Malta


After just one visit Malta quickly became my second most favorite country in Europe (after Iceland). The country offers an interesting mix of cultural influences resulting from its rich and diverse history, which complements well some great weather and stunning scenery.

The capital of Valletta is a gem of a city, built on a small peninsula and completely fortified. The city is actually surrounded by other small peninsulas, most of them also boasting forts and fortifications, which combine with the surreal blue waters for beautiful cityscapes.

One of the first cities to use a grid design, Valletta is dominated by the impressive buildings and fortifications erected by the Knights of Saint John (aka the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller) during their 250+ years of reign over the islands. Still, it retains some of its British colonial charm as well as older influences such as Sicilian or Arabic (that's not to say that the country is stuck in the past; it just manages to preserve its rich heritage without spoiling it).

In order to best appreciate what's on offer my strong recommendation is for staying (or spending enough time) in Valletta, and not necessarily in one of the surrounding towns (nice as well, but more crowded in terms of people, buildings and cars). In Valletta start with a tour of the outer walls and then visit the gardens and the city proper (the main Republic and Merchant streets are the first stops for souvenir shopping). I found the War Museum and the Malta Experience, a show which outlines the country's past, to be nice and informative.

From Valetta take the ferry to the more modern Sliema, which presents many restaurants, bars and the country's largest shopping center; finally, I would definitely recommend a harbour cruise around Valletta and the Three Cities - keep your camera handy, you'll use it a lot.

After all of this you're ready to start exploring the rest of the country. Malta comprises three main islands: the largest one also called Malta, the smaller Gozo and the tiny Comino. Malta and Gozo can be explored easily by the very good bus network of Arriva, so there's no real need to hire a car, while Comino is small enough to be explored by foot (use the ferries for navigating between the islands).

From what I've seen outside of Valletta, I would definitely recommend a tour of the Blue Grotto, the fascinating 5,000 year-old temples at Mnajdra and Hagar Qim and the spectacular ancient capital of Mdina - all to be found on Malta island. Xlendi Bay is a secluded stunning spot on Gozo, complete with small beach, nice landscapes, own fort and fossil site, while the Blue Lagoon is a must-not-miss spot on Comino (take a swim to the even smaller Cominoto).

Malta is definitely impressive - absolultely worth visiting again.

Read a detailed account of my trip to Malta here (a part of my series on Europe's Microstates)

Additional info:
- country entry on Wikipedia
- country profile on Wikivoyage

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Malta

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