A hidden jewel in the Mediterranean, travellers and holiday makers often make the mistake of overlooking Malta due to its size.
However, as its capital city Valletta has been named European Capital of Culture 2018, we took a look at what there is to do on this mysterious little island and why it should be on your radar.
Malta doesn’t just offer golden beaches and sunny weather; the island is actually steeped in history and culture, both new and old. It’s home to some of the oldest free-standing building in the world, the Megalithic Temples that date back as far as 5000BC.
The majestic old capital of Malta, Mdina, is a delightful maze of cobbled streets and architecture, hidden within sprawling walls. With such stunning scenery, it’s no surprise that Mdina is frequently used as a shoot location for many films and TV shows.
‘Game of Thrones’ fans, if you’re thinking that the warm stone walls and castle ramparts may look familiar, that’s because it was the filming location for Kings Landing. Your tour guide may even have starred on GoT, although briefly, as many locals were drafted in to be background extras.
History is not just within the architecture though. For over a thousand years, Malta has been a cosmopolitan island, ruled by several different empires and home to a mix of nationalities from across Europe and the Mediterranean. As a result, you can witness a truly unique mix of cultures, with Arabic language written in Latin script alongside Catholic-influenced traditions and ornate churches on every corner.
Being an island, there is plenty of aquatic activity to be had, with boat trips on offer and delightful little fishing ports to stop and shop at. Pirates have played a substantial role in Malta’s history and their adventures are well documented in the Malta Maritime Museum.
In December, the sea temperature is still edging towards the 20s which may contribute to the fact that Malta is also one of the top international locations for diving. The clear, blue waters mean you’ll get a great view of the incredible shipwrecks dotted along the seabed.
If you’re interested in something more sedate, then there’s plenty of eating to do. The farm-to-table concept may feel like a relatively new ‘hipster’ trend but it’s something that the Mediterranean diet has followed for quite some time. The climate in Malta is ideal for growing crops and fresh water is readily available, collected from the highest points of the Dingli mountains and then used to irrigate crops. As a result, much of the food you’ll find in Malta is locally sourced and very fresh. All part of the famous Mediterranean diet that keeps its residents living so long.
Good food aside, there’s good drinking too. We consider ourselves fairly ‘seasoned’ when it comes to drinking wine but we’d never tried a Maltese wine before. Wine is a large part of Maltese culture – wine production dates back over a thousand years ago.
For a full Maltese wine experience, take a trip to San Niklaw vineyard, a small boutique winery that uses mature grapes for a more complex and rounded finish.
It’s even possible to mix a love of both history and food at the Heritage Malta dinners held at the Malta Maritime Museum. Countless hours of research by Liam Gauchi, curator for the museum, have resulted in a unique and memorable dinner using ingredients and cooking methods that actually existed at that time. Even the wine was matched to actual menus used at historical dinners (we happily discovered that Champagne and Chablis did exist centuries ago.)
Whether it’s food, drink, culture or sport that interests you, Malta has surprisingly plenty to offer. With winter temperature still in the 20’s, it’s a relatively cheap and close holiday destination to end your year. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh actually spent two years living in Valletta when the Duke was based there with the Royal Navy – if it’s good enough for the Queen, we’re definitely interested.
Flights to Malta are around 3.5 hours, with prices starting from £30.
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