Best things come in small packages and this holds absolutely true for Malta. An amazingly versatile destination, Malta has its unique language, and the island country is an intriguing blend of Italian, Arabic and British influences. History loves working overtime there and it has a legacy of centuries of invasion and assimilation. The sun shines 365 days a year in Malta and the sea is as blue as it gets. The prices are pocket-friendly and the fun size of the island makes it a self-drive holiday heaven. If all these reasons have tempted you to visit Malta, join me as I take you to an incredibly lesser-known jewel of a destination, which is guaranteed to give you beautiful memories of a lifetime.
Where on earth is Malta?
In 2016 Lonely Planet experts revealed Malta as the top secret destination of the year. Consisting of Malta, Gozo, and Comino islands, the archipelago nation beat 24 top contenders to reach the position and its location is one of the prime reason behind the title. The sun-drenched archipelago is located in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and North African coast. It is an EU nation and one of the smallest and densely populated countries in the world. The island nation has an excellent flight connectivity and most major airlines from Europe and Africa fly there. Consider Malta to be the sun, sand, Mediterranean, and excellent European getaway on a budget. Schengen visa (check Visit Malta for more details) is applicable there and the attractions come at a pocket-friendly non-European price tag. For Indian travellers, it is recommended to visit Malta by flight via a stopover in Europe. Give the island nation the last few days of your tour and it will a trip that you will cherish for the rest of your life. On my last visit, a Bollywood movie team with many bigwigs (including the Big B) were filming there and it is just a matter of time before the world discovers Malta.
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Welcome to fascinating islands dripping with heritage
Malta’s geographical location has made it a much fought over prize throughout history. For such a small country, it has a surprisingly turbulent past and being in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea has made the islands all the more alluring. Needless to say, grand remnants of heritage seeps from every part of Malta and the islands are full of majestic above the ground and underground defences. The stunning capital city of Valletta was built by the Knights of St John in a harmonious stepped grid, the silent golden Mdina or Rabat and Victoria are majestic hilltop fortress towns. Watchtowers dot the Maltese coastlines and even the rural fishing boats reflect its Phoenician legacy. With their prows painted with eyes, the wooden boats of Marsaxlokk in Malta follow a tradition which is more than a 1000 years old.
Let the 7,000 years old history be a reason to visit Malta
Malta has a greater density of historic sights than any other nation and its astounding history goes back to more than 7,000 years. It is home to staggering prehistoric sites that were constructed by sophisticated temple builders, who apparently were excellent astronomers. Believed to be a civilization whose astronomical and construction skills were at par with those of Stonehenge builders, they worshipped solstices and equinoxes. The Maltese islands are steeped with telltale remains of their miniature figurines, mammoth structures of women, and massive megalithic temples. There are also amazing underground catacombs, churches, and forts which offer deep insight of Malta‘s rich history.
Underground necropolis, red letter boxes and many more
This island nation is a history buff‘s paradise and when you visit Malta, do not miss the ancient Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. A necropolis carved from the living rock, the site has survived more than 5,000 years and is a tough competition to the rest of Malta‘s historical heritage. The islands also contain some of the world‘s best preserved medieval towns and architectural and artistic legacies of the Knights of St John (the Knights of Malta). The British too left photogenic colonial marks on the Maltese history by leaving behind beautiful mansions, red letter boxes, phone booths, and their language.
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Magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The Maltese Islands have three stunning and completely varied UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are the capital city of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. Valletta features in the history of the military and charitable Order of St John of Jerusalem. Built after the Great Siege of 1565, it was named after Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette and the fortified Maltese capital has hundreds of monuments tucked all within a small space, thus making it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. Apart from being stunningly beautiful, Valletta is also a must visit for those who have a passion for the history of the Crusaders.
Temples that date before the pyramids of Giza
The Megalithic temples found on the islands of Malta and Gozo are seven in total and each mark an individual development of human heritage. The gigantic Bronze Age structures of the Ggantija Temples are the oldest, free-standing monuments in the world and are a testament to the Island’s inhabitation for at least 1,000 years before the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza were constructed. The temples of Hagar Qim and Tarxien located on the island of Malta are masterpieces which are unique due to the limited resources of their builders. The unique architectural tradition of temple building which existed in the Maltese islands between 3600 and 2500 B.C are reflected in the Ta’ Hagrat and Skorba complexes. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is truly one of its kind. Discovered in 1902, it is an underground rock-cut complex which was used as a sanctuary and burial chambers by the skilled temple builders of Malta. Built in three levels, the complexes date back to 3600 to 2400 B.C.
