Flying into Malta, it is immediately apparent that you have arrived somewhere special. Covered in limestone buildings, this densely populated country appears almost Middle Eastern against a backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
Comprised of three islands, the country is home to just 420,000 people and has a rich history of occupation and settlement. Previous residents include the Phoenicians, the Romans, St Paul the Apostle, the Knights of St John and the British, who blockaded the islands after Napoleon Bonaparte took over on his way to Egypt.
British rule lasted until 1964 and is still evident, with cars driving on the left and pubs selling Salisbury steak. English has also remained one of the official languages, alongside Maltese, and Italian is also widely spoken.
Wandering the streets you’ll find market stores overflowing with fresh mint and enormous watermelons alongside fresh-baked pastizzis. These local delicacies are made from buttery pastry stuffed with cheese or peas. Cisk beer is brewed on the island or enjoy a Kinnie, the local drink made from oranges and aromatic herbs.
For lunch visit the Palace Hotel, with its poolside bar and views of the capital Valletta. From here you can see clouds of smoke left in the air by the canons that are blasted daily at noon from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
Although the buildings are all similar shades of limestone, painted doors and shutters provide bursts of colour, as does the bougainvillea that roams free during summer. Many homes are also adorned with figures of the Virgin Mary and altars with floral tributes can be found in various places around the islands.
Despite low annual rainfall, the mild Maltese climate allows for produce to be grown all year round and the country exports vegetables such as tomatoes and melons abroad. Tuna is farmed off the coast and is a delicious accompaniment to the calamari on offer in many of the seaside restaurants.
Although many of the beaches are rocky, the water is warm and it is possible to swim almost all year round. Areas such as Golden Bay offer safe swimming and stretches of clean sand where you can hire an umbrella and sun-lounger down on the beach.
No visit would be complete without a swim in the Blue Lagoon and its crystal clear waters, but be prepared to share it with crowds of tourists. Try to arrive early or late in the day and enhance your trip with a swim in the Comino caves.
With its rich history and strategic position it is no wonder Malta has held such appeal to so many cultures over time. Its warm climate and natural treasures guarantee it will continue to do so long into the future.
Words and Photography: Melanie Dower