Malta is little known outside of Europe, and that’s a shame. A small Mediterranean nation composed of two main islands and located south of Sicily, it is one of the most southernly parts of Europe (after the Canary Islands and Crete).
But there is more to Malta than mild and sunny weather. Its prehistoric sites are older than Egypt’s, and its landscapes of rocky cliffs and azure waters will appeal to all kinds of curious travellers. It’s got pretty villages too.
The country gained its independence in 1964, after 3000 years of rule by foreign powers from the Phoenicians to the British. That British influence accounts for the fact that Malta’s driving in on the left, and English is an official language spoken by almost everyone. The native and other official language of Malta is Malti, a language related to Arabic but written in Latin script.
I visited Malta for 10 days in 2010 and here are some photos to give you an idea of what it looks like.
Malta is the largest of the two islands and this is where you’ll find the airport and the capital, Valletta.
Valletta’s waterfront, facing Grand Harbour. The Siege Bell Memorial seen here commemorates people who lost their lives in the convoys of 1940 and 1943. Malta played a strategic role in WWII and suffered heavy bombing. Everywhere you are in Malta, beige stone contrasts with blue water.
Busy main street in Valletta, the tiny capital. An area of 600 by 1000 metres is home to 7000 inhabitants (plus visitors). The city was built by the Knights of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries, giving it a unique and instantly recognizable architecture.
The insanely ornate interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. The Maltese are a conservative people, with traditions and attitudes similar to southern Italy. The Roman Catholic church plays a major role in everyday life and half the population regularly attends mass.
Marsaxlokk is a traditional fishing village where fisherman practice their trade out of brightly coloured boats, while locals and tourists gorge on the fresh seafood from waterfront restaurants. 70% of the Maltese fishing fleet calls this village home.
The walled hilltop town of Mdina delights photographers with its narrow alleyways lined with golden-stone buildings full of architectural details. There was a fortified settlement here as early as 1000 BC! Also check out the glass factory and shop.
The Blue Grotto consists of a collection of caves and arches in the cliffs of the southern coast. The name comes from the intense blue colour of the water. You can take half-hour boat tours, Going before mid-morning affords better light to see into the caves.
Not far from the blue grotto are the megalithic temples of Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra, the best preserved of Malta’s prehistoric sites. They date from between 3600 and 3000 BC, which makes them older than the Pyramids of Giza.
A 30-minute ferry ride from Malta, the island of Gozo is home to only about 8% of the country’s population of 450,000, and is well known for its diving.
The main town on Gozo is called Victoria. It’s located on a hill and topped by the ramparts of the Citadel, the old fortified city.
The Baroque Church of the Visitation, located in the village of Għarb, is considered one of the most beautiful in the country. It was built between 1699 and 1729.
The Azure Window is a huge natural arch at Dwejra which offers another spectacular landscape of rock formations and bright blue water.
Another unique feature of Dwejra is the Inland Sea, a lagoon created by the collapse of a limestone cavern. It’s connected to the sea by a 100 metre tunnel. Fishermen offer boat trips to see the rock formations in the area.
You’ll notice a pair of eyes painted on the prow of fishing boats in Malta. The “eye of Osiris” is an ancient Phoenician custom said to protect the boat from danger and ward off evil spirits.
Mostly uninhabited, this tiny islet between Malta and Gozo is famous for its Blue Lagoon.
The day I visited the Blue Lagoon, was very windy, whipping up waves that discouraged swimmers. It was a very pretty location nonetheless.
This was my quick introduction to Malta in photos. Did I intrigue you? The best times to visit are spring and fall, but you’ll still be able to have a coffee in the sun through November and December, and highs are still around 14C or 15C in the middle of winter.
I researched and organized my trip with the help of the Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo guidebook.