Located in the Meditteranean just south of Sicily. Its capital Valletta is located on the largest island Malta, with the smaller islands Gozo and Camino also forming part of the archipelago that is collectively known as 'Malta'.
Geographically Malta is situatiated in a key position between East and West and over the years has been occupied by Greeks, Phonecians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and then finally, by invitation, the Brits before they gained their independence on the 21st of September 1964.
A rich cultural history has contributed significantly to the architecture, language and culture, making Malta both a unique and attractive destination. Its language is partly Arabic, partly Sicilian and partly English, so don't be surprised if somethings look or sound a little familiar.
There are many great places to visit in Malta, despite its compact size. It truly is the gem of the Mediterranean.
1. It's warm climate
The Maltese enjoy a Meditteranean climate, with mild winters and warm to hot summers. They average yearly temperature is 23°C (73.4°F) with their warmest season being August at an average of 32°C (89.6°F). An average winter's day doesn't dip below 16°C (60.8°F) making it an attractive destination to escape mainland Europe's winter chill.
Thanks to its southern position, it enjoys more daylight during the winter, on average 10 hours compared to London's 8 hours. As well as enjoying longer days, it also enjoys lots of sunshine. Compared to an English December which enjoys on average 37 hours of sunshine for the month, Malta tops in at a whopping 161 hours, making it an attractive destination for the Christmas holiday period.
2. Its beautiful coastline
With towering cliff faces, rocky outcrops and beaches to boot, when it comes to Malta's coastline it is both varied and spectacular. The best swimming is over on Gozo and Camino which feature white sandy beaches and are set up with the amenities required for a day at the beach.
Gozo is also home to the 'Azure Window' (pictured above) which is the remnants of a collapsed limestone cave and popular with divers. If you enjoy sea caves, then why not take a cruise inside the Blue Grotto on the main island. Located within an inlet close to the shore, tours operate daily (subject to weather) and allow you an up close look at this wonder.
3. Its rich history
Archaeologists have found evidence of occupation of Malta from as far back as 5200BC. In more modern times, it has been occupied and run by many different cultures, notably the Phonecians who had a significant impact on the architecture and language of the country.
Its historic past means that no two parts of the island are the same. Valletta is a modern grid based city, similar to a smaller city in Italy or Spain. Older cities such as Mdina have a more Arab feel and in some areas such as Zejtun the red soil and olive crops are reminiscent of Lebanon.
In more recent times, Malta was a colony of Britain, and many of its shops are British (think Marks and Spencers and Next). In addition to this, you'll also see red telephone boxes and mail boxes scattered around the island.
Malta's strategic position during WW2 meant that it suffered significant damage due to bombs dropped to disable its ability to be used as a trade route or base by the allies. This lead to many Maltese heading underground to avoid the shelling and a large cave network remains to this day.
4. Its delicious food
Pastizzis are a Maltese filled filo pastry enjoyed around the world. Generally filled with ricotta and spinach, chicken or vegetables, they are availble as a quick snack on many a corner in the cities.
Malta also has a large fishing village and you can visit working villages such as Marsaxlokk below. Due to its abundance, seafood is readily available and inexpensive, making it a great destination to enjoy freshly caught produce.
Its British heritage also means there are a number of English and Irish pubs, as well as many international cuisines catered for. Food is good value in Malta and there are plenty of supermarkets scattered through the villages to pick up water and snacks.
5. Its reasonable pricing
The national currency of Malta is the Euro. When it comes to food, try and pick local. Compared to the UK, eating out is on average 15% cheaper than in the UK, but this isn't the case if you are looking to buy western branded foods such as Mc Donalds or imported alcohol.
The parks are free to enter, and there are plenty of things to see in the city for free such as the Barakka gardens. Entry to the main cathedral (St Johns - a must see) €10.00 for an adult.
The cost of hotels ranges significantly between summer and winter and we recommend staying slightly out of the capital in Sliema (a quick ferry ride to Valletta) or St Juliens. There are also plenty of options further afield, including on Gozo and Comino.
6. Its friendly culture
Most Maltese speak fluent English and they are very happy to say hello. We felt welcomed at all times and it was very easy to get around and ask questions. The Maltese culture is similar to the Italian culture, where family and community relationships are important and this warm vibe translates into their interactions between themselves and with tourists.
