Ten Reasons to Visit Malta
What we think of as ‘Malta’ is actually an archipelago of three islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino. Measuring just 27km by 14km (17mi by 9mi), this tiny island nation is saturated with sights, from 5000-year-old temples to dramatic sea cliffs, endless natural surprises to baroque cities and Arabic-inspired monuments. Malta’s size also means it’s easy to get around, and with English as one of its two national languages, any visit here is a breeze. The other language, Maltese, is a mix of Arabic, Sicilian and English: like Malta itself, a delightful patchwork of the country’s eclectic history reflected also in its cuisine, its architecture and its culture.
1. The beaches
Towering cliff faces, rocky outcrops and the occasional sultry curve of powdery sand – Malta’s beaches are dramatic and beautifully rugged. Because Malta is so small, you won’t find any lengthy stretches of hotel-lined coast here, but rather a patchwork of idyllic inlets, secluded coves and terracotta sand bays set amid stunning natural surroundings. You’ll also find some of the cleanest waters in the EU, with 100% of Malta’s beaches evaluated as ‘excellent quality’. The best swimming can be found on Gozo and Comino, while back on Malta, Mellieha Bay is famous for its watersports and the cinnamon-hued sands of Golden Bay are probably the island’s most popular.
2. Gozo and the Azure Window
On 8th March 2017, Malta’s most famous tourist attraction collapsed into the sea. The iconic 28m (92ft) tall natural limestone arch known as the ‘Azure Window’ had been the star of many TV shows and films, most notably in the 1980s epic Clash of the Titans and as the backdrop to Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding in Game of Thrones. However, even in its absence, Gozo is still the place to go to relax and unwind. A short ferry ride from Valletta, this island with a name like a muppet still retains the peaceful, rural atmosphere of ‘old’ Malta, with some of the country’s best food, a prehistoric past, majestic landscapes and almost an obligation for travellers to do nothing and get away with it.
3. The partying
Upping the tempo slightly from the chilled out pace of life on Gozo, Malta is also famous for its effervescent partying and vibrant nightlife. At the centre of the clubbing calendar is the Isle of MTV festival, held in Floriana in summer every year and often host to some of the world’s most famous DJs: previous nights have been hosted by the likes of Creamfields and Ministry of Sound. It’s clear that Malta takes clubbing very seriously when you visit St Julian’s, which holds the vast majority of the country’s nightclubs. Revellers can choose from huge venues that rival any major European city: multiple dance floors, state-of-the-art sound systems, and a host of headline acts.
4. Blue Lagoon
You know in travel brochures, when the sea is so ridiculously blue you’re convinced it must be some kind of technical wizardry – that the blue bit must have been saturated beyond all recognition for it to actually be that blue? Well, the Blue Lagoon really is that blue. (The clue’s in the name). A wide open lagoon hugged by limestone cliffs and caves – hideouts for Middle Age pirates – this long and narrow bay is enclosed like a swimming pool, with some of the clearest water you’ll ever see. It’s perfect for swimming, snorkelling or even just floating, while the island of Comino itself is so undeveloped you can take a hike and feel like a real-life Robinson Crusoe.
5. The history
Malta is sometimes thought of as an open-air museum, so rich is its heritage and so abundant are its historical monuments. Its strategic position in the Mediterranean means it has often been the epicentre of an East-meets-West dynamic, and archaeologists have found evidence of occupation here from as far back as 5200BC. So many different cultures have passed through Malta that no part of the island is the same. The Hagar Qim, Mnajdr and Ggantija temples on Gozo are the magnificent remains of a long-forgotten megalithic culture; Calypso’s Cave is said to be the location where a beautiful nymph kept Odysseus captive in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, while the medieval citadel bastions of Victoria have long served as sanctuary for various peoples. Speaking of history…
Malta’s capital city, Valletta, is one of the most concentrated areas of historic interest in the world and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site itself. In 1566, the Knights of St John forged an elegant baroque city from an arid and empty peninsula, where elegant church domes and piercing spires today jostle alongside richly embellished palazzos, brightly coloured balconies, imposing military forts and glittering jewellery box cathedrals. It’s not all stuck in the past though; in 2018 the city is set to be the European Capital of Culture, and renowned architect Renzo Piano has worked his magic on a number of innovative, sleek and minimalist projects such as the City Gate bridge and the eco-friendly Parliament Building.
7. The diving
We’ve talked a little about Malta’s beautiful beaches, but the crystal clear Mediterranean waters around these parts aren’t just good for dipping a toe in and taking endless reams of photos to brag about back at the office. Malta is also primed for unique diving opportunities and plenty of snorkelling; an abundance of reefs, caves and shipwrecks make diving here some of the best in the Mediterranean, while the calmness and clarity of the sea ensures excellent visibility. The best spots are around the rocky sea cliffs of Fomm it-Rih and Ghar Lapsi, but St Peter’s natural pool and Gozo’s Blue Hole are one-of-a-kind spots to seduce seasoned snorkellers.
8. The food
Maltese food is a rumination on the country’s eclectic history: a culinary cruise through Sicilian, English, North African and French cuisine that relies heavily on fresh, locally available and seasonal produce such as tomatoes, honey, olives and seafood. Rich rabbit stews (considered the country’s national dish) sit beside tangy goat cheeses, nutty sourdough loaves and ricotta-stuffed flaky pastries on menus across the archipelago, while Malta’s British heritage also means there are a number of British and Irish pubs here to complement the island’s red post boxes. Head to the traditional working fishing village of Marsaxlokk for a medley of colourful fishing boats and some of the finest fresh fish you’ll find anywhere in the Mediterranean.
9. The vibe
It might be the warm weather (even in winter the temperature rarely drops below 16°C) or the sunshine (with an average of 300 sunny days a year), but Malta is simply a happy place to be. Perhaps it’s the blend of cultures and traditions that have long shaped the history and character of this tiny island nation, but the Maltese are known for their welcoming natures, kind-heartedness and eagerness to help anyone in need. People of all generations – tourists and locals alike – congregate in local bars, cafes and streets in an evening: eating, drinking, laughing, stepping outside for a chug on a pipe. Ask a Maltese person for recommendations, directions, some expert advice, and chances are you’ll have made a friend for life.
Known as ‘The Silent City’, Malta’s former capital Mdina dates back over 4000 years – older even than Valletta. Built by the Phoenicians, conquered by the Normans, and later run by the Knights of Malta, today Mdina has a population of just 250. Cars are banned – hence the ‘silence’ –, and strolling through its narrow streets and admiring the beautiful views over the whole island feels like an exercise in time travel. Think elaborate, gothic doorways and ornate door knockers – lion’s heads, dolphins, an occasional seahorse. At night, flickering gas lamps dance shadows on limestone walls and trailing pink bougainvillea. Huge Roman villas, murky catacombs, elegant churches and magnificently preserved monasteries snatch you away from your present worries and evoke the luxury and nobility of a bygone era.
Share this article: