It’s easy to see why these sun-dappled islands have been fought over for millennia and flights to Malta popular for decades.
Since the capital city Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, many tourists are happy to split their time between the nearby beaches and the town’s ancient monuments and buzzy pavement cafés. After all, the view of the glittering blue sea from the Grand Harbour is pretty hard to beat, and the town’s elegant vintage hotels make it easy to play the Hollywood starlet, seeking a little well-earned R&R.
But while Valletta is a mix of old and new, other parts of Malta really make you feel like you have travelled there via time machine. Along with plenty of unspoiled beauty, they offer glimpses of the island’s turbulent history. Lying between Italy and Algiers it was a jewel too rich for invaders to ignore – and one too beautiful for contemporary travellers to miss.
After stepping off your flight to Malta, take a 45 minute ferry to the island of Gozo, where you’ll find temples, mosques and crusader churches just as fine as Valletta’s, but without the crowds. Whatever way you turn you can see the azure sea, and the outlines of Rabat’s ancient citadel. Hike along the rugged coastal paths and the modern world disappears altogether. At night, small tavernas become the setting for laidback evenings, with local ingredients like rabbit and honey cooked with few frills but plenty of skill. You may recognise some of the flavours from Sicilian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but the smell of wild fennel and the eyes painted on the bobbing fishing boats will leave you in no doubt that this is an authentic Maltese feast.
Off the coast of the main island, sunken World War II bombers make for some stunning diving, but it is hard to beat a sailboat trip for exploring the more remote caves and beaches - perhaps with a couple of bottles of the local Cisk beer to toast the sunset. More raucous fun can be found in Paceville, just north of the touristy St Julian waterside, where locals and foreigners bond over glasses of cheap Maltese wine and swap stories of their island adventures.