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Episode 2 - Bradenton, an unspoiled slice of Florida
Dive in to the beautiful Bradenton Area of Florida in this episode, as we speak to Kelly Clark, Chief Marketing Officer at Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Ed Chiles, a restaurateur, keen fisherman and sustainability expert from Bradenton. Listen now for a 30 minute holiday!
Laura Gelder, Editor of Charitable Traveller Magazine: Hello, and welcome to Charitable Travel’s Travel Insider Podcast. My name is Laura Gelder. I’m the editor of Charitable Traveller Magazine and the host of this podcast series, otherwise known as TIPS. We hope to give you lots of great travel tips today, but mostly we intend to transport you from wherever you are right now, perhaps your favourite armchair, or maybe squished into a crowded commuter train to a place that will inspire you.
Today, we’re hopping across the pond to America’s Sunshine State, specifically the Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, and Longboat key area. It’s Florida, but perhaps not as you know it because a holiday to the Bradenton area is like a trip back in time. Right in the centre of Florida’s Gulf coast, the Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat key area is only 45-minutes from the bright lights of Tampa and just two hours from the thrills of Orlando.
But the vibe is very much off the beaten path. Forget freeways, high rises, and mega malls Here you’ll find sandy lanes leading to the sea. Cute clapboard cottages and artisan shops and farmer’s markets. There’s plenty to do in the Bradenton area, but no pressure to do much at all. We’re going to hear about the powdery, white sand beaches, the pristine ocean, where you can paddle over manatees or sail alongside dolphins and the eclectic community that you can discover here. I’m also going to apologize now for making you hungry. As we discuss the mouth-watering seafood options that the region has to offer.
So, I’m not going to tell you all about this. Instead, we’re going to hear it all from our guests. Kelly Clark, chief marketing officer at Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Ed Childs, an entrepreneur keen fishermen and sustainability experts. Kelly and Ed are both Florida born and bred. So, they’re going to offer us a unique and crucially an insider perspective on the Bradenton area.
Thanks so much for joining us, Kelly, and Ed, I’m just going to do a little brief intro to both of you. So, Kelly, you’re the chief marketing officer for Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, as we’ve already said. You’ve been, a member of the team there for 10-years, and you’re also one of the few people we might speak to who actually grew up on Anna Maria Island.
So, tell us a bit more about that and about your background.
Kelly Clark, Chief Marketing Officer at Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: Yes. Well, thank you, Laura. And thank you so much for having us on the show today. Yeah, I’m one of the few and far between that are actually born and raised in the Bradenton area. There’s not many of us, so I always feel very proud that I’m working for the Visitors Bureau and being able to talk about the area and I think that really brings up passion because I was born and raised here and went to school here, went to college here, um, university. And I just never left because such an amazing place. So, I think that speaks volumes
Laura: And Ed, your prominent figure in, in both the Bradenton and Anna Maria Island communities, and you play a really active role in promoting sustainable tourism. So, could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Ed Chiles, local businessman and sustainability expert: Laura, I also want to thank you for having us today and, I wish you were here interviewing us because it is a absolutely perfect day. We’ve had a string of them here lately, but it is just gorgeous here in the Bradenton area. I’m kind of like Kelly. Obviously, I’ve been around a lot longer than Kelly, but I don’t ever remember not being on Anna Maria.
I was, raised in Lakeland, Florida, which was about an hour and 20 minutes from here in Central Florida. So, this was the place that everybody came. When I got out of college and, uh, chose a place to live and raise a family it was here by choice. This is paradise, and it is a very sensitive place because we’re right here on the coast.
You know, we sit here today on the edge of the largest Gulf in the whole world. And we are the only place in the country that has three national estuaries on our border. Those estuaries are in very large part, the nursery for the whole Gulf of Mexico. So, they are critically important to our environment. And as we all know, no matter where we are, in this whole wide world today, especially if we’re near water. There are issues, uh, that are becoming more of concern with climate, uh, with water quality, with development and things of that nature. So, sustainability is critically important here, and we believe that we can be a model here for what we do with the intrinsic resources we have. The fact that we are, uh, that we live in this area on these three national estuaries to promote state, uh, sustainability and to promote coastal resiliency. And we work a lot on that.
Laura: Thank you for that intro. Yeah, I can, I can hear the passion coming across already, but what we’ll get back to that. But we’re going to start with them with the basics, I guess. So I’m sure a lot of our listeners have been to Florida because as you know, the Brits love the sunshine state.
So, Kelly, could you tell us a little bit about what makes your destination different to the rest of Florida?
Kelly: Sure. So, um, like you said, the, uh, the Brits and the international market, generally when they think about Florida and the Sunshine State, um, they’re thinking about Disney World, they’re thinking about Orlando, Miami, those big high rises on the beach.
But what makes us special and unique is that we have an Old Florida feel, but with modern day amenities, So, when you come to the destination, you won’t find chain hotels and chain restaurants, and high rises just blocking the beautiful views of the beach. You have that Old Florida low rise feel here. There are some areas where the palm trees are actually higher than the buildings.
And we do have a law restricting that you cannot build higher than three stories on the Island. So that is something that’s never going to change. Um, our beaches are some of the best in the United States. We have that sugar-white, soft sand. It just feels like powder when you walk through it, the beaches are beautiful turquoise with a low surf, which makes it a great place for families and with young children who want to feel safe, they don’t have those high waves on the east coast of Florida.
You know, it makes it a great all-around destination. We also have some of the best parks and preserves in Florida. We’ve got several trails and biking paths and there’s so much to do here. And I think people just don’t realize that it’s so easily accessible, um, in the state. So the other thing too, is that the one thing you’ll notice when you come to our destination is that we exude a southern charm.
We’re known as the friendly city. So when you come, you feel like you’re actually at home and I think that’s what makes our area very special.
Laura: Sure. Yeah. And when you say old Florida, would you say there’s a bit of a, kind of a retro feel to the area?
Kelly: You know, it definitely has a retro feel or a vintage, Florida feel you’ll see all the beach cottages and their clapperboard style.
