Malta’s magical archipelago is located 58 miles south of Sicily, in some of the purest waters in the Mediterranean.
Attracted by a happy castaway, this trio of islands is a treasure trove of dreamy beaches and blue lagoons, with a rich past to explore and a glamorous side as well.
And English is widely spoken and everyone drives on the left, so it’s home-to-home painless.
And with year-round sunshine and low-cost flights from most regional airports, Malta is a trip you can do right now and it really feels like you’ve taken a proper holiday.
Halina Watts explores the lesser-known gem of the Med …
Eager to bring that feeling of relief from the foreclosure of small islands, but enjoy the excitement of luxurious accommodation, we began our journey on the neighbor of Malta Gozo, by checking into the quality hotel Kempinski.
Situated next to Dwejra Bay with its dramatic coastal formations and the Ta ‘Dbiegi craft village, this wow-factor resort hotel is set in lush gardens with several swimming pools and a first-class spa. It is by far the largest residence in Gozo with the most facilities and three nice dining options including an Italian trattoria and a Maltese and Mediterranean restaurant. As tempting as it was to soak up the sun on the loungers and soak up our balcony, we just had to explore the gloriously beautiful island we had admired since the transfer of our boat.
Gozo is famous for the remains of the Giantess Neolithic Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site on the crest of a hill, which was built even before Stonehenge. We also visited the island’s former capital, the Citadel, with its fortified walls, cathedral and sea views.
Only six people live here, some of them working in the traditional Ta ‘Rikardu restaurant, sitting in the walls of the ramparts.
Owner Rikardu produces his own cheese and wine, and you can take a sample of Maltese specialty rabbit stew, as well as pastries (sweet cheese or pea cakes).
The northern coast of Gozo, meanwhile, is characterized by saline chopped-up checkerboard rocks jutting out into the sea. Part of a 350-year-old tradition, during the summer locals can be seen tying salt crystals from the surface of the rock.
With so many historical gems still intact as well as its dazzling coastline, Malta has been a favorite backdrop for Hollywood films including Troy, The Da Vinci Code and The Spy Who Loved Me as well as a dramatic Game of Thrones series. Our brilliant film tour guide, Clive, was extra in the Gladiator, also shot here.
Most tourists visiting Malta make it a point to visit its three islands. Malta’s capital city, its opulent palaces, churches and modern architectural masterpieces are fantastic for exploring on foot.
Walk along the high walls of the ramparts, which were once used as a defense against the Ottomans, and enjoy great views of the Grand Harbor and along the water towards Fort St. Angelo. Then take in the peaceful Lower Shack Gardens with its water features.
At sunset, Valletta transforms into a vibrant dark destination with buzzing cocktail bars, live music venues and seaside restaurants.
For a stylish stay in the heart of the city, book a boutique townhouse hotel, The Coleridge. Named after the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived and worked in Valletta from 1804-5, each of the five suites has an individual style.
A world away from modern Malta, in the center of the island, is the mysterious Mdina.
Surrounded by vast gold walls, the ‘Silent City’ is a tangle of shaded lanes and squares with majestic mansions and convents hidden behind unpretentious doors.
With only a few hundred residents, a few cars and strict noise restrictions, here is an unusual tranquility. Its strategic location, on high ground, makes it one of the most enchanting places on the island.
From here we went to the Catacombs of St. Paul to explore the well-deserved burial chambers dating from the third to the eighth century. The interconnected passages, spread over 2,000 square meters, are the largest and earliest evidence of Christianity in Malta.
While the main island is steeped in history, it also boasts a series of hip and modern hangouts.
Now officially one of the top culinary destinations in Europe, Malta’s delicious Mediterranean and North African-inspired cuisine has been included in the Michelin 2020 Guide.
We had dinner at Barbajean, an Art Deco restaurant in the picturesque village of Had-Dingli. Here the young chef Jean Pierre Dingli makes the best use of seasonal vegetables, fruits and vegetables to create a modern Maltese menu inspired by the Mediterranean. Who could resist the chance to try a Scottish Maltese sausage egg or casarecce pasta served with rabbit ragout?
Then there is Il Pirata, in the heart of Senglea, one of the three cities next to Valletta. Following the success of the branches in San Ġiljan and Mellieħa, its most recent opening offers tempting dishes such as pieces of filo filo and irresistible cut along with views of the harbor.
Take your pick from the dozens of seafood restaurants on the shores of Marsaxlokk, Malta’s old fishing village.
He then wanders around the beach full of red, yellow, green, and blue painted pike boats, with pairs of eyes in front.
With such a unique coastline, some of the best experiences in Malta should be made in the water.
There are some wonderful bathing places including Marsaxlokk Bay, Il-Hofra z-Zghira and Il-Hofra l-Kbira.
Take a hole in the blue waters of St Peter’s Pool, a natural flat-bottomed swimming hole ideal for sunbathing – its remoteness means it is rarely crowded.
Or head to Kalanka Bay, the southeastern tip of Malta, where you can walk to the lighthouse, admire the views and take a dip in the waters.
But for that real feeling of escape to what is almost a desert island, go back to Malta’s smallest neighbor, Comino. Measuring only 1.5 square miles, it is a paradise for bathers and divers, without cars and, apart from one hotel, almost uninhabited.
The attraction of its bucket list is the Blue Lagoon, a sheltered inlet of aquamarine water that cushions on white sand that looks and feels like the Caribbean.
With so much more for these islands than it seems, Malta will feed your mind and turn your heart forever.
Book: Rooms at the Kempinski Hotel in San Lawrenz, Gozo, start at around £ 96 a night with room only. kempinski.com Rooms at The Coleridge Hotel in Valletta, Malta, start at around £ 84 per night at a B&B. Visit thecoleridgehotel.com
More information at visitmalta.com.