Only 3 hours from the UK and warm all-year-round, Malta is packed with history and culture – including these extraordinary places, recently recognised by the European Destinations of Excellence awards.
In Qrendi history, culture and nature meet. Tucked away in the south of Malta, this small village is host to Neolithic temples, crystal clear diving spots – in nearby Zurrieq – and the liveliest festas on the island. The il-Maqluba sinkhole, on the edge of the village, is a natural ‘Noah’s Ark’, home to a host of rare trees and insects only found on the island of Malta.
As well as watch towers and churches from the times of the Knights Hospitaller, Qrendi is home to Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, two ancient temple complexes, thousands of years old. Made from huge megaliths, some seven metres high and 20 tons in weight, these structures hint at the sophisticated civilisation that worshipped here as far back as 3200 BC.
The harbour at Wied iz-Zurrieq is your gateway to Malta’s famous Blue Grotto, a collection of sea caverns where the reflected sunlight turns the water a beguiling shade of blue. Visit first thing in the morning for the best light and reward yourself with a delicious seafood lunch afterwards in the harbour.
Qrendi also has famous festas; whether you attend the festa of Our Lady of Lourdes on the last Sunday in June or the festa of Santa Maria on the 15th of August, you’re in for a lively evening of feasting, music and spectacular fireworks.
The small harbour town of Għajnsielem occupies a breathtaking position overlooking the Gozo channel. The sharp, pointed steeple of the Lourdes Chapel catches the eye and Fort Chambrai on the cliff is a commanding presence. The harbour is small and animated, with tranquil corners nearby to watch the sun rise or set. A winding road leads to Xatt l-Aħmar Bay and there are breathtaking walks along the cliff tops.
The village is also host to Bethlehem f’Għajnsielem, a living, breathing recreation of the nativity story, set on twenty thousand square metres of once neglected land. Built and populated by local people, it is a fabulous recreation of Christ’s birthplace, complete with markets, taverns, dwellings, workshops and, of course, a barn. Over 100,000 visitors come each year to visit the grotto where Mary holds baby Jesus, feast on local food and wine in the tavern or explore the site at night using oil lamps.
If you visit during Epiphany (the first Sunday after New Year’s Day) you’ll be treated to the Adoration of the Magi, when the three Wise Men and their horses arrive by ferry from Malta and make a triumphant entrance to the village.
People have visited the spectacular cliffs of Dingli for centuries. The highest point of the Maltese islands, 250 metres above sea-level, the cliffs offer uninterrupted views over the over the tiny, uninhabited isle of Fifla and the open seas beyond. Watching the sun set here, beside the small chapel dedicated to St. Mary Madgalene, stirs the soul.
The cliffs extend well beyond Dingli village, stretching all the way from Bahrija to the Munqar area above Blue Grotto. There are many trails to explore as well as numerous picnic spots, perfect for feasting on the delicious treats you can buy in the markets in Dingli’s piazza.
Keep an eye out too for the mysterious ‘cart ruts’, unexplained parallel tracks hewn in the rock near the remains of megalithic structures here.
Perched on a hill, commanding distant views of Comino and Gozo, Mellieħa is a small village with a big history. It celebrates with the feast of Our Ladies of Victories every September.
These days Mellieħa is more welcoming to its visitors, offering a unique ‘rural island’ experience of sunny beaches, rural walks and hearty local cuisine. The azure waters and sandy beaches that Malta is famous for are a short stroll away, but equally accessible are countryside farms, restored farmhouses and restaurants serving fresh seasonal produce, straight from the land.
The area is rich in historical sites too. The magnificent Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa is regarded as one of Malta’s greatest treasures. You can also explore a labyrinth of air-raid shelters, built during the Second World War. Kids will love Popeye Village, built as a film set for the 1980 movie and now a colourful theme park where visitors can take part in daily filming, either as a villain or a hero.
With its magnificent Grand Harbour and spectacular seaside promenade, the small town of Ta’ Xbiex in central Malta, is the place to be seen. Home to foreign embassies and leading service companies, it is relaxed and sophisticated, with bustling bars and restaurants buzzing with a distinct sense of contentment. Walking the promenade in the early evening is an unmissable experience.
Ta’ Xbiex’s setting is its blessing. It is named after the local word for sunrise, and watching dawn break over honey-hued Valletta from here is an experience you’ll never forget.
Malta is a proud part of European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN), an EU initiative aimed at promoting sustainable tourism development across the European Community. For more information about Malta and its cultural treasures, visit the Malta Tourism Authority website.
You can now fly directly to Malta for only £44 one-way with Air Malta’s Go-Light fares. Including, taxes and charges, getting to Malta has never been more affordable.