We have a lot of buildings that are from the 1920s that have been retrofitted, lots of colours. The character of the island is really where you’ll find that old Florida feel. Ed can speak to that too. Yeah, he was on a big project. That’s Pine Avenue one, uh, the, one of the areas on the island. And that is very well visited where there were lots of buildings that were from, you know, the early 1900.
But they retrofitted them, and the amenities are all modern day, but it still has that Old Florida feel.
Laura: And what about the geography of the area? Because we’ve, we’ve mentioned Bradenton, we’ve mentioned Anna-Maria islands and Longboat key, and those are the three key destinations, aren’t they? Within the wider area. So could you explain how it kind of all fits together and the main places that people should know.
Kelly: Sure. So just to kind of give you an idea, the Bradenton area is located on the west coast of Florida on the Gulf coast, as Ed said, um, it’s about 45-minutes south of Tampa. And it’s about two hours away from Orlando.
And, not that far about three and a half to Miami, Fort Lauderdale area. Just to give you an idea geographically, where we are. Um, we like to say that, you know, we’re close to all the major attractions and big cities in the state of Florida yet when you’re here, you feel miles and miles away, definitely what you want or feel when you’re on vacation.
So, the area is made up of three main parts, Longboat key, which is more of an exclusive island that resorts. And, um, some of the best dining in the area, Bradenton is the mainland. And that’s where you’re going to find our urban city beautiful river walk. The Manatee River is flowing right through it of strong cultural and arts district come up. The parks and preserves are found in that area. And then of course, Anna Maria Island, which is the crowning jewel.
Laura: Okay. Well, we’re going to get back to that in a second, but I’m going to move back to Ed now and go back to that, sustainability subject. Because one of the things I find quite exciting about Bradenton and Anna Maria Island is how important sustainability seems to be to the area, which you touched on before. Ed, could you tell us a little bit more about, um, the projects that you were involved in?
Ed: So local seafood is what we’re all about. And sustainable seafood is the coin of the realm. 90% of the seafood that we eat in this country now is imported and 50% of that is aquaculture. And yet in America, we’re only making 1% of our aqua culture.
So, we’re working on those things, we’re working to promote our local wild, sustainable seafood, and that sustainable is critical. So that it’s not a, a fish that is over-fished. Uh, I think we do a very good job of regulating our seafood and in Florida now, and making sure that, that we are sustaining our stocks. When you talk about sustainability clams, great
in our restaurants, great for fresh Florida seafood, that is so healthy and so tasty. But great for the environment too, because clams filter water. And they clean water and by cleaning water, they clean, they promote light coming down through the water column and promote sea grass. They fertilize sea grass through their waste stream.
They promote forage fish. So, we’re working on biological mitigation strategies here for coastal resilience, and that involves, uh, projects for restoration of our sea grass beds and our clamps native clam stocks here.
Laura: So, could you tell us a little bit more, obviously clams are the major part of your sustainability project and you, you actually have, a charity that you’re, that you’re working with. Is that, is that right?
Ed: Well, it’s a new an initiative, Laura, and thank you so much for asking all, uh, your listeners need to do is go to the internet and go to All Clams On Deck. And that’s our project. Uh, that’s our project for using these three national estuaries as a big macro laboratory to prove out the science and to gather the data on the nutrient mitigation and the things that clams do to benefit coastal resiliency.
And it’s a project where the more jobs we create, the more water we clean and the better the environment is. The more, the, uh, happy that our tourists are and the better that our property values are in the better that quality of life that we preserved, that Kelly and I treasure so much and that everybody that comes here gets stuck too. So, sustainability is very important to us.
Laura: Okay. Brilliant. Thank you for that. Okay. So, um, Kelly, can you tell us a little bit about what there is to do on Anna Maria Island, your home?
Kelly: Anna Maria Island being acquaint, smaller destination. There is so much to do there and there’s something for everyone. There are so many water activities, whether it’s fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, there’s something there for everyone. Having time in the water is definitely, um, one of the largest or the biggest activities you can do on Anna Maria Island. And we also have boutique shopping. Like I said, there’s no chain stores out on the Island.
So, you can find all these independently owned small boutique shops that you could go in and spend your money, but you can feel good while you’re doing it because you’re supporting locals. There are two major piers on the island that have just undergone some renovation that are great. You can go out and have a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise. And I also like to say that we have a trolley or a bus service that goes up and down the Island, that’s absolutely free. So it’s a very multi-modal city. You can rent bikes or golf carts, or like I said, take the free trolley so you can easily get around. And of course, one of the number one thing you can do on Anna Maria Island is watch the sun set.
Absolutely beautiful. Every night there’s a show and waterfront dining. I mean, Ed has two amazing restaurants that are directly on the Gulf of Mexico. You can actually dine with your toes in the sand. It’s a unique experience that everyone should try once in their life. And yeah, it’s absolutely amazing. Although there is a lot of things to do on the island. I like to say sometimes the best thing you can do, is nothing. Go to the beach. And enjoy your time.
Laura: Would it be fair to say that this is a barefoot destination where you can kind of leave your, your shoes in your hotel or in your recommendation?
Kelly: Yeah, Laura, that’s a great way of putting it.
Yes, definitely a barefoot destination. It’s very, uh, we’re not pretentious here. Everything is laid back island time, island vibes. So yes, everything is very relaxed here.
Laura: So back to Ed, could you tell us a little bit about the wildlife that we can expect to see in the Gulf, around the Bradenton area in areas? I know Kelly just said that water sports are a big part of what you get up to, but presumably you can see some, some wildlife from your paddleboard?
Ed: Oh, absolutely. You know, both, uh, Marine and inland here, you know, just a wide spectrum. So, you know, if you’re out on the water, you’re going to expect to see porpoise here, dolphin, uh, every day you’re very likely to see a manatee, our sea cows, which are just absolutely fabulous to watch. Uh, you’re going to see the rays out in the water, schools of rays uh, our bird life is incredible. So you may see in a day, you could see ospreys, you’ll see numerous ospreys. Very likely you might see an eagle, especially if you’re a little bit further inland. Roseate spoonbills here. It’s a fairly rare bird. Likes a tropical climate, just gorgeous bird. Night herons, terns, black skimmers on the beach, all the little seabirds that are so funny.
