By Jeannine Williamson | March 2017 | 4 minute read
Malta’s history has been shaped by many influences, including Roman, Greek, Arab, French and British. Red telephone boxes, driving on the left and beer sold in pints are part of the destination’s appeal for UK travellers, along with North African temperatures. With the capital Valletta gearing up to becoming European Capital of Culture 2018, there’s no better time for agents to sell the destination.
“Malta may be small but it’s packed full of impressive sights. UNESCO describes Valletta as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world”
PATRICK MILLAR, MARKETING MANAGER, KIRKER HOLIDAYS
Sunny days: Averaging 12 hours of daily sunshine in summer and six in winter, Malta is a year-round destination
St John’s Co-Cathedral: Valletta’s ornate cathedral is home to two of the Italian artist Caravaggio’s most important works
Marvellous Mdina: Malta’s first capital has imposing fortified walls leading to a labyrinth of medieval and baroque streets
Religious tourism: One of the oldest centres of Christianity, Malta is an excellent destination for those seeking spiritual tours
Set sail: Recommend an inexpensive harbour cruise on a dghajsa, a traditional wooden boat once used to ferry sailors ashore
Glorious food: Maltese cuisine is a tasty melting pot created by the many nationalities that have occupied the island
Dive down: Malta offers some of the best diving in the Mediterranean with warm waters, excellent visibility, wrecks and caves
Charming Comino: Sandwiched between Malta and Gozo, Comino is famous for its Blue Lagoon, a natural inlet with clear, azure waters
Sensational spas: Malta’s spa legacy goes back to the rejuvenating baths of Roman times and most hotels have spas
Step out: One of the best ways of discovering Malta is on foot and ideal walking seasons are spring and autumn
My Gozo experience
It’s just a 25-minute ferry ride from the main island of Malta, but as our tour bus starts to wind through Gozo’s narrow village streets it’s like taking a step back in time.
Fishing and agriculture are the main industries on Malta’s sleepy green sister island, and sea salt has been produced for centuries at the coastal village of Marsalforn. We stop to buy a bag, wrapped in hessian, and photograph the salt pans glistening in the sun.
Gozo’s just nine miles long and half as wide, so it doesn’t take long to reach the landmark UNESCO-listed Ggantija Temples, one of Malta’s most important archaeological sites. Our guide tells us they are the world’s oldest freestanding structures, pre-dating Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids by more than 1,000 years. Outside we buy inexpensive scarves and woollens knitted by villagers and home-made cactus jam.
What the experts say
“UK visitor numbers last year increased more than other country, with 28,588 more people visiting than in 2015. With the relaunch of the Phoenicia Hotel in the spring and new seat capacity planned from various UK regions, we expect tourism to the island to continue at a rapid pace. Our focus is on families with teenagers, the young generation interested in the music scene, the LGBT community and Valletta as a city break destination and we will continue to drive these throughout 2017 and beyond.”
DPETER VELLA, DIRECTOR UK & IRELAND, MALTA TOURISM AUTHORITY
Tour operators: Kirker Holidays has added the four-star Palazzo Consiglia to its programme. The 15-room boutique property, with a rooftop terrace and swimming pool, is within walking distance of Valletta’s main sights.
Single travel specialists Solos has introduced Malta to its SunPlus programme with featured excursions including a city tour, boat trip and wine tasting. The seven-night package, with B&B and some meals, leads in at £1,119pp with flights and single occupancy accommodation.
Superbreak has launched a new fully commissionable excursion package. Ultimate Malta, priced at £99pp when added to stays of three nights or more, includes an excursion to Mediterraneo Marine Park, jeep safari and harbour cruise, including transfers.
Accommodation:The iconic five-star Phoenicia Malta reopens at Easter following a 16-month, €15m renovation. A recent addition to the CampbellGray Hotels portfolio, the re-launch will herald a new era for the 136-room property in Valletta, with a new health club and spa being added later this year. B&B rates start from around £217 per room, per night.
Events:Savvy agents can start selling packages to coincide with the host of celebrations and special events taking place during Valetta’s 2018 reign as European Capital of Culture.
Where to book it
The three-night stay at the Palazzo Consiglia from Kirker Holidays is priced from £566pp, including flights from London (regional departures also available), B&B accommodation and the Kirker Concierge service to book expert local guides or a restaurant for dinner.
Saga’s seven-night special interest Discover Art History in Malta itinerary is priced from £979pp, with all-inclusive accommodation and a free bar at the four-star Seashells Resort at Suncrest Hotel, 11 visits to attractions including the Grand Master’s Palace and St Paul’s Shipwreck Church, three lectures, flights and transfers.