The Island of Sunshine and History, the Cradle of the Mediterranean, the Pearl of the Mediterranean, Malta probably has more nicknames than any other island in the Med. This should come as no surprise as Malta’s history is very long and very rich. Along with fossils dating back a quarter of a million years there are the oldest known human built structures (the Hagar stone temple - around 3800 years old) and architecture from every century since Phoenician times. The weather is relentlessly warm and sunny with only 20inches of rain falling each year. The countryside is dry and arid for most of the year but visitors in spring will be treated to a remarkable amount of lush green vegetation. What really sells Malta though, are the people. Naturally friendly, helpful and kind, the Maltese have a real passion for life. Indeed not a week goes by between May and October without a festival happening somewhere on the Island.
Malta’s capital, the City of Knights Valletta was one of the first planned conurbations in Europe. Situated around two excellent natural harbours it is a beautifully preserved 16th century walled city on the tip of the peninsula on the north east coast. Highlights are the wonderful castles, pretty gardens and the harbours themselves which can be explored on an inexpensive 2 hour cruise. Across the harbour is Sliema where most of the resort hotels are situated. Here, you’ll find cosy restaurants, shops, bars, nightspots and casinos. Malta’s old capital, Madina is also known as the Silent City due to the peaceful area in which it stands. It's central location means you can enjoy superb panoramas of the rest of the Island and there are numerous treasures to be found there - St.Pauls’s and St.Agatha’s Catacombs and St.Paul's Grotto. The Maltese archipelago includes two other islands Comino and Gozo. The largest, Gozo, has a more verdant landscape and is much quieter than Malta with some beautiful sandy beaches and secluded havens. It is here that Odysseus is said to have dallied with the nymph Calypso and the island is littered with medieval architecture and prehistoric temples. Comino is the smallest island and a true getaway not to mention being a popular spot with divers and trekkers.
Malta is a wonderful place to visit if you want to spend time in the slow lane. The atmosphere is relaxed yet this intriguing island has plenty to keep visitors busy. The hospitality and way of life is appealing and the food is as fine as you’ll find anywhere in the Med. It makes an ideal winter destination when the climate is a little more bearable and you’re still guaranteed around 6 hours of sunshine per day. To visit Malta is like stepping back in time. The tourist industry has resisted the lure of high-rise resorts and the service and hospitality is usually on a traditional and personal level. Call it what you will, Malta is a true gem.
Dining out in Malta.
Over the years, Malta and it’s islands have developed a distinctive cuisine all of their very own and it’s not a cuisine that would particularly suit the pet lovers amongst us. Malta’s traditional dish and by far the nation’s favourite is rabbit (fenek). Tradition dictates that our fluffy little friends are served either fried or stewed with garlic and tomato sauce. Small bars around the Islands serve the traditional menu - spaghetti with rabbit sauce followed by rabbit with french fries and salad. If a Bugs Bunny special doesn't’t make your mouth water however then another Maltese favourite is the fresh fish that the local fishermen provide in abundance. From swordfish, tuna, sea bass and red snapper to grouper, bream and lots lots more. Try out the Maltese favourite Lampuki, only in season between August and November for a really tasty local treat.
Mdina and Rabat.
Mdina has known countless names in it’s 4000yr old checkered history, but the ‘Noble City’ is probably the most fitting. Built atop a steep hill and surrounded by a grand wall, the ancient city – literally translated as “walls all around” - has retained much of it’s imposing presence and pomposity. Mdina and it’s suburb Rabat are separated by a deep moat and the structure and street plan of the two has remained the same for the last thousand years. The twisting streets and alleys throughout the honey-coloured stone walls were not only built to keep the town cool, but also to confuse invaders and adds to the incredible atmosphere. There is some spectacular architecture including the Baroque St. Peter and Paul Cathedral and the elaborate Palazzo Vilhena. With its towering walls, closed doors and steps which lead nowhere, Mdina and Rabat are chock full of shadows of Malta’s past.
Village of Siggiewi.
Any village with a name like a Countdown conundrum has to be something interesting. The ancient farming village of Siggiewi is set within the beautiful Maltese countryside surrounded by fields and orchards. Having grown to a hefty size since it’s humble beginnings, Siggiewi now boasts with nearly 6000 inhabitants although it has retained a sleepy Southern Italian ambience. Through the old and winding streets, the village is full of old dwellings and palatial buildings which once served as the holiday homes to titled families. Dominating the centre of the village is Malta’s most eminent and elaborate Baroque church – the Church of St Nicholas. As one of the oldest and most atmospheric villages on Malta – Siggiewi has well earned it’s place in the ‘must see’ hall of fame.
Vittoriosa Historic Tour.
The promontory of Vittoriosa is a tiny 850m long by 400m at it’s widest point and it testimony to the old adage that great things come in small packages. The Vittoriosa is literally crammed with narrow little streets filled with history and the tours usually kick off from St John’s Tower Street near the main gate. The promontory was an important strategic stronghold from the 16th century onwards as it controlled the creeks of the Grand Harbour and from the fascinating auberges of the Order and the excellent Maritime Museum to the grand Inquisitor’s Palace and the fortifications of the Great Siege – the tour takes in everything. There is more history squeezed onto this tiny promontory than the rest of Malta put together and although it’s doubtful you’ll get lost if exploring alone, the historic tour fully explains the fascinating history of pocket size Vittoriosa.
Ta Cenc cliffs, Gozo.
Rearing up like a limestone tidal wave, the Ta Cenc cliffs of Gozo tower 145m above the sea. Once home to the magnificent and now sadly extinct Maltese falcon, these impressive and torturously steep cliffs are now a firm favourite with walkers who take their chances along the track running alongside the limestone lip. Apart from the stunning view out across the ocean, there are a couple of dolmens to see and the plan of an old temple-period site to take in as you stroll along. The tranquility of the Ta Cenc cliffs combined with the wonderful sea views are truly breath-taking and although it reminds the walker that the cliffs should be alive with the breeding calls of Mediterranean peregrine falcons, the peace allows you to spare these magnificent creatures a respectful thought.