Lucy Ruthnum takes us on a tour of the stunning Meditteranean island of Malta and recommends seven stunning attractions that you won't want to miss.
When it comes to European travel, Malta remains somewhat of an undiscovered gem, always blown aside by those much loved Greek Islands, the romance of the French Riviera and intrigue of celebrated Italian ruins. But for travellers who are looking for slightly different take on the well-known Mediterranean favourites, Malta is waiting. Boasting a rich history, not one but three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a capital of endless intertwining streets filled with incredible architecture, clear waters and stunning lagoons smuggled along its coastline, Malta enchants with its own distinct Southern European charm.
For a country that's a mere speck on the world map, there is a lot to pack into a holiday in Malt. But don't worry, with such a small space to cover you'll easily get round the highlights and still have time to pick up a tan. Packing your bags as you read this? Here's what you don't want to miss out on:
1. Valletta and the Grand Harbour
The first of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the island, Valletta is most definitely worth dedicating a day to. Its streets are filled with history, incredible architecture and hidden delights - get lost and you'll hopefully stumble across one of the cities delicious tiny bakeries. The majestic Grand Harbour is one of the most spectacular ports in the world and is best explored by boat, although a walk along its top walls is also a great way to take in the stunning panorama. While in the city, don't forget to visit the Palace of the Grandmasters and St John's Co-Cathedral too.
2. Mdina and Rabat
If you'd like a taste of the underground world buried deep below Malta, you should probably check out St Paul's Grotto and Catacombs when you visit Rabat, a city that played a major role in Malta's past. The history of nearby Mdina can be traced back 4,000 years, and this ancient walled city is a treasure trove of of medieval and baroque architecture. Known as the "silent city", it's worth spending a few hours learning about the cultural, historical and religious significance of the area.
3. The Tarxien Temples
Another incredible UNESCO World Heritage site, the Tarxien Temples is a complex of four megalithic structures built between 3600 and 2500 BC. Believed to have been an important hub of economic, political and religious life, the temples are the work of the mysterious ‘Temple Builders’. Witness with your own eyes their most sophisticated forms of art, architecture and sculpture. With so many mysteries held within the ruins, it's a good idea to get a tour guide for this particular monument.
4. The Island of Gozo
No trip to Malta is complete without a visit to the wonderful neighbouring island of Gozo for a serious dose of natural beauty. A day will give you plenty of time to see the highlights, with the Azure Window, the Blue Hole, Xlendi Beach and Dwejra Bay being top of the list. The Ggantija Temples are also well worth a look, but make sure you get there early to beat the heat of the day as you explore the ruins. Easy bus routes between all of these destinations make finding your way around a doddle.
5. Comino and the Blue Lagoon
The boat trip to Comino is a perfect excuse to spend a day enjoying the crystal clear waters and exploring this tiny nearby island. There are trips available that take you for a cruise around the harbour at Gozo before stopping at Comino for a chance to walk around the island. Take advantage of the time off the boat by walking across the Blue Lagoon (with bags held over your head) to the tiny islet the other side, then walk up the hill and take in the view.
6. The Blue Grotto
A perfect excuse for a boat trip, visiting the Blue Grotto is a great way to enjoy the island from the ocean. You'll be awed by the huge cave system and the light reflections dancing around the inside of the beautiful arch where visitors can see the orange, purple and green of the minerals in the rock.
Once you've visited all of these amazing sights, you'll have worked up quite an appetite and there's no better place to head for gourmet Maltese delights than Mellieha. A little off the beaten track when it comes to places to visit, Mellieha provides a perfect base for exploring the rest of the country and experiencing the best in local fare. From hidden open kitchens run by locals to gourmet delights, Mellieha has no end of rich local delicacies and fine wines.