The good bits: The sun shines in Malta almost all year long, which is a pretty good start, but it has many other things going for it, too. It is the largest island of the Maltese archipelago but is still just 27 km long and 14 km wide, therefore, any journey takes up very little precious holiday time. The island's characteristic buses run frequently and only cost about 60 euros, cars dive on the left too, making it very easy to travel around. Malta has had a very eventful history and features many ancient temples, baroque palaces and medieval structures so there is plenty to explore on the island. With a healthy Mediterranean diet, warm weather and beautiful deep blue waters, Malta is becoming an ideal fitness and well-being destination, and at only three hours away from London, is perfect for a peaceful long weekend spa break.
The not-so-good bits: During the 90s, Malta was king of the package holiday and some areas are still peppered with huge high-rise holiday resorts and loud late night bars, many of which are looking shabby and run down now. However, there is evidence of change and more desirable restaurants, five-star hotels and boutique hotels are appearing all over the island. Be choosy about where you go and where you stay and you’ll have a trip to remember - for all the right reasons.
WHAT TO DO?
Be sure to visit the capital city of the island, Valletta; walk through the ancient winding streets and admire the architecture, discover its many fountains, gardens, piazzas and religious icons. Despite being brutally attacked during the Second World War, and still bearing some visible scars, Valletta it is very beautiful and since gaining independence in the 60s and joining the euro recently, it is starting to breathe new life.While there, St John's Cathedral is a must-see, with breathtaking interior decoration, ornate gold-leafed wall carvings, intricate tapestries and mighty ceiling paintings - a stark contrast to the light, golden, relatively plain sandstone exterior. Art enthusiasts will be keen to get a glimpse of the large original Caravaggio painting also housed in the Cathedral. Valletta has plenty of museums and galleries too, if you wish to delve further into the city's history.
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Valletta, head North to Mdina, the Medieval walled city - also known as the silent city - and take a peaceful stroll round the small, cool stone streets. The city is perched high on a hilltop in the centre of the island from where you can see almost all of Malta. This city and the surrounding area is more exclusive and expensive area to live, and there are a few delightful cafes, restaurants and hotels here where A-listers have stayed whilst filming in the area.
Le Meridien hotel and Spa is located in prime position on the delightful Ballutta Bay, just before the main stretch of St Julians. This luxurious five-star hotel, that quite literally knocks the socks off the other larger hotels in the area. With 276 contemporary style rooms decorated in soft warm colours and comfortable furnishings, and possibly the largest, softest, sleep inducing pillows ever. Each room has a balcony or terrace and all the facilities you’d expect, from high-speed internet access to powerful wake-me-up rain showers.
WHERE TO EAT?
Take a break from the busy streets of Valetta and sit outside at Cafe Cordina on Republic Street, and watch the world go by - with the perfect cappuccino, and choose from a wide selection of yummy cakes, traditional Maltese honey rings and Italian ice cream. In recent years, the waterfront of Valetta has undergone some much-needed development and the old military weapon stores with their beautiful facades are now host to a variety of popular new eateries, all with large terraces providing a lovely waterside location. Try Casanova for great Italian and regional food, serving fresh fish and pasta dishes.
Another up-and-coming area is the city of Vittoriosa (also called Birgu), which attracts a slightly more discerning crowd and offers a good selection of restaurants and bars. Two and a half lemon serves wonderful Mediterranean dishes with a modern twist, and the novel ‘black rock’ dishes, where they serve raw fish or meat and a hot lava rock which you cook your meal on; it also doubles as quite a good alfresco heater for cooler nights! The Villa restaurant is part of Le Meridien hotel but is located in a beautiful 19th-century villa house, detached from the main hotel building. It boasts a gorgeous al fresco terrace and a delightful view of Ballutta Bay where both tourists and locals enjoy the A la carte menu.
FOR MORE INFO...
Air Malta offers UK passengers up to 15 flights a week from London Heathrow, a daily service from London Gatwick, up to eight flights a week from Manchester and three flights a week from Birmingham International from £79 return including taxes and charges in economy and £275 in Club Class (Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester only). For reservations telephone 0845 607 3710 or visit www.airmalta.com. Le Meridien St Julians Hotel & Spa starts from €165 (approx. £129) per room per night. This price is based on two people sharing a deluxe seaview room and does not include additional per room, per night charges that may be imposed or local taxes. To book, call www.lemeridien.com/malta or call 08000 282840.