It’s like a Pixar movie to watch them scurry around as the waves come out and they’re digging around in the sand. So, you know, being out, if you’re going out on one of the pontoon boats or you go over to Egmont Key. Uh, it’s a rich tapestry of wildlife here, both, uh, you know, in the marine environment
You’re going to see wild pigs. You’re going to see deer, uh, you’re likely to see Turkey.
Laura: How do you, how would you recommend a visitor and make sure they see as much wildlife as possible? Is it good to do a tour? Are you okay to just kind of walk around and kayak and everything’s just there?
Ed: Yeah, absolutely. You know, how far do you want to go?
If you want to go into the bay areas or one of the boat tours is great. If you want to grab a kayak and go into one of the many areas that Manatee County has. When you talk about, we’re known for sustainability, because they’ve done so much with environmental land, so you can go to Robinson Preserve, you can go to Myakka State Park, you can go to Rye Park. Uh, you can go to numerous places around this county and, and get a kayak, go up into the rivers and do a canoe trip. You’ll see alligators when you go up in the river, you may see otters when you go up in the river. Uh, so there’s just this all kinds of choices.
If you’re into that and you want to be doing hikes and you want to be doing the outdoor thing, you’re in a great area to do it here. And you love to say fly fish. Or you love the spin fish. You know, you want to catch the silver king. This is the place to do it. This is one of the best places to tarpon fish in the world.
Uh, if you want to catch snook, if you want to catch permit, if you want to catch a trophy redfish, uh, if you want to catch great fish to eat like Spanish mackerel, grouper, and snapper, we’ve got just a great, great, fishing, uh, area here and just lots of opportunities as well.
Laura: Well, I think I don’t know anything about fishing, but I know that if I was going anywhere with alligators, I think I’d want a guide.
Ed: Well, you can stay out in the Gulf. The alligators are all inland.
Laura: Okay. That’s good. I’ll stay there. Kelly, can you tell us a little bit about the accommodation options in the area and where we can stay?
Kelly: The Bradenton Area is known for having a range of accommodations. There really is something for everyone, but what we’re most well-known for is our vacation rental homes.
Beach cottages, villas, condos. The 80% of our accommodations are actually single-family homes. So, we do have on the mainland, quite a few hotel options, but on Island specifically, um, your beach cottages, your vacation homes, your smaller resorts that are boutique-style is going to be what you’ll find. And that’s great, I think for the UK market, because, you know, once you fly in, um, usually you get in a little bit later.
So, when you arrive in the destination, it’s great to have a place that you could feel at home, and you can really have your home away from home because you have your separate rooms, have your own kitchen. You can go out and you can go to the local fish market at Cortez. Grab some local fish and cook it up at home if you don’t want to go out every single night for dinner and you have that, that privacy in that space, most of them have their own heated pools. So, you do have the privacy of, that as well. And I think right now, um, in this climate, it’s more of a, it’s more of, of something people are looking for is to have that, that privacy and that space.
That’s all their own. It’s also great for families. I know I have a young daughter. I love going to places where I can rent a vacation home. Cause I have my own separate room. I have the kitchen, I’m able to make snacks and things for, for my daughter. So yeah, that’s, that’s one of the specialties of our area is our vacation rental home.
Laura: Sure. And I guess there’s a full spectrum there. So from a more budget and right up to the sort of luxurious, large villas with pools and that kind of thing?
Kelly: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, we have duplexes, we have condos, we have kind of your old vacation rental, beach cottages that like I said, have been retrofitted, but you know, there’s, there’s one bedroom, two-bedroom, three bedroom, whatever you’re looking for, we have it.
Laura: Of course, one of the best things about staying in, in accommodation like that, or being self-catering is that you have the opportunity to go out for dinner, wherever you like. So, I’m going to move on to Ed now, cause obviously you are the restaurateur, here. So could you tell us a little bit about the food scene and what were you going to be eating when we visit.
Ed: I think its varied. If you want sushi here, you can get there. We have a great sushi restaurant on the island, and we have good, uh, very good sushi restaurants in town. We’ve got a great German place on the island. We certainly specialize in seafood. Uh, and there’s a lot of great burger places, you know? Gosh, if you talk about the classic burger joint, you know, you’re looking at Duffy’s, uh, on the Island where I always went as a kid and it’s still doing them the same way.
Uh, lots and lots of casual places, lots of places where you can be comfortable outside a barefoot, as you say, uh, a lot of them will be on the way. Uh, but we have some really good seafood places here. And as Kelly said, we’ve got some really good, fine dining. Uh, if you want to get a reservation and you want to go in and you know and do it up with a white tablecloth and all of that, we’ve got some exceptional, uh, restaurants, some that have come in recently, like the Chateau, some that have got a tremendous history here, like The Bistro.
Great place for cocktails like The Doctor’s Office. Uh, and then great seafood restaurants. Uh, what John Horn does, what the Anna Maria Oyster bar. Um, we’re pretty proud of our three places. Uh, the Blue Marlin down in Bridge Street which in itself is a lot of fun and Bradenton Beach. Uh, there’s a daiquiri deck bar down there.
There’s a bunch of different kind of old-school bars down there and a number of, of neat restaurants down there. So a lot of variety. If you want a fresh seafood, you’re going to be able to get it in a lot of places. You’re going to be able to sit over the bay in a place called The Waterfront. Uh, that’s great.
You’re going to be able to go out to one of our two city piers and sit over the water and watch the fishermen. Your kids will just absolutely love that. You know, and if you’re staying in one of the places on the north end of Anna Maria, you’re walking in you’re and biking and you’re, uh, you know, you’re strolling everywhere, and you really can kind of leave your car.
