Home to the 'sunniest city in Europe' – the vibrant Valletta – and Europe's best diving, a combination of the old and new makes Malta a top European break, says Jessica Pook
Crumbling walls and Baroque-style balconies glow in the afternoon Mediterranean light and I’m quietly smug at how far I am from my busy London life. That is until I’m confronted by an alltoo familiar red post box, incongruously perched on this Maltese street.
Until 1964 Malta was part of the British Empire, but nowadays this small island in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea is doing just fine without us.
This year its capital Valletta is being celebrated as European Capital of Culture 2018 – a fitting title considering it has one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. It was also voted one of the top places to visit as part of Lonely
Planet’s Best In Travel 2018 and has topped the list for affordable European cities. Its rugged coastal landscape has featured in Hollywood hits such as Gladiator, Troy and the ever-popular Game of Thrones series.
Valletta culture trail
While Malta may be small, it packs a punch in terms of culture. A recognised UNESCO World Heritage site, Valletta is home to 16th century architecture, restored fortresses, museums, the Manoel Theatre and St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which is considered the best example of Baroque in the world.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens command panoramic views of the three fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. A gunfire ceremony is performed everyday here at noon. Stroll along the now pedestrianised waterfront in Valletta and take in views of the historical Quay Wall which was originally built for the Knights of St. John.
Beyond the water's edge, Malta's impressive Grand Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, with ferry services to Sicily operating daily.
Information on all of Valletta's attractions can be found on the Malta Tourism Authority’s Valletta Trail – a new handy map and invaluable tourist tool highlighting all the culture hot spots and hidden gems on the island. Download it at:
The island’s past as a 'disputed land' has left a trail of underwater ship, plane and submarine wrecks that have helped to put Malta on the map as a top diving destination. Sister island Gozo, a short ferry ride away, offers 50 diving sites along with a network of caves and tunnels.
Snorkellers and swimmers can enjoy the clear waters and rocky inlets which surround all three islands, but highlights include the red sandy beach of Ir-Ramla ilHamra on Gozo and the azure Blue Lagoon on the even smaller Comino Island.
A merging of old and new
There aren't too many places where you can meander among 7,000 years of history in the morning, hit the beach in the afternoon and party to the latest beats spun by famous DJs at night. Malta has a renowned music scene, from classical concerts and the International Jazz Festival to the annual Isle of MTV concert, while those DJs perform in the lively St. Julians.
Ryanair now sells Air Malta flights meaning its customers can connect from Malta onto other European destinations like Russia, Africa and Asia.
A full refurbishment and two-floor extension has been completed at the fourstar Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa (maritim.
com) in Mellieha. It now features a roof terrace and swimming pool with views.
The Phoenicia (campbellgrayhotels.com),
Malta’s first luxury hotel, has re-opened following a large refurbishment giving it an Art Deco theme throughout.
GRAND HARBOURAERIAL VIEW OF VALLETTAST JOHN'S CATHEDRAL