I’m closing my eyes and pretending I am back in Malta.
A destination like none other I have been to in all of my travels.
English-speaking, Turkish-influenced, Roman Catholic roots describe Malta in words, but no words can describe the terrain, the people or the feeling one gets of being far away from home in a place that is really just 60 miles south of Italy as a map goes.
But it’s not the map or the location, right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, that will describe Malta. No, it’s the state of mind that is Malta.
|Malta is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 58 miles south of Sicily, Italy.|
Tell three people you’re visiting Malta and at least two of them will say “Where or what is that?” and the other one will be jealous knowing the 7000 years of history that Malta boasts.
It’s certain, if you want an out-of-the-way vacation where you are not likely to run into Uncle George or anyone from your neighborhood, then Malta is the perfect destination.
With 1.2 million tourist per year, only 12,000 are Americans, a meager 1 percent.
|The country has a total area of 122 square miles. It consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino)|
For history buffs, it doesn’t get any better.
For sun worshippers, there is always sun – it’s in the Mediterranean Sea.
For day-trippers, you can do that too since the island is so close to Italy.
On my own recent trip to the Maltese Islands; Malta, Gozo and Comino, I found breathtaking views and smiling, friendly locals.
With a hint of the cultures that have come before; Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Castillians, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, French and British there is much to discover as you enjoy the favorable climate and a carefree atmosphere that is just part of what makes Malta memorable.
First of all, historically, but more recently, Malta was awarded a medal of honor during World War II for resisting Nazi forces for two years.
However, it goes must further back than that so to get the entire 7000 year history I stopped to watch a short film called “The Malta Experience.”
St. Elmo Bastions
Valletta, VLT 06, Malta
From the stone temples dating back thousands of years, to the church where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked eventually spending time on the island, to the rich history of the Knights of St. John, Malta’s culture is made even lovelier by the preservation.
For example, Valletta is a World Heritage Site so buildings are not allowed to be torn down. Valletta was, in fact, the first planned city of Europe, built by Jean de La Vallete, the French Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St. John, following the great siege of 1565.
|Malta was a British colony from 1814-1964.|
It is in Valletta that you will get a taste of the history, both majestic and humbling. The Palace of the Grand Masters is here, as well as St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which was constructed in the 1500s. Flemish tapestries, church ornaments and several paintings by the artist Caravaggio are housed in the co-cathedral.
Walk the streets of Valletta and discover St. Paul’s shipwreck church where you can see a bone relic of St. Paul.
Mdina, known as the silent city, is the old capital of Malta with medieval walls surrounding a city that is at once noble and dignified. While in Mdina don’t miss a moment at St. Paul’s Square and the Cathedral.
There are about 45 prehistoric temples that dot the island of Malta and Gozo and they are as mysterious as the people who built them. For thousands of years these monuments have stood as reminders of early man once living on the Maltese Islands.
On the south side of the island is the Hagar Qim, built to worship a fertility god or goddess. Legend is that infertile couples could not enter the temple because they were thought to be possessed with an evil spirit.
As I walked among the prehistoric temple in the late evening I imagined the sights and sound of an earlier time, a lifestyle forever forgotten, vanished with the first settlers.
The Hypogeum, dating back 5,000 years, is the largest underground religious site in the world. It covers about 5,000 square feet and descends over 36 feet underground, even dating back before the Egyptian pyramids of Giza. Another world heritage site, visit the Hypogeum and enjoy a trip back in time.
From the island of Malta, it’s a must to take the ferry to the smaller island of Gozo for at least one night.
The island of Gozo offers a different flavor and experience than the sister island of Malta. In part, this is due to the lush green hills and spectacular coastline. You don’t want to miss the Azure Window in Dwejra, Fungus Rock and the world’s oldest free-standing stone construction in Xaghra, the temples of Ggantija, built around 3500 BC and for shopping it’s the capital of Victoria.
Greek legend insists that it was Gozo where the nymph Calypso lured Odysseus keeping him there for seven years as her prisoner of love. You can see the cave where she was said to have lured him, and sun yourself below on the red sands of Ramla Bay.
The Knights of Malta
No trip to Malta would be complete without a glimpse into the history of the Knights of Malta. While they are known to the world as the Knights of Malta, they are actually the Knights of St. John and their story begins in the 11th century.
Both romantic and dangerous, the knights fought the Turkish invaders, improved trade and commerce on the island and brought hope to the sick and the poor living there.
It was finally Napoleon who ended the rule of the Knights of Malta after 268 years, but nevertheless the knight’s rich history on the island still exists today and will lure the romantic at heart into the victories and defeats during their rule of this land.
Start with Virgin Atlantic from your originating destination and fly into London. From London you can transfer to Air Malta.
Enough can’t be said about the services that Virgin Atlantic offers. With a friendly staff, good food as you fly to your destination and even an in-air massage in upper class there’s no other way to begin your trip.
Places to Stay
Radisson SAS Bay Point Resort Malta
St. George’s Bay
St. Julians, STJ 02 Malta
The Xara Palace
Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort and Spa
GRB 104 Gozo – Malta
Places to Eat
SB Grotto Tavern
(+356) 21 455138/ 21 583214
1 Mifsud Bonnici Street,
In Gozo don’t miss:
Seafront Qbajjar Bay
Marsaforn, Gozo, Malta
Rita Cook lives in Los Angeles and is the editor of Premier Bride magazine. She also has a romance novel coming out this winter called “Angel’s Destiny”.
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