The wonders of Malta – a flight away from Cork

The wonders of Malta – a flight away from Cork

A CURIOUS display of crutches, hearing aids and even motorcycle helmets testify to the supposed miracles performed at Ta’Pinu in Gozo.

The intriguing showcase was an unlikely highlight of a recent holiday in Malta, which incorporated a day trip by ferry to the stunning island of Gozo.

Formally known as The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin, and located on the western tip of Gozo, Ta’Pinu can only be described as a sort of Ripley’s Believe it or Not for devout Catholics.

The building shakes with palpable energy as prayers linger in the air, interrupted only by a growing clamor of tourists, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing service. The location is recorded in one’s memory.

Walls lined with tokens of gratitude tell stories of people who once believed their lives had been irreversibly altered here. Everything from handwritten letters to locks of hair to babies have been immortalized behind their own glass frames.

Aerial view of Riveria Bay, Malta at sunset.
Aerial view of Riveria Bay, Malta at sunset.

Of course, some tales are more outlandish than others. A Maltese tour guide once told me a story about a woman he found washing her underwear in the holy water in the church. After confronting her, he found out that her underwear was not owned by the lady, but by her daughter, who had fertility problems. It seems like almost everyone these days is looking for some kind of miracle.

Senior members of Gozo’s religious community are more than happy to offer tourists a glimpse into their fascinating world. In another nearby church, our collective gaze is drawn to a portrait of a teenager who looks more like Harry Styles than Francis of Assisi.

The fact that Carlo Acutis is the first Playstation fan on the road to sainthood is probably the least interesting detail about him. The Italian teenager had become known in Catholic circles as the patron saint of the Internet because of his computer talent, which he used to catalog Eucharistic miracles from around the world.

Revered among Malta’s clergy, 15-year-old Carlo, who enjoyed editing comics in his spare time, was known for standing up for his peers with disabilities against bullies at school and for working with the homeless and destitute. He was beatified two days before the 14th anniversary of his death from leukemia in 2006.

What remains of our tour of Gozo does not disappoint.

A lemon sun casts its color on an impressive landscape. It’s not hard to see how almost every part of Malta has appeared on a television screen, especially when sitting in a tuk tuk that tours the island.

By The Sea, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, is a case in point. The film was shot on Gozo, Malta’s sister island and Malta’s second largest. While Angelina and Brad shined in their roles, the real star of the show was the divine setting of Gozo.

Malta’s resemblance to other exotic locales, including the Middle East, has made it a playground for film producers and moviegoers alike. Our tour guide Daryl jokes that he spends his spare time “getting chased by dinosaurs.” He refers to cherished memories of his time as an extra on Jurassic World Dominion, much of which was filmed in Valletta. A statue of velociraptor Blue in St George’s Square marks the spot where heartthrob Chris Pratt was chased through the cobbled streets.

Those seeking action outside of the blockbuster need look no further than St. John’s Co-Cathedral Oratory in Valletta, home to one of the world’s most famous paintings: The Beheading of St. John. The iconic piece is a must-see for anyone with an interest in art history.

What’s intriguing is that this is the only Caravaggio artwork to bear the artist’s signature, which takes the form of red blood dripping from the slashed throat of John the Baptist.

Malta has a wealth to offer tourists. For tourists tempted to ditch their tour guide, rolling geeks are a must. The vehicles, which are similar to go-karts, come complete with pre-programmed GPS systems that not only give you directions, but also explain the details behind the local tourist spots.

Sarah Horgan (left) on her visit to Malta
Sarah Horgan (left) on her visit to Malta

After a full day’s excursion, it doesn’t seem like long before we’re back at our hotel.

The Intercontinental Hotel in St Julians is a hidden five-star gem in the midst of the urban sprawl that is home to Malta’s nightclub and entertainment district. The oasis of calm features a large private outdoor pool and garden terrace. In general, the verdict is favorable.

Unfortunately, unlike Angelina Jolie, most of us will never get the chance to honeymoon in Malta with Brad Pitt, but the city’s five-star allure is enough to make anyone feel like a movie star.

Recommendations for dining in Malta

Charles and Ron Cafe

This restaurant is the product of creative minds that unite two loves: food and fashion. It’s basically a one stop shop for foodies and fashion lovers.

The menu comprises high-quality dishes made with ingredients from all over the island. Be warned, the designer delights on offer may lead you to invest in a new wardrobe before dessert arrives.

the chophouse

A wonderland for carnivores, Chophouse boasts a tempting selection of succulent steaks, among other meats, as well as a selection of grilled fish daily.

blondie

This charming little bistro began life in 1906 as a confectionery serving, among other edible gems, Sicilian cassata. Diners still enjoy the cake to this day.

Rubino consists of three traditional rooms with a cozy quality. Delicacies include a variety of Maltese and Italian dishes.

Il Kartell

This restaurant in Marsalforn has been a family affair since its inception in the early 1970s.

Described as a local mainstay in the food world, the kitchen and restaurants retain much of their original structures. They were originally home to three boathouses.

The restaurant’s stunning sea views are just as delicious as the dishes on offer, including seafood, Mediterranean and European cuisine.

Tartar

Another family-run establishment, the restaurant uses fresh ingredients to create delicious local dishes with an international twist.

Its fresh, daily-sourced fish is one of the main draws for customers, hence the name, which is borrowed from a special Maltese fishing net.

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