Malta, Gozo & Comino

The Maltese Archipelago consisting of Malta, Gozo, Comino and two uninhabited islets Filfla and Cominotto are found in the middle of the Mediterranean basin sixty miles south of Sicily.

 

Through the centuries, Malta’s strategic position at the very centre of the Mediterranean Sea attracted the attention of every major forces in the region. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Roman, Arabs, Normans and Castilians all came and left their mark. Long before them, lost in the midst of time, others had established civilizations as can be witnessed by the Megalithic Temples which predate both Stonehenge and the Pyramids. But perhaps the most glorious pages in Malta’s history were during the time of the Knights of St. John (1530-1798). After a brief period of French rule at the end of the 18th century, the islands passed into British hands.  In 1964 Malta became an independent nation.

 

In spite of this strong historical element, Malta is far from tied to the past.  It has kept up with the fast pace of the modern world and has a standard of living comparable to most Western Europe nations enjoying all the comforts of a developed society without having to bear the discomforts of excessive industrialization. Over the past 30 years Malta has grown into a major tourist destination in the Mediterranean. With the mild climate, clear unpolluted waters, the traditional hospitality of its people and, of course its unique heritage, not forgetting the excellent hotels and leisure facilities, Malta is the complete venue, offering the right combination of old and new.

Valletta – The Islands’ Capital

Valletta was built by the Order of St. John after the Great Seige. Foundations were laid in 1566 and the plan was to build an impregnable fortress containing a civilized, elegant city.  In fact, one of the most significant aspects of Valletta is that it was architecturally planned from scratch on Sceberras peninsula that lies between Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour.  It was the most strategic position on the island, the one most coveted by the Turks during the siege. Grand Master LaVallette made it his for all time. For this reason, Valletta is literally overflowing with palaces, churches, monuments and works of art.  Today it is the commercial hub of the island but it has retained all of its historical, architectural charm.  Places one must visit while walking the streets of Valletta is the Upper Barracca Gardens. The view from these gardens is magnificent – a superb panorama of Grand Harbour and the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea. Other places to visit are St. John’s Co-Cathedral, The National War Museum, The Palace of the Grandmasters, The Manoel Theatre and The Mediteranean Conference Centre.

Mdina

Mdina, in Arabic “a walled-in city”, was the old capital of Malta also known as “the silent city”. Two hundred years after the Arab occupation ended in 1224 it was renamed Citta Notabile, and in 1571 when Valletta became the capital, Citta Vecchia, “the old city”. Mdina boasts several restaurants and shops, all tucked away so not to spoil its medieval atmosphere.  Two ornamental 18th century gateways, built by de Valhena, provide access to the city across the bridged moat, the main entrance being Mdina Gate. Today with its panoramic bastions and its twisting streets the palaces has been turned into restaurants, cafes, tea rooms, souvenir shops and museums where audio-visual features on Mdina and Maltese history are screened regularly.

Mosta

Mosta lies at the heart of Malta. The town's name derives from the Arabic 'musta', meaning centre. It was only a hamlet in medieval times, but began to develop at the turn of the 17th century after the Great Siege. Today it is a busy market town. At its centre is a magnificent domed church (completed in 1860), the Mosta Rotunda, said to be the third largest unsupported church dome in Europe. It was built to imitate the Pantheon in Rome, by Maltese architect George de Vasse. In World War II, the Church took a direct hit from a German bomb during mass. The bomb pierced the dome, but failed to explode. This event is now regarded as miraculous intervention. You can see a replica of the 200kg bomb in the sacristy. The building of the church was revolutionary in its day: the Mosta Rotunda was constructed over the old church which was only demolished at the last.

Sliema & St. Julian’s

Sliema and St Julian's are Malta's most modern and most built up areas and where most tourists stay on the northeastern coast of the island. Visitors here will find an abundance of relaxing holiday activities available, as well as restaurants, shopping and nightlife. In recent years the town has experienced significant growth, with modern villas and apartments abounding as well as one of Malta’s best hotels.

 

Visitors can therefore enjoy fine shopping and dining as part of their stay here. There is also plentiful opportunity for relaxing beach activities such as an idyllic cruise, or water sports such as snorkeling and diving.

 

St. Julian’s has  grown from a fishing village to a popular resort it's a delightful place to visit with pretty streets and houses and two attractive bays; Balluta and Spinola.  The area of “Paceville” in St. Julian’s is the  liveliest centre for nightlife.

St. Paul’s Bay / Bugibba / Qawra

St. Paul's Bay and its neighbours Buġibba and Qawra are Malta's largest, seaside resorts. They offer plentiful accommodation ranging from self-catering apartments to hotel complexes and a variety of nightlife and leisure options. The coastline here has some wonderful open seaviews and a vista across to St. Paul's Island, where, according to legend, the ship carrying St. Paul the Apostle is said to have been shipwrecked. Standing prominently on the isle is a large statue of the Apostle commemorating this legendary event. The coastline promenade provides a long, though mostly level and easy walk from St. Paul's Bay all the way to Qawra Point, with its tower and views over Salina Bay. St. Paul's Bay started life as a small fishing village.

