One of the world’s smallest countries, Malta packs an impressive amount of history, culture and natural beauty into its diminutive borders. From ancient temples and caves to a spectacular coastline that’s been used as the backdrop for many Hollywood films, Malta has been luring travellers to its stunning Mediterranean shores for centuries. From where to find the Game of Thrones film set to irresistible deep-fried delicacies, discover these 10 things you never knew about Malta.
An archipelago rather than a single island, the country of Malta is made up of seven islets, though only two of them are inhabited year-round. Alongside Malta and Gozo, idyllic Comino is the third largest island, however it’s not permanently populated and there are no cars either.
Gozo is loved for its calm, rural atmosphere and historic sites. The medieval capital of Victoria is a must-visit for its ancient citadel; visitors can walk around the top of the historic walls and enjoy views of almost the entire island. Blessed with natural beauty, Gozo’s exquisite scenery and beaches include Calypso Cave, so called because it’s thought to have inspired Calypso’s cave in Homer’s Odyssey. Take a boat trip to the cave, positioned next to Ramla Bay, and admire the wonderful views. A ferry runs regularly between Malta and Gozo (the journey takes only 20 minutes), or alternatively, you can take a water taxi between the islands.
A surprise to most visitors, Malta has been the chosen shooting location for many major films. Hollywood has been coming here since the 1920s, with big screen hits such as Troy, Gladiator and Captain Phillips all making use of the Maltese landscape. Hit television series, Game of Thrones, has repeatedly filmed in Malta, with much of the country serving as the fictional location of King’s Landing.
While no-one can ever be certain, many believe Malta’s name was taken from the Greek for honey: ‘melite.’ It’s possible the moniker might have been adopted by Greek sailors on account of the region’s distinctive honey made by the Maltese honey bee, which was considered a delicacy.
Malta is certainly not short of world-class historical locations. Along with its capital, Valletta, the country is also home to two further UNESCO World Heritage Sites: its collection of megalithic temples, and the subterranean necropolis of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. Furthermore, the country also has seven sites on UNESCO’s tentative list, including the Cittadella in Gozo and Malta’s former capital, Mdina.
It’s believed that, around 17,000 years ago, the archipelago of Malta would have been connected to Sicily and Italy itself, and would have been part of one landmass until the last Ice Age, when rising sea levels caused the archipelago to separate.
Discover traditional Maltese crafts and artisan-made goods at this collection of workshops. It’s a great place to browse for jewellery, works by Maltese artists, hand blown glass, ceramics and lace – a long established local craft.
Food and drink are central to Maltese culture, and there are plenty of local specialities for visitors sink their teeth into. Pastizzi are a well-known and much-loved local snack, and consist of fried filo pastry filled with either ricotta or peas. Enjoy them with a glass of Cisk, the local lager, or Kinnie, a local soft drink made from oranges and herbs.
The British arrived in Malta at the start of the 19th century, and the islands remained under British rule for over 150 years. Malta was finally granted independence in the mid 1960s, becoming a republic in 1974. Today, vestiges of British influence still remain, such as a smattering of British telephone boxes that still remain on the island.
At just 0.55 square kilometres, Valletta is certainly compact but it’s packed full of personality and historical sites. The Maltese capital since 1571, the city was built by the Knights of the Order of St John and designed like a fort, encircled by towering walls. Awarded the European Capital of Culture in 2018, it’s home to several masterpieces of Baroque architecture.