Malta: a Mediterranean island steeped in history with outstanding natural beauty and a perfect climate - this sums up this island nation of 430,000 spread over three islands, with Gozo and Comino completing the island group - a year-round tourist destination.

While first impressions can be lasting, ours seemed to make comparisons with other places we have had the luck to travel and experience: in some ways Malta is similar to San Marino in both its walled fortifications on high rock although inland, and being a similar “small state”, and Dubrovnik which still has its maritime fortifications. And Malta is arguably even more tidy, neat and pristine than both.

With a direct weekly Luxair flight from Luxembourg to Valletta, Malta can be reached in just over two hours. Descending to land, the approach brought us over the sea and cliffs onto the limestone rock which appeared quite fertile following the seasonal rains of January and February.

Malta’s airport is similar in size/capacity to Luxembourg’s which meant a quick exit into bright sunshine and blue skies, plus a steady 18-21C heat which would remain constant for the week. In the car on the way to the hotel, driving on the left, the roadside cacti were noticeable as was the architecture of light brown (limestone) stone buildings with flat rooves, and the wind, a sea breeze - welcome from the land-locked Grand Duchy.

Most people on the island speak both Maltese (derived from 30% Arabic, 70% Roman languages) and English, with the local language taught as the main language in the state schools and English as the main language in private schools; as a result, some families have Maltese as their main language but others have English as theirs. Maltese is also spoken in Parliament, with all official documents available in both English and Maltese (until the 1930s, Italian was also an official language in Parliament). Everywhere - roads, towns, sites - has two names, in Maltese and in English.

We stayed St Georges Bay, considered as the modern area just north of Valletta and Sliema on the north-east coast.

The capital city is Valetta, built in the 15th century by the Knights of the Order of St John on a peninsula, in a natural deepwater harbour; just south is The Three Cities, and north is Sliema, more of which below. The abundance of natural limestone - quarried in different grades - means that construction materials are readily available and is why most buildings are more-or-less the same colour.

After taking our bearings upon arrival the first day was spent strolling the streets and waterfronts, visiting Valletta and what is known as the Three Cities, which comprise:

• Birgu / Vittoriosa on a peninsula
• Senglea / Lisla on a peninsula
• Cospicua / Bormla, a strip of land joining the two peninsulas.

Despite Mdina in the centre of the island being the capital, the Knights initially used the Three Cities as their base as they had access to the sea and ships; they used Malta as a base from which to attack the Ottomans in the 16th century. Walled fortifications surrounded the Three Cities, with two lines of fortified walls and gates.

One of the greatest battles involving Malta happened in 1655, the year of the Great Siege, when the Knights successfully repelled the Ottomans. Following this success, the knights decided to stay in Malta and founded Valetta.

Malta’s population is now 430,000 spread over the three islands; it is densely populated with suburbia seeming to extend much further than it should: tourism is the main sector of the economy, with cottage industries, financial services, film production, IT specifically regarding online gambling also important; the agricultural sector represents only 3% of the economy (all Mediterranean crops are grown but mainly potatoes, onions and tomatoes), even grapes for wine, with the Maltese importing 80% of its needs.

Religion one the island is still important with Churches everywhere; Malta is primarily Catholic; there is also one mosque.

The Three Cities

To see around the Three Cities, we availed of the Rolling Geeks, which offer two routes - we chose the one of 10k. These are four-seater electric cars/buggies which have been specifically designed and developed for here (by an entrepreneurial Belgian expatriate), with in-built sat-navs and audio guides. One also has the choice of self-drive or with a chauffeur. Very clever, well built and great fun - a great introduction to the area.

One cannot but notice that the harbour has a number of super yachts berthed in the marinas, along with other craft - both yachts and cruisers - of all sizes. Nearby too are a Baroque church, and the Malta at War museum.

Part of the old fort has now been converted into social housing, an interesting concept linking sustainable development and the circular economy with a modern need.
Our guide explained that the Order of the Knights of St John was founded in Rhodes before the first Crusade; it had its origins in hospitals and religion, also in the military.
Malta became independent in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. During WWII it was bombed heavily as the British had a base on Malta which was trying to intercept supplies destined for Rommel and his troops; when the war spread to North Africa and Rommel needed supplies, firstly the Italians and then the German Nazis bombed Malta; more on this later.

By this introduction to Malta we were beginning to learn about the island’s history and the place the Knights, with their Grand Masters, hold in the island’s heritage. For those interested in history, Malta is a fascinating place; for those not so interested, there are SO many other things to see and do.


