Ex­plor­ing: Malta

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

Selling Travel - - Contents -

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:

mal­tauk.com/val­letta-trail.

Wa­ter world

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.

What’s new

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

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