Wondering where this stunning place is? It’s the historically saturated, culturally vibrant island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Sicily. Whatever you may have heard about this place in the past, it probably doesn’t do it justice. We know, because we have been there. Read on to find out why Malta should be the next place you visit...
1 It looks like something out of a film. Because it is. All of Malta’s main cities are in fact well-preserved ancient towns that are still functioning and in use today. As such, film and TV crews flock to the island to film in the narrow, cobbled streets and the sprawling, old limestone citadels and fortresses. And if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, head to Gozo – a small island to the north of Malta – to visit the citadel, which was used as the location for scenes at King’s Landing. Go on a Sunday for the best experience – there are hardly any visitors, so in many areas you are totally alone. It only takes a short leap of imagination to imagine yourself back in time – or better, to imagine you are there clashing goblets with Tyrion Lanister.
2 You will eat rabbit. And probably love it. The Maltese love their fenek (rabbit) and rabbit stew is often claimed to be the national dish – which is surprising for an island. Any restaurant you visit is pretty much guaranteed to offer some sort of rabbit dish – whether it is stewed, fried served with fries (think KFC but tastier), on a pizza, in a sauce with pasta... Get ready to eat some fenek! You’ll be surprised how much you like it. (The spaghetti with rabbit sauce is scrumptious.) If you can’t get past the thought of Thumper, don’t worry, another favourite of the island is pork – the Maltese sausage is a must-try.
3 The world of past is only ever two steps away. Malta and Gozo are home to some of the oldest historical sites in the world. The Megalithic temples that are scattered across both islands date back as far as the fourth millennium BC. Whether you are into history or not, a visit to one (or all) of these sites will blow your mind. The Saflieni Hypogeum in Malta is especially noteworthy –this underground prehistoric burial site was discovered in 1902 when builders working in a house above it drilled into the floor to install a new water tank and punched into an empty chamber. They found a cavernous temple of three levels, which had been carved out of the rock using deer antlers. It also contains rock paintings in red ochre, which are the oldest and only prehistoric paintings recorded on the Maltese Islands.
4 There is a silent city. The history of Mdina goes back more than 4,000 years and has had many names in its time. It is currently home to local residents, some of which are the descendants of the people who made Mdina their home in the 12th century. You can easily lose a day in this atmospheric walled city, wandering the quiet lanes, stopping for a drink or something to eat in beautiful squares and terraces. There is also a real Roman villa just five minutes walk away, which is also worth a look.
5 The turquoise water. Enough said. Diving, snorkelling, lazing on the beach, or just gazing at as you drive around the island, whether you like watersports or are more of a land-dweller, the beauty of the sand-coloured rocky cliffs and barren landscape set against the pure blue of the sea is a sight that never gets old. For divers, Second World War planes, shipwrecks, coral reefs, caves, statues and more are begging to be explored.
6 You can burn off the rabbit pasta with some long walks along the cliffs. Gozo is famous for it’s vast and breathtaking cliffs, along which there are kilometres of walking routes. For the hardy outdoorsy types, you can camp along the way. For others, take an early morning or sunset walk for views that simply can’t be captured well enough on camera.
7 A Dirham goes a long way. Even though Malta and Gozo have long been popular destinations for European travellers, the prices are very pleasing for us UAE-ites. A coffee will cost you Dh10. Lunch in a lovely café or restaurant (all of which are licensed) will cost you approximately Dh40. Any bill will cost you about half as much as it would here in the UAE. Which means you can stay on this heavenly island for longer.
Where to stay
Boutique delight in Gozo
The breakfast room opens out on to the garden.
Each suite has a different theme – choose from Serenity, Nostalgia, Tranquility and Fantasy.
Right: The 400-year-old farmhouse is stunning at every turn, and complete with hot showers, a sauna a swimming pool and a hot tub. Left: Breakfast outside? Why the devil not!
The cosy, cool Dar T’al Kaptan guesthouse in the quiet little village of Ghasri, in Gozo, is the stuff holiday dreams are made of. It’s a maze of split-levels and staircases, leading to suites (each one with a different theme) with living areas and private terraces, which give you the feeling of privacy and, at the same time, homeliness. Fully furnished with mementos and quirky artwork collected by the family, the only problem you will have here is the overwhelming desire to chuck in your life in Dubai and move to Gozo to set up your own such place. A five-star breakfast is served every day and, when you aren’t off exploring the island, you can chill out in the garden or on your terrace admiring the views. Prices start at Dh340 for a suite for the night in low season (Dh440 in high season). Visit www.dartalkaptan.com for more details.
Classical elegance in Malta
With this impressive exterior and presidential palace next door, this hotel is the epitome of old school class.
Pack a fabulous vintage dress to wear to dinner.
Blackout curtains and a vast bed make for a perfect slumber zone.
After a long day traipsing the sights, there is no better reward than to decamp back to the Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa Malta. This five-star haven of luxury, set in the middle of Malta – making it a prime homebase from which to explore the island – offers a high-end experience. Decadent dining areas, private balconies looking out over the grounds, a spa with a heated indoor pool – dragging yourself out of the super-comfy bed and leaving the plushness of the hotel to venture out for the day is a feat in itself. Sun-downers in the garden, breakfast on your balcony, a dip in the Jacuzzi, a stay at the Corinthia Palace will leave you feeling relaxed, pampered and a little bit like royalty. Prices start at Dh600 for a double room (Dh670 with breakfast). For more, visit www.corinthia.com.