- Falcon’s payment
- The elegant medieval fortress La Valletta
- Malta and its little brothers! And they have the most beautiful beaches!
- A place that lives in its own way
- Discover the underground necropolis
- The hunt for the most beautiful beach in Malta
- Where Popeye the Sailor once danced
- The Sleeping city
- On the trail of wrecks from World War II
- Maltese parties
- Info – How to get to Malta
- Info – How to get around Malta
- Info – What to taste in Malta?
1. Falcon’s payment
You’ve probably heard of the Order of Malta, also known as the Johannites. The brave knights who, along with the Knights Templar, protected pilgrims in Jerusalem and the holy Christian sites in the Holy Land. For their bravery, King Charles V and the then Pope gave them the archipelago of Malta as a fief for the symbolic price of one Maltese falcon a year. Are you wondering if the Maltese falcon was some kind of medieval currency? No, it really was a raptor with a cap on its head. As Malta was located right between Europe and the Arab world, it was often the target of bloody attacks by the Ottoman Empire, which the Johannians successfully resisted.
What does this have to do with your summer holiday? Almost everything! The mighty walls, the fortress in the capital Valletta and the most beautiful temples are just some of the legacies that the fearless knights left behind.
After the island briefly fell into the hands of Napoleon, it became a British colony in 1800. For the colonial power, it was a strategic territory for refuelling steamers en route to India. It only gained its autonomy in the 1960s, but English is still the second official language.
2. The elegant medieval fortress La Valletta
The capital Valletta, which is surrounded by walls since the time of the Knights of Malta, looks more like a proud fortress. And that’s exactly what Valletta was. Founded by the Order, named after their Grand Master and designed by one of the finest builders of his time at the behest of the Pope himself.
The pride of the city is St John’s Cathedral, named after John the Baptist, who was the patron saint of the Order of Malta. For centuries, it housed a precious relic – his right hand. To avoid being captured by Napoleon, it was taken away and is now in Montenegro. The cathedral itself is not striking or exceptional from the outside. But when you step inside, it’s something else entirely. Everything here is lavishly decorated and there is an altarpiece painted by Caravaggio, who was in hiding in Malta. He was even a member of the Knights for a time. The knights themselves are said to be behind his mysterious death, as the painter injured one of their members in an altercation.
Right in the heart of the city, you will find the Palace of the Grand Master, which, as it happens, is also about the knights. For centuries it was their main post. Today it is the seat of the President and Parliament. However, some areas are still open to the public.
For a stroll, we definitely recommend the old harbour, where you’ll come across cool restaurants, cafes and shops on the promenade.
Not far from Valletta you’ll find three chic little towns called the Three Cities – Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa. The charming towns have pleasant promenades and fewer tourists than Valletta.
3. Malta and its little brothers! And they have the most beautiful beaches!
Malta is usually referred to in the singular as an island. In reality, it is an archipelago and the next two largest islands are Gozo and Comino. Gozo is famous for its dramatic cliffs and caves. It was here that Malta’s most photogenic scenery was located – the Azure Window, which collapsed into the sea during a severe storm last March. But there’s good news too – the limestone wonder is experiencing a rebirth in the form of a spectacular underwater scene on offer to divers. For they are now plunging into the depths and visiting it at its final resting place.
Just a few metres from the buried Azure Window is another beautiful scene – the Blue Hole. It is an underwater cave that flows into a natural pool lined with rocks.
The island is home to the Calypso Cave, where Homer is said to have written his masterpiece The Odyssey. The island of Comino is virtually uninhabited but very popular for day trips by boat. It is home to the most famous beach, Blue Lagoon, which has water as turquoise as a Photoshopped postcard. Don’t forget your diving goggles and snorkel. A little tidbit to finish – the island was once a haven for pirates.
4. A place that lives in its own way
On the south side of the island, in a quiet bay, the small town of Marsaxlokk is peacefully snoozing. It’s more of a fishing village, where many residents are oblivious to the changing world around them. Turquoise sea, colourful fishing boats and friendly inhabitants. Fishing is still the main livelihood of the locals and sets the pace of life here, which moves as slowly as it did a few decades ago.
The fishing boats look like something out of a fairy tale. They’re very colourful, called “luzzu” and have a pair of eyes painted on the front. It’s a tradition from the time when the island was inhabited by the Phoenicians. They believed that the so-called eyes of Osiris would protect fishermen on the high seas.
If you love fish and seafood, you won’t find a better place for lunch or dinner. All the ingredients are completely fresh and the fish market, traditionally held every Sunday, is a great treat. Marsaxlokk has a life of its own and you will regularly find it on the list of the most popular seafood restaurants in the world.
5. Discover the underground necropolis
Near Valletta is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It is a system of corridors, catacombs and temples, carved four storeys deep. You will enter a mysterious world of 3000 BC, where mysterious burial rituals were performed. Up to 7,000 bodies have been discovered there. This is one of the island’s most interesting and valuable attractions, so you need to book your entry well in advance. Unfortunately, children under the age of 6 are not allowed.
