A city built by gentlemen is not a moniker normally attached to many Mediterranean cities.
History will happily supply you with a rogue’s gallery of conquerors and pirates, looting and plundering only to then be conquered and plundered themselves. Malta and it’s capital Valetta should, by all reasoning should be such a city yet despite having been ruled by the Phoencians, Romans, Moors and the Normans, it’s Baroque heritage stands out in a way unlike anywhere else in this region.
Also known as the ‘Fortress’ city, Valetta is very much a living, working city being the administrative and commercial heart of the Maltese archipelago. This magnificent city grew on the arid rock of Mount Sceberras peninsula, which rises steeply from two deep harbours, Marsamxett and Grand Harbour. Valletta is named after its founder, the respected Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Jean Parisot de la Valette.
Unknown to most, Malta is actually comprised of three islands: Mainland Malta, Gozo and Comino with a total population of over 400,000 inhabitants spread across 316 square kilometers found almost at the centre of the Mediterranean, 93 km south of Sicily and 288 km north of Africa.
For the travelling history buff, this is certainly a destination for you. Valetta is, without any exaggeration, a living city-museum with architecture spanning a millenium, much of it fully intact. With that it should come as no surprise that walking is by far the best way to get around as there are that so many intriguing historical buildings around every corner, to not walk, you would just miss them. Throughout the city there are votive statues, fountains and coats of arms high up on parapets with narrow side streets full of tiny quaint shops and cafés. Without too much trouble you could easily retrace the footsteps of St. Paul or see where the Knights of St. John fought their most famous battles.
Once home to world famous artistic masterpieces by Caravaggio and Mattia Preti, St John’s Cathedral is a beautiful Baroque – era church within the old town of Mdina in Rabat, while other places of interest include the Museum of Roman Antiquities and various grandmaster auberges, piazzas & museums (where aforementioned masterpieces are now found). Megalithic temples, underground catacombs, churches and forts are not to be missed.
Equally spectacular in Malta are it’s beaches, of which many could be considered serious rivals to those of the Greek islands. Golden Bay, located on the narrowest point of Malta appears rocky and hilly but a road leads you down to golden sands and beautiful azure-toned waters with many water sports on offer. It also features snack bar, sun beds, tables, chairs and umbrellas. If you want to avoid the crowds, october and november are the best times and being this far south, the winter isn’t really winter.
Next to Golden Bay is Ghajn Tuffieha, otherwise known as the ‘Maltese Riviera’. With it being slightly more difficult to reach the beach than Golden Bay, it attracts less people than Golden Bay and for further seclusion, there are the other two islands – Gozo and Comino.
Second largest of the islands Gozo is forever enshrined in Greek mythology long thought to be Calypso’s isle in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. Much more rural than the mainland, it is largely characterised by fishing, eco-tourism, crafts and agriculture. Baroque churches and old stone farmhouses dot the countryside while the coastline offers some of the Mediterranean’s best dive sites.
But they can party here too. La Grotta Gozo, One of Europe’s finest outdoor clubs, situated in Xlendi Valley, La Grotta will provide a breathtaking, and picturesque backdrop, for the quality visuals, lights, lasers and sound. The Miami Herald named La Grotta ‘the most beautiful club in the world’ making it along with Malta a great alternative to Ibiza. Many of it’s patrons hail from northern Europe
so it’s very much a seasonal affair.
Comino, situated between Malta and Gozo, is the smallest of the two islands and as such is an absolute paradise for snorkelers, divers and windsurfers. There are no cars and only one hotel leaving it almost completely un-inhabited. It’s only 3.5km² making it the ideal place for a secluded day trip bathing in aquamarine waters if you are willing to walk a bit further from the island’s main attraction, the Blue Lagoon. In summer, this sheltered inlet of shimmering aquamarine water over white sand is very popular with day-trippers.
Whatever it is you’re looking for in a destination, the Isles of Malta have what you need be it learning a new skill, discovering history or getting fit. For the sportsperson: both the enthusiast and the first-timer are well catered for and there are wellness and spa facilities at the luxury hotels and club resorts. For those looking to just unwind and do very little?
The decision has already been made.