MALTA

Visit the "heart" of the Mediterranean Sea

Malta

The independent State of Malta, a Republic within the British Commonwealth consisting of the main island of Malta(area 95sq.mi/246 sq. km), the adjoining islands of Gozo (26 sq. miles/67 sq. km) and Comino (1 sq. mile/2-6 sq. km) and the uninhabited rocky islets of Cominotto, Filfla and Selmunett, lies in the Central Mediterranean at the E end of the Sicilian Channel, 60 miles/93 km from the southern tip of Sicily and 180 miles/288 km from the Tunisian coast to the W.

The islands extend from NW to SE for a distance of some 27 miles/44 km, rising to a maximum height of 830 ft/253 m. The Maltese Islands are the last remains of a land bridge which during the Late Tertiary era and the Glacial periods of the Pleistocene linked Sicily with North Africa and divided the Mediterranean into two.

This small archipelago has so much variety you won’t believe how they manage to squeeze it all in. So many cultures have been mixing and influencing each other for generations that you’ll be hard pressed to pigeon-hole anything here. For example, Maltese food is a combination of Middle Eastern and Sicilian. Another thing that mixes well here is modern life with the prehistoric.

All the modern amenities you could ask for, plus everywhere you look there are tiny pockets where you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. Though the most famous asset is the gorgeous deep blue sea. Come for the red-gold beaches, limestone cliffs, sheltered bays, and every imaginable sailing vessel and forget about everything else. Here’s the best places to visit in Malta!

Valletta is the capital of Malta thanks to the famous defeat of the Ottoman Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. Built on a peninsula in the eastern part of the country, with a population around 6000, the entire town is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits on top of Mount Sceberras and has wonderful examples of baroque architecture dating from the 16th century. The stand out of these is St. John’s Cathedral and other auberges’ and bastions all built by the Knights of St. John. Valletta is the largest harbour town in Malta and from The Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens you’ll get incredible views of the Grand Harbour. If you’ve got the opportunity, the Maltese Carnival, which lasts three days, is phenomenal.

Gozo Island is the most idyllic destination of the Maltese Islands. With its quiet towns and pristine beaches, this little island is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing vacation for several days or even a weeklong stay. Although Gozo is less developed than Malta, the island has plenty of cultural attractions: a fortified medieval city, Victoria; a bustling seaside resort, Marsalforn; and the most important archaeological site of the Maltese Islands, Ggantija Temples, dating back to around 3500 BC.

Visitors enjoy the island’s bucolic landscape, a delightful retreat from the modern world. A patchwork of small farms cover gently rolling hills and valleys. Hillsides lead down to protected beaches and quaint old fishing ports. A favorite beach is at Ramla Bay with a wide, sandy shore and gentle waters that are safe for swimming. There are also traditional villages perched on hilltops and surrounded by valleys.

With an almost tropical quality, the Blue Lagoon is a mesmerizing scene of crystal-clear turquoise waters lapping over a white-sand seabed. This expansive lagoon gives the impression of being a giant swimming pool because the water is temperate, there are no waves, and the shallow end is safe enough for children.

Wonderful for swimming, splashing around, or floating on inflatable tubes, the core of the lagoon is roped off to boats. The lagoon is equivalent in length to several Olympic-size swimming pools. Good swimmers can cross to the cove and tiny beach on the other side.

The Blue Grotto is approached by a winding road on a cliff high above the Mediterranean Sea. The spectacular coastal scenery provides an exciting introduction to the nature site. The breathtaking seaside scenery and limestone caves here are a picture of pure serenity. The water shines a brilliant blue in the sun. According to mythology, the Blue Grotto was home to the sirens (sea nymphs), who captivated sailors with their charms.

With its sheltered sandy shores tucked away behind by a mountainous coastline and sloping cliffs, Golden Bay in Northwest Malta is one of the island’s prettiest beaches. Golden Bay Beach is easily accessible by car or bus; the bus stop is only a five-minute walk away from the beach. Unlike other beaches in Malta, Golden Bay Beach is far away from street traffic, which makes it a perfect get-away-from-it-all seaside escape.

The beach has an extremely wide shoreline with soft golden sands. The clean, calm waters are safe for swimming. Many visitors spend the day here sunbathing while listening to the soothing sound of waves lapping against the shore.

Ghajn Tuffieha Bay Beach feels secluded in nature, except for the umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent, public restrooms, and a snack bar. Considered one of Malta’s top beaches, Ghajn Tuffieha is favored by locals who appreciate the quiet, peaceful environment. The waters are safe for swimming except when the red flag is up (indicating strong currents).

Continuing seven more kilometers from Ghajn Tuffieha Bay is Gnejna Bay, a small protected bay surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. Hike down a flight of steep steps to the gorgeous orange sand beach, which is popular with swimmers and snorkelers. Water ski and canoe rentals are also available, as well as public restrooms and food stands.Between Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay is the rural village of Mgarr in a pastoral landscape of vine-covered hills and small farms. Outdoorsy types will enjoy the scenic hiking trails from Mgarr into the countryside and along the coast to Gnejna Bay. Nearby are ruins of Roman baths and ancient cart ruts (grooves in the limestone plateau), which intrigue scholars and visitors alike.

For families traveling with kids, the Popeye Village in Mellieha offers an entertaining place to spend the day. This charming tourist attraction was originally a film set for the 1980s movie Popeye starring Robin Williams and has become one of the top tourist attractions of Malta.

The film set is a quaint seaside village made of 20 wooden structures. Visitors are greeted by Popeye the sailor and then can take a tour of the village to find the post office, bakery, firehouse, and other buildings. Popeye Village also has a beach, sun bathing decks, and souvenir shop.

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