Malta packs glorious variety into its small archipelago. You'll find prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs, hidden coves, thrilling scuba diving, and a history of remarkable intensity. Malta's geographical location in the center of the Mediterranean made it an alluring and much-fought-over prize, and the islands are full of majestic above- and below-ground defenses.
The capital, Valletta, built by the Knights of St John, is a harmonious grid, Mdina and Victoria are fortress-like hilltop towns, and watchtowers dot the coast. Even Malta’s fishing boats resonate with the past, their prows painted with eyes, just like the boats of their Phoenician predecessors. Following Valletta's stint as a European Capital of Culture in 2018, the country's capital is also a re-energized center of contemporary design and architecture.
Culture & History
The culture of Malta is the result of the many different societies that came in contact with the Maltese Islands throughout history, including cultures of neighboring countries, cultures of nations that ruled Malta for long centuries, and other influences from tourism and media. Subjected to these historic processes, the Maltese culture also incorporated the linguistic and ethnic admixture that defines who the Maltese people are.
Malta is staunchly Roman Catholic but is also home to a beguiling mix of cultures that has stewed together over generations. The Maltese people are warm and welcoming: if you ask for directions, it's likely a local will walk with you to help you find the way. Plenty of 21st-century sophistication can be found, but there are also pockets where you feel you’ve gone back in time, especially on Gozo, where mammoth churches tower over quiet villages.
Malta and Gozo’s astounding prehistoric sites were constructed by sophisticated-seeming temple builders, who also left miniature figurines and mammoth sculptures of ‘fat ladies’, which have survived millennia and are housed in Malta's fascinating museums. Out in the open, gigantic temples and towers from many different eras stand proud, continuing their endless watch over the sea. The most extraordinary site of all lies underground: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a 5000-year-old necropolis carved from the living rock. Elsewhere throughout the islands, smaller prehistoric sites are more subtle in their impact across the centuries, but still, provide profound insight into the civilization’s legacy.
The archipelago of Malta - sandwiched between southern Italy and the North African coast - has been ruled by many over time. The French, Spanish, British, Arabs, Italians, and Germans have all had a part in controlling the tiny island at one point in history. During different periods, each nation brought with them their favorite delicacies. Maltese people were quick to envelop and transform these, creating their bespoke versions. This cultural intermingling of flavors is what makes Maltese food so unique, interesting, and enjoyable.
Traditional Maltese food is heavily reliant upon the seasons. It is quite rustic, favoring stews, game meats such as rabbit plus pasta, pastry, and fruit-based desserts. One of Malta’s most traditional dishes is bragioli or beef olives. This dish features stuffed and rolled pieces of thin beef steak braised slowly in a tomato-based sauce. The slow cooking time produces a wonderful melt-in-the-mouth consistency.
Wine bars are currently all the rage in Malta and plenty have sprung up in Valletta and elsewhere. Some of the most popular wine bars can be found in the swanky upmarket areas of Mdina, Attard, Birgu, and Balzan.
If you’re tired of loud music, but don’t fancy a night in, a few bottles of wine with close friends, perhaps over a plate of meats and cheese, is quite a palatable way to spend a Friday or Saturday night. If you still need music in your life, just not dance music or boring chart hits, then these places also have you covered.
A walk through the picturesque streets of Valletta will turn up many pleasant jazz nights or acoustic evenings. Valletta is also the Capital of Culture in 2018, so there are many events worth checking out.
Malta’s entertainment industry is pretty comprehensive, and you can rest assured that there’s something for everyone when it comes to activities. And you needn’t abandon the drink altogether. A few beers certainly make bowling more fun, but it’s unlikely to much improve your game.
Outdoors & Adventure
Malta's landscape contrasts rocky stretches of coast that end in dizzying limestone cliffs with sheltered bays that hide gin-clear water and red-gold beaches. The islands' many marinas jostle with boats, and you can take to the water in sky-blue traditional craft, stately yachts, or speedboats. Snorkelers and divers have much to explore underwater as well, a world of caves, crags, and wrecks. Above the water, walking tracks negotiate view-filled pathways linking isolated coves and surprising historical structures. Even for the short-term visitor to Malta, a simple ferry journey across Grand Harbour in Valletta is a magical experience.
Clear waters, year-round warmth, and an abundance of reefs, caves, and wrecks mean that Malta is regularly voted one of the world’s top diving spots. Beginners can cut their teeth on the shallow reef of Ghar Lapsi or the wreck of wartime destroyer HMS Maori. For the more experienced, Gozo’s famous Blue Hole drops 50ft to a huge window on the open sea and Cathedral Cave boasts a blue-lit dome the size of St Paul’s.
In Malta, you really can fly a plane on your very first flight. Several flying schools offer trial flights with a qualified instructor, who hands over control to you for a spell once airborne. It’s a fantastic way to see Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Dingli Cliffs, or Comino’s stunning Blue Lagoon. You can choose a conventional light plane or a microlight for the ultimate adrenaline rush.
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