The harbour ferry - like a Maltese version of a Venetian gondola at a fraction of the cost (Harbour cruise 30 mins €8/person; Valetta €2 one-way) - dropped us at the Valetta waterfront, where former warehouses have been converted into trendy restaurants and shops. It is also where the mammoth cruise ships berth for passengers to disembark. A lift has also been installed to bring passengers disembarking to the top and entrance to Valletta.

St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta

Despite its austere facade, the interior of the 16th century religious building is incredibly ornate with its polished floors, gilded and decorated walls and painted ceilings. Each langue/nationality of knights had their own chapel in the Church - almost 400 knights of the order of St John are buried in the crypt. In the Oratorium, there are two original paintings by Caravaggio (originally from Milan, he studied in Rome from where he fled after killing someone and was protected by the Grand Master and given the title of Knight) - the Beheading of St John the Baptist (his only painting he signed) and the Meditation of St Jerome. Caravaggio escaped from Malta after injuring a fellow knight, and was expelled from the order in absentia.

Another interesting anecdote, involving literary figures, is during the time when Coleridge was Secretary to the Governor and Byron came to visit him, but was not enamoured with all the steps in Valletta...

The War Rooms

One of the most interesting museum visits was a 45 minute-long guided tour costing €12/person showing how the RAF defended Malta during WWII, using Radar, etc. - a fascinating experience and a must-do. The rooms/catacombs/tunnels were cut out if the limestone rock over a 2 year period up to 1943.

People working here signed the official secrets act and worked on a need-to-know basis, both military and civilians working 27 days out of every 28.

The guide explained how they would track aircraft from both the Italian and German air forces during the Battle of Malta (like the Battle of Britain, an aerial battle), as well as shipping in the Mediterranean. The guide also addressed Malta’s geographic location along the Nazi’s supply lines to Rommel in North Africa (who was there to try to control the oil fields in the Middle East - for the fuel).

Malta also had 11 submarines based south of Valletta. Churchill knew that if Malta fell, the Nazis would have a clear route across the Mediterranean. Supplies to Malta were therefore crucial; in one period, just 5 of 14 merchant ships of supplies got through to Malta, giving it 10 weeks of supplies, with German U-boats accounting for most of the rest. Rommel then fell due to logistics and a lack of fuel and provisions.After this, Malta then focussed on the Invasion of Sicily, with the guide referencing Operation Husky and Operation Mincemeat. 

The Malta Experience

This multimedia experience runs for 45 minutes (in a theatre with audio headsets in a multitude of languages) which covers the entire 7,000 years history of the island nation, including its early inhabitants and the neolithic remains, plus invasions from the east, from North Africa, from the Romans, from the Ottomans, from the Normans and up to WWII, with the Great Siege of 1565.

It showed how the Maltese changed over time and survived on a rocky island with few resources, and also introduced the Knights Hospitaller, otherwise known as the Knights of the Order of St John (a medieval order entrusted with the care of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and the protection of the island of Malta), and which are now known as St John’s Ambulance.

Included with the €16 entry ticket was a short tour of the Knights Hall, the former hospital, beside which is the Mediterranean Conference Centre, a magnificent facility built in what used to be the gardens of the hospital.

The Knights Hall was opened shortly before 1574 and was operated until 1920 by the Knights of St John. It was 126 m long, containing 247 beds (914 patients in total in the hospital, only men; one toilet per bed/person). Each bed had a canopy, curtains on both sides - coloured according to disease, etc. A quarantine island was nearby (in the bay between Valletta and Sliema) where visitors to the island stayed for 40 days. One interesting fact was that they served meals on silver plates which reduced the spread of bacteria.

A level below the Knights Hall is another ward, where the poor would be treated and where 3 patients would share a (large) bed. Underneath that again are a series of levels of rooms and chambers, with the lowest at sea level where some boats could go - if they could navigate the secret entrance from the harbour.


Located in the centre if the island, Mdina used to be the capital, up to 1571 when Valletta became the new capital, with Mdina becoming known as the “silent city”. Nowadays Mdina itself has a population of only 300 people but it is home to the Archbishop and St Paul’s cathedral. Some buildings belonging to noble families are still standing within the walled city.

Although a medieval city, it was severely damaged by an earthquake (Noto) in Sicily in 1691, after which Mdina was rebuilt (in Baroque style).

The town is full of 2- and 3-storey stone buildings with almost every square metre paved. It is in pristine condition and kept spotless and is blessed it is not affected by the ravages of pollution such as experienced in larger towns and cities.

