From its Tarxien temples dating back to 3600BC to the island’s dynamic capital Valletta, named European Capital of Culture for 2018, Malta is a true celebration of antiquity and modernity. Combine its hearty history with fresh Mediterranean fusion food, a dynamic International Arts Festival and average temperatures of 23°C – rising to 32°C in August – and you’ve got plenty of reasons to visit Malta this year, but here are five to start with.
With ancient settlements dating back to before the Egyptians erected their pyramids, Malta has more its fair share of fascinating archaeological sites to explore. Intriguing structures from the Bronze Age remain standing – now UNESCO World Heritage sites – while the craggy Blue Grotto sea caves can be toured on the southeast coast. There’s also the prehistoric Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum to delve into–this subterranean keep-it-on-the-down-low burial labyrinth is limited to 80 visitors a day.
Capital Valletta is a buzzing hub of culture and cuisine and is a reason in itself to visit Malta. Think sophisticated town houses, high city walls, cobbled squares and narrow alleys. It’s Malta’s golden city for a reason. . Scour the Malta Society of Arts, housed in the high-ceilinged Palazzo de la Salle, for rotating exhibits, such as Watercolour Madness, which will display for the duration of the Malta International Arts Festival taking place Friday 29th June – Sunday 15th July 2018.
Music and dance lovers can delve into the festival, too. Big Bang Brothers are kick-starting the proceedings in the building-strewn St. George’s Square. And they’ll be followed by performances from virtuoso musicians and world-renowned singers, such as Maltese singing sensation Nicola Said. Elsewhere, gripping dance spectacles, in the form of Aria by No Gravity Dance Company and Hofesh Shechter’s compelling Political Mother, are ready to keep audiences on their toes.
Malta bobs in the centre of the Mediterranean so its cuisine draws influence from Italy, France, Turkey and the Middle East. We recommended the salt-baked beetroot, slow-cooked rabbit loin and guanciale (cured pork) at the Maltese, Med and French-inspired Noni restaurant. Leave room for the unctuous sticky date pudding.
Meanwhile, seafood lovers have ample reasons to visit Malta this year, starting with the fishing village Marsaxlokk. Visit the fish market held in this harbour every Sunday for freshly caught delights. But, for a plate of beautifully presented local octopus or panko crusted soft shell crab, there’s Tatarun to call on.
Dotted along Valletta’s trendy streets, you’ll find some seriously top-notch fare at pavement level. Sit beside the Grand Master’s Palace and watch the world whirl by from Caffe Cordina. No visit to Malta would be complete without trying a crumbly pastizzi (a traditional pastry, filled with ricotta, meat or vegetables) and Cordina’s been serving them for 175 years.
Laidback cocktail sippers and night-long club revellers alike will find themselves spoilt for choice. Paceville is Malta’s party district, and it’s the place to make the most of the warm climate and long sunshine hours Malta enjoys. Gianpula Village’s rooftop Penthouse couldn’t be in a better spot for soaking up some late afternoon sun, to the tunes of panoramic cityscape views and DJ sets. Or you could kick back at equally-chic Hugo’s Terrace, overlooking the sea and relax with a classic mojito.
When visiting Malta, take a day trip to pay twinkly Gozo a visit. This bursting-with-character island is home to megalithic temple Ġgantija, one of the world’s oldest, still-intact structures. On Gozo, Malta’s little sister, life moves a little slower. Take in the fallen Azure Window, now a limey stack jutting from the sea, or ramble to Calypso’s Cave at your leisure. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a Grecian myth – and you actually might have done – it’s rumoured to be featured in Homer’s Odyssey.
Words: Ashleigh Gibson