When thinking of a Mediterranean vacation, there are certain things that typically come to mind. Sparkling turquoise water, a warm summer breeze and a vibrant, exciting culture are part of the image that develops. Many associate this image with several tourism hotspots, such as Greece, Italy and Croatia. However, lying within the Mediterranean Sea itself, is an island country that perfectly embodies the Mediterranean ideal, yet is often overlooked. Malta, a small island located just south of Italy, is the perfect Mediterranean destination. Not only does it have picturesque scenery, but it also has the unique culture, rich history and entertaining cities that many look for. This blog will delve into what makes the country of Malta so special, and why it needs to be considered the next great Mediterranean destination.
Malta is a very small country composed of a group of islands, including Gozo, Commino, the island of Malta itself and two uninhabited islands. In fact, this country is so small that it is the world’s 10th smallest country, with all islands combining for a 316 km² land mass. Its 219km of shoreline is quite different from that of its Mediterranean counterparts. Here, you will see limestone formations lining the coast, resulting in staggering cliffs alongside serene beaches. In addition, the landscape of Malta has one main, unique feature— no forests and very sparse vegetation. In Malta, the true beauty lies within it’s aforementioned distinctive limestone formations, beaches, coves, and, of course, its cities with their typical European architectural masterpieces and charming streets. Evidently, the smaller size of Malta greatly adds to the appeal. Even on a shorter vacation, you can experience most of the country’s best attractions, and truly get a feel for the scenic land and its interesting culture.
Although not widely known for its cuisine, traditional Maltese food is certainly something worth experiencing. Maltese cuisine is derived from many influences from surrounding nations, dating back to when the island was first inhabited by individuals from various civilizations. It is best described as a Mediterranean fusion, with a focus on fresh, seasonal foods. Some popular dishes to try are Pastizzi (cheese or pea cakes), Bigilla (bean-based paste or dip) and Stuffat tal-Qarnita (octopus stew). In addition, as with many island nations, fresh seafood is an integral aspect of Malta’s cuisine. For a great mix of traditional Maltese culture and cuisine, visit the Marsaxlokk fish market on Sundays, where a wide array of freshly caught seafood is available from local vendors. Truly, Maltese cuisine is a hidden gem among European food scenes.
Much like Maltese cuisine, the culture in Malta is also heavily influenced by various civilizations that were present in the formative years of the country. In particular, the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs have left distinctive impressions of the lasting culture and traditions of Malta. Romans not only influenced Malta’s traditions, but also their religion, as the predominant religion in the country is Roman Catholicism. The religion has been an integral part of Malta’s culture from the country’s early beginnings to current customs. You can see evidence of Catholicism in Malta in its statues and religious buildings, as well as everyday practices such as holidays, mass and social gatherings.
One cultural event stands above the rest in terms of both traditional significance for locals and general excitement for visitors: the Village Festa. The Festa runs throughout the summer months and is a celebration of both Mediterranean culture and religion. The festival centers upon honouring the patron saint of each village in the country. This event features feasts, music and fanfare in a combination of lights and excitement that is perfect for tourists and locals alike. Some highlights of the celebration include the traditional carrying of the saint’s statue, a great honour in the country, and the culmination of events in a magnificent fireworks display.
Malta has endless accommodation options that will suit the needs of any traveller. Across its habitable islands, but mainly on the main island of Malta, there are a wide array of vacation rentals, resorts, hotels and hostels. In addition, there are many regions you should look into for your stay. To wake up in the heart of the historical and cultural centre, look to Valletta for accommodation options. For those looking for a tranquil beach escape, the island of Gozo has incredible resorts, hotels and more luxurious options.
However, there is one area that is the most highly recommended in terms of options, ease of transportation and attractions nearby. The town of Sliema encompasses all aspects that travellers look for and is conveniently located in the heart of the tourism center. It is located along a magnificent harbourfront, which overlooks the gorgeous Valletta cityscape, and is lined with a plethora of restaurants and shops. Public transportation is readily available through the local bus system or the ferry’s at the nearby port that will take you anywhere you need to go on any island. In addition, its neighbouring town of St. Julian’s offers an incredible food and nightlife scene, all within a convenient walkable distance. Thus, Sliema is among the best options to mark as your ‘home base’ when exploring Malta.
What to do in Malta
Despite being a very small country, there is still lots to see and do in Malta. There is certainly something for everyone in its islands: historic cities, stunning beaches, great nightlife and mesmerizing architecture. Below are some of the top attractions and areas to see for the best, all-encompassing Malta experience.
Malta’s capital city of Valletta should not be missed by any visitor. This self-described ‘open air museum’ is widely recognized for its historical and cultural significance through its designation as a cultural World Heritage Site. Valletta perfectly embodies a classic, European city design with grand architecture, charming narrow streets lined with quaint cafes, religious cathedrals and surrounding scenic views. The city itself was perfectly erected on a peninsula surrounded by two picturesque harbours and is a true sight to behold. In fact, Valletta is noted to be the first recorded instance of city planning in Europe, which is evident in the way each street, cathedral and monument perfectly contribute to the flow of the city. Whether taking a stroll through the hilly Renaissance-era streets, touring its famous architectural masterpieces (such as St John’s Co- Cathedral) or seeing the panoramic views from the Grand Harbour, you will be fully engrossed in the breathtaking beauty of Malta’s finest city.