If Indiana Jones has awakened in you and you feel like seeing more archaeological gems, head to the Neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and Myandra. Carved out of limestone and towering over the sea, they are very majestic. These megalithic structures are older than the pyramids.
6. The hunt for the most beautiful beach in Malta
Malta is full of beautiful beaches, so we’ve selected only the ones that are really worth it. Mellieha Bay beach is the largest and one of the most beautiful beaches in Malta. Its pleasant sand, gradual entry into the sea and warm, clear water make it the perfect place for a family holiday in Malta.
Golden Bay is located in the north-western part and is especially known for its golden sand.
Ramla Bay is said to be the most beautiful beach on Gozo. With its fine red sand and clear water, it is a great place for children. Nearby is the aforementioned Kalypso Cave.
The island of Comino boasts the Blue Lagoon beach, which, as its name suggests, is popular mainly because of its azure water. The beach is relatively small, so if you decide to visit during the high season, try to sit up or wait until later in the afternoon when most of the tourists have left.
Another great tip is St. Peter’s Pool, a beautiful bay near the town of Marsaxlokk. You can get there by car or boat.
7. Where Popeye the Sailor once danced
One of the most original tourist attractions in Malta is Popeye Village. Located in Anchor Bay, near the town of Mellieha, is the fabulous location where the musical Popeye was filmed in the 1980s, starring Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall.
The colourful houses retained the same appearance as at the time of filming. If you have children and are a lover of animated films or old musicals, this will be a fun experience for you. Kitsch lovers can even choose to have a wedding here.
Scenes from Troy, Gladiator and The Count of Monte Cristo were also filmed in Malta. And do you remember the original version of Clash of the Titans? The abominable Kraken crawls out of the water at the Azure Window on Gozo, and that’s where Game of Thrones was filmed.
8. The Sleeping city
If you want to travel back in time, visit the town of Mdina. Hidden behind high walls on a hill in the hinterland, it is a tourist favourite. The first inhabitants appeared here about 4,000 years ago and were succeeded by Phoenicians, Romans and even the Arabs who gave it its name.
Once the capital due to the lack of access to the sea, it gradually lost its importance and became a popular place of rest and relaxation for the Maltese medieval elite. To this day, prominent and respected families live here in splendid houses and historic mansions. There is a beautiful cathedral, museums, catacombs, palaces, excellent restaurants and stylish cafes. Visitors can’t miss it because of the atmosphere and the feeling that time passes more slowly here. Many call it the Silent City or the Sleeping City.
9. On the trail of wrecks from World War II
Staying in Malta will also please enthusiastic divers. There are many wrecks in the island’s waters. Among the most famous and easily accessible jewels under the sea is the British destroyer HMS Maori, which was involved in the sinking of the German warship Bismarck. The wreck is located almost directly in Valletta harbour at a depth of only 14 metres, so even beginners can explore it.
The beautiful underwater caves and reefs full of underwater life are also an attraction. Various fish, barracudas and octopuses will be lurking around, but you don’t have to worry because there are hardly any dangerous creatures around the archipelago. Even if you’re not a certified diver but like to explore the underwater world, there are plenty of places to go snorkelling on Gozo and Comino.
10. Maltesean parties
Do you feel that Malta is amazing, full of history but a bit boring? Wrong! Every year in July, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe takes place here – Isle of MTV. Artists such as David Guetta, Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO and the Chemical Brothers have performed there. There are plenty of venues and nightclubs to keep you entertained even if you miss the MTV festival.
How to get to Malta
You’ll find several low-cost companies with bases in major UK cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham as well as Shannon in Ireland and Maltese national airline Air Malta, fly on direct flight routes to Malta International Airport with return ticket fares starting at around £50 if bought offseason, in the middle of the week and in advance. More popular tickets (season, weekend) can range between £110 – £210 for a return ticket.
How to get around Malta
As a souvenir from the days of the British presence in Malta between 1813 and 1964, the Maltese not only kept their perfect English but also the steering on the left. If you’ve considered renting a car but don’t dare to take the wheel, heads up. There are yellow buses everywhere on the island. The only advice is: if you’re standing at a bus stop, you have to wave wildly at the passing bus or it will just whiz past you. It’s not that the driver won’t take you, it’s just that you haven’t shown enough interest. It’s nothing malicious, that’s just the way it is here.
A popular mode of local transport is the water taxi – i.e. a boat that transports you quickly from one place to another.
What to taste in Malta?
If you really want to get to know a country, you need to know what it tastes like. The local cuisine is truly delicious. Probably the biggest tradition on the island is rabbit meat, called fenek. It is prepared in many ways, most often as a wine and herb ragout. Local pork and beef are also excellent, and the vegetables and fruit will not disappoint. But fish and seafood are particularly worthy of attention. In restaurants, they are usually fresh and delicious. The locals are particularly proud of the excellent bread and each village has its own bakery.