One of the smallest archipelagos on the planet, the majority of visitors to Malta only experience three of the country’s islands, at most. The attractions of Malta, Gozo and Comino are well documented, but there’s also plenty to draw inquisitive travellers in the direction of the smaller, uninhabited islands too. Rich in history and surrounded by myth and legend, discover the charm of the lesser known, secret islands of the Maltese archipelago.
Best described as an islet rather than an island, Filfla can be found 5km off the south coast of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea, and its name, said to be taken from the Arabic for ‘peppercorn’, seems fitting for its diminutive size. With a total area of no more than 15 acres, Filfla is not inhabited by humans but it is a haven for birdlife. Sail around the island and try to spot some of the resident species, which include the yellow-legged gull, Cory’s shearwater and an impressive colony of European storm petrel.
As its name might suggest, Cominotto is the little sister of Comino and is located just 100m from its larger sibling. It’s entirely possible to swim across the Blue Lagoon from Comino to this charming 0.25km2 island that, although uninhabited, is a favourite swimming and sunbathing spot thanks to its soft, golden sand and the aquamarine waters surrounding it.
Part of Marsamxett Harbour and positioned between the Maltese capital of Valletta and Gżira, Manoel island is home to a historic fort and can be reached via a bridge from Gżira. The island takes its name from Italian military engineer António Manoel de Vilhena, who erected a fort here in the early 18th century. The fort was said to be an impenetrable construction that housed over 500 men. It has served not only as a military fortification but also as a quarantine for people suffering from the plague, a naval base and it was a hospital during WWII. Today, it’s open to the public so visitors can explore its historic surroundings, which now also include a restaurant and café.
Surrounded by myth and legend, St Paul’s Island is closely associated with the story of the shipwreck of Paul the Apostle in the Maltese archipelago. It’s said that Paul was sailing to Rome in 60 AD when his boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. Paul and his crew found shelter on the island and it was during this period, allegedly, that Paul introduced its people to Christianity. St Paul’s Island is believed by locals to be the site of Paul’s shipwreck and this is commemorated by a grand statue of St Paul, which has been a landmark on the island since the 19th century.
If you’re planning a trip to Malta’s famous Blue Grotto, take a moment to admire the nearby Fungus Rock, which stands at the entrance of Dwejra Bay. Its name comes from the time of the Knights of Malta, when a special type of fungus, said to have healing powers against illnesses such as dysentery, was discovered to grow on the rock. As a result, the rock was declared off limits to members of the public. Today, access to the islet is still restricted as it’s now a nature reserve, but if you can get here by boat, it also happens to be an excellent snorkelling spot.