7. Its easy to use transport system
Featuring a combination of bus and ferry services, Malta's compact nature makes it easy to traverse. Like the Brits, they drive on the right and their well signed roads also make hiring a car an attractive option.
We stayed in Sliema and opted to catch the ferry across to Valletta and used a hop-on-hop-off bus to see the main attractions on the main island. The seas were quite rough the first two days we were there, so keep that in mind as many of the ferries won't operate in these conditions.
Due to its compact nature, walking is also a great option on cooler days as many villages back are situated adjacent to eachother, making it possible to walk from one place to another without having to travel too far at all.
8. Its beautiful cities
Malta features a range of cities, from the ancient Mdina, with its narrow curved walls designed to make it impossible for medieval armies to attack, to its modern capital Valletta.
With 2.5 days to explore, we chose to set our sites on Valletta. With its steep rolling streets we decided the best way to explore would be with Malta Segway Tours We had both always wanted to try riding a segway and we thought it would be a great way to see the city in a condensed time.
We met our guide David and after gaining our 'segway legs' we were off. Pete was a natural, but it took me a few bunny hops before I was ready to really speed up. We had expected just a fun ride around the city, but David stopped us at so many interesting points to tell us insights into the city and country's history. We loved how passionate he was about Malta and he really had us immersed in how special this little country is.
After zipping through the laneways and town squares, we made our way out to the Hastings Garden where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the harbour where we enjoyed spectacular views of the harbour and saw the square where the filmed the scene from Game of Thrones where poor Ned loses his head in Season 1.
There were so many points to stop for photos and David was very flexible, allowing us to stop and take photos, as well as taking photos for us as often as we wanted. We also parked our segways up for 10 minutes at the end to explore the Lower Barrakka gardens and get some recommendations for where we should explore on foot after the tour.
We enjoyed an awesome 1.5 hours zipping around the city, including a bit of time for showing off and having a play on the segways before it was time to return them. Post tour we enjoyed The Malta Experience, a 45 minute film on the history of Malta, was very engaging and helped us to better understand the culture and history of the country. We both enjoyed the segway and movie immensely and would recommend it as the best way to see the city and surrounds.
9. Its spectacular gardens
As space is at a premium, most Maltese do not have a garden. To accommodate this, the cities in particular are full of beautiful public gardens. The most notable are the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens sit high above the coastline and offer panoramic views of the harbour. Featuring a 20 storey glass lift that juts off the site of the city wall and descends to the bay level below, they certainly are a wonder for the eyes. Make sure to check online as to what time they are firing the canons as they are site worth seeing.
Unlike the name may suggest, the Lower Barrakka gardens don't sit at the base of the the Upper gardens, but are located at sea level, a short walk away. Featuring a neo classical temple, and tropical plants it is a beautiful oasis amongst the stone of the city.
Lastly, the Hastings gardens are a local secret. Much quieter than the other two, they offer spectacular views of Floriana, Msida, Sliema and Manoel Island. This is the park that we explored with Malta Segway Tours and in my opinion has the best views of the 3 parks.
10. Its relaxed vibe
There is something about warm weather and sunshine that makes people happy and this is no exception in Malta. The people are friendly, there is no great hurry and traffic is nearly non existent.
We visited in winter, which is the quiet season, and unlike many Europen destinations found it easy to undertake activities and get around. No one was bothered about working over the winter, or close to Christmas and we felt a great vibe wherever we went. I can imagine in summer there may be more of a crush as popular spots, but I think the relaxed and friendly nature of Maltese people would somewhat abate this.
The round up
We visited Malta for 2.5 days during the winter and frankly wished we'd planned for a week. This country is jam packed with things to do, both natural and man made. Make sure you schedule time to visit Gozo and Comino and be a little flexible with your schedule as rough seas may mean you need to change your plans.
We rate Malta very highly as a destination and would visit again. It is perfect for a little winter sun and is just a hop over to Sicily via ferry or plane.
Whilst we were guests of Malta Segway Tours, all opinons are our own.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY
More from the Passport Collective