Malta may be a tiny Mediterranean island but this piece of land roars like a lion. Over 7000 years of histor,y most of them spent fighting off invading forces have made this island a true cultural delight; the heritage envelopes you on every part of the islands diverse terrain as the capital Valetta proudly stands above the harbour that breathes life into this sparkling jewel.
The island isn’t all about culture though, the islanders have developed a warmth like no other, their genuine generosity shining through and cracking the armour of even the most cynical of travellers – colourful fishing boats bobbing on the waters give a hint to the frivolous side of island life where everyone is expected to live life to the full.
There are many great hotels in Malta, from stylish boutique hotels in the centre of Valetta to large spa resorts nestling along the isolated shores of the coastline – most of the large hotels are taken up by guests that have booked via tour operators but independent travellers may find some availability at these hotels during the off peak season.
The Osbourne Hotel in Valetta is not going to win any awards for luxurious rooms, rooms that although perfectly adequate and clean are quite basic, however once on the higher floors the view is spectacular and the rooftop terrace is in a class of its own with stunning views over the harbour. The real draw of this hotel though is the location, inside the city walls and within walking distance of all the major tourist attractions this budget hotel is a little gem for anyone that wants to be at the heart of the action.
In the Oratory is the painting by Caravaggio of the decapitating of St John. The Grand Master’s Palace The Grand Master’s Palace, situated in Republic Street, was built 500 years back as the abode of the Grand Master of the Order of St John.
The local food is best described as hearty and rustic with a heavy reliance on game, fish and seasonally grown crops, dining is seen as a social affair as a nod to the old when whole villages would share communal ovens and pool resources in order to maintain a food supply to the whole community. Traditional rustic Maltese cuisine is little seen outside the villages (although a more sophisticated version is widely available) and eating in the capital of Valetta is more likely to be a cosmopolitan affair with the cities love of café culture.
Mediterranean food is widely available in Valletta and Rubino’s on Old Bakery Street does not disappoint, the atmosphere is relaxed and the food is excellent, there is no menu as such – you know that you are in expert hands when the chalkboard menu is changed daily and only ever reflects the best of the seasonal produce and the days catch.
There are so many historic sights to see in Malta that they are almost impossible to avoid, the oldest of which are the Neolithic Temples which are older than the Pyramids of Egypt; the capital Valetta has its own historic story to tell – founded in the 1500’s by the Knights of Malta who built it, with its view of the sea on three sides, as a stronghold against the attacks from the sea. This tenacity has an enduring legacy with the whole island being recognised for its bravery in the face of enemy attack during World War II; they were no more likely to surrender then than they were 500 years earlier.
Malta is fast gaining a reputation as being a great dive destination with diving in the welcoming Mediterranean available all of the year around, the water can be cooler during the early part of the year but the visibility is always great and with many reefs, underwater caves and wrecks to explore it is understandable why Malta is now capitalising on the popularity of diving holidays.
The climate is typical of the Mediterranean and with over 300 days of sunshine is a great destination in the early and later parts of the season; winters although mild and sunny are predisposed to torrential rain that drives all but the most foolhardy indoors. The high temperatures are cooled in the summer months by the famed island breezes making Malta a perfect destination for the majority of the year.
There are two major periods of festivity in Malta (although there are minor festivals throughout the year). February/March is the time of Malta Carnival which is widely and vigorously celebrated across Malta and Gozo; later in the year (July) are the Jazz and the Arts festival, both are lively with the added cultural element that the Arts Festival brings.