had mead once before and truly hated it, but this one was absolutely delicious. If I wasn’t travelling with hand luggage only, I would 100% buy some for my mum to enjoy!
4. Savour the flavours of traditional Maltese cheese
Another fascinating aspect of Maltese food culture is its cheese-making tradition, a craft passed down through generations. Getting to explore the various flavours and textures of Maltese cheese, also known as ġbejna, is a must-have experience.
Ġbejna is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk using centuries-old techniques that have been preserved by local farmers and artisans. The cheese is typically formed into small, round shapes and can be found in various forms, such as fresh, sundried, or peppered.
After our beekeeping venture, we went inside San Pawl Milqi, the ruins of an old Roman villa and a former pagan temple. It’s not typically open to the public, but we were lucky enough to have our guided cheese tasting in these special settings. There, we met a local chef with over 30 years of experience who now produces his own cheese.
He talked us through the art of cheese-making, as well as the different varieties of ġbejna cheese available. For example, the cheese with the purple rind owes its characteristic colour to the process of wine-aging. But, perhaps the most unique type was the one the chef referred to as “the ugly duckling” – rather unassuming on the outside, but truly special once you get to taste it. It was matured in Alpine grass imported from Italy, which gave it a more earthy flavour.
I’m currently trying to get the chef’s details from the organisers. Once I do, I’ll pop these in here so you can enquire about your own cheese tasting, or at least buy some fresh Maltese cheese!
5. Raise your glass to Malta’s exquisite local wines
I know Malta might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about wine, which makes the mission of this next place even more important. While its neighbouring Italy has longstanding wine-making traditions, Malta has only been producing fine wines for the past 30 years.
Ta’Betta Wine Estates was founded back in 2002 with the hopes of putting Malta on the wine-making map. It’s a boutique winery that only produces around 25,000 bottles each year. Interestingly enough, when the owners originally applied for a licence, they thought it would be a quick process and continued with their wine-making journey. It ended up taking 10 whole years, which is why they now have a lot of vintage wine produced between 2006 and 2016 that they cannot sell in their private cellar.
During our tour of the estate, we had the pleasure of seeing this impressive collection. We also got to retrace every step of the wine-making process, from the vines down to fermentation tanks and storage barrels.
After the tour, we got to try some of their vintage wines produced between 2018 and 2019: a Chardonnay, a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and a Syrah-Cabernet Franc blend. They’re named after the grandmasters of Malta, and the taste of each wine reflects the personality of its namesake.
I personally prefer semi-sweet sparkling wines, so I was worried these would be a little too heavy for my liking, but it was genuinely some of the best wine I’ve had in my entire life. The lady also demonstrated how using the wrong type of glass can completely change the smell of your wine, and the difference was mind-blowing. At €50+ per bottle, Ta’Betta wines are not the cheapest, but I promise they’re worth every. single. penny.
6. Master the art of Maltese cuisine
As you stroll through the sun-drenched streets of Malta, you’ll undoubtedly be enticed by the irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries. In my ultimate guide to Malta, I broke down the most popular kinds of Maltese snacks, including ftira.
On our recent trip, I went a step further and attended a live class with a local chef named Karl who taught us how to actually make one from scratch! As I came to learn, what I had before was a Maltese version of the dish. Gozitan ftira more resembles a pizza… just don’t call it that in front of Karl 😉
Thankfully, Karl went a little easy on us and already prepared the dough. He explained that the name “ftira” actually comes from the verb “fattar”, meaning “to flatten”, which was the first step we had to take. After that, it was time to pick our toppings from a variety of local delicacies, such as ġbejna, Maltese sausage, capers, tuna, or roasted potatoes. When it comes to making ftira, the #1 secret is to go light with the toppings – otherwise it will stick to the pizza peel! As opposed to a traditional pizza, you also need to fold the edges of the dough before baking.
Once our ftiras went in a real wood-fired oven, it was time for us to pick our garnishes… literally! As the class was in the stunning setting of an olive grove, we could peruse the herb garden. A few minutes later, it was finally time to taste my creation! Thankfully, it tasted just as good as it looked, if not better.
On his website, Karl also offers a number of other activities, so if you’re looking for a unique Malta experience, do not hesitate to contact him!
7. Discover Malta’s beloved brew
When exploring Malta, you’ll find that the local beer of choice is Cisk, the country’s beloved golden lager. First brewed almost a century ago, back in August 1929, it eventually took over the title of the island’s most popular drink from wine. If you’d like to learn more about its backstory and sample different types of Cisk beer, including a low-carb version, you need to visit The Brewhouse.
A recent regeneration project transformed the historic 20th-century Farsons Brewery into one of the hottest new venues in Malta. Inside, you can find co-working spaces, several dining outlets, as well as the Farsons Brewery Experience, an immersive exhibition where you can explore the history of Malta’s leading brewery and the different aspects of the brewing process.
On the rooftop, you’ll also find The Cisk Tap – Malta’s first Cisk themed bar where you can try different beer types while enjoying incredible panoramic views of the island. If you’re a beer enthusiast, you must absolutely try Farsons Blue Label. I love nitro beers with their smooth, creamy foam, but they’re not easy to come by, so it’s always such a treat!
8. Explore Malta’s Riviera Bay on a sun-kissed adventure
If you’re a long-time reader, you’ll know that I’m not much of a beach person. But, even I can’t be immune to the charm of Malta’s Ghajn Tuffieha bay, also known as Riviera Bay or Apple’s Eye. We got to explore the area during the conference opening party which took place at Singita Miracle Beach.
Tucked away in a secluded cove surrounded by high cliffs and crystal-clear water, this breathtaking beach offers a delightful fusion of natural beauty and luxury amenities. Every evening, you can watch a special ritual performed by the staff as the sun sets directly into the sea. After sundown, the beach transforms from a surfers’ paradise into a cosy hangout place with live music and delicious food.
By now, I’ve experienced plenty of natural beauty, but Singita Miracle Beach has to be one of the most picturesque locations I’ve ever been to. Another thing I truly appreciate about this place is their commitment to sustainability, as they gave us a refillable water bottle and a beach blanket made from plastic bottles recovered from the sea.
If you’re looking to sink your toes into the soft, golden sands as you sip on a refreshing cocktail, or take a refreshing dip in the azure waters, Singita Miracle Beach is the place to go. Another plus is that you can easily get there by bus, or catch a taxi which shouldn’t cost you more than €25 one way, depending on your location.
Which of these Malta experiences would you like to try first?