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This little country is possibly Europe’s best-kept secret

There are some countries that remain an enigma, even when many of us travel the world daily via the internet. Malta is one of those countries, although we’re starting to suspect its mystery may be intentional…

This little country is possibly Europe’s best-kept secret
Photo: © viewingmalta.com

One of many things you probably don’t know about Malta is that it’s an archipelago. Granted, it’s a small archipelago made up of just three islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. But when each is as rich with natural beauty and history as the Maltese islands are, three is more than enough.

Planted in turquoise Mediterranean waters, just 90 kilometres south of Sicily and 300 kilometres north of Africa, Malta is a secluded gem with old-world charm. What’s more, with 300 days of sunshine a year and an average temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, it’s a year-round destination.

It’s also an eclectic spot with something for everyone. And we mean everyone. From sun-seekers to history buffs, water sports fanatics to self-confessed foodies.

With megalithic temples older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge (and claimed to be the oldest free-standing structures on Earth), 365 churches and chapels built from the 11th century onwards, spotless beaches, trendy restaurants, hip bars, and a climate that’s been voted “best in the world”, it’s hard to find a single place that offers more.

Find out more about Malta and start planning your trip

Holidaymakers searching for sun can unwind on stretching shorelines bordered by crystal clear seas. Sailing, snorkelling, windsurfing and scuba diving, among other water sports, are on offer, so you can spend a day at the beach even if you’re not a sun worshipper.

Ghajn Tuffieha beach. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

Among Malta’s many virtually untouched beaches are Ghajn Tuffieha, a narrow stretch of golden sand that appears to have been frozen in time 2000 years ago; the Blue Lagoon on Comino, a picture-perfect spot with cyan water and breath-taking views of the archipelago; and the red sands and lush greenery at Gozo’s Ramla Bay.

There are ferry terminals on all the islands so you can hop about the archipelago and soak in a view of the vast open ocean along the way. Ferries run all year round and take approximately 20 to 40 minutes each way, so you can easily explore all three islands.

After a day in the sun, you’ll be faced with the challenging task of picking where to eat at one of the many restaurants serving local and international cuisine. And wherever you’re staying — whether St. Julian in the north or Birzebbugia in the south — you’ll find a menu to suit your taste.

Order the catch of the day, share a freshly baked pizza, or try traditional Maltese dishes including rabbit stew and widow’s soup, a hearty hotpot with lumps of fresh goat’s cheese.

Dine at one of Malta's many cafes and restaurants. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

There’s also an up-and-coming nightlife scene with sleek cocktail lounges, rooftop bars, and late-night clubs — including a resident DJ spinning tunes at Twenty Two, Malta’s highest nightclub on the twenty-second floor of the Portomaso Tower.

The country’s potential as a party destination hasn’t gone unnoticed. For the past three years Ibiza favourite Annie Mac has chosen Malta to host her pre-summer event, Lost & Found Festival, held each year in May. It’s lured in a whole new type of tourist and spurred on the country’s ongoing efforts to rival popular destinations like Barcelona and Croatia.

But it’s not all beaches, restaurants, and bars. For those of you who like your sunshine holidays with a side of city break, Malta is proof you can have both. Although it’s been independent since 1964, everywhere you look you see well-preserved evidence of the several civilisations that have inhabited Malta over the past 7,000 years.

Read more about everything there is to see and do in Malta

Previously, Malta was a naval base for a succession of superpowers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, and British, to name just a few. For lovers of culture, this is perhaps one of Malta’s most alluring qualities.

The blend of customs left behind is evident everywhere. From the cuisine (a mix of rustic Mediterranean dishes) and the local language (descended from an extinct variety of Arabic with Italian and French influence — although English is also widely spoken), to the architecture (a combination of styles from Siculo-Norman to Baroque and neoclassical) and the art (including several Caravaggios painted by the Italian artist during his 15-month stay on the island).

The waterfront in Valletta. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

Its capital city is among the three Maltese sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Valletta, known locally as “Il-Belt”, was built in the late Renaissance period and is awash with cultural and historical features. It’s no surprise the city has been named 2018’s European Capital of Culture.

Since earning the title in 2012, Valletta has received a facelift, including the regeneration of Is-Suq tal-Belt, an indoor market built in the 1860s under British rule. Many of its ancient palazzos have also undergone a transformation and are now stylish boutique hotels and apartments.

With all this going on, it’s no wonder Malta likes to retain an air of mystery — although this gem in the Mediterranean won’t stay hidden for much longer. Visit the country’s official tourism page to find out more and start planning your trip.

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Visit Malta.

 

CULTURE

How to make the most of France’s ‘night of museums’ this weekend

More than 3,000 French museums will stay open long past their bedtimes on Saturday May 14th for the 18th Long Night of Museums.

How to make the most of France's 'night of museums' this weekend

The annual event takes place on the third Saturday in May each year in towns and cities across the whole of Europe. There are temporary exhibitions, themed guided visits, musical entertainment, lectures, concerts, food tasting, historical reconstructions and re-enactments, and film projections. Best news of all, almost everything is free. 

Here’s The Local’s guide to getting the most out of the night:

Plan, plan, then throwaway the plan

Consult the online programme and map out your route. A little preparation will make the night much easier – 3,000 museums will be open long into the night in France, and you don’t want to waste hours standing on a bridge arguing about where to go next. 

The site has suggestions for major cities, including Lyon, Dijon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseilles. And four museums that have been closed to the public for years – Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Musée de Valenciennes, the Forum antique de Bavay in Nord and the Musée départemental Albert-Khan in Boulogne-Billancourt – are reopening on the night.

So, decide where you’re going beforehand – then feel free to dump your carefully plotted plan in a bin when you overhear someone else talking about this extraordinary thing they have discovered and go with the flow.

Be patient

When you are consulting the official website, try not to scream. You have to navigate a map rather than a traditional programme format – though, at least, this year it’s broken down in to French regions, which is marginally less frustrating.

It is actually much easier if you know the specific museums you are interested in visiting, as they have individual programmes of events. But half the fun of a night like this is visiting somewhere you’ve never been before.

Wear comfortable shoes and travel light

Wear shoes for the long haul rather than the first impression. There will be distances to cover and you might even find yourself dancing in the middle of a museum. 

And blisters are never a good partner with great art. Leave your skateboard and shopping trolley at home, they will just prove a nuisance when you are going through security checks.

Come early – or late – to avoid endless queues

Arriving at the Louvre at 8pm is always going to mean a giant queue. And nothing ruins a night quicker than spending most of it standing in an unmoving line. Try to escape peak times at the major museums – but check they’re not doing something interesting that you don’t want to miss – hip hop dance classes in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, in the Louvre’s Richelieu wing, for example…

Go somewhere you’ve never been to before

Do a lucky dip. Pick somewhere you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. What about the Musée de Valenciennes, which reopens after years of being closed to the public, for example. Its giving visitors the chance to see its fine art under ultraviolet light – which will reveal things you wouldn’t normally see.

Or you could delve deep into the Aude Departmental Archives, in Carcassonne, and discover the amazing life stories of some of the region’s historical figures

Make it social

Gather the troops, this is a night for multi-generations of family and friends. Art, history and culture, is very much a shared experience and you can usually find something that everyone loves – or hates.

Plan a pitstop

You will always need refreshing and wouldn’t a night of culture be wonderfully enhanced by a delicious picnic on the banks of the Seine, if you’re in Paris. 

Your mind will need a little pause from all the intellectual overload. Find a spot, listen to the music (there’s always music from somewhere) and watch the Bateaux Mouches go by as you eat a baguette with some good local cheese and some saucisson.

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