The Maltese Islands are like nowhere else. Here you'll find great prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs, glittering hidden coves, thrilling diving opportunities and a history of remarkable intensity.
Malta is a Southern European island country comprising an archipelago of few islands in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km south of Sicily, 284 east of Tunisia, and 333 km north of Libya. The country covers just over 316 km2, with a population of around 416,000, making it one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries. The capital of Malta is Valletta, which at 0.8 km2, is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English.
Malta's location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Moorish, Normans, Sicilians, Habsburg Spain, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. Malta was admitted to the United Nations in 1964 and to the European Union in 2004; in 2008, it became part of the Eurozone.
Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta, and seven Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.
A Mediterranean Cocktail
People here are warm and welcoming, but also have a certain gentle reserve. It's the kind of place where if you ask for directions you'll get a cheerful reply, and maybe even be guided part of your way for good measure.
The country is staunchly Roman Catholic, with mighty churches towering over diminutive villages. But there's also the beguiling mix of cultures that's stewed over generations. The Malti language sounds Arabic, but is speckled with Italian, French and English words, and local food packs in Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavours, while making use of local ingredients like rabbit and honey. Even the local fishing boats resonate with history, their prows painted with eyes as their Phoenician predecessors' were several millennia ago.
Prehistoric & Futuristic
Malta and Gozo are home to some of the world’s most impressive prehistoric sites, including gigantic temples set atop sea cliffs, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, the 5000-year-old underground necropolis carved perfectly from the living rock. A visit to any of them will stay with you long after you've left the island.
It's also remarkable to visit somewhere where the history of savage warfare – all due to Malta's geographical significance – is so enduringly evident. The islands have an embattled feel, even in today's peaceful times, with their walled cities, great fortresses, fortifications running over remote hills, and myriad underground tunnels that became homes away from home during WWII bombardment.
Though building upon an already overcrowded landscape is a favoured activity of the Maltese, many parts of the island still manage to retain a sense of timelessness. This back-in-time atmosphere is even more pronounced on Gozo, where horses and carts are sometimes seen on country lanes, and quiet villages combine Italianate architecture with incongruous English red post boxes and blue police lamps. Lately, however, Malta's beautiful 17th-century capital, Valletta, has received some substantial 21st-century sparkle. The city has a new Renzo Piano–designed gateway, parliament building and open-air auditorium built on the elegiac ruins of the city’s opera house.
Mdina is Malta’s medieval jewel. It’s distinctive narrow winding streets sheltered by imposing walls of nobles houses are simply beautiful and suggestive to stroll in. Hardly any signs of modern development are noticeable and the lamp-lit evenings are surreal. A number of attractions related to its history are well worth visiting and you also get the best views of Malta from here.
The Deep Blue Sea
You're never far from the Mediterranean here; in Gozo you can see the sea from almost everywhere you go. The islands' beaches are small and perfectly formed; there are also some breathtakingly beautiful coves to swim in. This is also one of the world's finest places to go diving, with a wealth of sites ranging from sunken WWII bombers to dramatic undersea caves. To cap it all, much of what you'll eat will come from the sea's bounty.
Gozo is a smaller rural island to the north of Malta just a half-hour ferry ride away. It is a vivid glimpse into what Malta was up to a few decades ago. A slower pace of life, welcoming locals, open countryside, raw rugged coastlines, sleepy unconverted villages and traditional crafts. Gozo’s must-see attractions include the Citadella, Ggantija Temples, ta’ Pinu Sanctuary and the Dwejra area.
Thanks to the ideal weather, diving in Malta is an all year round sport. The Mediterranean waters surrounding the Maltese islands are some of the cleanest and clearest seas you will ever see. With dramatic underwater drop-offs, intriguing caves, a variety of natural and artificial reefs, a healthy marine life and very professional diving schools dotting the islands, diving here gets two thumbs up.
Comino is a miniscule island half way between Malta and Gozo. In an area of just over a square mile, it packs a day’s pleasurable walk complete with a charming little chapel, picturesque castle and dramatic cliffs, a four star hotel with self catering apartments and the incredible Blue Lagoon. The latter’s turquoise waters must be the best spot for swimming and snorkelling anywhere in the Mediterranean
Local festivals, similar to those in southern Italy, are commonplace in Malta and Gozo, celebrating weddings, christenings and, most prominently, saints' days, honouring the patron saint of the local parish. On saints' days, the festa reaches its apex with a High Mass featuring a sermon on the life and achievements of the patron saint, after which a statue of the religious patron is taken around the local streets in solemn procession, with the faithful following in respectful prayer. The atmosphere of religious devotion quickly gives way to several days of celebration and revelry: band processions, fireworks, and late night parties. Lija is one villages with a notable firework display.
A national feast since the rule of the Knights, Mnarja is a traditional Maltese festival of food, religion and music. The festivities still commence today with the reading of the "bandu", an official governmental announcement, which has been read on this day in Malta since the 16th century. Originally, Mnarja was celebrated outside St. Paul's Grotto, in the north of Malta. However, by 1613 the focus of the festivities had shifted to the Cathedral of St. Paul, in Mdina, and featured torchlight processions, the firing of 100 petards, horseraces, and races for men, boys and slaves. Modern Mnarja festivals take place in and around the woodlands of Buskett, just outside the town of Rabat.
It is said that under the Knights, this was the one day in the year when the Maltese were allowed to hunt and eat wild rabbit, which was otherwise reserved for the hunting pleasures of the Knights. The close connection between Mnarja and rabbit stew (Maltese: "fenkata") remains strong today.
Investing in Malta’s Tourism
The tourism industry has always been one of the main pillars of Malta’s economy, generating income and creating employment for thousands of families across the Maltese Islands.
Tourism earnings account for approximately 26% of Malta’s services exports and the industry represents 30% of GDP. Approximately 12500 people work in the industry, meaning the 8.5% of the employed workforce. Almost 4,500 businesses serve the tourism sector, of which 2,700 are in the catering industry and 1500 are travel agencies or tour operators.
Despite being mainly attractive for sun and beaches, Malta offers and is investing in several types of tourism. Culture and heritage is placed in second place after coastal tourism. The Business tourism is the third main attractive sector and show trends of growth. Finally, the sector is dominated by the English language, which attracts a lot of young people who want to improve their language level followed by sport tourism and notably the diving sector.
Despite positive figures, the government is convinced that it is essential to further promote inbound tourism through marketing and strategic product differentiations in order to fully build on the potential of the sector. Supported by government funding, the Malta Tourism Authority has been increasingly promoting tourism diversity in order to decrease the seasonality which affects Mediterranean beach destinations.
The tourism policy 2012- 2016 intends to promote Malta as an ideal tourism destination for cruise companies, promoting Malta’s advantages such as the proximity of the island to Europe, the short flights from European Union cities, the short driving distance between Malta International Airport and the Cruise terminal, their multi-lingual skills of its professionals. Moreover, as the island is located in the center of the Mediterranean, new Western, Eastern and Southern itineraries can be easily provided to appeal to more visitors and increase companies’ revenues.
For more information
Malta Tourism Authoriry
Auberge DItalie, Merhants street, Valletta VLT1170, Malta
Phone: +356 2291 5214
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