Malta & Gozo: Introduction

  • © thekekster,

    © thekekster,

Discover Malta & Gozo!

Malta is like a lavish buffet. You can choose what you like from what’s on offer, and enjoy a holiday there at any time of year. Malta and its little sister Gozo are small enough to allow you to get to know the island republic within a single week. You can go diving and windsurfing, you can swim and play golf, take a culinary journey round the world or make it a ‘wellness’ holiday in a spa. And Malta’s nightlife has made the island a happening place on the club circuit.

Malta is far from being lonely and secluded: it has a, ever-growing population. However, despite the unstoppable march of urbanisation, the towns and villages still have charm, thanks to a large number of historic monuments and the Maltese style of building. When you leave the towns behind, you will also find oases of greenery and can explore the natural world of Malta at your leisure on some easy hiking or mountainbike tours.

Gozo has a mainly rural character and is much more sparsely populated. Low, green, flat-topped mountains dominate the scenery of this little island to the north of Malta. If your idea of a Mediterranean island has a romantic feel, this is the place to come. 

Maltese speciality: a journey back in time

One of the specialities on Malta’s buffet is a journey back in time. You may want to go in search of the 5000-year-old religious beliefs of the first inhabitants of Malta in its Stone Age temples, with walls made of blocks of stone up to 50 tons in weight. In the Hypogeum you can descend into a mysterious subterranean labyrinth constructed back in the mists of time. 4000-year-old cart tracks in the rock pose unsolved questions, and dark catacombs are a reminder of the Early Christian period.

Horse-drawn carriages rumble across the cobblestones of the quiet medieval town of Mdina. While drinking a cappuccino in the capital Valletta the surroundings take you back to the Renaissance or Baroque period, but right next door within the walls of the formidable fortifications, an exhibition of modern art may just be opening. For a break between seeing the sights, countless restaurants serve up culinary treats from all over the world, but especially fish and seafood dishes. And delicious ice cream is close to the hearts of the people of Malta.

The smallest member of the EU

The diversity on Malta is truly unbelievable. This island republic is the smallest state in the European Union – even Luxembourg is eight times as large – and an area of a mere 316 km² (122 sq mi) is home to over 400, 000 people. They have their own language: Malti. It sounds like an Arabic dialect, dotted with Italian and English expressions, but is written using the Latin alphabet. The Maltese are Roman Catholics almost to a man, but the word for ‘God’ in their language is ‘Allah’, and the second name of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Sultan’. 

This just goes to show that the Maltese have a mind of their own, and that there’s a little David in Europe that’s willing to take on the mighty Goliaths by keeping its traditions alive. The way the Maltese succeed in doing this despite their lack of natural resources has to be admired. The yield from their agriculture and fishery is not enough to meet their own needs, and the island has no mineral resources. Even drinking water has to be taken from the sea and processed in desalination plants. Moreover, there are no large industrial plants. 

However, Malta has prospered since shaking off British rule in 1964. Thanks to a business-friendly tax regime and a well-qualified labour force, the island republic has attracted many foreign companies, including the toy manufacturer Playmobil, the shoemaker Lloyds and the optics company Rodenstock. Since 2002 the technical division of Lufthansa has done maintenance on Malta, not only for its own aircraft but also for those of other airlines. And because shipping lines from all over the world have been offered favourable conditions to run their ships under the Maltese flag, Malta has the world’s fifth-largest merchant fleet after Panama, Liberia, Greece and the Bahamas. New technologies, too, are welcome: Malta is the base for many online betting companies, and in collaboration with Arab investors a brand-new IT-led ‘SmartCity’ is being constructed.

Tourism – a pillar of the economy

Tourism is an important sector of the economy. The Maltese got used to foreigners a long time ago. Usually they came unasked, and were more interested in taking than giving: first the Arabs, then the Normans and the crusaders of the Order of Knights of St John, later the French and finally the British. Tourists are much more welcome than rulers, as they create jobs and put money into the economy without taking away the islanders’ freedom. About 1.3 million visitors come every year and spend roughly a billion euros.

All year round culture-lovers come to see the many sights. In the summer months over 50,000 language students come to learn English and cause the average age on the islands to fall dramatically, while also making Malta one of the Mediterranean’s hottest party scenes. Add to that crowds of Italians who come for a short break in August from Sicily, which is only 95 km away, and in winter the retired, especially from Britain, ensure that no hotel needs to close, as Spanish and Greek resorts do.

Not many people come to Malta for an out-and-out beach holiday. This is because there are hardly any sandy beaches near the hotels. Many holidaymakers sunbathe on smooth rocky promontories and concrete terraces, and enter the water wearing bathing shoes or climb in via ladders. However, Malta and Gozo do have a few good sandy beaches. The whole of northern Malta from Gnejna Bay in the west to Mellieha Bay on the east coast is dotted with beaches of golden-yellow sand between steep shores. On Gozo there is Ramla Bay, with its wide beach of reddish sand, and the tiny island of Comino between Malta and Gozo boasts a blue lagoon where the colour of the water is unsurpassably beautiful. 

Malta attracts many divers

For divers, Malta is one of the top destinations in the Mediterranean, and more than 40 diving schools organise courses. The water is extremely clear, sometimes up to a distance of 30 m. Lots of marine life, cave labyrinths and reefs entice divers, as do the wrecks of ships and planes that sank off the Maltese coast.

The Maltese have a great love of their coasts, and they don’t let tourism disturb them there. At weekends especially the sea is their playground. Hundreds of Maltese anglers can then be seen on the coast early in the morning, and amateur fishermen set out in countless little boats. The flat rocky shore close to towns and in quieter spots is the locals’ favourite place for a picnic. Weighed down with charcoal barbecues, crates of drinks and camping chairs, whole extended families and their friends go down to the sea, put their ghetto blaster on the rocks and enjoy the day together – or even make an evening of it round a campfire.

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