When you see the little country that is Malta on a world map, and that's if you squint hard enough, it's easy to assume there might not be much to do on this little island. If you base your opinion of Malta on online research, you'll find the usual generic spa hotel mixed with hot weather and idyllic beaches. However, give this unique place the chance that it more than deserves, you'll unravel a Mediterranean gem that will prove all your previous misconceptions wrong.
So ok, it has a McDonalds, a Hilton hotel and numerous European clothes stores. But that's about as far as Western civilisation has managed to stretch its influence. The people and the culture are so laid back that in under a weeks' time you will hear yourself saying "mela" in a breezy laid back manner about as well as they do. Mela means everything in Malta. It means ok, it means relax, it means hello. It will be your little word of motivation to have you relaxing and falling in love with Malta.
The country's most priceless possession is by far the walled medieval city of Mdina, the Silent City. The city is so still you could hear a pin drop (and its vibrations) within a twenty foot radius. It's set atop a hilled region in the centre of the country, and was the old capital of Malta. It's so secluded and other-wordly that only the cars belonging to the locals are allowed enter. The world famous Mdina glass is sold here, and demonstrations are available if you want to try your hand at a bit of old fashioned glass blowing.
Photo by Siofra Mannion
Even if you don't want to go into the dungeons or tour around the museums, the trip to Mdina alone would be worth visiting Fontanella, the picturesque tea garden. Out on its balconies under quaint red umbrellas you can order the best cake known to mankind, one of the sole reasons my waistline has sincerely expanded since I arrived here. Choose from triple chocolate to white cheesecake and they will bring you a portion so big it'll have you full and satisfied until your flight home.
If like all other tourists you like to shop, the size of Malta's largest shopping mall the Point in Silema is sure to lure you in. The brands are impressive and the prices are friendly, but also don't be afraid to venture out into shops on the surrounding streets which are of the same quality. However for a more distinct buy, and not the usual run of the mil high street clothing item, go to the Sunday market in Marsaxlokk.
Photo by Sade Smith
This is a little fishing village full of stalls that stretch on adjacent to the ocean, and everything from freshly caught shark to high heels can be bought here. If you take the bus route there, try go as early as possible unless you fancy elbowing old men for a place to sit - the terminal in the capital city Valetta can get very packed with tourists and locals alike. If you're looking to bring home a personal touch and all the Maltese memorabilia isn't enough, make sure to walk to the very end where there is a man with his own jewellery stall. Give him any name you want and within five minutes he will have it carved into a sterling chain, for under five euro.
Nightlife is also amazing here, and it's cantered around one main strip called Paceville. Stuffed between every nightclub is a fast food restaurant, and you can pick from either high end sushi bars at the beginning of the street to full on dance clubs with indoor pools at the end (that's of course if you make it down there by the end of the night). Personal favourites are Footloose bar with its free vodka shooters and Native dance club. Once you're done with your night and have finished it off in style by having pizza on the beach, you'll forget what the name Magaluf even means.
So whether you come for the culture, the shopping, the parties or even just the weather, you won't return home unsatisfied. The surprising aspects of Maltese life will have you in their hooks from the word go, just give the unique Island a chance - before everyone else discovers what its capable of. You can say you saw Malta before it became the next tourist hub of Europe, just don't tell them I sent you.