Way off the beaten track? A challenge to reach? Dangerous even? My friend, intrepid travel writer, Tan Chung Lee will get there.
Bitten by the travel bug early in life, the galloping grandma is still traversing the globe in search of adventure and to discover yet another corner of the world she hasn’t visited. Compared to Rwanda and Inner Mongolia, Malta seems tame, but like many of Chung Lee’s choice destinations, it is rich in history and scenic splendour.
Text and photos by Tan Chung Lee
For an island archipelago that is small – 300 square km or less than half the size of Singapore – Malta is mighty in many other ways.
It is safe, steeped in history and cultural heritage, boasts breath-taking natural beauty – on land, water and even underwater – a whole host of stunning architectural attractions, great Mediterranean cuisine focused on fresh seafood and herbs and winning wines to boot. Above all, its friendly people and leisurely pace of life all add up to make for a relaxing and rewarding holiday.
Situated smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta has had a chequered history – all due to its strategic position which made it a prized possession for various powers. The Arabs, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Knights of St John, French and British all left their mark – in the language, cuisine, architecture, cultural make up and even physical appearance of the Maltese. The result is an island with a charm all of its own.
Even before the empire builders arrived, Malta was home to an ancient civilisation dating back to 3000 BC which left behind enormous Neolithic temples scattered across the archipelago, seven of which are World Heritage Sites.
There are, in all, three islands – Malta itself, the smaller, more pristine Gozo and sandwiched between them, tiny Comino.
The main island of Malta boasts spectacular architecture. It is antiquated in every way – from its massive forts, exquisite palaces and imposing churches to sprawling gardens, watch towers and aqueducts left behind mainly by the Knights of St John of Crusader fame who ruled Malta for 250 years.
Its walled capital city of Valletta and its gorgeous surroundings are best seen on a boat cruise around its appropriately named Grand Harbour or from the waterfront promenade of its neighbouring town, Sliema. A stroll through Valletta’s steep and narrow streets flanked by handsome Italianate buildings is equally delightful.
Gozo dazzles with its unspoilt natural beauty, especially along its coastline, from the Azure Window carved out of a rocky headland to its Inland Sea, a lagoon connected to the ocean through a tunnel. It’s an island that is a magnet for hikers with its many picturesque trails and it has many attractive bays offering good swimming, diving and snorkelling.
The least developed island of Comino with only four inhabitants and one hotel draws hordes of day trippers lured by the crystal clear waters of its Blue Lagoon.
Religion plays an important part in Maltese life. It was in Malta that the apostle St Paul was believed to have been shipwrecked in AD 60 and it was thanks to him that the islanders, then under the Romans, were converted to Christianity. And wherever you go throughout the archipelago, you will see elegant Baroque church domes dominating the skyline, creating a picture-postcard effect that will be etched in your mind long after your vacation is over.
Malta is well served from most European cities, especially in summer, the peak tourist season when charter flights abound. From Singapore, the shortest routing to Malta is on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.
There is an extensive public bus network on Malta and Gozo serving most towns. Fares are cheap. Malta also has a water taxi service and frequent ferries connect Malta, Gozo and Comino.
When to go
With mild winters, Malta is a year-round destination. Summer can, however, be hot and crowded with accommodation prices peaking, although it is ‘festa’ time in many towns with celebrations of their patron saint. Spring is best for hiking when the countryside is a carpet of wild flowers in bloom and the temperature is in the pleasant lower range of 20 degrees Celsius. Autumn is also a good season as water temperatures are still warm enough for swimming and snorkelling.