Uh, Kelly talked about that. This is a place where you can bring your kids and you can let them loose, you know, and they can take the trolley and go down to the public beach. You know, and chase chicks and have fun and get to know people like we all did and when we were kids and have that kind of freedom and that spirit that you don’t find it, a lot of other places.
Laura: Is that while the parents are having the cocktails?
Ed: Yes, exactly. Right. Yeah. And you let the little boogers go, you know, not have to worry about, do.
Laura: I mean, tell us about some of the dishes. Is there a particular dish that’s famous in the area? Well fish sandwiches, you know, grouper sandwiches, for sure. Certainly, a lot of group or dishes, a lot of snapper dishes.
Ed: We do a lot of stone crab here. Laura, have you had stone crab?
Laura: I don’t think I have actually no.
Ed: Well, stone crab is fairly unique. It’s in a small geographical area, which is really southern South Carolina, the coast of Georgia, Florida and then down a little bit south of Florida. But really, we all think it’s by far the best crab, a blue crab is another crab that we have that is absolutely exceptional, but stone crabs are big and they’re meaty, uh, sweet.
Uh, they’re a great specialty that we have here. And, you know, I can’t talk about seafood without beating the drum about clams. So we, uh, we do when we’re talking about sustainability and we’re talking about the environment we’re talking about good food. And, and in sitting around and enjoy people with a great bottle of wine. And by the way, we make some wine called Lola too. So, we’ll serve you a glass of that. Um, we do what we call the oral presentation, and we sit around and have great Florida sustainable seafood, and we have a big bowl of clams and some of our fresh bread from the bakery and a nice dry white wine. And, uh, people get the message when we do that.
Laura: Okay. Stop. You’re making me hungry! Um, well, I mean, you’ve given us some really good tips on, on, I feel like I should have had my pen out there writing down all the bars and places that you told us about that. Kelly, can you give us a few other sort of hidden gems or local secrets, you know, the best place to watch the sunset or, um, what we’ve already got a few places to go for a cocktail, but maybe a few more?
Kelly: Definitely, um, you know, talking about the sun. I was born and raised here, and I’ve seen more sunsets than I can even count. But what I will say is; there is no place on the island that is a bad place to watch the sunset. They are absolutely epic. Um, you know, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, but it is different every single night.
The whole sky will be a golden peachy, pink colour one night. And then the next, it’s this soft blue gold that you’ve never seen before. You know, Ed and I were from here. We’ve seen them. We’ve seen more than you can count, but, it’s breath taking every time you see it, there’s seven miles of land on Anna-Maria anywhere on that seven mile stretch is going to be an amazing place to watch.
You know, some of the secret spots, I think Dean Point be a good place to mention. It’s, it’s sort of a secret it’s a little bit hard to get to. There’s not really a good place to park there to find it. You, you have to, um, almost stumble across it. It’s the very north tip of the Island. You can see the Sunshine Skyway in the back, which is a huge bridge that connects on the Bradenton area with a St. Petersburg. You can see the Gulf of Mexico there. And, um, it’s the very tip of the island and support just thought some of the other places that I think would be a great place to take the family, uh, The store on pine avenue called Shiny Fish Emporium. It’s absolute magic when you walk in there.
Um, and what they do is they take a sand dollar, which is a sea urchin that lives here in the area. And you can find in the waters around Anna Maria. Um, and it’s like a disc it’s a round disc, it’s white, and it has a star shape in the middle. And, um, you can actually paint them at the shop, and you can put a little ribbon through the hole and take it home as a souvenir, a special souvenir that you can keep.
Um, that’s a little piece of Anna Maria Island. Um, I think that’s really a special place to go and kind of one of the top-secret places that I like to take people or family when they come into town.
Laura: And just to clarify to everyone, that’s, that’s, uh, an expired search in isn’t it?
Kelly: Yes, if you’re, if you’re in the ocean, if you’re in the golf and you are swimming around and you see one and it’s a bit on the darker side, that means it is alive and you should never touch.
Laura: I just thought I’d check that. No, I did know that. Okay. Ed, can you describe to us your perfect day on Anna Marie Island and what you would get up to?
Ed: Well, my perfect day would probably be to, uh, get up and get one of our great guides and get out on the water. Uh, and then you’d be out, uh, before first light.
So, you would see a sunrise on the water and as beautiful as the sunsets are, for the early birds, the sunrises are absolutely just as magical. So, if you want to be out in one of our parks, then taking a stroll and looking at the wildlife and listening to the world, wake up, you know, uh, in, in the morning and see those beautiful colours, but I’d be out there in that with the breeze and that cool morning, and maybe seeing a tarpon roll and getting a chance to throw to them.
And then come back in and, uh, maybe spend a little time on Pine Avenue, uh, looking at the shops and going around and visiting some of our friends, uh, buying something at the Anna Maria Olive Oil Company, where they have the finest, olives and cheese. Uh, maybe go into Grub the new, uh, uh, great artisanal barbecue place.
It’s on the street for lunch or Papos the Tacoria that is there. That’s a great little mission-style-tacoria that we got. Uh, I take a nap in the afternoon after school. Uh, and I’d go have a sunset dinner on the beach.
Laura: Oh, fantastic. I’m glad you got a nap in there. That’s good.
Ed: And after that dinner, I’d walk up to the North Point, uh, under the moon and the stars and, uh, and just smell that ocean, uh, that beautiful golf had listened to the lapping and, uh, and feel that cool breeze on my face.
Laura: And go to sleep again, presumably. Lovely. Okay. I’m just going to ask you a bonus question. I’ll start with you, Kelly. Could you tell us how we can make our trip counts in Bradenton?
And by that, um, what we mean is we want to make a positive impact in some way when we’re visiting. So yeah. Tell us something that we can do that’s positive.
Kelly: I think there’s a few things you can do when you visit the area. Um, we really pride ourselves, especially us being locals in that responsible travel. We have a whole campaign called Love It Like a Local. Which is geared towards educating vacationers on how to visit the destination responsibly, um, and Love It Like a Local is really all about telling people, you know, what to do when you’re in the destination, that can make a difference, whether it’s. You know, when you go to the beach, make sure you’re using reef-safe, sunscreen, cleaning up after yourself and take things and recycle and throw it away once you’re done at the beach.
