There’s more to Malta than meets this eye
This island archipelago between Sicily and North Africa has history, civility and stunning seafront scenery – as well as real seafaring tradition - at every turn. Inland, it’s ancient, rugged and rather spartan, yet look a little closer and you’ll find surprises (like catacombs) hidden not far from the surface, besides the modern-day attractions of its beaches.
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Maltese handicrafts have long been the souvenirs of choice for visiting tourists, with basketware, lace and knitwear all readily available. On top of this you can expect the usual array of quality clothing stores and big-name brands, with Merchants Street and Republic Street the most obvious ports of call in Valletta, and Bay Street Mall in St Julian’s attracting shoppers with stores such as Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, Adidas and Skechers. Malta’s open-air markets – found in almost every town and village at some point in the week – offer a far more traditional experience, and a good chance to pick up local delicacies.
Food & Drink
Various civilisations have occupied Malta over the centuries, and this cultural diversity has seeped into the local cuisine. It means that alongside classic Mediterranean dishes, visitors can also enjoy the likes of rabbit stew, fish pie and various artisan breads. These days, of course, the march of time means that you’ll find the full range of world cuisines on offer, from fast food to high-end gastronomy. Some of the very best restaurants include The Medina Restaurant in Mdina (7 Holy Cross Street) and Grill 3301 (Corinthia Hotel) in St Julian’s. Elsewhere, Marsaxlokk Fish Market, open each Sunday, has an eye-popping array of fresh seafood.
Malta Fireworks Festival
A free-to-attend fireworks spectacular that takes place over several days at the end of April, the festival was originally created to celebrate Malta’s accession to the EU. The grand finale evening takes place over Valletta’s Grand Harbour.
Malta International Jazz Festival
The balmy Maltese summer provides a relaxed setting for this showpiece musical event, a three-day open-air festival that attracts international artistes to share a bill with their Maltese counterparts. There is a nominal charge for events.
Malta Arts Festival
Combining music, theatre, dance and visual arts, this annual extravaganza runs for three weeks and showcases a mix of domestic and overseas performers. It makes use of some of Malta’s most atmospheric venues, including the remarkable Mediterranean Conference Centre, formerly a knights’ hospital.
A long night of festivities, entertainment and live music, Notte Bianca takes place in Valletta and aims to celebrate the country’s art and culture. The event is principally held outside, but also spills into cafés, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries.
Malta’s sister island, Gozo, is the setting for this mid-autumn festival, which includes a large number of concerts but also features art exhibitions, historical talks, food and drink events and guided walks. It gives an excellent chance to learn more about Gozo’s incredible archaeological sites.
Malta’s sweet climate and remarkable heritage have made it a popular holiday hotbed for decades, and its hotel stock reflects this through-the-ages appeal. The five-star Hotel Phoenicia Malta (The Mall) reflects the grandeur of the 1920s and offers a great location just outside of Valletta’s city walls, while over in St Julian’s the modern, 340-room Westin Dragonara Resort (Dragonara Road) typifies Malta’s more contemporary soul. Also in St Julian’s, but far less sizable, is the classy Hotel Juliani (25 St George’s Road), while smaller still is the fashionable Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel (88-89 The Strand), fully renovated in 2012.