Sea, sun and culture, the Maltese Islands are like nowhere else

by Ian Begley
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WHEN I first revealed my plans of escaping to Malta for a three-day break the main response I received from people was “that’s an Island near Spain, right?” and “Isn’t Malta a very quiet holiday destination?”

To be perfectly honest I couldn’t give them a straightforward answer, but to be even more honest I was just thrilled about getting away from the bitterly cold climate of Ireland.
A quick Google search revealed that Malta lies 93km from the south of Sicily and its archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino with a total population of over 400,000 inhabitants. I was also delighted to learn that most of the locals speak English, use the euro and drive on the left-hand side of the road – sold!
I slept like a baby during the three-and-a-half-hour flight and when we landed my party hopped onto a coach which took us directly to the elegant five-star Corinthia Hotel, which was a majestic spectacle overlooking the entrance to St George’s Bay in the seaside town of St Julian’s.
The hotel offered breathtaking views of the bustling town of St Julian’s and the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. I must have spent over 20 minutes the next morning gazing at the fantastic sight before me, letting my mind wander and drift away from faraway Ireland.
We took a ferry to Malta’s sister island of Gozo, which according to legend was the home of the beautiful nymph Calypso depicted in Homer’s Odyssey. Here, Odysseus was imprisoned for several years, but given the remarkable cliff-face views and dramatic orange-red beaches I found it very hard to pity him.
We were then treated to a Segway tour of the Qbajjar Salt Pans along the coastal regions of island. Exhilarated at the prospect of exploring the island on a Segway our party took in all the charms that Gozo had to offer, while whizzing past the locals on our super high-tech vehicles.
Immersed in the marvels of the past and present, we then proceeded to the Ggantija Temples, which are the oldest freestanding structures in the world and potentially Gozo’s single most marketable landmark, dating back to 3,500BC.
Building up a hearty appetite, we then found ourselves at Ta’Mena Estate for an outdoor lunch and wine tasting session. This traditional Maltese estate welcomed us with a grand display of typical Maltese foods, wines and extra virgin olive oil. I found the food very rustic in character and full of the flavour, typical of a central Mediterranean island.
Proceeding onwards to Dwejra we then gazed upon the Azure Window – an impressive natural arch standing some 20m high. Being a Game of Thrones fan I was also very pleasantly surprised to recognise this site from the TV series.
After a long afternoon, our party retreated to an Irish pub (of all places) in St Julian’s to see the second half of the England – Ireland rugby match. The bar was swarming with both Irish and English fans and in those brief 80 minutes we couldn’t have been further away from Malta.
Celebrating our landslide victory, we proceeded to nearby Paceville which is essentially Malta’s take on Ibiza. The strip was literally dotted with discos, lounge bars, and clubs which we visited for a few sensible drinks. If you’re looking for a wild holiday away then this place is certainly worth your while as most of the clubs have free admission.
Up bright and early the next day, we took a trip to Malta’s capital city Valletta, which was nothing short of an open-air museum. With an unsurpassed collection of original Baroque architecture, fortified city walls overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and the spectacular Co-Cathedral of St John, we were overwhelmed with the sights before us.
We took a short trip to the three cities of of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, via “dghajsa” – a typical Maltese gondola shaped boat, used extensively at Grand Harbour to ferry sailors and seamen. Again, the sites of these towns were beautiful and the boat ride really gave us an authentic feel of the Maltese culture.
On the final day of my Maltese adventure my party proceeded to Mdina, which was Malta’s first capital city during the time of the Knights of Malta. The town itself was a joy to stroll around and many of the alleys really gave the sense that nothing had changed here for more than a millennium.
It’s a mix of medieval and baroque architecture and its fortification walls and its location on high grounds make it one of the most enchanting places on the island.
The Maltese islands are like nowhere else I’ve ever been to.
Here you’ll find great prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs, beautiful blue lagoons, and incredible nightlife and wonderful Mediterranean cuisine.
I found the people very warm, hospitable and it is definitely a destination to put on your bucket list.
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