In the midst of the Mediterranean, somewhere between Sicily and northern Africa, lies an ancient archipelago bearing the marks of countless empirical powers, from Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors to the British and the French. Tourism to this sunny island grows every year, but you’ll still see only a tiny fraction of the crowds that flock to Italy, France, or Spain. Though the country didn’t gain its independence until 1964, Malta is a land rich with cultural heritage and you’ll find no shortage of things to do.
Capital city Valletta makes a good starting place, but don’t consider yourself restricted to one city. Begin your trip with classic sightseeing — the grandiose St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Manoel Theater, and Casa Rocca Piccola are all worthy options – before moving out into the countryside to experience Malta’s incredible natural beauty.
Head north to the Island of Gozo for the best seascapes. The Azure Window and Blue Hole make an amazing viewpoint and an even better diving location. Even if you don’t plan to get underwater, you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon watching crystal clear waves lap around the ancient rocky terrain.
History buffs and couch potatoes alike should make sure to explore the winding streets of Mdina’s old city either on foot solo or with a guided tour. This former capital in Malta’s Northern Region is a practical time capsule and has even played host to a few “Game of Thrones” filming sessions. If you get tired of wandering, park yourself at any one of the restaurants or cafés lining the historic center’s narrow alleys and enjoy some prime people watching.
Take an even greater blast into the past at any one of Malta’s stunning prehistoric sites. The Archeological Museum in Valletta will brush you up on your ancient history for context and the rest of the country will deliver unforgettable historic finds. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hal Saflieni Hypogeum in Paola offers tours of its underground cemetery, first discovered in 1902, while the ancient temples at Hagar Qim in Qrendi predate both Stonehenge and the Giza Pyramids.
Like all other Mediterranean countries, Malta is in a prime location for wine production. Get a firsthand glimpse at the industry and a taste of the goods at Emmanuel Delicata or Marsovin. The latter produces the country’s traditional sparkling wine, which is very similar to champagne. You’ll also find a mixture of indigenous grapes and international varietals throughout the archipelago.
The Maltese Islands are fully steeped in Mediterranean culture and cuisine. You’ll find several dishes with one foot in the rustic character of Sicilian plates and another in the exotic diversity of north African cookery. Whatever influences it folds into its food, eating and identity have always been closely tied here. Don’t leave without tucking into the national dish fenkata or stewed rabbit, said to have gained popularity as a form of rebellion against governmental hunting restrictions.
If you want a remarkable Mediterranean getaway without the Riviera crowds, there’s no beating the rich history, warm climate, and warm people of Malta.