7,000 years of history
Malta’s reputation in Britain has long been about package deals for sun and sea - and, as you will see below, sun and sea are very good reasons to go to Malta. But they are not the only reasons. Malta has so much more to offer. It has, in fact, the greatest concentration of historic sites of any country. Malta’s strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean has made it highly desirable to all the trading and warring nations of Europe and North Africa from the Phoenicians and Romans to Napoleon and the British. Traces of each remain - from Roman catacombs to wonderfully incongruous British red letter boxes.
The oldest sophisticated stone buildings in the world
Yes, really. Malta is home to prehistoric temples built between 3600 and 2500BC. They are older than the Great Pyramids; older even than the famous standing stones at Stonehenge - and a lot more sophisticated. Malta’s temples are no stone circles: they are buildings as we know them with rooms, corridors, stairs, monumental doorways, and decorative carvings.
The magical alleys of Mdina
The layout of Mdina hasn’t changed since medieval times. Narrow alleys wind between limestone palazzos encircled by massive fortified walls. This was the capital of Malta from at least Roman times until the arrival of the Knights of St John in 1530. Left behind in history, it is a magical place to wander and full of interesting sights and good restaurants.
Valletta and the ‘Knights of Malta’
Malta’s diminutive capital Valletta is still very recognisably the city built by the Knights of St John Hospitaller. Surrounded on three sides by water and on all four by huge fortifications, it is also graced with the Knights’ high Baroque architecture in warm local sandstone, and Malta’s characteristic colourful wooden gallariji (balconies) overhanging the narrow streets. There are some great museums and restaurants too.
The Grand Harbour and the George Cross
Beneath Valletta lies the impressive Grand Harbour and a boat trip around it should not be missed. Home from home for the Royal Navy throughout the 19th century and much of the 20th century, the harbour played a key role in the Second World War when the people of Malta showed such fortitude under attack from the Fascist powers that King George VI awarded the entire population the George Cross. Several Second World War sights are open to visitors.
On average the sun shines 300 days a year in Malta. I have sunbathed on a Maltese beach on November 1 and been too hot in a T-shirt in December, although it is of course in the summer that sun and warmth are guaranteed. Sitting at my desk looking out at a grey UK day, the sun seems a pretty good reason to go to Malta, but it is by no means the only one.
Malta has no shortage of coast and the water is clear as crystal and cleaner than most of the Med; wonderful for swimming, snorkelling and diving. More than 100 dive sites, many accessible from the shore, attract some 50,000 divers a year to Malta - and especially to Gozo.
Once under the culinary joke of Great Britain, Malta has thankfully grown out of this particular colonial legacy and there are now many excellent restaurants serving delicious traditional and modern Maltese and Mediterranean food - some in interesting historic locations.
Gozo, isle of Calypso
The main island of Malta is quite built up. It is a great place to combine sightseeing, sun and swimming, but to fully relax, the smaller neighbouring island of Gozo is the place to be. Reputed to be the island on which Homer had Odysseus held spellbound by the sea nymph Calyspo, it feels a world apart: the pace is slower, the landscape more unspoilt, the people even friendlier.
It’s so easy
Finally, there is a practical reason for going to Malta - it is incredibly easy! English is spoken everywhere, some Maltese even use it as their first language; the currency is the euro; there are no significant health issues; it is only three hours flying time from the UK (less from southern Europe) and there are plenty of low-cost as well as scheduled flights from a variety of UK and European airports.
See you there?