Maltese escape

With Malta tipped as one of this year’s top holiday destinations, here’s why this Mediterranean island is so tempting


The island of Malta might be small but there are some big reasons to put this Mediterranean destination on your travel wishlist for 2021. With the news that UK travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be welcome to visit from June 1, it’s also tipped as one of the UK’s ‘green list’ countries to avoid quarantine on your return.

Around 40 per cent of Malta’s adult population has already received its first dose of the vaccine — second only to the UK in terms of European countries.

And if open borders aren’t enough of a temptation, there are a string of openings planned for 2021, new low-cost flights plus a growing food scene — including vegan and vegetarian restaurants — along with its better-known attractions such as year-round sun, temples older than the pyramids, beautifully preserved mediaeval cities and some of Europe’s best diving, not to mention sister islands Gozo and Comino to explore.

A regular movie location, thanks to the mix of scenery and the island’s own film studios, Malta will also be appearing as the backdrop to new Apple TV series Foundation, bsed on novels by Isaac Asimov and set to première later in 2021.

Food & drink

Malta was added to the Michelin Guide in 2020, with three Michelin-starred restaurants to discover — Noni, Under Grain and De Mondion.

But there’s more than fine dining to tempt, including Heritage Malta’s Taste History Project with restaurants recreating historical dishes linked to their heritage or location, including inspiration taken from ancient baking traditions in Valletta, the life of the Knights of St John in the old capital Mdina and a pasta dish that was a favourite of monks in a local priory.

There’s also a special concept tasting menu at Bahia called History in the Making, with the restaurant using the island’s eight most notable historical eras — Stone Age, Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Knights Hospitallers, French, British and Maltese Future — to inspire dishes.

Courses include local barley cooked in Melqart, a Maltese red wine, and a dessert using date-filled pastry imqaret to create a mousse with date and orange purée.

The island is home to a small Jewish community, and as well as a kosher restaurant, L’Chaim in St Julian’s, there’s a growing vegan and vegetarian scene. No 43 in Valletta has both a library and art gallery for emerging artists, as well as a reputation for its inventive salads.

Or Pash & Jimmy’s Café in St Paul’s, in Malta’s north, has vegan pizza, burgers and desserts, as well as picnic options if you’re planning to hop on the ferry to Gozo.

There’s also a new wine trail to showcase all the vineyards across Malta and Gozo — Maltese wine isn’t available in the UK, so it’s worth making the most of it while you’re on the islands.

With wine production on the islands dating back around 2,000 years to the time of the Phoenicians, the best-known wineries are Marsovin and Emmanuel Delicata, founded at the start of the 20th century. The newest to open is Ta’Betta, which runs tours and private wine tastings, priced from £64.

Malta’s new hotels

There has always been a tempting range of boutique hotels on Malta, as well as villas, beach hotels and five-star luxury, but this year sees some exciting new additions.

Iniala Harbour House has 23 individually designed rooms and suites across four historic Maltese houses, above ancient vaults. Set on the capital’s St Barbara Bastion, with views to Valletta’s Grand Harbour, there’s a rooftop restaurant, as well as spa, bar and heated pool set to open in the vaults this year.

The city’s four-star Embassy Valletta Hotel, with 81 rooms including family suites and a rooftop pool, is also now open.

Or for somewhere memorably different, the 16th century palace of Casa Rocca Piccola Valletta now allows you to spend the night in one of the spectacular bedrooms.

Once the family home of Maltese nobility, the 50 rooms have been turned into a living museum to share the country’s aristocratic customs and traditions, with overnight stays from £99 B&B.

In St Julian’s, not far from the capital, the Hyatt Regency Malta has opened near the beach on St George’s Bay. Along with 151 rooms, there’s a rooftop pool here too, plus spa, and two restaurants, including a rooftop setting looking out towards Valletta.

In the same area, there’s also the new Mercure St Julian’s, a four-star 113-room hotel overlooking Spinola Bay, with its own rooftop pool, while the Malta Marriott Hotel has undergone a £25 million renovation.

Don’t miss

The pretty fishing village of Marsaxlokk, with ranks of colourful boats in its harbour, has always been a big draw for visitors — and with a 
£4.25 million project to regenerate the Tal-Maghluq area, there will be new pedestrian areas and improved facilities, as well as a facelift for the historic streets by the end of this year.

Or consider an alternative city break. While former European Capital of Culture Valletta’s winding golden streets and elegant old ‘auberges’, home to the Knights of St John, should be on every visitor’s list, it’s easy to overlook the Three Cities, as Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua) are known.

Set across the Grand Harbour from the capital, the three were the first fortified cities built by the Order of St John when the knights arrived on the island in 1530, although Birgu, the first capital, existed before they settled on Malta.

The winding streets are lined with their grand buildings, as well as ever more cafés, restaurants and boutique hotels, along with a restored fort on the Birgu waterfront, plus several museums.

For a more active stay, hire a bike and head to the craggy coast of west Malta. Look out to the Blue Grotto, stop at the ancient sites of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, the oldest free-standing temples in the world, before enjoying the views from the Dingli Cliffs, the island’s highest point.

Or you can also cycle a loop around laid-back Gozo, starting in the south near the ferry port towards Marsalforn, as well as a stop in Victoria for the 360-degree views from the Citadel.

Malta has repeatedly been voted Europe’s top diving destination too, with 12 wreck sites now added to the diving map, along with reefs, caverns and caves.

A great place for beginners, as well as more advanced divers, the clear waters and variety of wrecks, plus the fact there are sheltered coves always in reach, mean even novices can discover some impressive underwater scenes.

Above the waves, try kayaking and paddle boarding off the beaches, along with snorkelling in the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon off Comino.


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