Situated strategically between the European and African continents, Malta provides a meeting point for a rich variety of cultures and languages. It is a small nation consisting of an archipelago of three inhabited islands (and a few smaller uninhabited islands) located in the central Mediterranean Sea just over 90 km south of Sicily, and about 280 km to the north of the African continent. Ever since the Maltese islands were first inhabited many thousands of years ago, their location meant that they were always right in the middle of the most important historic events: the wars between Rome and Carthage, the Crusades, the rise and fall of Napoleon and a role as a hospital island during the Great War, taking in Allied wounded including many from the Gallipoli campaign. In WWII Malta was an Allied base used for operations against the Axis forces and played a crucial role in operations. Such was the suffering and hardship its people endured, that King George VI awarded the entire population the George Cross medal for their gallantry. The George Cross still enjoys pride of place on the Maltese flag to this day.
Malta gained independence in 1964 and is a member of the Commonwealth and part of the European Union. The country’s official languages are Maltese and English and its currency is the Euro.The islands are served by one major airport, Malta International Airport, which has won a number of awards, most recent of which was the ‘Best Airport in Europe’ award which was granted in March 2019. The Best Airport in Europe award was also won by seven other airports in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Norway and Russia. Malta Also boasts one of the worlds’ deepest natural harbours. The Grand Harbour can handle vessels of the very deepest drafts and heaviest weights, including vessels of over 1000 feet overall and drafts up to 70 feet.
Malta is regarded as a cradle of civilisation in the Mediterranean, with influences over the millennia coming from the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs,
2and more recently the French, Italians and British. Its cuisine is of course Mediterranean with a smattering of Italian, Spanish and Arabic flavours, aromas and ingredients in many dishes. As can be expected in an island nation, seafood is extremely popular and the produce is often fresh to the point of almost jumping in the plate!
The Maltese Islands are an extremely history-rich destination making them without a doubt an essential part of any holiday that has culture in mind, as well as compulsory knowledge in any history lesson. Malta has much to offer to the discerning traveller, such as the legacy of the knights, Megalithic Temples known to be the oldest freestanding buildings in the entire world, it’s pristine blue seas, and so much more. There are a multitude of Medieval Churches, Chapels, Cathedrals, Palazzos, Museums and similar to visit, many of which within walking distance from one another. Some highlights of a trip to Malta should include:
No trip to Malta would be complete without a visit to the Capital City of Valletta. It is home to a vast array of museums, historic sites, landmarks and places of interest, as well as having some of the best shopping in the Islands. The Barracca Gardens, located atop the defensive bastions built by the Knights of Malta enjoying breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour and the fortified three cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. St John’s Co-Cathedral, paved with over 350 graves, many of Knights and Grandmasters, and is filled with treasures including the acclaimed Caravaggio “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” that is on display there. The Church Museum houses some stunning Flemish tapestries. Other places of interest in the capital include buildings of historical importance such as the Grand Master’s Palace and the Palace Armoury. The Armoury houses one of the world’s largest collections of armour and arms, much of it dating back to the 14th century, still residing in its original building. The Valletta Market, known as the “Monti”, is definitely worth a visit on Sundays; one can spend time amongst the hustle and bustle and buyers and sellers, haggling and looking for the best bargains on offer. Other interesting sites worth visiting include the Lascaris War Rooms, the Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, Casa Rocca Piccola
3and of course Our Lady of Victories church, one of the first buildings erected in Valletta to commemorate victory in the Great Siege
Mdina was founded in about 800 BC by Phoenician settlers. It was the capital city of Malta right through the Middle Ages and up until the arrival of the Knights of St. John in the early 1500s. Mdina is a walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the Maltese mainland, with an almost 360º panoramic view of the whole island. Known as the “Silent City” both by natives and many visitors, the town is still confined within its fortified walls, and has a population of around four hundred full time residents. The only way to enjoy Mdina is through a walking tour, where one can virtually step back in time walking along it’s cobbled alleys and along the fortified ramparts. The awe-inspiring bastions offer a stunning panorama. Audio visual shows such as the Mdina Experience or the Mdina Dungeons help give an insight of what life was like through the ages. Mdina is also home to a number of palazzos, restaurants, a cathedral and many other places of interest which are definitely worth a visit.
The fortified cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, known as the “Three Cities” and regarded as the cradle of Maltese history, were built by the Knights of Malta. The city of Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu) became the administrative hub of Malta, taking over from Mdina, in the 1530s. When Malta’s sister island of Gozo was attacked in 1551, Senglea was built on the peninsula known as L’Isola to strengthen the fortifications. To this day Senglea is referred to as “L’Isla” by many. Birgu is full of narrow winding streets and mysterious alleyways and quaint little piazzas shaded by historic palazzos
4and churches, and is home to the Malta Maritime Museum and the once dreaded Inquisitor’s Palace. Also of interest is the ex Royal Naval Hospital Bighi (RNH Bighi), which was a major naval hospital serving the eastern Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. All these interesting places, many within easy walking distance from each other, make the Three Cities definitely worth a visit when in Malta.
Wild, windswept and stunning Dingli Cliffs, situated in the south-west of the island command breathtaking views of the wide open sea, small tended fields far below, and the tiny island of Filfla, sometimes shrouded in mist. If you feel up to it there are some beautiful trails to hike along, and the views are particularly beautiful at sunset during the summer months.
It is hard to believe that Marsaxlokk was the site of landings by hostile forces during the attack of 1551 by the Ottomans. Maltese luzzus (traditional Maltese fishing boats) painted in bright colours now fill the picturesque little harbour with it’s sparkling blue seas, one of the prettiest fishing villages in Malta. Fishermen sell their super fresh catches along the shore and the many little family run restaurants serve a multitude of delicious seafood specialities. Hawkers at the daily open-air market sell a huge variety of knitwear, food, fish and almost everything you can imagine at very good prices. A little village with a big character.