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Underrated European Travel Destinations: Malta

Home to the Culture Capital of Europe for 2018, Malta is the undiscovered jewel of the Mediterranean

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Underrated European Travel Destinations: Malta

The view of the Mediterranean Sea from Valletta

The view of the Mediterranean Sea from Valletta

The view of the Mediterranean Sea from Valletta

The view of the Mediterranean Sea from Valletta

Located south of Sicily and north of Africa, the tiny island nation of Malta is nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean. Comprised of only 122 square miles across three tiny islands, Malta is the fifth smallest country in Europe. However small, Malta is a jewel in the sea. Within its short borders are pristine beaches, historic cities, limestone cliffs, and a 7,000 year history.

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Malta is composed of three islands: Malta, Comino, and Gozo

Valletta

The capital city of Valletta, located on the coast of the island, is the heart of culture and life in the country. This year, Valletta was chosen as the European Capitol of Culture for 2018 by the European Commission for European Capitol of Culture. Valletta’s cultural wonder is evident in its founding in the 16th century. With historic origins, Valletta is a beautiful maze of cobbled streets and alleys, dazzling old churches, piazzas surrounded by baroque architecture, and fortresses capped with luscious gardens.

The Lower Barakka gardens are laced with footpaths, shrubbery, palm trees, ancient facades, and fountains

The close proximity of Malta to both Italian and North African societies has given Valletta a unique aesthetic and culture. Valletta’s distinctive beauty is seen in the abundance of Maltese Balconies. These terraces are both open and enclosed rectangular porticos extending from the side of every home in the city. Typically, the balconies are painted in vibrant blues, greens, and reds and are an architectural element entirely unique to Valletta.

In the city, some of the most stunning sites all visitors should see are the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Lower Barrakka Gardens. These green spaces are located atop the city walls and offer splendid views out across the Mediterranean Sea. Located in the midst of the vegetation of the gardens are small cafés which offer traditional Maltese treats and are picturesque place for enjoying the city’s sweeping vistas. Other interesting places visitors to Valletta should see are the 16th century baroque Saint John’s Co-Cathedral and the Grand Masters Palace, the official palace of the Grand Master.

 

The most unique and stunning features of architecture in Malta are Maltese balconies

Comino and Gozo Islands

The islands of Gozo and Comino are the smaller two of the three islands forming the nation of Malta. Arguably, these island’s are home to the most picturesque coastline and countryside in the country. Comino is most famous for its turquoise waters and Mediterranean coves such as the Blue Lagoon, a secluded area of azure waters and rugged cliffs popular among tourists. The clear waters of Comino make it ideal for swimming and diving. At only 1.4 square miles, Comino is car-free and is largely uninhabited—perfect for travelers seeking a private, rustic escape on the coast.

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The Blue Lagoon on Comino features crystal-clear, azure waters

Gozo is north of Comino and is best known for its expansive and lush countryside dotted with churches and small towns and gorgeous views out over the sea. This enchanting island was is thought to be Calypso’s Isle in Homer’s Odyssey. Around the island are many places for purchasing crafts and exploring small town Malta. This island is visibly less busy and more tranquil than Malta.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk is a small fishing village on the coast of Malta and is home to only about 4,000 residents. While small, Marsaxlokk is still the largest of the fishing villages on the island. This town is distinguished by its many Luzzas—brightly colored and striped boats unique to Malta. These charming vessels combined with the cerulean waters of the Mediterranean mean Marsaxlokk is one of the most interesting and beautiful locations in the nation. Most tourists flock to Marsaxlokk for its Sunday fish market where the local fishermen sell their days catch right out of the water. With plentiful seafood, Marsaxlokk is home to many delicious restaurants serving dishes incorporating the fresh fish, octopus, squid, and mussels caught locally. At the fish market are also many other vendors selling Maltese deserts, crafts, and clothes.

Hundreds of tiny multi-colored fishing boats called Luzzas float in the harbor at Marsaxlokk

Beaches

Malta’s coastline is lined with some of the most idyllic and tantalizing beaches in the Mediterranean. While Malta is home to many beaches, some of the most popular among tourists and locals include:

Għajn Tuffieħa: This stunning sand beach is located below a sloping hill and is sheltered in a secluded cove. The beach is perfect for those looking for a taste of quintessential Maltese nature and a place with convenient facilities. Għajn Tuffieħa is well known for its extremely clear and clean waters as well as its ideal location for viewing sunsets over the sea. Whether looking for a great location to suntan or swim, Għajn Tuffieħa fits anyones agenda.

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The picturesque walk leading down the surrounding hills to Għajn Tuffieħa beach

St. Peter’s Pool: While not technically a beach, St. Peter’s Pool is one of the most frequented areas on Malta by local’s for swimming. The pool is a small alcove of turquoise water surrounded by a short limestone cliff. Visitors sprawl their towels out on the expansive rock plateau surrounding the pool and then dive into the deep waters.

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With a raised cliff edge, St. Peter’s pool is a popular dive spot and place for relaxing

Mellieħa Bay / Għadira Beach: As the largest sandy beach in the country, Mellieha Bay is a popular beach among local families and tourists. The beach is also extremely accessible by bus and features shallow waters— making this location ideal for a picturesque and care-free stay on the Mediterranean.

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With its many brightly colored umbrellas and white sand, Mellieħa Bay is reminiscent of the French Riviera

Archaeological Sites

Although tiny, Malta is home to one of the highest concentrations of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean Sea. Across the Island are many famous Neolithic sites, with some dating back as far as seven thousand years. Malta is also home to archaeological sites spanning from Bronze age settlements to Punic burials to Roman villas. The majority of Malta’s archaeological sites are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Located in Paolo, Malta is the Hypogeum, a neolithic archaeological site from Maltese prehistory dating between 3300-3000 BC thought to have been a sanctuary

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The Sleeping Lady is a prehistoric statuette discovered at the Hypogeum

I recently visited Malta and the capital city of Valletta feels like a true fairytale. It is a great city to get lost in explore. I particularly enjoyed sitting at cafés along the main promenade.”

— John Conley

Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, lined with pristine beaches and coastline, and dotted with historic cities, Malta is the ideal European destination for any traveler at any time of the year. This island nation should definitely be added to your next travel itinerary.

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