Mellieha

Mellieha is a rural village and tourist resort in the Northwestern part of Malta. This small town on Marfa Ridge overlooks one of the best sandy beaches in Malta called Il-Ghadira. From here you can see the islands of Comino and Gozo in the distance and, to the left, the Red Tower, built by the Knights to guard the Ridge in 1649. Mellieha is one of Malta's most picturesque tourist destinations. The town centre boasts of its splendid hotels, fine restaurants and traditional cute shops. It has a unique primary school, a majestic baroque church (built in late 19th century) and various cultural organizations, including band clubs, sports clubs, an orchestra, various religious societies, and a parish community centre.

Marsaxlokk

Marxaxlokk, whose name means “ harbour of the Scirocco” (the warm winter wind from the Sahara) is Malta’s largest fishing village and its most picturesque, situated on the eastern part of Marsaxlokk Bay. People flock the coulourful seafront to see the brightly painted Luzzu (fishing boat) in the harbour and the pretty houses. The fishermen continue to mend their nets uninterrupted by the tourists. Here you can enjoy eating fresh fish at most of the local restaurants.

Tarxien Temples / Hypogeum

There are two reasons to visit these towns: the Tarxien Temples and the Hypogeum. Tarxien Temples are the most important megalithic structures on Malta and powerfully impressive, although hemmed in the 20th century buildings. The Hypogeum is Malta’s finest archaeological monument as well as being a world heritage site.  Hypogeum is a word derived from the Greek, meaning an underground burial vault. The vault comprises a complex oninterlinking subterranean curvilinear chambers on three levels hewn by hand out of the limestone rock to a depth of 10.6 m, and dating back to approximately 3200 BC. 

Gozo

Gozo, the sister island of Malta is accessible by a 20-minute ferry boat ride. Crossing the channel from Cirkewwa to Mgarr is a pleasant experience especially when the boat passes by Comino and Cominetto, the little islets between Malta and Gozo. As the ferry boat approaches Mgarr greener Gozo lies in wait to enchant and captivate you with its primordial beauty. Legend has it that Gozo is the spot where Ulysses was shipwrecked on his journey to Itacha. Homer tells us that beautiful Calypso lived on the island and immediately fell in love with Ulysses. She had found him unconscious on the beach and nursed him back to health. Ulysses however was enchanted by Calypso’s beauty and lingered  on the island for ten years. The cave overlooking Ramla Bay is still known as Calypso Cave.

Victoria (Rabat)

The original name of Gozo’s capital, Rabat, is Arabic but the British named it Victoria for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1897, and that at least avoids confusion with Malta’s Rabat. Towering over the suburb is the hilltop citadel, which can be seen for miles below the main street.  Victoria’s Citadel, like Mdina’s, sits on a high ledge. From the semicircular battlements running from east to west there is an spectacular panoramic view of Gozo. The Citadel in Gozo owes its roots to the late medieval era, but the hill has been settled since Neolithic times. For centuries, the Citadel served as a sanctuary from attack by Barbary corsairs and Saracens. At several times during Gozo's history, these raiders took its population into slavery. Victoria is not just the geographic heart of Gozo, it is also the centre of everyday activity. It manages to combine the bustle of its market and shops with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. It is a great place to watch the Islanders go about their day, especially when the main market square, It-Tokk, comes to life.

Xaghra

Xaghra, meaning “a large open place”, boasts the most enchanting village square on the island. Ġgantija is a Neolithic, megalithic temple complex on the Mediterranean island of Gozo. The Ġgantija Temples are the earliest of a series of megalithic temples in Malta. The Ġgantija temples are older than the pyramids of Egypt. Their makers erected the two Ġgantija temples during the Neolithic Age (c. 3600-2500 BC), which makes these temples more than 5500 years old and the world's second oldest manmade religious structures, after Göbekli Tepe. Together with other similar structures, these have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Megalithic Temples of Malta. Also, to the rear of an ordinary house in Xaghra,  is this natural cave discovered in 1888 by local resident Joseph Rapa. The cave, now well illuminated by electric lights, is remarkable for its plethora of natural stalactites and stalagmites.

Marsalforn

Marsalforn is a village on the north east coast of Gozo, the second largest island of the Maltese archipelago. The village lies between the hill-top towns of Xagħra and Żebbuġ. The village forms part of the locality of Żebbuġ. Marsalforn is the most popular tourist resort on Gozo. It is well served with hotels, restaurants, bars, and beaches. There is only a small sandy beach in Marsalforn, however, along the rocky coastline there are a number of interesting swimming spots.

Xlendi

Xlendi Bay is three kilometres away from Victoria on the southwest side of Gozo. This beautiful inlet with a sandy beach  is an ideal  swimming spot.  For many years this bay used to be a fishing village, but recently it has been transformed into a tourist attraction. As a tourist resort it is equipped with several tourist-oriented amenities, such as, bars, restaurants, holiday flats and hotels.  Xlendi Bay is one of the prettiest places on the island. Its inky blue sea, the cloudless turquoise sky and majestic cliffs makes this place a must for tourists to visit

Comino

Situated between Malta and Gozo, the smaller island of Comino is a paradise for snorkelers, divers, windsurfers and ramblers. Only 3.5 square kilometers, Comino is car-free and apart from one hotel, is virtually uninhabited.  The island's main attraction is the Blue Lagoon. In summer, this sheltered inlet of shimmering aquamarine water over white sand is very popular with day-trippers. Comino is also worth a visit in winter, and is ideal for walkers and photographers. With no urban areas or cars on the island, one can easily smell the scent of wild thyme and other herbs.

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