- Credit: iStock
Malta is one of the few destinations on the new green list. Here’s our guide to its must-see sights.
For some, the mention of Malta conjures up azure waters and honey-coloured sands where few footprints can be found; for others, it is the grand, sepia streets of its pinprick capital Valletta – where there are reminders of its chaotic yesteryear almost everywhere. Strung out in the Med between Sicily and North Africa, Malta has been hit by waves of invaders and settlers over the centuries – the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Italians have all left a resounding impression on its architectural landscape, and you can easily lose days seeking out its historical landmarks. Even the iconic red telephone boxes remain – a legacy of its rule under Britain for a couple of centuries; they’ll stop you in your tracks for their unusual familiarity, lying in the shadow of imposing baroque townhouses. There’s a lot to love about the archipelago of Malta, Gozo and Comino; here we reveal its must-visit sites.
Valletta: Kick things off in Valletta, whose formidable architectural relics are a legacy of the Knights of St John – a band of warriors who stormed the island, triumphed over a fleet of Ottoman troops in 1565, and erected the city’s fortifications you can wander around today. The order also raised its sweeping Grand Harbour, where sea planes take off from the inky water and whose edges twinkle as night falls. There’s the imposing St John’s Co-Cathedral where Caravaggio’s mammoth The Beheading of St John the Baptist will elicit gasps of admiration. And in a city where the drama of a lost golden age is around every corner, there are also plenty of contemporary cultural thrills to discover. Renzo Piano’s striking City Gate, unveiled in 2014, has been a huge hit with visitors. MUZA – the National Museum of Art and the flagship project for Valletta's European Capital City of Culture Title in 2018 – deserves all the hype, too. Set in Auberge d’Italie, an elegant 16th-century mansion, its carefully curated collection features historical pieces previously exhibited in the now defunct National Museum of Fine Arts, plus bold modern works. Elsewhere, there’s also the Valletta Contemporary – an innovative space showcasing local and international modern artists.
Gozo: This speck of land has one of those fool-proof formulas for an idyllic Med island escape: waters a glittering shade of azure, silver-streaked sands, and beachside cafes dishing up barbequed fish. But there are also sites with serious historical clout to seek out: the megalithic temples at Ġgantija and the Il-Kastell fortress, looming over the capital of Victoria, are worth every moment. Feeling active? Gozo is just 26 square miles and is a prime spot for hiking or biking, with paths winding past damp sea caves, scrubland dotted with prickly pear cacti and along coastal stretches with fragrant scents of wild fennel. If you find yourself along the wind-shaped, rugged northern coast, catch your breath and gaze out to Wied il-Mielah, a dramatic limestone arch over the sea — a smaller alternative to the now-collapsed Azure Window.
Mdina: Just as Valletta is Malta’s most palatial city, Mdina might just be its most mysteriously beautiful. And if you’re seeking somewhere that remains unspoilt, Malta’s silent city – and its former capital – is a genuinely authentic spot, home to just 250 locals and renowned for its almost-blanket ban on vehicles. Arrive in the evening when its angular streets are dimly lit with orange lamps and pad about its palazzi and bijou galleries, grabbing dinner in one of its terraces and rounding off with imqaret – tooth-achingly sweet date fritters with helwa tat-tork (tahini fudge) ice cream.
How to do it: Original Diving’s ten-day trip to Malta and Gozo starts from £1,465 per person, including accommodation and return flights, originaltravel.co.uk