The Maltese archipelago is made up of three islands – Malta, the largest, Gozo and Comino – and lies 50 miles or so south of Sicily.
Malta is an island with a complicated past, invaded by empires across the ages, from the Carthaginians and Romans to the French and finally the British.
It has Neolithic wonders, Italian influences and played a huge role in the Second World War when it was awarded the George Cross for valour.
We were keen to try to understand this complex history in our few days there. Almost in the centre of the island, Corinthia Palace Hotel is the perfect base from which to explore the sights, away from the busy resorts on the east coast.
It’s an oasis of luxury and calm, with three restaurants to enjoy, plus a poolside terrace kitchen, a piano bar and a beautiful spa and health club.
After a lovely quick lunch at The Summer Kitchen we met our guide from the Maltese tourist authority, which offers bespoke tours to small groups.
Our mission was to see the best Malta has to offer in an afternoon. We started in the capital, Valletta, a fortified city and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Built by the Order of St John in 1566, it is a stunning historic city and will become European Capital of Culture next year.
We began with a quick walking tour to show us the main sights, starting in the Upper Barrakka Gardens to orientate ourselves.
Here there are stunning views across the Grand Harbour to the Three Cities – Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua – with an endless vista of domes, spires and ships’ masts.
After walking through the beautiful streets we arrived at St John’s Co-Cathedral, which contains a grand high baroque interior and works of art, before we jumped back in the minivan and headed to the city of Mdina, high on a rocky outcrop. Said to be the most complete historic walled city in the world, Mdina was Malta’s first capital.
These days, its medieval and baroque architecture is the backdrop for many films and TV shows.
Known as the silent city for its complex network of quiet, narrow streets, it is a truly stunning setting.
Sensing we were eager to experience more Maltese culture, our guide took us to a small café in Rabat, a town just outside Mdina’s walls, where she introduced us to pastizzi – small parcels of spiced peas or ricotta wrapped in wonderfully crisp flaky pastry, which swiftly became our new favourite snack.
ur day came to an end with a sunset view over the sheer Dingli Cliffs on the west coast, before heading back to the hotel with a real feel for the island.
We would have loved to have visited Gozo for its temples, the Blue Grotto caves or the Hypogeum underground burial site that is older than Stonehenge, but we spent the rest of our time exploring Valletta, Mdina and the Three Cities further – with frequent cheap buses and water taxis, getting around was easy.
The views looking back across the Grand Harbour are truly incredible and it was with great sadness that we made our final watery ride back to Valletta, enveloped in the orange tint of the setting Mediterranean sun and vowing to come back as soon as we could.