With a beautiful coastline that provides some of the best diving spots in Europe, as well as historic jewels amid its walled capital city, the Mediterranean archipelago works as a balmy autumnal destination. By Tamsin Wressell
Malta’s capital city, Valletta, sits in the Southern Region. The 16th century walled city was built by the Knights of St John on a peninsula that stretches out for just one kilometre and has since been named a Unesco World Heritage Site, being one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
It’s a labyrinth of side streets, beautiful gardens and buildings, with museums, hotels, boutique shops, restaurants and bars, too. St John’s Co-Cathedral is one of its most popular sites in the city, with the Opera House and the modern Parliament House being other renowned spots of architecture. The Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the harbour, are a great spot for some peace.
Outside the city, the prehistoric Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is one of the most popular sites in Malta, reachable in 15 minutes by car from Valletta. The Unesco World Heritage Site was carved 5,000 years ago as an ancient temple and burial site in the Neolithic period. Elsewhere in the region, the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua) all trace their origins to the Middle Ages. Today, the three medieval fortified cities are filled with historic architecture, with boutique hotels, wine bars and restaurants opening up in their small, winding streets.
In the Northern Region of Malta, the former capital Mdina sits atop a hill, overlooking much of the rest of the archipelago, with views stretching out to Sicily and Mount Etna on a clear day. It’s surrounded by towering fortifications and has many centuries-old buildings, plus the megalithic temple complex of Hagar Qim. Mdina itself is a Unesco World Heritage Site, while the nearby village of Rabat is another popular attraction. It’s more rural and surrounded by natural beauty, including one of the few forested areas in Malta. Nearby, St Paul’s Catacombs is a network of underground tunnels used by the Romans as cemeteries until the fourth century that’s ripe for exploration.
Mellieha is one of the northernmost villages in Malta and offers the largest sandy beach (a rarity for the rocky-shored island), Mellieha Bay, as well as beautiful surrounding valleys. Further north, on the shores of Anchor Bay, is Popeye Village. What started out as a film set for Robin Williams’ Popeye musical comedy has since become a large tourist attraction and fun park, which can be discovered through a documentary of its creation before a round of mini-golf.
The second of the largest islands in the archipelago, Gozo sits above Malta’s mainland. The population is rather small here (there’s a few villages and small towns), with neighbouring island Comino being home to just three residents. It’s a more rural and traditional version of Malta, accessible by ferry. There’s a 16th-century citadel (all roads on the island lead here), a museum of archaeology, towering cliffs and a beautiful coastal hiking path around the island, but the main draw is in the surrounding water.
Salt pans line the coast of the island, with shops selling the produce as souvenirs, along with local cheese, oil and tomato paste. Beyond this, Gozo is one of the best places in Europe for diving – the waters remain warm enough year-round and there’s a range of shipwrecks to explore. There’s also the Blue Hole and Double Arch cave to dive, as well as the Azure Window – a famous rock formation that collapsed in 2017. Comino is a smaller island in the Gozo region – in between Gozo and Comino, there’s the Blue Lagoon, a natural site that’s often considered to be one of the best swimming spots in Malta.