Beautiful old towns, picture-perfect buildings and vivid rose vines, illuminated by bright Mediterranean sunshine and surrounded by deep azure sea, the island of Malta is becoming a holiday hot-spot, and it’s easy to see why.
Just a couple of hours flight from Gatwick, the island sits off the southern tip of Italy, surrounded by miles of glistening Mediterranean sea and is a dreamy getaway location for late-season sun seekers. Steeped in history, with divine food, delicious local wines, a lively nightlife, and some of the clearest waters in the Med, it’s safe to say Malta has won our hearts.
A popular filming location (Game of Thrones fan will recognise the towns and villages), it attracts the A-listers too, with Emily Blunt, Christian Bale, Orlando Bloom and more spotted in recent years. Brad and Ange even honeymooned here in happier times (sob!). If you partied hard this summer and need a holiday after the holiday, the Malta mini-break is perfect for you.
Spend a day winding through the streets of Valletta, the island’s tiny capital city. The narrow streets are gorgeous and adorned with windows boxes, colourful balconies, bright florals, palms and plants that make the whole town look like was just made for Instagram. Take time to look inside the buildings – you could find one of the city’s gems on the inside. St John’s Chapel contains breath-taking ornate paintings of oil and gold on stone, and the ‘Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady‘ is a serene white space of stone and marble. For something livelier, head to Strait Street - where sailors back in the day came to drink beer and enjoy their ‘free time’ with the ladies of the night. The shady characters have long gone, but 150 bars remain, and the cobbled streets make for a fun bar crawl.
Looking for something a bit more romantic? The nearby town of Mdina is the perfect place for a stroll with a loved one (or, you know, your bezzy mate). The ancient walled city streets form a labyrinth, and the flowers, plants and streetlamps give it a fairy-tale feel. Cutesy couples steal kisses under archways of the ruins and you can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy inside. At dusk make your way to Rabat, just outside Mdina, where the light coloured limestone walls glow pink and gold at sunset.
Vittoriosa is more chilled than the hustle of Valletta and a little more secluded, here you can have the streets to yourself. The kinda of place you imagine a famous script writer might hide out to write the next big blockbuster... Don’t forget to look up while you meander through the streets - brilliantly colourful window boxes five and six floors high, maids shaking blankets out of windows and cats snoozing on balconies - there’s a whole life going on above you. The harbour is a great spot for some fresh sea air and you can relax in view of the fishing boats bobbing on the glittering sea front.
Take the ferry to the relaxed, laid-back island of Gozo for a peer through the famous Azure Window and take in the crystal blue sea. With the clearest waters in the Med at 100m deep it’s popular with divers, and people travel from all over to check out the reef and shipwrecks that lie beneath. If you’re more of an ice-cream-and-chill type, the paradise-like Blue Lagoon on Comino Island has got you covered. Desperate for sun, sea and sand? These are the most pinned beaches on Pinterest right now.
So now you go where you’re going, here’s your little black book on what to see and do when you’re there:
In true Mediterranean spirit, the Maltese take their food seriously. Try Lampuki fish in one of the many harbour restaurants, tuck in to traditional Pastizzi - ricotta, spinach and peas in pastry - and don’t miss out on ‘Hobz biz zejt’ a local delicacy of flatbread with tomatoes, capers, olives and tuna. Rabbit is the national dish, cooked in garlic and lemon or ragu and eaten on a Sunday. In Gozo, try Gbana, the local cheese, soaked in wine salt and pepper.
For something special and to taste through uh-mazing wine lists check out The Harbour Club in Valletta for seaside dining, and Ta’ Philip in Gozo - where Philip’s warm welcome will make you feel right at home and his and passion for the local wines is infectious.
Malta is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, in recent decades the industry has undergone a revival and you can drink tasty wines from local vineyards across Malta and Gozo. Expect good Chardonnay, Syrah, the Italian grape variety Vermentino makes delicious light, fruity, easy drinking white, and you can even taste some of the local varieties Girgentina and Gellewza (try saying those after you’ve had a few glasses!)
With no shortage of places to stay, you can take your pick of boutique hotels, each with a different style to offer. With pools on the roof, quaint courtyards and secret palm gardens hidden inside tall buildings, you can experience your own hideaway. Ursulino in Valletta is an opulent townhouse complete with spiral staircase, and Palazzo Consiglia has a dazzling rooftop pool that you won’t want to leave.
For pure luxury, where every detail is thought about, we love The Intercontinental Malta. For sundowners on the terrace, and the biggest tub to recline in after a hard day of sun lounging, it’s also in the heart of the nightlife district so you can party to your heart’s content knowing the world’s most comfy beds are just a sashay away. There’s also a gym, huge outdoor pool and luxuriant spa, not to mention the personal service - you’ll feel utterly pampered.
We love Malta as it sits somewhere between a city break and a beach holiday, where you can either explore the local towns, or chill by the pool, or do both! Here’s what you don’t want to miss:
- Make your way to The Bridge Bar in Valletta for drinks at dusk. Don’t mind the crowds, take a seat on the outdoor stone staircase and enjoy a glass of wine under the fairy lights and the roses.
- Boat trips around the islands to view the caves and deep blue crystal waters will make you feel at one with the sea.
- Re-enact your favourite film scenes on the filming spots of Game of Thrones and more!
- Go wine tasting - with a vibrant wine scene and so many local wineries, you may as well get involved! San Niklaw Estate shares their vineyard with a 17th Century Chapel, Marsovin will give you a tour of their beautiful old cellars and Ta’ Mena Gozo has a lush garden where the wine makers will take you on a guided tasting through their different wines. Along with delicious Chardonnay and Syrah you’ll get to taste and compare some funky grape varieties you can’t get in the UK.
- Enjoy a spa treatment at the Intercontinental Carisma Spa – their relaxing full body massage and salt scrub will leave you feeling light on your feet, and at sundown you can relax by the huge outdoor pool with a cocktail. Dreamy.
Words and photos by Abbie Moulton.