Made up of eight islands, only three of which are inhabited, this sunny destination will delight lovers of authenticity, gastronomy and nature walks. Itineraries off the beaten track.
Malta is both next door and a guaranteed change of scenery. Less than three hours by plane from France, here is an escape that is as delightful as it is easy to organise. In the middle of the Mediterranean, it is possible to multiply experiences in a single trip.
Here, you can immerse yourself in the incredible multi-millennial history of the island nicknamed “the island of honey”, then get lost in the countryside to taste some fine wines, before feasting on the local cuisine and diving into the Mediterranean Sea from an almost deserted cove.
Few European destinations offer such variety.
Valletta and the Three Cities. Travel back in time.
The capital of the Maltese archipelago is sure to be the first pleasant surprise of your stay. From the moment you arrive, Valletta’s charm inevitably captivates visitors. What makes it so appealing? First of all, the profusion of splendid buildings and the breathtaking interweaving of eras. Everywhere, the architecture tells the rich history of a string of islands where all the civilisations have succeeded one another, from the Phoenicians to the British, including of course the great epic of the Knights of Malta.
Sumptuous baroque churches, impressive fortifications, luxurious palaces, steep streets and secret gardens show that Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has always been one of the beating hearts of the Mediterranean. Beyond this initial sense of wonder, what is also striking is the extent to which the city is not just an open-air museum, let alone a sleeping beauty. This almost 7,000-year-old city, a veritable melting pot of culture and creativity, will surprise you with its dynamism.
By becoming European Capital of Culture in 2018, Valletta has undertaken a vast programme of restoration of its historic centre, giving back its blondness to the typical local limestone, the globigerine, which constitutes the material of most of the facades. The city has also increased the number of attractive new places to visit: charming boutique hotels in the heart of the fortifications or in ancient palaces, trendy cafés, surprising boutiques, good bistronomic restaurants and starred restaurants…
The historic heart of Malta is now in full swing, like the Is-Suq Tal-Belt covered market, renovated in 2018, or the new national parliament, designed in 2015 by the architect Renzo Piano. Another good idea, far from the crowds but very close to the capital: a visit to what is known here as “the Three Cities”. Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa form an extraordinary group of three fortified towns, a legacy of the time of the Knights of Malta. A real journey out of time.
From Mdina to Dingli. Immersion in the Maltese countryside.
As soon as you leave Valletta, another face of the main island is revealed. In the heart of the Mediterranean scrub, Mdina, the former capital of the archipelago, shines with its splendour, but above all with its tranquillity. This strange walled city, which now has only 400 inhabitants, has not stolen its nickname of “Silent City”. Inside the fortifications, you can still sense the refinements of the old days just by looking up at the countless palaces once built by the nobility. To fully enjoy it, it is worth staying at least one night.
Especially since Mdina is home to Malta’s only Relais & Châteaux hotel, which houses one of the best restaurants on the island (1 Michelin star). The walk at the end of the day, when the swallows are twirling in the orange sky, is idyllic. You should then lose yourself in the narrow streets around the baroque cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. From Mdina, it is easy to go to Rabat, a city that was once one with the former. Here you should not miss a visit to the catacombs, the grotto and the church of St. Paul, as well as the Wignacourt museum, in a splendid baroque palace, where a very rich art collection is on display. Nearby, a walk in the shade of the tall trees of the Buskett Gardens is a must. This is the only original wooded area in the archipelago.
An oasis of greenery in the heart of the island’s limestone escarpments where holm oaks, Aleppo pines, cypresses, olive trees and orange trees flourish. After that, you must continue westwards to survey the Maltese vineyards, which have also undergone a real transformation in recent years. The few estates that make up the vineyard have undergone a thorough renewal, with production methods geared towards organic farming.
The result is outstanding wines that can now be tasted in many cellars open to the public. Last stop is Dingli, on the west coast of the main island, for its impressive cliffs overlooking the sea. On the ridge line, the view is breathtaking over the small island of Filfla.
Gozo, the pearl of the Mediterranean.
It is impossible to leave without a dip in the Mediterranean Big Blue. There are many places to swim in the archipelago, but a dip in the shores of the mythical island of Gozo is almost enough to justify a trip to Malta.
This still very rural piece of land, where time passes peacefully and slow tourism is the rule, is famous for having been the site of the love affair between the nymph Calypso, queen of the island of Ogygia (Gozo’s former name), and Ulysses, who according to the Homeric legend was held here for seven years. The visitor, too, is quickly captured by the sunny charm of this natural island. The best way to stay here is in one of the many farm houses, which have been converted into stylish guesthouses or guesthouses. From then on, all you have to do is set off along the steep paths.
These wind through prickly pear trees, along cliffs, before leading you to the edge of the turquoise water, in secret coves where swimming is worth all the bewitchment of Calypso. Another tip: from Gozo, don’t miss a trip to the third island of the archipelago, Comino, whose coastline is bordered by the famous Blue Lagoon, a diver’s paradise known for its cyan and turquoise hues.