Blue Lagoon, Comino
The Blue Lagoon is one of Malta’s most breathtakingly beautiful attractions. Its crystal clear turquoise waters and two white sand beaches are surrounded by jagged limestone cliffs, creating a stunning scene. The Blue Lagoon, similar to its counterpart of the same name in Iceland, is considered a tourist trap. However, it is a beautiful location to visit, especially during the off-peak tourist season. While here, you can swim in the warm waters, relax on the beach or hike along the scenic trails on the island.
Blue Lagoon is located on the secluded island of Comino, and is well worth the trip over just to see one of Malta’s most unique islands. Interestingly, Comino is Malta’s least populated island, with only three permanent residents residing on the island. To get to Blue Lagoon, there are several cruises or ferries departing daily from ports such as Sliema or Valletta. With these boat tours, the journey to Blue Lagoon is almost as nice as the end destination, as the boats will take visitors through the stunning blue waters and alongside various scenic islands.
As mentioned previously, Marsaxlokk is a quaint fishing village in Malta with some of the best fresh seafood on the island. Located in the largest harbour in Malta, fishing is the primary industry in this village and the majority of Malta’s fish sales to restaurants and individuals takes place here. Normally a quiet village of 4,000 people, the harbourfront truly comes alive with activity each Sunday when hosting the Marsaxlokk Market. Vendors from all over the islands come here to display their product, which ranges greatly from clothing and trinkets, to delicious drinks and, of course, fresh seafood. In addition to the market, the village itself is an incredible sight to see. In the harbour, traditional Maltese boats called luzzu’s float in the water in a gorgeous sea of vibrant colours. Rustic buildings line the harbourfront with charming restaurants, completing the image of this scenic fishing village.
St. Peter’s Pool, Marsaxlokk
Located at the tip of the peninsula in Marsaxlokk is a beautiful natural attraction that is just a short trip away from the harbour: St. Peter’s Pool. This breathtaking beach is etched into the side of an impressive cliff overlooking the clear azure waters. Along the cliffside there is a horseshoe shaped inlet with ridges above the water that are perfect for relaxing in the sun. Additionally, the ridge provides a perfect diving platform for swimmers to jump into the deep waters below. To access St. Peter’s Pool, there are two main options. The beach is accessible via car or bus, which can take you as far as the cliff directly above the pool. For the scenic route, there are luzzu’s in Marsaxlokk Harbour that will take you directly to the beach, while also providing optimal views of the surrounding area.
Malta’s sister island is the perfect, off the beaten path getaway. Gozo is the second largest island in Malta, yet much less densely populated than the main island, allowing for a slower pace. It is often regarded as a more peaceful island, lined with rolling hills, pristine beaches and charming villages that contribute to its overall tranquility. Unlike the main island of Malta, here you will actually find lush greenery both inland and along its scenic beaches. To best experience this scenery that is incredibly unique in the country, visit the stunning Ir-Ramla il-Hamra Beach, where the green rolling hills meet the sea.
Another natural point of interest in Gozo is the remarkable Dwejra Bay. Here, you will find the remnants of one of Malta’s most prominent natural attractions, the Azure Window, which collapsed in 2017. Despite the collapse, it is still a gorgeous area to explore, with deep blue waters, natural sea pools and incredible underwater rock formations which can be explored by diving or snorkelling.
In addition to the wonderful natural attractions and more relaxed pace that are among the main enticing factors of Gozo, it is also home to several fascinating cultural and historic sites. Gozo’s capital city, Victoria, is a true historical wonder. The center of the city, its medieval Citadel, was constructed atop a hill overlooking the rustic buildings and countryside below. The Citadel’s fortified walls were constructed by the Knights of Saint John after the city was partially destroyed by a battle with the Turks in 1551. Within the mesmerizing walls of the Citadel are further cultural and historical marvels, such as the Cathedral of the Assumption, a stunning embodiment of the Baroque period, and the Old Prison, which housed 16th century prisoners. The city of Victoria is the true historical heart of Gozo, and is a must visit for any history buffs.
Malta: The hidden gem of the Mediterranean
Although greatly overlooked as a vacation destination, the island country of Malta is among the greatest options for culture, nature and history in the Mediterranean. Delectable local cuisine, a vibrant culture and plentiful accommodation options are some enticing factors apparent in Malta. In addition, incredible attractions such as the historic city of Valletta, the captivating waters of Blue Lagoon, the markets and natural pools of Marsaxlokk and the relaxing escape of Gozo, further cement Malta as an ideal Mediterranean destination. Evidently, the time is now to visit Malta, before the world catches on to this secret Mediterranean paradise.