Sun, sea and history are all available in abundance on the island of Malta. There is evidence that the island has been settled since the 4th century B.C. and over the centuries it has seen waves of settlers come and go -- Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and more. The Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem played a big part in shaping the island's history and landscape while in 1798 Napoleon arrived and stayed for two years before acceding the island to British control in 1800. It remained a British colony until its independence in 1964. Despite its legacy of British rule -- with red phone and letter boxes and the English language being some legacies that remain -- Malta definitely has its own distinct vibe and culture.
With a history stretching back more than 7,000 years Malta has no shortage of sights to enjoy, with prehistoric temples and Roman catacombs to medieval castles and beautiful churches. The Mediterranean climate makes Summer the perfect time for family holidays on the island, when you can make the most of the sandy beaches and range of water sports on offer. When the temperatures are lower in Spring and Autumn, the countryside and coastline come into their own. The days are now perfect for enjoying walks through inland forests and along cliff tops. The capital Valletta is named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, once Grand Master of the Order of St John and defender of Malta in the 16th century. Today Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a huge density of historical buildings within its boundaries. With a holiday base in Valletta, you're ideally placed to enjoy this beautiful island.
Religious feast days are part of the island's soul and are celebrated in colourful ways that blend religious tradition with pagan folklore. Each village and town has its own fiesta honouring their patron saints. They present a wonderful opportunity to get involved in local life and a way to sample the special food and drink that accompany the celebrations. In recent years, Malta has also seen a growing calendar of cultural events, several of which have become annual fixtures. These include the lavish Malta Fireworks Festival in April, different music and arts festivals and the memorable night that is Notte Bianca, held every September.
Things to Do
Despite its evident history, Valletta is also a very modern capital with a buzzing nightlife, cultural events and fine dining to enjoy while countryside drives and walks reward you with a wealth of archaeological sites and the island's megalithic temples; these are the oldest free-standing structures in the world. Safe, sandy beaches are the perfect haven for lazy days and family fun.
The silent heart of the island
At the highest point of the island is Mdina, also known as the Silent City and once the island's capital. Surrounded by the pretty town of Raba it is a real jewel in the crown of Malta, with architecture, history and stunning views to enjoy. Try and visit in the evening when the day trippers have left and the sunset casts a rosy glow over the fortress.
Taking to the water
The crystal waters of Malta are clear enough to tempt anyone in for a spot of snorkelling especially when you are rewarded with shoals of colourful Mediterranean fish. Perfect beaches for snorkelling are Slugs or Mistral Bay, but if surfing is more your sport, then try out the beaches of Palm or St Thomas.
A lively museum full of fun!
Fort Rinella in Kalkara was the first mechanised fort in the world and a testament to British engineering. Today it's brought to life for visitors with guides dressed up as 19th-century Victorian soldiers, lively re-enactments and interactive displays that the whole family can get their hands on.
Getting to know the marine life
The Malta National Aquarium Project has enough family entertainment for an entire day with its aquarium, landscaped gardens, beach and cafés. The aquarium is in a shell structure shaped like a starfish and has 41 tanks housing fish from Maltese waters as well as exotic specimens from around the world. A walk-through tunnel lets you get up close and personal with the fish.
A quaint evening spot
With restaurants, bars and nightclubs your holiday evenings are well catered for in Malta and Trabuxu Wine Bar is well worth a visit. Housed in a 400-year-old cellar in the historic heart of Valletta, this wine bar has changed little since it first opened. Relax for an evening with friends and family and share tasty food platters or pop in after a theatre show for an excellent glass of wine.
Calendar of Events
Try your hand at traditional Mediterranean instruments, catch top quality music, theatre and dance productions or be amazed as fireworks light up the sky. All of this features on the island's sparkling calendar of annual events.
Malta International Fireworks Festival. Taking place every April, this festival lights up the skies above Valletta's Grand Harbour as different firework factories compete to put on the best displays. The fireworks are set to music.
Ghanafest - Folk Music Festival. This is a glorious celebration of Mediterranean folk music and Maltese folk songs, or Ghana, that takes place in June. Listen to the music, sample delicious Maltese delicacies and try your hand at playing traditional instruments all in the beautiful setting of the Argotti Botanical Gardens at Floriana.
Notte Bianca. Don't expect to get any sleep on this Autumn night as Valletta stays up with a night-long celebration of arts and culture. Museums, historic attractions and theatres stay open until dawn while the streets and squares come alive with performers and open-air activities for all ages. Everything is free of charge!
Valletta Carnival. Held in February or March, this carnival is part religious and part fun with dance and costume competitions and processions of decorated floats, grotesque masks and marching bands. An unforgettable day of colour, music, food and fun.