Walking through one of the two city gates from Rabat into Mdina, one is reminded of the former British barracks and hospital which used to be linked by a short railway - the nearby former military stadium is now the site of the country’s national football stadium, with an aircraft museum nearby housing Spitfires, Hurricanes, etc.

From Mdina to Valletta there are stretches remarkably preserved of the 17th century Wignacourt viaduct (named after the Grand Master) to bring water to Valletta, part of which goes underground. The island has no rivers; instead it gets its drinking water from a significant underground water table aided by the porous limestone rock.

In Rabat itself there is St Paul’s grotto to see, as well as the underground catacombs.


A short drive west from Mdini/Rabat is Dingli and the Blue Grotto (including a medieval temple), the former being the highest point in the island at 254m. It is only a short drive to get there, but worth the view, particularly in a fine and calm day.

Fish on Friday

On Friday we rented a car (€55 for the day, sat-nav included) as we wanted to visit the aquarium to the north and a fishing village in the south; the car-hire company even delivered the car to the hotel and picked it up later.

Malta’s National Aquarium may not be the largest, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up in effort and presentation; the water clarity is crystal-clear throughout. The multi-level complex on the tip of the Qawra peninsula only takes 20 minutes to get to by car; the Hop-on Hop-off bus also stops here as well as at many other stops across the island.

In addition to tanks containing various species native to the waters around Malta, including grouper, triggerfish, seahorses and moray eels, there are other tanks containing other species such as piranha, carp, as well as some containing exotic insects, chameleons, lizards, etc.

Each day the staff organise around a dozen short talks, etc. - the ones we attended included shark conservation initiatives and feeding time.

The stand-out experience must be the large tunnel-like tank under/through which all visitors walk, with fish of all shapes and sizes all around them. A great adventure, and not just for children!

Then a short drive down to Marsaxlokk on the south-east cost; described as a fishing village, it still has an operational small fishing fleet, plus boatyards to the south. Its harbour / marina has the added protection of a sandy breakwater that has created a sandy beach for sunbathers and paddlers. Along the promenade are both market stalls as well as waterfront restaurants and cafés from where one can relax and have a nice meal or drink overlooking the azure water and multicoloured traditional small boats interspersed with more modern pleasure craft.


We also had a day-trip to Gozo, the second largest of the three islands that make up Malta, taking the 20-minute ferry from Cirkewwa to Imgarr (just €6.50 return as a foot passenger) and passing Comino (the smallest of the 3 islands) around which were dotted boats with scuba drivers. There are three ferries that operate this route, each with a capacity of around 900 passengers as well as over 50 vehicles. Once off the ferry, the choices of transport include a hop-on hop-off bus, an island bus service and taxi.

Gozo is known as the garden of Malta and has a population of 30,000 over 67 km2. Many inhabitants work in or around Valletta and take the return ferry daily.

Comino has just 3 permanent inhabitants, but also a 4-star hotel open just 9 months of the year.

Gozo is very rural and has little fortifications; after WWII many inhabitants left Gozo for either Australia or the US. Many Maltese have a second home on Gozo and use it as a weekend getaway, with its slower pace of life. Gozo also offers the best scuba diving throughout Malta.

Ggantiga Temples

These (giant) neolithic temples on Gozo are the oldest freestanding structures in the world, dating from 1,600 years before Stonehenge and 1,000 years before the great pyramids.

They are just one of the dozens of such sites around the islands, with the visitor centre here having extensive audio-visual presentations and exhibitions of discovered artefacts.

Next stop: Ramla Bay, offering what the locals agree as the most beautiful beach in Malta. Along the way, Carob trees, almond trees, olive trees and cacti grow wild, with dry stone walls aplenty, and the odd windmill. Overlooking the bay is Calypso Cave, the legendary home of the nymph Calypso from Homer’s Odyssey.

Gozo has a more rural feel to it, as if life is lived at a slightly slower pace. The towns are similar, and equally spotlessly tidy.

The capital of Gozo was renamed Victoria (from Rabat, meaning “town”) and has a population of around 7,000. It us. It is both quaint and lively and has a wonderful classical front to a theatre on the main street, amongst others.

Its Citadel, like that of Mdiba/Rabat, is a walled city: its contains functioning law courts and a prison which is now a museum. The Citadel was restored recently and has a lift and a visitor’s information centre, as well a museum and an imposing cathedral with the bishop’s residence.

