WITH all the sun and fun of Menorca or Marbella, but with tons more cultural delights, Malta has long been a favourite short-haul sunshine destination for Brits.
It was recently pegged as an emerging party island, with bookings from the UK soaring by 366 per cent between June and September last year and scenes of youngsters necking body shots on social media.
But the supposed party isle has so much more to it than that.
James Draven shares his top ten reasons to visit.
REASONS TO STAIR
MALTA’s capital city Valletta, a Unesco World Heritage site, was founded in 1566 by the Knights of St John, a Christian order dating back to the Crusades.
The knights carefully planned honey-coloured Valletta as a fortified city.
But today the coastal hotspot – the smallest capital in the EU – is a labyrinth of overlapping streets, staircases jittering with lively cafés, and beautiful baroque architecture, all impossibly piled up and overlooking the sapphire waters of the Grand Harbour.
DIVE INTO HISTORY
THERE aren’t many cities where you can jump straight into the harbour and see a historic shipwreck, but that’s just what you get with Valletta.
HMS Maori served in World War Two until it was sunk by Nazi planes in 1942.
Teeming with history, coral and colourful fish, this sunken treasure makes an excellent spot for beginner divers since it’s so close to both the surface and the shore.
The instructors at Divewise are excellent guides (divewise.com.mt)
LIFE’S RICH TAPESTRIES
HAVING spent 16 years being meticulously restored in Belgium, 29 huge tapestries are finally back where they belong, on display for the first time since 1990 in St John’s Cathedral.
They represent the largest set of tapestries woven during the Baroque Age and were first hung there in 1702.
If that doesn’t impress you, then Valletta’s cathedral also contains the only painting by 16th Centuary Italian artist Caravaggio that he liked enough to actually sign.
STEP back in time on a stroll around enchanting Mdina, Malta’s ancient capital.
It’s known as the Silent City, since cars aren’t allowed on most of its narrow streets.
Yet this ancient walled region is actually pretty busy by day – perhaps because many scenes from the first season of Game Of Thrones were filmed here.
But don’t lose your head – experience its mystical charms by moonlight.
KEEP a level head and a sure footing when you pop to the top of the majestic Dingli Cliffs.
These are the highest sea cliffs in Europe, offering dizzying views of the sparkling Mediterranean stretching to the horizon.
GET LOST ON A LUZZU
THESE traditional fishing boats, known for their vibrant colours, adorned with the symbolic “Eye of Horus”, offer an authentic Maltese experience.
Hop aboard a Luzzu and cruise from Valletta to the Three Cities, enjoying the picturesque coastal views along the way.
THREE CITIES THRILLS
HOP aboard a Rolling Geeks golf buggy and explore the historic Three Cities – Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea.
Drive yourself and your gang through winding streets and past magnificent fortifications while the satnav tells you where to turn and an automated tour guide regales you with tales of a bygone era.
The system also lets you take on-board selfies and call back to base if you get lost.
GOTTA GO TO GOZO
MORE laid back and rural than its sister island, locals say that Gozo is what Malta was like 50 years ago.
The ferry ride is quick and cheap, so you’d be daft not to take a day trip to see the golden sands of Ramla Bay, ancient salt pans on the shoreline, the Bronze Age hilltop citadel or Ggantija Temples, man-made structures that predate the pyramids of Egypt.
IF you like your evenings lively, Paceville – a district in the city of St Julian’s – reigns supreme, with its electric atmosphere and buzzing bars like Hugo’s Terrace and TwentyTwo.
And you can still party without going mad. The city’s seafront exudes sophistication, offering sleek spots like Bar Native.
For a swift half in historic surroundings, head to Valletta’s charming Strait Street.
DINE IN LUXURY
RUN by Paul Buttigieg, one of Malta’s best-known chefs, Tmun Restaurant on Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour is recognised in the Michelin Guide.
It’s our top choice for innovative seafood and Mediterranean flavours.
Leave space for the amazing cheesecake.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Four nights’ B&B at the 4H Palazzo Consiglia is from £857pp, including flights from Gatwick on April 23, 2024.