If you dig a hole to put your sun umbrella in, make sure you cover the whole, we are a big, a sea turtle nesting destination. We have to be careful of those locals to protecting the wildlife, making sure that you know, you’re not going up and touching any of the wildlife or touch them when you’re swimming with them, keeping that distance.
And of course, you know, taking, look at spending your time in some of the local boutiques and shops and, you know, paying it forward by shopping local. Also spending some time learning about programs, like All Clams On Deck, where you can educate yourselves and learn about ways to protect the water quality of other island destinations like ours.
Laura: Like, so Ed, I’m going to challenge you to give me one thing, one thing that we can do to make a difference.
Ed: I think you can look at the ways that we are trying to work on coastal resiliency here. And you can see what are the intrinsic resources that you have in your community that you could work on?
So it may be that you don’t live on the coast, but you live in the upland areas, but there are things that every one of us can do in our community to deal with the environmental issues and to make sure that we preserve and protect what we’ve had so that future generations can have it
Laura: So thank you so much to both of you for joining us and for telling us so much about your home, it sounds like an amazing.
Ed: Laura, I hope you’ll look us up when you come and we’ll make sure you try some of these great local clams. And the stone crab too. That’d be in season
Laura: And to find out more and book your next holiday to the Bradenton area you can visit www.charitable.travel, or you can call up and speak to our team of expert travel advisors. For more information about Bradenton, visit their Twitter. @VisitBradenton.
Laura Gelder, Editor of Charitable Traveller Magazine: Hello, and welcome to Charitable Travel’s Travel Inside Podcast, otherwise known as TIPs. And that is exactly what we hope to pass on to you, our listeners, great tips on how to immerse yourself in some of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating places. Thank you so much for tuning in today. My name is Laura Gelder and I’m the editor of Charitable Traveller Magazine. You can read the latest edition of Charitable Traveller Magazine at charitable.travel/traveller. Much like the magazine, this podcast series is here to inspire as well as inform, transporting you across the world to exciting destinations for a half hour holiday and a unique insider view thanks to our knowledgeable guests.
On today’s episode, we’ll be journeying into a beautiful Mediterranean country, Malta. The magical Maltese islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, offer an impressive array of experiences and sights. Not only is this sun-scorched isle a much-loved holiday destination with relaxing beaches galore, it’s steeped in history, and has been a cultural melting-pot for thousands of years. Most recently making a name for itself as one of the world’s most LGBTQI+ friendly destinations.
Joining me today on our half our holiday, we have Louis Zammit of the Malta Tourism Authority and Clive Cortis a local Maltese guide with over 17 years of experience of sharing his vast knowledge with visitors from all around the world.
So, I’m lucky enough to have visited Malta myself, but some of our listeners won’t have had this chance yet. So, Louise, I know that you were born in Malta and now live in the UK. And I imagine you must find yourself thinking about the islands often, especially at this time of year when it’s dark and cold. So, for someone who’s never been to the Maltese islands before, how would you describe Malta, Gozo and Comino? And how can the islands be compared to other, other European destinations and other Mediterranean destinations in particular?
Louise Zammit, Malta Tourism Authority: So first of all, I just like to say, thank you very much for having us here today, and hopefully we’ll be able to pass on some nuggets about the Maltese islands to your listeners. I think that the Maltese islands are quite unique in their offering. We have over 300 days of sunshine. We have beautiful beaches, delicious food.
We also have five Michelin star restaurants. And that’s coupled with 7,000 years of fascinating history, I think really gives the Maltese islands that edge, and it’s offers something for everybody. And some of your listeners may not be aware of this Laura, but the islands are actually referred to often as one big open-air museum, particularly our capital city Valletta, which is one of our three UNESCO world heritage sites.
The fact that nowhere is further away than forty-five minutes just really gives everybody the opportunity to explore all the elements that the islands have to offer.
Laura: And how would you compare the islands to other European destinations?
Louise: You know, like I say because we have quite unique features in terms of our 300 days of sunshine, the beautiful beaches, the delicious food, the history, I think in this sense, it’s quite unique because with other European cities, I would say, for example, if you wanted to be beach holiday, you’d kind of need to go specifically for that beach holiday. Whereas in Malta you can combine all the different elements. I think that’s the key to how it varies from other European destinations.
Laura: One of the things it struck me when I was there is it’s really at the crossroads of history in Europe. Isn’t it? It’s had so many influences over the centuries from so many different cultures as well.
Louise: Absolutely. Yes. That’s definitely one of the key features. We have 7,000 years of history. As I mentioned though, it really is a huge melting-pot and that can be seen from our history and also from the food as well, the language is a combination of Italian and Arabic. So, it has quite a few fascinating elements.
Laura: You touched on the sunshine briefly, but Clive obviously you’re lucky enough to live in, in Malta. year round. So, for us occasional visitors, when would you say is the best time to visit?
Clive Cortis, local Maltese guide: So first of all, thank you for having us, as you said, here in Malta, we do have really nice weather throughout the whole year, even during the winter time, even for us Maltese, we grumble about winter, but the temperatures during winter, it will be only 14 degrees, 13 degrees.
So, the Maltese islands can offer all year-round experiences for our visitors. So from the summer, for those that want to have a swim, or go clubbing, or outdoor events to those that would like to go for walking tours, especially during March, April and May, that will be one of the best months being that it’s just after the wintertime.
So that’s just after the time when it rains. So, most of the countryside would still be quite green. So, while walking around the countryside of Malta, you will end up on cliffs. You can really enjoy nice sea views. One can enjoy really nice contrast of colours. The blue, sea, the blue sky, the greenery of our countryside, and obviously the dry walls, the yellow colour of our stone. It makes the whole setup quite amazing.
Laura: How hot does it get during those peak summer months?
