Travel: Great days and great knights in Malta

Malta is noted for its sun, sea and remarkable sights. Picture: Maltese Tourist Board

Malta is noted for its sun, sea and remarkable sights. Picture: Maltese Tourist Board

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I could not wait to discover Malta - the valiant little island that throughout time repelled the mightiest of intruders with courage.

We chose the historical Imperial Hotel in Sliema as our base. Situated behind the main promenade this comfortable hotel was built in 1865 and reflects grand times of visits from Europe’s royalty.

On our first day we explored Valletta, the island’s capital. First to visit was St John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights of the same name. On entering its splendour is astounding. Under the marble floor in 350 tombs rest former knights, while above you gaze in awe at beautiful painted ceilings and ornate walls.

Valletta is a fortified city built by the Knights of St John in 1566, quietly vibrant, baroque in character and offering museums, squares, cafes and shops.

A stroll to the Upper Barraca Gardens allow you to enjoy breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour. This small city has an intoxicating effect and we decided we had to spend more time here.

An early start on the local bus costing just over £2 for an all-day ticket took us through countryside of wild flowers, cacti and blossom trees to the former capital, Mdina.

This imposing fortress, built by the great knights, offers a labyrinth of cobbled streets and magnificent panoramic views of the island.

Literally over the road is Rabat, which boasts a museum where you are whisked back to a bygone era to a preserved Roman villa. A short walk, away you enter St Paul’s grotto where he lived. This was a day of indelible historical sights.

Next it was time to put to sea and visit Malta’s two small sister islands. We chose Luzzu Cruises, named after traditional Maltese fishing boats, owner Joseph and son John Paul promised an exciting and interesting day. After an exhilarating 40-minute journey we arrived on Gozo and were taken round the island in a jeep. The island’s lush countryside and idyllic atmosphere are impressive; you can visit mystical temples, charming villages and natural wonders such as the Azure window, a huge rock with a natural arched gap where blue sky meets blue sea - enchanting.

Then, a short journey to Comino to the Blue Lagoon, where crystal clear water and tiny golden sandy beaches nestle in bays and inlets. Comino has only one resident family and is characterised by an abundance of aromatic wild plants.

On the way out the skipper skilfully steered his boat into St Michaels Caves - thrilling.

After three days enjoying sun, sea and sights it was time to relax. A 30-minute bus journey took us to Mellieha Bay, a small town which invites you to see a painting by St Luke around 60 AD and world war two underground shelters dug entirely by hand.

The beach of golden sand and clear waters with an impressive backdrop of surrounding countryside was the ideal place to relax.

We had pre-booked a tour from Low Cost Holidays which took us to the south of the island, visiting one of the oldest limestone quarries and observing building skills that go back thousands of years.

From there to the magic of Malta’s antiquity, Hagar-Qim Temple dating back 3600 years.

Next stop, the Blue Grotto where the boat takes you into a cave which reflects the sun, blue sea and underwater flora - a stunning sight.

Lunch was local fish with local white wine; I could have had seconds and thirds.

The penultimate visit was to the archaeological site Ghar Dalam, where evidence shows that Malta was once part of Europe’s land mass. Final stop the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, where one look said we had to return.

It was now the weekend, a nd a half-day excursion to Victoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua for walking tours.

Sunday found us back at Marsaxlokk where we saw bobbing up and down in the harbour the colourful luzzu fishing boats - the ideal place for a local market.

Selling everything from fish to fashion, leather handbags and shoes were snapped up by she who must have a bargain, while I bought a 2 euro belt. Sunday lunch was a local speciality, rabbit stew - scrumptious.

A last visit to Valletta took us into the Grand Master Palace, where we watched the changing of the guard in the main square, then on to absorb more wonderful sights. It’s no wonder the city’s nickname is Superbissima - most proud.

Our final morning was spent on a luzzu, which took us into ten creeks and harbours to marvel at Valletta’s grandeur.

The remaining few hours round the pool were devoted to thoughts of Malta - great days and great knights.