Often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous European cousins, Malta is one of the most fascinating and interesting destinations within an easy flight of the UK.
Set in the heart of the Mediterranean sea, this small island is full of diversity, culture and rich history. In fact, pub quiz buffs will tell you that Malta was once part of the British Empire (from 1814 to 1964) and played a key role in World War Two.
Of course, this family-friendly island isn’t just about Malta itself – the region is actually an archipelago of rocky outcrops, and also includes Gozo and Comino. So whether you’re looking to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, historical sites or sweeping, sandy beaches, here are our favourite Malta hotspots for you to visit and share or save for your next timeshare holiday on this magical island.
Named Capital of European Culture for 2018, Valletta is quite simply one of the prettiest places we’ve ever visited. There’s no end to the beautiful sights to take in, from the baroque St John’s Co-Cathedral, to the grand palaces, museums, forts, ports, shops, restaurants and bars.
We recommend taking a stroll along the winding streets and stumbling into unknown squares, alleyways and shops. Meanwhile, families should visit the Malta 5D Show – a unique show where you can experience the history of the islands through the eyes of aMaltese Falcon. There are plenty of special effects to impress the children, including moving seats, the smell of baking bread and one that will make you jump.
With its balmy temperatures and beautiful beaches, it comes as no surprise that Malta is popular with sun worshippers year-round. Our favourite beaches include Golden Sands, on the north east coast, whereas nearby Mellieha Bay has plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Head over to the west coast, and you’ll be able to enjoy Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay – widely renowned as being the best beaches on the island.
This is one of the island’s most popular resorts and has plenty of luxe hotels to offer, as well as buzzing nightlife and plenty of shops.
Keen photographers will love taking a stroll along the Sliema promenade, which enjoys stunning view of Valletta and the harbour fortifications. Meanwhile, there are plenty of tours which are ideal for tourists – discover war-time Malta, go deep-sea diving or set sail on a sunset pirate cruise.
THE GAIA PEACE GROVE
Step away from the guide books and visit The Gaia Peace Grove, set on the coast of Ghajn Tuffieh and overlooking Golden Sands bay. Pause for thought alongside the sweeping olive groves and ancient watch-tower, which are set next to boards paying tribute to those “who have worked so hard and courageously, and made such sacrifices to build a better a world”. They include The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
DELVE INTO ITS HISTORY AND HANG OUT WITH THE “OLDIES”
Malta is known as the ‘Sacred Island’ for good reason – it’s full of prehistoric monuments and sites. Visit Ghar Dalam Cave, which has a large collection of prehistoric animal bones dating back 180,000 years.
Meanwhile, the 5000-year-old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is a vast underground cemetery, carved from the rocks by hand, while high up on a cliff sits the Haģar Qim and Mnajdra Temples and the post-Neolithic rock tombs of Haz-Zebbug.
You’ll love the beautifully peaceful ‘Silent City’ of Mdina. Relax and unwind as you stroll through the city and enjoy its pretty honey-coloured architecture and seductive ambiance.
Finally, head to Bastion Square parapet to enjoy a superb panoramic view across the island, before grabbing a table at Fontanella Tea Garden to enjoy a slab of cake.
Malta’s colourful history – in a nutshell
Malta’s official tourism site VisitMalta.com tells us:
Malta’s history is a long and colourful one full of “takeovers”, dating back to the very dawn of civilisation.
The Maltese Islands went through a golden Neolithic period, the remains of which are the mysterious temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility. Later on, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romansand the Byzantines, all left their traces on the Islands.
In 60 A.D. St. Paul became shipwrecked on the island while travelling to Rome and he brought Christianity to Malta. Then the Arabs conquered the islands in 870 A.D. and left an important mark on the language of the Maltese.
Interestingly, until 1530 Malta was an extension of Sicily: The Normans, the Aragonese and other conquerors who ruled over Sicily also governed the Maltese Islands. It was Charles V who bequeathed Malta to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem who ruled over Malta from 1530 to 1798.
The Knights then took Malta through a new golden age, making it a key player in the cultural scene of 17th and 18th century Europe. The artistic and cultural lives of the Maltese Islands were injected with the presence of artists such as Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and Favray who were commissioned by the Knights to embellish churches, palaces and auberges.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte took over Malta from the Knights on his way to Egypt. The French presence on the islands was short lived, as the English, who were requested by the Maltese to help them against the French, blockaded the islands in 1800.
British rule in Malta lasted until 1964 when Malta became independent. The Maltese adapted the British system of administration, education and legislation.
Modern Malta became a Republic in 1974 and joined the European Union in May 2004.