The Mediterranean Paradise of Malta
The Mediterranean has some wonderful destinations for beach babes, culture vultures and foodies alike but among them, the one that really stands out is the island country of Malta. This republic, located to the south of Sicily, actually consists of several islands of which three are inhabited: Malta Island is the largest and home to most towns and villages; Gozo to the northwest is more laid-back and was probably the island where the nymph Calypso held Odysseus captive; and in between the two lies tiny Comino, where you can really get away from it all. There is a wide range of accommodation options mainly on Malta and Gozo, whether you prefer an all-inclusive beach resort or a charming little guesthouse, a luxurious apartment or a rustic farmhouse. Its dramatic coastline and impossibly clear blue waters have made Malta a popular destination for a beach break. There is great variety too. The sandy, popular tourist beaches tend to be along the north coast and include Golden Bay and the Blue Flag beaches of Mellieħa Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa. You’ll find quieter little coves especially in the west of Malta Island and on Gozo and Comino. Some beaches have golden or white sands but there are others with unusual colours too, such as the gorgeous red of Ramla l-Ħamra on Gozo, so why try them all and see which one best complements your favourite swimsuit? With the beaches come water sports and Malta is an especially great destination for diving and snorkelling. There are reefs and wrecks to explore but what makes diving here truly spectacular is the abundance of underwater caves, such as the famous Blue Grotto. One snorkelling and swimming site not to miss is the Blue Lagoon on Comino, which featured prominently in the movies Troy and Swept Away. It’s not only under water that Malta has some breath-taking scenery. The rolling hills and high cliffs make for great hiking and there are an abundance of stunning natural attractions. One of these is the natural rock arch known as the Azure Window on Gozo. Does it look familiar? It formed the beautiful backdrop to Denaerys Targaryen’s wedding to Khal Drogo in the hit series Game of Thrones. In fact, many other scenes from the first season of the show were filmed in Malta too and several tour operators now offer themed tours of these filming locations. As if Malta’s natural beauty is not enough, the country also boasts towns and villages that will steal your heart. The capital, Valletta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of gorgeous medieval architecture. Legend has it that the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on Malta and lived for a time in Rabat on Malta Island. Adjacent to Rabat is Mdina, where strolling around the ancient streets is like travelling through time to the days when the Arabs occupied the area about a millennium ago, or even to around 3,000 years ago and the Phoenician settlement of the area. Malta has two more UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a fascinating underground complex that dates back about five millennia while the Megalithic Temples is not really one site, but seven ancient temples dotted around Malta and Gozo islands. Other historical treasures include forts, towers, palaces and churches. Because of its strategic location, Malta has at various times been occupied by everyone from the Greeks and Romans to the Arabs, the French and Italians and the British. This has led to a unique culture and language, not to mention a varied cuisine. The national dish is fenkata, which has rabbit as its main ingredient. Other treats include pastizzi, vegetable and fish dishes, Maltese sausages, soups and the hearty bread known as ħobż biż-żejt. Wash it all down with some locally produced wine. For nightlife, head to St. Julian’s near Valletta. Malta also hosts several great festivals throughout the year, including the Malta Arts Festival, the Malta Jazz Festival and Għanafest, a celebration of Maltese folk music. Most festivals take place in summer but in around February, it’s the Valletta Carnival while in September or October, the capital also hosts an arts festival known as Notte Bianca. With so much to offer, Malta is a destination that definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with cool and wet winters and hot, dry summers. Spring or autumn are great for missing the summer crowds and are still sunny enough for lazy beach days.