The Maltese Islands make up an area barely twice the size of Washington, D.C., and yet they’re home to thousands of years of Mediterranean history. Malta has seen a succession of occupiers including the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders and most recently the British. Located only 60 miles south of Sicily and 180 miles north of the Tunisian and Libyan coastlines, these islands are often referred to as ‘the crossroads of the Mediterranean.’
Of the five islands, three are inhabited. Malta is the largest and most densely populated, while smaller, laid-back Gozo and tiny Comino appeal to nature lovers and those in search of a tranquil getaway, including an off-the-beaten-path honeymoon. And if you’re looking for an alternative to a post-nuptial vacation at crowded beach or busy urban epicenter – you should consider Malta. Culture-seekers can enjoy its grand churches, Roman remains and Neolithic sites, while water-based adventures can be found at several excellent diving spots not far from the island’s many beaches. Newlyweds – who enjoy traveling and sampling the local food – will appreciate the Maltese cuisine is characterized by an enticing mix of European and Arabic influences.
Explore Hundreds of Years of History in Valletta
Stuck out on a long finger of land with the Mediterranean on three sides, Valletta is one of Europe's smallest capitals and is a walkable city in every sense. Couples can head a few blocks from any point in its maze of shaded streets and they will eventually arrive at historic fortifications built to protect the city against attacks from the sea. A medieval gate marks the main entry into Valletta. At the city’s center is the magnificent 16th-century St. John's Co-Cathedral with its ornate Baroque interior, and a minute's walk away is the Grand Master's Palace, built for the Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John, and now the residence of the Maltese president.
While Valletta's medieval attractions are immediately obvious, its World War II story is also worth exploring. History buffs should visit the National War Museum succeeds in depicting Malta's tragic years at the center of the Mediterranean battles in an intelligent and accessible way. Meanwhile the Lascaris War Rooms, built into solid rock, were the headquarters of the Allied WWII air and naval forces. Beyond its historical attractions, Valletta has its share of luxury boutiques, high-end restaurants and bars. And although the city's nightlife could never be described as boisterous – it’s the perfect honeymoon for couples looking for a quieter post-nuptial celebration.
Get Lost in the Silent Alleys of Mdina
This is arguably Malta's most beautiful city, and it’s been a fortified settlement for over 3,000 years. St Paul is said to have come here after being shipwrecked around 60 A.D. Whatever the truth about this legend may be, there's no doubt that the gothic churches of Mdina which line its narrow alleys are worthy of inclusion in any Maltese itinerary – all done with help from one of Vacation’s expert travel agents. Mdina is a photographer’s dream and once you head away from the tourist crowds in the main street you can immediately understand why it's also known as 'the Silent City'. There are various multi-media tourist attractions in Mdina but the real charm of the city is found in its streets and medieval churches. From the top of the walls there's a fabulous view over most of the island and its coast, while the famous Fontanella Tea Room is highly recommended for its impressive selection of homemade cakes. Mdina is at its most serene in the late afternoon and evening, when tour buses have returned to the coast.
Experience the Lively Markets in Marsaxlokk
This pretty harbor town to the south of Malta is well worth a visit for its lively market. It was also the scene of a historic summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Senior in 1989. Every day vendors try to sell souvenirs to passing tourists, but on Sundays there's a lively fish market which starts early and sells all manner of treats plucked from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s entertaining just to watch the fish sellers noisily touting their wares; many of Malta's top hotels and restaurants get their seafood from the market, which has a standing reputation for freshness and quality. If the site of all this fish stirs up an appetite, there's a long line of harborfront cafes offering a variety of seafood lunch menus.
Enjoy the Serene Escape of Southern Gozo
Driving off the ferry onto Gozo, the gentle pace of life on Malta's second island is almost immediately apparent. The roads are quieter, and in the heat of the daytime at least, barely a soul appears to stir in the towns and villages. The main town of Victoria is worth a stop for the grand domed cathedral, but southern Gozo is a good choice for a pleasant day's hiking, with quiet tracks leading between farmhouses to the secluded coast. When you've had enough exercise (any walk will inevitably involve hills), the coastal town of Xlendi offers a relaxing place to stop for lunch. Its seafood restaurants are popular with locals and visitors. Couples can enjoy local specialties such as crab ravioli and garlic octopus while enjoy picturesque harbor views. If there's any room left for ice cream, the fabulous Italian-style Gelateria Granola is just behind the harbor.
See the Blue Lagoon Without the Crowds
If you're going to Comino, it's more than likely you'll be on a boat trip heading to see the Blue Lagoon, the famous natural landmark which Maltese tourism has for many years used as its photogenic trump card. With white sand and turquoise water its charm is undeniable; the trick is to visit when it's not busy with boats jostling to get the best view. Come early or late, but if you're particularly keen to see the Blue Lagoon without the crowds, consider staying at the island's only hotel and having this beauty spot pretty much to yourself when the tourist boats have left. Comino has a permanent population of just four, and as a nature reserve and bird sanctuary with no cars allowed, it's a great place to go for a walk and enjoy the views over the water to Gozo and Malta.
What You Should Know About Malta Before You Go
When to Go: The main tourist season runs from June to September, and these are the most popular months for the islands’ many festivals. Winters are mild, but tend to get windy. Sea temperatures reach around 80F degrees in August.
Currency: Euro (EUR) $1 = €0.85.
Language: Maltese and English. Most signs are in English too.
Getting around: A rental car is the best way to get around the islands, with a good road network and a frequent car ferry which links Malta and Gozo (25 minute crossing). Bus services are good between the main towns and tourist areas.
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