Clive: Well during the summer months. Average, it’s always around 30 to 34 degrees.
Laura: Beautiful, beautiful. So, for people who want to visit, who want to avoid that peak heat, you already mentioned that springtime is a good time to visit, but what about off season is wintertime a good time to visit as well?
Clive: Definitely, especially for those that like to visit our cultural sites, you will go inside the 5,600-year-old temple, and there will be only a few people walking around and definitely for the sports tourism. If it wants to visit the island, we can really have some really nice sports tourism from cycling and even walking tours.
Laura: Louise, the size of the Maltese islands is, is definitely a plus. There’s three of them for starters. So how would you tell people to approach planning their holiday there to make sure they don’t miss anything vital?
Louise: Well, I think that planning your holiday in advance is really key to ensure that you get the best experience from your stay. Now, in terms of location, I would say that the Northern part of Malta is really ideal for families with younger children.
So, let’s take, for example, Mellieħa. This is where we have the longest stretch of sandy beach. And I would say the town is the bridge between where everything is happening, but at the same time, time stands still. And so, you have a really good balance here. You have stunning views and many restaurants to choose from as well.
Then there’s another really popular location, which is Sliema. And this is an active town with a buzzing scene bar. You have great shopping malls. Various restaurants. And actually, one of the main attractions is the beautiful long promenade. And the promenade is dotted with great swimming spots. And these are not actually sandy beaches, they’re rocky beaches, which tend to be much more popular with the locals and the promenade stretches all the way to St Julians.
St Julians is best known for the five-star hotels. For example, The Hilton, The Marriott, The Intercontinental, you have various lovely restaurants with stunning sea views as well. And St. Julians is actually the hub of the nightlife where the majority of the clubs are located. And there is a strip specifically called Paceville, where all the nightlife is happening. It’s obviously really great for those young travellers.
And then of course you have Valletta which has an extraordinary density of historical sites and whether it’s museums, churches, and more recent periods as well as the various bustling wine bars in Valletta. And I think that the best way to explore Valletta is actually on foot, you know, where you can discover the rich culture and the beautiful Baroque architecture.
And the city as well, has many stunning, beautiful boutique hotels as well, which are actually converted historical houses. And for those visitors looking for something more laid back, I would definitely say Gozo, which is Malta’s sister island. It’s located just 25 minutes over from Malta, and this is absolutely a perfect location for those wanting a more rural experience.
Gozo is home to Ramla Bay, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world. With more history and beautiful landscapes, Gozo is definitely another one of our jewels, you know, with various accommodation options from three to five-star hotels, luxury farmhouse, and boutique hotels as well.
Laura: And what about the third island, Comino, tell us about that as well.
Louise: So, Comino is, I would say, mainly for day trips and during the summer, it’s surrounded by beautiful blue lagoon crystal clear water and is just absolutely stunning. Great for diving as well snorkelling. However, you wouldn’t actually stay in Comino.
You would stay either on Gozo or on Malta and Comino would be more for a day visit, but Comino actually is great also for the winter months, people tend to walk along Comino. It’s great for hiking because it’s just that 3.5 square kilometres island. So really, really great, you know, off the peak to walk around. The highlight is definitely the stunning crystal-clear waters, which surround Comino.
Laura: Would you recommend people ideally spending a little bit of time on Malta and a little bit of time on Gozo perhaps?
Louise: Well, yes, definitely. Laura, that’s one of the things that we actually do recommend because I just think that gives you a more holistic experience. I think that it’s like stepping back in time. So, you know, to get a more holistic idea of, of what the Maltese islands are about and what they have to offer. Being able to island hop between the two is a real huge benefit.
Laura: Definitely. And I mean, it sounds like there is a huge amount to do in Malta. I mean, we don’t even have time to cover all the things that there are to do. Is it a destination to visit for a longer time? Louise, or how would you recommend?
Louise: I think this is actually a great question, just because people have such a misconception that because the islands are small, you can see everything in a few days.
However, I think there’s so much to immerse yourself in, you know, be it the history, the culture, the outdoor activities, our beautiful Blue Flag beaches. So, let’s just take, for example, you know, exploring Malta’s cities, whether it’s Valletta, our ancient capital city Mdina, or the three historical cities, which are actually a trio or fortified cities. And they’re just based across the Grand Harbour from that Valletta.
Now each city, really offers a different experience, depending on if you visit by day or by night. You know, and like I said, combining your stay Malta and Gozo , this definitely gives you, you know, the best, the best experience from your stay.
Laura: So, Clive, you’ve spent many years helping tourists to discover your home, but what would you say is the best way to discover the authentic Malta. The Malta that, you know and love as a local.
Clive: Well, definitely there are various ways, and every year here in Malta that we organize our local festas, and these are all village feasts, which are celebrated throughout the whole year.
During the year we celebrated around 90 feasts. They’re all church related, but every single village in Malta, which we have about 68, organizes their own festa. Their own feast related to the Padre Sect. Uh, this is a religious thing, but when you walk around the streets of the village, you will notice that all the Maltese will flock to these festas and you see the old traditions. From the food stalls to the drinks, to even the small kids playing in the main squares.
And obviously you can explore our fireworks throughout the weekends, you will see a display of fireworks throughout even the day that the first fireworks would be eight o’clock in the morning, just for the bang and then at noon. And then in the evening, you will have the view of our beautiful, coloured walls for the whole night.
Around the main streets of our villages, you’ll see sometimes thousands of people. So, you won’t just go for the feast, but you will enjoy the main lifestyle too. You just go in the village bar where you will meet the locals and they start chatting to you, obviously, all the time and you will walk around the streets of our villages, which will be all richly decorated.
Laura: Fantastic, so how many of these feasts take place throughout the year?
Clive: There are around 90, but all of them are during the whole year, being that most of them are held during the summertime um, so they start from May, June, and then every weekend that will be a feast 2, 3, 4, or on the 15th of August there will be seven feasts on the same weekend. So, if one goes on the walls of Mdina which is the old capital city of Malta. Approximately around 200 meters above sea level and to stay on the walls and you will see fireworks from every single corner. There are restaurants there on the terrace, so just imagine having a nice plate with a glass of Maltese wine, enjoying the view and fireworks just in front of you. It’s just amazing.
