The Mal­tese Mys­tique

Malta may be one of Europe’s small­est coun­tries, but it s al­lure is any­thing but t iny.

HILuxury - - VOYAGE - By KRISTY ALPERT

KEPT MY EYES DOWN WHILE I NAV­I­GATED THE SMOOTHED STONE PATH­WAYS THAT LED THROUGH MALTA’S OLD TOWN; PAINFULLY AWARE THAT WEDGED HEELS WERE the wrong shoe choice for my af­ter­noon of ex­plor­ing in Val­letta. I glanced up as I en­tered Re­pub­lic Square and im­me­di­ately any thoughts of footwear van­ished from my mind as I en­tered deeper into the buzzing square lined with his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture. It wasn’t the grand stat­ues or quaint open-air cafes that struck me, but rather the uni­form smirk that every­one I passed seemed to be wear­ing.

As if con­trolled by an un­spo­ken code, every­one I passed in the square—shop own­ers, tourists, and wait­resses alike—ex­changed friendly head nods and sly grins, be­hav­ing like peo­ple who had been let in on a highly cov­eted se­cret. There was a unan­i­mous air cir­cu­lat­ing through the

Isquare that we had all dis­cov­ered some­thing special, and there wasn’t a per­son in that square who took that priv­i­lege for granted. Listed as one of the small­est coun­tries in Europe, Malta’s cos­mopoli­tan sheen and un­crowded streets make it feel like vis­i­tors have won a prize for ven­tur­ing off the well-worn tourist tracks of the Amalfi Coast and French Riviera. But its al­lure isn’t any­thing new; in fact, Malta has his­tor­i­cally been a prized lo­ca­tion since the be­gin­ning of civ­i­liza­tion. Over the years, Malta’s strate­gic lo­ca­tion in the cen­ter of the Mediter­ranean—just 93 kilo­me­ters south of Si­cily and 288 kilo­me­ters north of Africa—have at­tracted Phoeni­cians, Greeks, Byzan­tines, Ro­mans, Arabs, Nor­mans, Cru­saders, the French, and, fi­nally, the Bri­tish who con­trolled the coun­try un­til 1964.

To­day the ar­chi­pel­ago of Malta con­sists of three is­lands (Malta, Gozo and Comino), and is a part of the Euro­pean Union. The

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