Small but extraordinarily diverse, with a long and troubled history, the archipelago of Malta is a treasure chest full of prehistoric temples, cliffs rich in fossils, hidden coves and fabulous diving sites. Here are 10 things to see to enjoy the best of the islands.
The capital of Malta is an extraordinary city. Walled, it occupies a space of only 600 m by 1000 m, where all the streets lead to the sea; is a harmonious cluster of houses from the 16th and 17th centuries, from which the typical Maltese balconies overlook. In the last few years, Valletta has experienced a boom, thanks to a lively gastronomic panorama, restoration and architectural enhancement projects and a lively nightlife. With new art galleries, museums and exhibition spaces, today it is an important cultural center. You will feel its character as soon as you cross the impressive City Gate and you will see the ultra-modern Parliament Building and the Opera House, all designed by Renzo Piano.
2) Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
Visiting these ancient underground burial chambers is a unique and suggestive experience. The sacred spaces, carved into the rock and perfectly preserved, date back to about 5000 years ago and ocher decorations can still be seen on the ceilings of some rooms. This hypogeum is a window on an ancient and mysterious world, which fascinates and at the same time baffles. A visit to the site, which must be booked several months in advance, allows you to take a trip back in time. A must-see on a journey to discover Malta.
Also known as ellaittadella, the restored Victoria fortress is one of the most evocative attractions of Gozo. These fortifications of the fifteenth century aimed to protect the inhabitants of the island from the incursions of the Turks, in a dark period of the history of Gozo well illustrated in the new visitor center. The ancient streets of Il-Kastell lead to the splendid Cathedral of the Assumption and to the museums dedicated to archeology, folklore and the natural history of the island. After a lunch of Gozitan specialties, take a walk on the walls from which you can admire extraordinary views of the entire island.
4) St John’s Co-Cathedral
The austere façade of the Cathedral of Valletta does not reveal the baroque opulence of the interior. The floor is covered with polychrome marble tombstones, with delicate symbolic figures inlaid in stone. The chapels, dedicated to the nationalities of the Knights of the Order of St. John, are more luxurious than the other is. The highlight is the Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Caravaggio exhibited in the Oratory, one of the greatest works created by the artist. The opening of the new and excellent cathedral museum, with a section dedicated to Caravaggio, is scheduled for 2020.
5) Mdina and Rabat
Little Mdina, the ancient capital of Malta, is a fortified city perched on a hill, full of beautiful honey-colored buildings. Treasure full of museums, ancient artifacts and churches (including Malta’s second cathedral), exudes a mysterious charm in the evening, when everything is closed and the streets are deserted and poorly lit. If you visit it when almost everyone has left, you will understand why it is nicknamed the ‘silent city’. Mdina is located next to Rabat, another delightful town with some fascinating sites and an emerging gastronomic panorama among the best in Malta.
6) Blue Lagoon
The splendid island of Comino has a very rich history. Cited already by Ptolemy 1800 years ago, it was a refuge for hermits, a quarantine area for cholera patients and a prison camp. His most precious jewel is the magical Blue Lagoon, a placid marine lagoon of such an intense blue that it looks like a retouched photograph. It attracts large crowds of bathers in the summer months, but not even overcrowding manages to overshadow the beauty of the place. However, try to go there in the afternoon, after most of them have left.
7) Hidden coves
Although Malta boasts beautiful sandy beaches, often the most beautiful spots for swimming are the coves and bays that dot the rocky coast. The magnificent St Peter’s Pool stands out above all, fabulous for diving from the rocks, the secluded natural pool of Gar Lapsi the narrow inlet between the cliffs of Gozo, called Wied il-Għasri, accessible via steps carved into the rock. For those who want to combine the pleasures of a good swim with good food, there is no better place than the Rew Rew restaurant, overlooking the sea; is in Mġarr ix-Xini, on the island of Gozo.
8) The narrow streets of Vittoriosa
Vittoriosa is the most fascinating of the Three Cities, thanks to the spectacular panorama and the ancient streets preserved to perfection. Still called Birgu (its name before the Great Siege of 1565) by the inhabitants, Vittoriosa was the first seat of the Knights of Malta, whose headquarters, Fort St Angelo, has been expertly restored and is open to the public. To get an idea of the strong community sense of Vittoriosa, visit it in October, the highlight of the annual BirguFest, when the streets are lit only by candles.
9) Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra
These majestic prehistoric sites are among the most evocative of Malta, thanks to its spectacular location: in fact, they rise on top of a cliff that in spring turns into a carpet of wild flowers. From the site you have a magnificent view of the sea that goes up to the distant islet of Filfla; nature trails wind through the surrounding countryside and an interesting visitor center explains what is known about the mysterious temple builders. Although today Malta stands out for the fascinating architectural works of more recent times, these ancient structures are among the most beautiful in the country.
With attractions such as aircraft wrecks dating back to World War II, some interesting shipwrecks, the remains of Gozo’s famous Azure Window and caves rich in marine life, Malta and Gozo are probably the best diving destination in Europe. Many sites are accessible from the shore and there are for all levels, from those for beginners to those for experienced divers; many operators in the sector (also recommended to the most experienced divers) will be ready to help you.