Laura: Could you tell us about a few more Maltese experiences that visitors might want to add to their list for their holiday?
Clive: So Maltese experiences? There are various. Today the concept of staying in villages, it’s increasing quite a lot here in Malta. The fact small guest houses are opening up in these local villages, which in the past, you would hardly ever see a tourist with his own luggage walking around the streets of our old villages. I would suggest that instead of saying one of these big hotels, one should think to stay in these old villages, because just imagine after spending a day visiting the Maltese Islands, then in the evening, you send back to your room to a small guest house in the village and in the evening, you just have a stroll around the streets of our villages and tasting some of our local food, which is quite delicious and fresh.
Laura: And obviously you’re, you’re a tour guide and you must do a huge range of different tours. Do you have a particular tour? That’s your favourite or a tour stop that you really love to do
Clive One of the most interesting parts of the Maltese islands is that we do enjoy an ideal mix of cultural site sightseeing. One can easily to go scuba diving just stop for lunch in a fishing village, from visiting a 5,600-year-old temple. From visiting Caravaggio painting, who lived in Malta from 1607 for 18 months.
He spent his last three months in prison, you know, it was quite a character, this guy, but he left masterpieces here on the Maltese islands. So, to answer your question from my own personal point of view, and definitely I like most the Cathedral of St. John and Valletta. It was one of the most modern cities, which was built in Europe at the end of the 16th century and our temples.
In Malta we have megalithic temples, but they predate the pyramids by a thousand years and they pre-date Stonehenge by more than 1600 years. And these are recognized by UNESCO. So just imagine yourself stepping in and one of the oldest freestanding monuments. The original ones. These are not replicas. So, one can feel a strong presence of the past, especially if you visit the Ħaġar Qim temples which are situated exactly on the cliff edge, surrounded with countryside.
Laura: It just sounds like there’s so much culture and history in Malta. It’s almost mind boggling how much history there is, but one of the things that’s often overlooked is the huge range of events, which take place on the islands, which I understand appeal to a huge range of ages and interests as well. So, could you tell us what’s coming up on the events calendar for 2022 Louise?
Louise: So, you’re right. Laura, our annual events calendar has a really good blend of festivals with something for everybody. For example, there is the International Baroque Festival, which takes place every January.
And here you have over 30 concerts and they’re held in various historical venues, but these are closely followed by Carnival. Which is actually one of the oldest historical festivals. And it’s a five-day event where the streets absolutely come to life. We have huge colourful floats, and these are actually the pride and joy of Carnival.
You know, people start preparing these floats a year in advance. You can expect to see street dancing, colourful costumes, of course, late night street parties. And I think it’s one of the events which really brings the community together. You know, you have the young, the old, the locals, the tourists, everybody’s welcome here.
We’ve got the International Fireworks Festival, which is held over four days where you have beautiful fireworks. And they go off to a musical rhythm. And this festival has gained such huge popularity over the past few years, one of the main events is actually the fireworks that go off over the Grand Harbour in Valletta. We’ve got family focused events as well. So, for example, for this year, we have the L.O.L Dolls and they’ll be making their debut appearance in April, and then we have been the Nickelodeon Treasure Hunt with SpongeBob, that’s happening in May, which gives the young visitors a chance to learn about their favourite, Nickelodeon characters but also learn about the culture of the islands as well. So, a little bit fun and educational. Which I think is a really good combination.
June, you know, brings with it all the really popular music festivals Annie Mac Lost and Found. You’ve got Isle of MTV, Summer Days, Village Festival, and that’s just to name a few, July brings the BBC Orchestra Concert so yeah, really what’s going on Laura.
Laura: Wow. Yeah, that’s, that’s a whole lot of things. Isn’t it? And really eclectic as well. From Annie Mac to the BBC Orchestra. That’s quite a contrast. So, speaking of the younger travellers and perhaps some older travellers as well, I believe there are some exciting adventure activities available in Malta and the surrounding islands. Could you tell us a bit about those Louise?
Louise: Well, I think that every season brings a different opportunity on the islands. For example, let’s say autumn and winter, these really appeal to those explorers who enjoy kind of the outdoor adventures, you know, such as rock climbing, cycling, zip-lining, or even simply walking and, you know, just enjoying the stunning limestone landscapes of the island. So, I think it’s really appealing for those types of people. And then the summer months are great for those beach lovers, you know, water sports, and exploring the sights by Segway or quad bikes, you know, Jeep safaris, or one of the harbour cruises that we offer. I think that being an island, you definitely have to take advantage of this in my opinion.
So, as you can imagine, we have all the types of water sports, you know, from kayaking, jet skiing, paragliding, but I think one of the really important highlights here is that for six consecutive years, the Maltese Islands have been voted amongst the top three best diving destinations in the world. And you know, this is because of our water clarity. We have incredible rock formations, and we also have many World War II shipwrecks for the more experienced divers. Of course, you also have the opportunity here, you know, where you can take a paddy or a B-sec introductory course.
Laura: I was actually lucky enough to do a scuba dive myself. When I was in Malta, I did the Blue Hole Dive, which I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s kind of a lagoon, isn’t it? And you dive down, down into the depths and then you can float straight out into the, into the open sea.
Louise: I haven’t done that one myself I’ve done the introductory one, but yes, I’m looking forward to doing a few more to be fair.
Laura: So now on to one of my favourite subjects, which we touched on briefly, which is food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in a country’s culture. I remember being fascinated by Maltese food, which isn’t commonly found in the UK really, not like Italian food, for instance, how would you describe the food and drink of Malta, Clive?
