Spring has been slow to arrive this year in Dublin so a trip to the Mediterranean was exactly the reminder I needed that winter is finally over. I spent eight days on assignment in Malta and Sicily, exploring Baroque villages, sampling local cuisine, and trying to be discrete with my camera. Luckily, the morning fish market in the village of Marsaxlokk was too busy for anyone to notice me snapping away.
This Maltese fishing village is located in the southeastern section of the small island. The fish market runs along the largest bay in the island, where colorful fishing boats called Luzzu were bobbing gently in the calm water. The Sunday morning we woke in Malta, the island was strangely covered with menacing grey clouds. I thought this might keep the crowds away from the market – but I was wrong. Locals (along with a few tourists) strolled from stall to stall, comparing prices on fish, vegetables, and locally-made lace.
One sign I couldn’t get over said ‘6 pots of strawberries for 3 euros’. These overflowing pots of ripe strawberries were not only beautiful but of sizable portions. Scowling at my local grocery store for the exorbitant prices they charge for fresh fruit, I bought a single pot as an afternoon snack.
One striking element of the fish market was that everyone was speaking Maltese. This island in the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily, has had many conquerors over thousands of years, the most recently being the British. This is part of the appeal of the islands, especially for Americans, that the Maltese speak perfect English. However, strolling through the fish market, listening to the Maltese haggle in their mother tongue, it felt as if I was transported to a different time and place. I no longer felt at the center of a ‘sun and fun’ destination, but as if I had been dropped somewhere back in history when fish was plentiful and prices were fair.
The sheer variety of fish made me wish I had been staying somewhere with a kitchen. While Malta has resorts and boutique hotels to choose from, beach villas are also an option. If you would like to cook local swordfish and tuna during your trip, look into self-catering accommodation. Each stall with it’s spectacular range of fish made me wish I had booked a night or two at a villa with a kitchen.
The Marsaxlokk Market is also a great place to pick up local honey, fresh pastries, breads, and souvenirs. For an affordable picnic lunch, take a stroll through the entire market before making your selections, and then take a seat on one of the nearby docks for a picnic in the sun. Alternatively, the harbor also has many fish restaurants where you can admire the colorful boats or wait for a brief rain shower to pass.
I saw some spectacular sights in Malta – paintings by Caravaggio, ancient walled cities, historic temples – but the fresh scents and animated conversation of the Sunday fish market takes the gold as my favorite memory of the trip.
More details on my trip to Malta and Sicily to come soon!