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Sorrel in Valletta, the capital of Malta.
Sorrel in Valletta, the capital of Malta.
Walking around town.
Having a swim at Gozo.

Malta: a speck in the Mediterranean

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Just a speck in the Mediterranean is Malta — with seemingly endless sunshine and blue waters, it's a destination you'll never forget.

Just a speck in the Mediterranean, Malta and its sister islands, Gozo and Comino, have endured a long and turbulent history. It is possible Malta was once linked to Sicily and southern Europe — neolithic pottery fragments unearthed at Skorba are similar to those found in Sicily. Geologically, the Maltese Islands are lumps of the Mediterranean seabed that have been pushed upwards until they popped above sea level.

The Mediterranean climate has mild winters, hot, dry summers and seemingly endless sunshine. Life in Malta revolves around the sea. It has little in the way of natural vegetation, so there is very little land-based wildlife. The 27km-long island can be driven in half an hour. Much of it has been cultivated and the parts that aren't are just bare and rocky.

The rough, limestone slopes of the hilltops and sea cliffs have stunted olive, oleander and tamarisk trees and ground cover of thyme, euphorbia, rosemary and brambles.

Malta was previously a British colony, so just about everyone speaks English. Getting around is easy — for around $2, you can go virtually anywhere on the local bus, and Valletta, the capital, is a good place to explore by foot. The fortress city was built by the Knights of St John, and it is full of 18th century architecture. The back streets and lanes are perfectly safe, and the city is so compact, that getting lost is almost impossible.

Everyone you meet will probably strongly suggest a visit to the famous Blue Grotto, which is said to have the bluest water in the country. Even though boats take the trip all day long, make sure you go early when the light is good as it gets quite dark in there.

Malta is a Catholic country and the power of their religion is everywhere. They claim to be one of the world's oldest Christian countries, having been converted by St Paul in AD60. Malta has 64 parishes and 313 churches, ranging from full cathedrals to tiny wayside chapels.

Mdina, the capital until 1568, is a medieval city with narrow streets and a distinct Arabic flavour. One of the religious orders there is so strict the 20 nuns who live in a particular monastery can never leave the building. Even when they die, they are buried there. The only men permitted entry are the doctor, the decorator and the priest. Mdina is a very peaceful town, mainly because cars are not permitted, and is inhabited by noble and aristocratic families.

Ferries leave Malta for Gozo and Comino regularly. Gozo is rural and green and has a slower pace than Malta. It's probably the way Malta was years ago, and if you decide to stay, there are converted farmhouses, usually with pool, jacuzzi, fireplace and maid service.

The tiny neighbouring chunk of limestone known as Comino is a tourist haunt. Its only inhabitants are the staff of the island's only hotel, but there are hordes of tourists. The beaches are small but its water is superb. Boats arrive early to reserve spots, so like the Grotto, it's a good idea to get there early.

It's fair to say Malta is not chic or pretentious, but everywhere you go, everything you see and everyone you meet will leave you with a great affection for the place.

Location

In the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily.

Cost

Tempo Holidays offers a range of accommodation on Malta starting at $45 per person twin share.
Qantas flies twice a week to Rome with Alitalia connections to Malta starting at $3180 from Sydney, $3153 from Melbourne, $3156 from Perth, $3176 from Adelaide, $3178 from Brisbane and $3214 from Darwin, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Tempo Holidays
40 Beach Street, Port Melbourne 3207
Ph: 03 9646 0277
Fax: 03 9646 6722
www.tempoholidays.com
info@tempoholidays.com

Qantas: 13 13 13

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