Clive: A very good percentage of the food is fresh. Being Malta, it’s a small island. So, most of the restaurants, they all buy from the local farmer or from the local fisherman. Though we do import quite a lot of things on the islands because with a population of half a million, that goes to 2.7 million tourists that visit the islands definitely the local produce is not enough for all these people visiting the islands. But with our local food, one should keep in mind the location of Malta it’s at the heart of the Mediterranean, 90 kilometres away from Sicily, 270 from north Africa. So, when you look into our food, it’s a typical Mediterranean kitchen.
So, we do have a lot of influences from, from Sicily, a lot of pasta, baked pasta, a lot of meats, but then inside our language we do have a lot of words that you find them still in the Arabic world related to food. So, if you go in a market and you ask for ‘klin’, which Maltese is, rosemary is the same word that they use in the Arabic world.
Just to put you in the picture. When we refer to the pig, you know, when you don’t eat it, we refer to it as ‘ħanżir’, that’s Arabic but then when we start eating it and we call it ‘majjal’, in Italian. So, our kitchen it’s mainly influenced by these two superpowers here.
Obviously then our Sunday lunch. It’s the most favourite one is the rabbits fried in garlic. We do as well have a spaghetti with rabbit sauce. That will be a starter by the way, and then you will have a main course, rabbits with some potatoes and fresh salads. For that everyday snack, we have the famous ‘Ħobż biż-żejt’, and that would be a flat bread filled with fresh onions, tuna, olive oil, and some of our sheep milk cheese, which would refer to it as ‘gbejna’. Delicious.
Regarding drinks, we do have our own local wines. We’ve been producing wines since the Roman times. Today we have the Maltese and the Gozan wines. And for those that like the beer, we have the famous Cisk Lager. It’s a 4.2% alcohol beer, and its perfect during our hot summer days,
Laura: So, do you have a favourite food yourself?
Clive: Well, I like all different kinds of pasta. I like most though the one that my mother does, ravioli filled with local sheep’s milk cheese.
Laura: Oh! That sounds delicious. And she’ll be pleased when she hears you say that.
Clive: Homemade, so one ravioli would be the size of a shoe, you know?
Laura: Louise, Charitable Travel are encouraging people to make it count in 2022. So why should a trip to Malta be at the top of their list this year?
Louise: I think you’re right. After coming out of such a challenging year, making it count will certainly be at everybody’s forefront. The Maltese islands are the perfect destination, just because, you know, you can experience a bit of everything.
You have the cities, the history, the adventure activities, scuba diving, gastronomy, wine tasting, and obviously the full events calendar, which we’ve touched on. And that’s also obviously where you have the year-round sunshine as well. You know, what better perfect combination would you want? And we also have a number of bucket list items for people to discover. Whether it’s the turquoise Blue Lagoon, you know, the oldest freestanding structures in Gozo, which Clive spoke about.
We have the Co-Cathedral in Valletta. So, yes. I think the fact that you can combine everything in one holiday is definitely a contribution to, you know, making it count.
Laura: Definitely. So final question is to both of you, I’ll start with you, Louise. If you had just one day in Malta, how would you spend it? So, what would you eat? What would you see? What would you do?
Louise: I would find it really difficult to cram in all my favourite things in just one day, like my agenda would definitely include eating some pastizzi, which I miss terribly, these are like savoury snack filled with either ricotta or mushy peas. Ħobż biż-żejt for lunch, this is the bread that Clive spoke about, you know, the local flat bread with olive oil, tuna you know, fresh onions. And then I personally love snorkelling, so I’d definitely want to go snorkelling. Ideally, I’d fit in a wine tour just because we have delicious wines and I’d want to catch a beautiful sunset as well. You know, there’s nothing more magical really than sitting down, sipping a glass of wine and watching a sunset. For my evening I choose Valetta just because it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.
Laura: That’s good, more food there!
Clive: I would definitely start by visiting Valletta, the capital city of Malta. Um, you start walking around the main streets. I stop at St. John’s Cathedral and the Caravaggio paintings. This church, it was built by the famous Knights of St. John that ruled over Malta for more than 268 years. At noon, the Barrakka Gardens you’ll enjoy a fantastic view of the Grand Harbour. And then you’ll see the Saluting Battery Cannon, which they fire the middle gun every day at noon, after that, it will be lunchtime. So, let’s drive down to Marsaxlokk, the fishing village. You sit down on an outdoor table, you’ll be one metre away from the sea and you want to enjoy some nice, fresh fish and some crispy white wine. That would be just amazing. After that in the afternoon, Blue Grotto, one of the best scenery spots with a 20-minute boat ride and then late evening Mdina, the old capital city of Malta. Imagine you walk through these narrow winding streets, which dates to the 15th century.
After that you stop in a cafeteria on a terrace and the enjoy a nice view, with whom? Definitely with a private guide.
Laura: Thank you so much. Well, when I go back to Malta, I will definitely be experiencing both of your special days.
To find out more and book your next holiday to Malta visit www.charitable.travel and speak to their team of expert travel advisors.
The islands have something to appeal to every kind of traveller, from families with young children, to groups of friends, looking for adventures, you can hop on a Segway to explore the cobbled streets of the Maltese capital Valletta, or jump on a Jeep, to safari over the rugged landscape of Gozo. Dotted all over the islands are incredible cultural landmarks.
Like the ancient UNESCO world heritage temples. Malta’s crystal-clear seas are renowned for snorkelling and scuba diving as well as kayaking and other water sports above the water. There’s vibrant nightlife too. With year-round music festivals, as well as wine bars and all-night clubbing followed by a lounge on the beach the next day of course.
You’ll find a plethora of atmospheric restaurants and cafes, serving mouth-watering Maltese cuisine, which is a unique blend of north African, Turkish and Italian influences. Malta’s three islands are easy to explore with ferries providing hassle-free travel from the mainland to the smaller islands of Gozo and Camino.
For even more Malta inspiration check out the Malta Tourism Authority, social media accounts and websites where there’s lots more information. So that’s @Visit Malta UK on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and www.visitmalta.com. Thank you to Charitable PR for their support in creating this podcast. I’ve been your host, Laura Gelder and thank you so much for listening, please like, subscribe, and share.
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