Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. It’s a nation known for historic sites related to a succession of rulers including the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and British. It has numerous fortresses, megalithic temples and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a subterranean complex of halls and burial chambers dating to circa 4000 B.C.
Malta, the Jewel of the Mediterranean. She has been fought over for thousands of years, has temples that pre-date the pyramids at Giza and Stonehenge, has some of the clearest waters in the world, and boasts a capital city that is a baroque masterpiece.
Like Croatia of 20 years ago, Malta has just now become a newly discovered travel destination for the cultural enthusiasts and adventure seekers. The Maltese Islands, although small in size, offers travelers a rare opportunity to see a well preserved history and exciting present day culture.
Malta is located 58 miles south of Sicily however it is not part of Italy. It became a republic in 1964 when Malta was granted independence from Great Britain. Malta is easily accessed from North America via a European hub such as Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and London among many others.
From Sicily, Malta is accessible by air from Catania, Trapani and Palermo as well as by ferry from Pozzallo. Our national carrier is Air Malta and great fares are available via code shares with other North American airlines. Other airlines that fly to Malta include Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Alitalia, KLM, Air France, Swiss and so many more.
ST JOHN’S CO-CATHEDRAL
The Knights of Malta’s main church, this extraordinary place of worship is up there with the most important Baroque buildings in Europe. The outside is plain, even severe in style, having been designed by the military architects who built Valletta as the Knights’ citadel capital in the 1570s. Inside, however, is dazzling, every inch covered in gold, marble or paint. Even the floor is a sea of tombs in coloured marble. Each language group of the Knights had a chapel here and they competed for the greatest and most sumptuous decoration. Don’t miss the oratory which is home to Caravaggio’s largest (and only signed) painting, the superb Beheading of St John.
VALLETTA FORTIFICATIONS WALK
Valletta was built by the Knights of St John (the Knights of Malta) after they nearly lost the islands to the Ottoman Turks in the Great Siege of 1565. The city was constructed on a barren, rocky peninsula with water all around except on a narrow landward side. It was state-of-the-art military architecture, intended to be impregnable. And so it was: for 200 years nobody even dared attempt invasion.
GRAND HARBOUR BOAT TOUR
The famous Grand Harbour is at the heart of much of Malta’s history (and some of Europe’s). Site of the Great Siege of 1565 in which the Knights of St John just managed to hold off the invading Ottoman Turks, as well as the centre of significant events of World War Two, the harbour was home to the British Royal Navy in the Med until the 1970s.
MALTA AT WAR MUSEUM
This is not only a museum about Malta’s Second World War but – for me more interestingly – it offers tours of the vast World War Two shelter below ground. Don a hard hat, pass through the (reproduction) gas curtain and descend into the world of the Maltese during the worst of the war. Malta was the target of some of the most concentrated bombing anywhere and this area, home of the Grand Harbour dockyards doing crucial ship repair work, was hardest hit. Hundreds of people spent days and nights down in these hand-cut rock tunnels with only smoky little oil lamps for light.
MDINA – MALTA’S BEST RESTAURANTS
Malta’s first citadel capital, Mdina has been inhabited and fortified since the Bronze Age and was the Roman centre of Malta. What we see today began with the Arabs, continued through the medieval Christian period and slowly declined in importance after the arrival of the Knights in the 16th century. Still inhabited, it is something of a living museum. Malta’s noble families have their ancestral homes here and its tiny, labyrinthine streets are a delight to explore.
HAL SAFLIENI HYPOGEUM
This must-see sight is quite extraordinary. It is a burial complex cut into solid rock by the same people who built Malta’s unique prehistoric temples between 3600BC and 2500BC. Like the temples, the Hypogeum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For conservation reasons only ten people per hour can visit, so book as far in advance as possible. Visits start with a short film before you descend into the underworld in an accompanied group with a very good audio guide. The complex consists of three layers (the deeper the more recent) each with multiple rooms. It is estimated that it once held some 7,000 bodies, deposited down here over a period of nearly 1000 years. The most impressive room, the ‘Holy of Holies’, is a carved copy of the above-ground temples cut into the rock.
Malta has some of the best diving in the Mediterranean, and 50,000 people a year come to this country to dive. There are dive centres all over the island offering everything from beginners’ courses to equipment hire for experienced divers. Diving in Malta is less about vast numbers of colourful fish (though there is plenty of sea life) and more about extraordinary underwater landscapes and wrecks (some deliberately scuttled for the purpose).
- Food & Wine tours – As with all European nations, food is a very important part of the Maltese culture. Often confused with being an Italian island because of its close proximity to Sicily, Malta boasts many traditional foods and flavorful staples. A Maltese experience cannot be complete without a food experience. We offer Cooking Classes, Customized Food Tours, Cooking Demonstrations, Sea Salt Harvesting, Farmer’s Lunch in an Olive Grove, Strawberry Picking, Wine Tasting & Vineyard Tours
- Culture & Historical Tours – No other country can scream as much culture and history when comparing land mass as the Maltese Islands do. As Europe’s first civilization dating back to 5500 B.C., Malta is the preeminent destination for the cultural enthusiast. Consider the peoples who have settled and invaded Malta: Temple Builders, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Knights of St. John, Napoleon and finally the British. Valletta, the capital city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts 320 monuments in a 2 square mile radius making it the most densely populated in the world for monuments.
- Honeymoons & Wedding – Whether it’s a destination wedding or honeymoon, Malta provides the perfect backdrop and so much more. With our local partners and venues, we are able to create a most memorable experience where customization truly has no limits. Honeymooners will fall in love with the aura of romanticism that pervades the islands – from romantic walks, private sails, private concerts, exclusive dinners and more.
- Adventure Travel – With great weather year-round, Malta is an ideal location for an adventure holiday. Clear waters, rugged coastline, winding streets and annual sporting events have drawn people from all over the world. Diving enthusiasts take note that Malta has been consistently ranked as a top destination for scuba diving.
- Unique Stays – The vast array of lodging in Malta is astounding and what’s more there is something for everyone’s personality and luxury level. For a more quintessential Maltese Islands stay, choose a Relais & Chateaux property or a boutique hotel located in central Valletta or in the villages on Gozo Island. Your options continue with palazzo, castle, villa and farmhouse stays – which are arguably the most sought after for longer stays.
- Jewish Culture Tours- Jewish culture in Malta dates back to the fourth and fifth century during the Roman period. Evidence of this can be found at the St. Paul’s Catacomb site in Rabat, Malta where several Jewish Catacombs can be found alongside Christian burials. Today, a small but active community under 200 Jews live in Malta – having their own Synagogue and Rabbis. Of special note, the local flat bread called ftira and the traditional Maltese loaf are both kosher. We have one kosher restaurant and Chabad, however it is centrally located in the village of St. Julians.