This duo of Mediterranean islands may be on the small side, but lying close to Italy, they are so strategically important, former rulers lined up to fight over them.
The Phoenicians, the Byzantines, the Greeks, the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Sicilians, the Knights of St John who used them as their stronghold for over 250 years, the French and the British have all taken turns ruling it at one time or another, until finally independence was granted in 1964 and the islands became a republic ten years later.
This hotchpotch of cultures has not only enriched Malta’s historic past with a myriad of religious structures that are a part of the fabric of everyday life and remain standard meeting places for locals, but also shaped the makeup of its people, who are lively and warm-hearted with more than a hint of British about them. Well they do drive on the left and you’ll spot more than a few red post and telephone boxes!
But the Maltese Islands have not been popular merely because of their strategic position, they have an almost mythical air about them, stretching back centuries with their megalithic temples and medieval dungeons. Even the very name is steeped in mystery. Some say the word Malta stands for honey sweet, after the bees that make the delicious honey found on the island, and they may be right. Others say it is the colour of the distinctive golden limestone used just about everywhere. You’ll have to make up your own mind. The narrow twisty streets of Malta and Gozo’s towns and villages are packed with renaissance cathedrals and baroque palaces and around the countryside are some of the oldest known human structures in the whole world.
For a couple of Mediterranean islands there is a lot of middle eastern flavour going on. The language for example; it’s a country with 2 official languages, English of course, but also Maltese, which is combination of Arabic and Italian. Then there’s the food. Halva the sweet delicacy made from sesame seed paste is in generous supply everywhere, as is Fenek – rabbit. But with Sicily just a few kilometres away you’ll also find plenty of Italian/Sicilian influences too.
Malta and Gozo may be small but as they say, good things come in small sizes.
MaltaDirect offers holiday packages and provides a free sightseeing pass per passenger with all bookings.
Main image Azure Window Gozo (c) Andy Mossack