At the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta has been much prized – and fought over – down the centuries. Whether you’re curious to explore the caves and wrecks at the multitude of dive sites or immerse yourself in the island’s rich history, a trip to Malta will not disappoint.
Malta’s tiny capital, built by the Knights of St John, is almost completely surrounded by water. It must be the easiest capital city in the world to explore and is probably the most charming. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is just 1,000m by 600m and sits on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea and on the fourth by the suburb of Floriana. To see Valletta’s fortifications in their full glory – as they would have been seen by a potential invader – you need to be outside the city. A great way to do this is to view the bastions and harbours is from the water on a tour of the Grand Harbour and the creeks of the Three Cities in a dgħajsa, a traditional harbour boat.
© Visit Malta
Snorkelling and diving
With some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, Malta is a great place to snorkel, whether casually off a beach or more formally as an easier alternative to diving. The water is warm in summer and autumn and diveable even in spring and winter; it is known for its clarity, with visibility of up to 30m in undisturbed sea.
© Visit Malta
The walled town of Mdina is an extraordinary place. Strategically perched on the edge of a plateau 150m above the surrounding countryside, it is a striking sight as you approach by road: sitting on top of its rock, impenetrable, lording it over all it surveys. Within its fortified walls there are very few shops and offices; it is mainly palazzi (grand old houses) and religious buildings set in a labyrinth of narrow streets, many of them (wonderfully) too small to take a car.
Victoria Citadel © Visit Malta
Malta’s temples are unique. They are some of the oldest stone buildings in the world and by far the most sophisticated for their time (the 4th and 3rd millennium bc). They are generally located on south-facing slopes in areas favourable to agriculture and with access to the sea. You don’t find them on the top of Malta’s many high rocky cliffs, but in the rare places where the coastline dips down closer to sea level and boats might feasibly land nearby.
Ġgantija Temples © Visit Malta
Gozo is only 7km by 14km and has been largely bypassed by the rush to mass tourism and much of the island is unspoilt. It is made up of small flat-topped hills divided by fertile valleys – green even through most of the summer when Malta goes brown. Wild fennel (with its typical aniseed smell), caper bushes, carob and oleander are common sights along with the omnipresent prickly pear. Church bells ring out over terraces of hillside agriculture and traditional limestone villages, at whose heart is usually an attractive square (sometimes actually a triangle). The square is dominated by an oversized church, often accompanied by a tiny police station marked with a traditional British blue lantern, a red phone box and sometimes an old-fashioned British red letter box built into a yellow limestone wall. Many villages have a café and a village shop on or near the square and you may even see an elderly lady sitting on her doorstep making lace.
Salt pans on Gozo © Anibal Trejo, Shutterstock