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The deep blue sea
The European island is surrounded by crystal clear blue sea and swimmers, snorkellers and divers love to visit Malta for some of the cleanest water in the Mediterranean. Its gorgeous landscape is a photogenic contrast of endless stretches of rocky coastline, dizzying limestone cliffs, sheltered bays and coves and stunning clean beaches. The island‘s marinas are crowded with traditional boats which go back to the Phoenician times, luxurious yachts, and flashy speedboats. Stunning harbours are some of Malta‘s most photogenic sites and the sea offers a host of aquatic activities. An intriguing world of underwater caves, crags, and wrecks make Malta a scuba diver paradise and then there was the famous Azure Window, which collapsed in the beginning of this year. That does not mar its breathtaking natural beauty much and the collapsed arch has evolved into a diving hotspot.
Visit Malta for pocket-friendly beach life
Malta gets more than 300 sunny days a year and is surrounded by clear blue waters. Though fiercely hot, summers are delightful in Malta since every day is clear, sunny with blue skies. The Mediterranean Sea is perfectly warm and it is the ideal time for sunbathing, swimming, diving, and boat trips. The shimmering expanse of turquoise Blue Lagoon which surrounds the tiny Comino is at its postcard prettiest and Paradise Bay is a lovely crescent of white sand accessible only by a cliff-hugging path. To beat the crowd of these two places, head over to St Peter‘s Pool in the far southeastern part of the island. Popular among the locals and adventurous tourists, it is a stunning vivid blue natural swimming pool where people dive from the limestone cliffs to cool off. With no infrastructure, it is unadulterated beach heaven.
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To visit Malta is to enjoy the island life in a variety of settings
The first sight of Malta is enough to make everyone‘s heart skip a beat. Imagine gorgeous limestone hills ringed by blue frothing sea and an island filled with flowering cactus, ripe citrus, lemons, wildflowers, and blue skies. Golden sunsets dapple the rugged green Mediterranean island, and crumbling mansions stand regally amidst agricultural fields being plowed by oxen. Colourful fishing villages nestle within its watery folds and hilltop forts loom over the whole landscape. The air is scented citrusy in Malta and the sea breeze is salt laden. Weekly markets bustle with writhing octopus and locally grown capers and the villages go to sleep by early evening. In contrast to the tranquil villages, the Maltese cities are varied in their urban nature. Gorgeous colonial Valletta hums with life until late at night, while medieval towns like Mdina, Citadella etc are most appropriate for quiet romantic moonlit strolls. For a first time visitor, grasping Malta‘s incredible array of human settlements is a mind-boggling affair. Think, of enjoying the island life in a variety of settings from the hip, cosmopolitan resorts to sleepy traditional villages, where donkey carts can still be seen.
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There is no end to Malta‘s cultural richness
Malta’s capital, the World Heritage City of Valletta, and the medieval fortified towns of Mdina and Citadella are the island nation‘s historical jewels. Valletta is a treasure house of art and architecture. The gorgeous city of the Knights is extremely atmospheric with well-preserved streets lined with magnificent palaces and enchanting old-fashioned shops. The capital city is a cultural hotspot and seems to have been built for rambling about. British era pillar boxes and intricately carved wooden balconies evoke a timeless aura and the winding streets lead straight to the blue ocean. It is filled with beautiful museums, sunny squares, old school and new age restaurants, coffee shops, theatre, stores, and cathedrals.
Malta’s legendary three cities
Right across Malta‘s photogenic harbour lie the three legendary cities of Cospicua, Senglea, and Vittoriosa. Dating back to many years before Valletta, they offer intriguing insights into the Maltese maritime wealth. Malta‘s intriguing cultural riches do not end here and the travellers exploring the country‘s inland towns and villages will be rewarded with interesting slices of history. There are plenty of lesser-known churches located off the popular tourist trail which have in their treasury masterpieces by the Renaissance artists gifted to the Knights, and the picturesque village squares tell tales of a heroic past. All these come with an authentic Maltese rural life and irrespective of whether you choose to be urban or village bound, Malta‘s cultural riches are never far from you.
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The perfect Mediterranean cocktail
Malta is a hotbed of different cultures, foreign influences, and historical heritage. Though the majority of the population is strictly Roman Catholic, staunchly Roman Catholic the country is a beguiling mix of Moorish and Arab nuances. The large Italian island of Sicily is also not very far and the Maltese cuisine blends Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavours expertly. Local products like honey, rabbit, and capers are used to impart the deciding Maltese taste and the stunning main island of Malta is a road trip friendly 27 kilometres by 14 kilometres. For such a tiny nation located in the Mediterranean, Malta packs a glorious variety into its small archipelago. As Valletta gets ready to feature as the European City of Culture in 2018, take a detour for and visit Malta. With prehistoric temples, fossil-studded hills, beautiful coves, blue sea, thrilling dive sites and incredible heritage, there is something for everybody in beautiful sunny Malta.
Craving for more Mediterranean extravaganza?
Check out the other beautiful destinations which promise sun, sea, and sand. Think of Sardinia, Sicily, Greek islands and many more. The best thing is that you can go island hopping to some destinations by boat. Plan ahead, discover everything about ferries from and to Sardinia and indulge in that perfect Mediterranean getaway.
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