Malta is a destination of choice for revelers and party animals. However, there are enchanting cultural surprises around every corner. All it takes is a curious mind and an adventurous heart to discover Malta’s true identity.
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra prehistoric temples
Amazingly, the oldest parts of these temples date from before the first standing stones at Stonehenge. There’s a quiet and somnolent peacefulness about these places in the middle of the night. During the day there’s a buzz of anticipation, as lots of travelers try to get a glimpse of the place. It’s well worth a visit, with wall-to-wall enchantment in the curved rooms, paved terraces and decorated carving.
A cruise in Grand Harbor and Marsamxett Harbor
A brilliant way to blow off an afternoon is to recline in luxury on a harbor cruise. Valletta was once built to withstand the invasion of the Ottoman Turks, and with a look at the immense old fortifications, it’s easy to see how they did it. You can get a two-hour cruise that takes in some open sea beyond St. Elmo as well as both harbours.
On the hunt for Caravaggio
He was the soap opera diva of his day. Caravaggio was an Italian Baroque painter with an eye for the dramatic and apocalyptic in his paintings. He fled from Rome to Valletta and was asked by the Co-Cathedral of St. John to paint his largest ever canvas. This was, and still is, one of the most sumptuous of all Baroque churches. The walls and ceilings are sheathed in 24-carat gold. Inside of the oratory of the Co-Cathedral of St. John is a behemoth canvas that depicts the beheading of St. John the Baptist. This was painted during a time when the Catholic Church was under threat from the Turks and Protestantism was all the rage in Europe. The giant and dramatic canvas and the cathedral are jaw-droppingly opulent.
A fortified ancient city within the city, Mdina was the capital of Valletta from Roman times until a couple of centuries ago. There’s a labyrinthine sense of snaking alleyways, and a dizzying sense of walking through a storybook of treasures. Designed to confound invaders in ancient times, nowadays these alleyways are only there to confuse and delight travelers
The secret and silent world of Gozo
This tiny island has remained largely untouched by tourism. It’s a mere 25 minutes by boat from Valletta’s harbor and is Malta’s best kept secret. The air is thick there with the aroma of wild fennel, and the only sound to be heard is the light chink of goats’ bells. This is as far away from the maddening crowds and nightclub-bound English brethren as you can get. The hills are full of baroque churches, little stone cottages and plenty of unspoiled sea-side wilderness. The locals are devoutly Christian, and the bells echo over the island quite regularly.
A while ago, a Maltese businessman wanted to build a bridge from Valletta to Gozo, and the locals flat out refused. They like their serenity just the way it is. There isn’t much to do there, but for some travelers, this suits just fine. Activities include cycling, walking, lying in the sun and sipping tea in sleepy little cafes. The locally-caught seafood is spectacular, and the accommodation is modest yet comfortable.
Malta has a scattering of jewels that are beyond the scope of the average traveler, so make sure that you investigate them fully.