The many attractions of the small Mediterranean islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino are often overlooked by tourists from the UK in search of winter sun or a relaxing summer holiday.
But with Valletta being the European Capital of Culture 2018, Malta is bracing itself for a rise in visitor numbers from the 2.1 million tourists who spent time in this fascinating archipelago last year.
Reasons to take a break in Malta include the fact it has more than 300 days of sunshine every year, average summer temperatures of 27°C that drop to a low of 13°C in the depths of winter, a range of beaches that offer a choice of golden sand, red sand, rock and blue lagoons and has won awards for having some of the cleanest seas in Europe, which makes it ideal for diving and snorkelling.
Not only that, English is one of the official languages of the country and is widely spoken, flight times from the UK are around three hours and culture vultures will delight in the fact Malta has a greater density of historic sights than any other country, including prehistoric temples, Roman catacombs, medieval towns and the extraordinary architectural and artistic legacy of the Knights of St John (the Knights of Malta).
Those who prefer to view sights shaped by nature will not be disappointed, either. Malta has a wealth of natural wonders such as Calypso’s Cave and Fungus Rock, a 60 metre-high limestone rock that marks the entrance to a completely spherical lagoon.
One not-to-be-missed sight in Malta is the Blue Grotto (pictured below). Not to be confused with the Blue Lagoon in the waters surrounding the island of Comino, the Blue Grotto is a series of caverns that reflect the light through the sea waters, creating a dazzling display of colour. It’s a breathtaking attraction that can be experienced by taking one of the many tours to it that run from all from all of Malta’s major cities.
Where to stay in Malta
There are so many great places to stay in Malta. With the island of Malta being just 17 miles long and 8 miles wide, every resort is easily accessible from Malta International Airport in Valletta.
As well as being the European Capital of Culture, the miniature city of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has a huge concentration of elegant 16th century architecture.
The walled city was built on a small peninsula barely a kilometre long but it’s brimming with great things to do and see, like the Grand Master’s Palace – once home to the Knights of St John – which still holds suits of armour and weaponry that date back to the 1500s!
Then there’s the Upper Barrakka Gardens & Saluting Battery where the medieval knights would catch the breeze after wearing those heavy suits all day. Within the pristine gardens you can find some great balconies that offer some of the best views in the whole of Malta.
One of the most popular areas in Malta is in the northern region of St Paul’s Bay, where the main coastal resorts and larger sandy beaches are found. The resorts of Qawra and Bugibba have lots of amazing hotel options and are perfect places to base yourself if you want to explore more of Malta.
Bugibba has attractive sandy beaches which are perfect for soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Alternatively, the Malta National Aquarium is the place to go for a close-up view of the country’s underwater life.
Qawra is right at the tip of Malta’s northern region and a perfect place to spend late afternoons. We’d suggest taking a walk along the promenade as the sun sets over this charming island.
Mellieha is definitely up there as one of the best areas to stay in Malta. The sand is fine and the Mediterranean waters are warm. The large sandy beach also offers the opportunity to indulge in a spot of water skiing or windsurfing, while the town itself is typically Maltese and holds a lot of character with its striking architecture and pretty streets.
Other beaches of note nearby include Golden Bay, Paradise Bay, Armier Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa.
Not too far from Mellieha is the intriguing Sweethaven, which is also known as Popeye Village because it is actually a purpose-built set for the 1980 movie starring Robin Williams. The bizarre little village has now become a tourist attraction with lots of things to do for the whole family.
Mellieha also serves as a portal to explore more of the Maltese archipelago.
Gozo is a great place for a day trip and there are lots of tours that run from Mellieha or Bugibba. There’s also a good choice of hotels on the island if you’d prefer to stay there and enjoy a quieter life.
Here, one of the most visited sites is the beautiful Ramla l-Ħamra, a large beach of unusual red sand nestling by countryside.
The even smaller island of Comino, sandwiched between Malta and Gozo, probably has the best swimming spot of all the islands and is most noted for its stunning Blue Lagoon – a cove in the west of the island with clear, tranquil waters and soft white sand (pictured below).
The snorkeling is great but there’s no shade, so no respite from the sun. So make sure you protect yourself if you plan on spending the afternoon here.
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