The Xwejni Salt Pans

These date back 350 years and stretch 3km along the eastern coastline, some of which are still operational by the same families, having been passed down through generations. They harvest sea salt in the hot months of the summer when the water evaporates. It is used in cooking and used locally.


With Malta used frequently as a film set, and films such as Gladiator, Troy, Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Captain Phillips, The Da Vinci Code, Midnight Express, etc. - one production company even has giant water tanks for filming sea scenes - some film sets have been preserved as tourist attractions open to the public. These include sets used for The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) and Popeye (1980), the latter which has an entire village of 19 wooden buildings near Mellieha in the north-west of the island, with added attractions including a 15-minute documentary film and a boat trip around the bay.

There are plenty of swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, with a multitude of water sports on offer - from self-drive small dinghies and boats to kayaks and sailing, to water skiing and jet skiing, to snorkelling and scuba diving at numerous locations around the island.

And during the summer there is a village festival on somewhere on the island every week-end, with marching bands, fireworks and celebrations centred around the local Church which is usually decorated and illuminated.

Dining out

In Malta the island’s national dish is rabbit; there is also a lot of fresh fish on the menu, but not all of it is local (e.g. salmon).

The Rampila restaurant beside the gateway to Valletta, beside one of the two Cavaliers, offers a great choice of traditional and international dishes in a cosy and quiet setting, dining on the terrace literally on the old city wall.

As rabbit is the national dish in Malta, this was one of our main course choices along with a beef and mushroom risotto, which followed starters of a seafood chowder and a burrata and tomato salad.

A couple of bays north of Valletta and Sliema, within the larger St Julian’s Bay lies Balluta Bay, alongside which is a promenade for pedestrians to enjoy a stroll by the coastline, and where one finds the Wigis Kitchen restaurant on the first floor with great views overlooking the bay. It was there we tried the sea urchin linguini and the Meagre, caught by local fishermen. The restaurant is only half seafood, though, and they also prepared a really succulent fillet steak with seasonal vegetables and roast potatoes - this followed a carrot and coconut soup for starters.

The wine list is mainly French and international wines, but we dared to try a local Chardonnay, named “Isis” - we were told it was named after the Egyptian God, not more recent nor nefarious incarnations. It was actually really good...

To finish off, the lemon sorbet and Strawberry Meringue were delicious. The restaurant offers a mix of Maltese and international dishes, with a strong hint of British influence mixed with Mediterranean ingredients. The restaurant seats around 50 at one go and has gained its reputation as a top-notch family-influenced restaurant serving quality dishes. They even presented platters of the red meat cuts and the fish on the menu before the waiters took our orders.

The Boathouse in Xlendi on the south coast of Gozo, is situated in a tiny bay with a magical cave feature on one side, with holiday apartments on the other. With a couple of other shoreline restaurants side-by-side, they offer an amazing menu containing primarily seafood with some meat and vegetarian dishes, both grilled and pasta dishes. And, despite its seating under canopies, they were air conditioned, all staff were smart uniforms and had obviously had formal training.

To start with, we had the Portobello Mushrooms (stuffed with shrimp and blue cheese) and the Fried Gozo Ravioli (served with a spicy tomato & chilli sauce). For the main courses we had the squid/camari (prepared in three different ways), plus the Pollo Parmiagiani (chicken breast with a sauce of aubergine and cheese.

The Boathouse is a real gem, hidden in the open and definitely one to visit and try. Opening hours: 12:00 - 22:30 daily.

From all the various eateries we visited, all dishes ordered and consumed, without exception, were delicious and we would order the same again. While Malta does not have its own resources for all ingredients, its standards of cuisine are excellent, possibly due to the various different influences the country has witnessed over the decades and centuries.


We stayed at the Corinthian, a 4-star hotel on a peninsula offering 250 rooms which were spacious and all with their own balcony offering sea views. We had access to the Executive Lounge which offered many benefits, including check-in and check-out without any queues, quiet breakfasts with local newspapers and buffet choices, plus afternoon and evening snacks and drinks, all complementary.

Arguably one of the best benefits of the Corinthian - apart from the 5 swimming pools and multiple restaurants offering a variety of cuisine - was the excellent service offered by the concierge desk - from booking hire cars to suggesting things to do locally. See

LuxairTours also offers a range of hotels in Malta.

Getting There

LuxairTours flies Luxair Boing 737s to Malta once a week, departing Luxembourg at 06:20 (tip: check-in your luggage the previous evening between 19:30-22:30) and arriving just 2 hours 10 minutes later, with the return flight from Valletta to Luxembourg from O9:45-12:30.

See and