Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
From its North African atmosphere to Sicilian-inspired cuisine, Malta has wide-ranging influences yet a charm of its own. Renowned for its Blue Lagoon, the island’s baroque towns and prehistoric ruins also deserve a visit.
The Maltese capital, Valletta, is a historical time capsule. It is thick with Italianate churches and golden limestone buildings, including the Grand Master's Palace of the Knights of St John (+356 2124 9349; Pjazza San Gorg; 10am-4pm Fri-Wed; £4).
Marsaxlokk Bay is the best place to see Luzzus, brightly coloured traditional Maltese fishing boats, with their mythical eye painted on the prows. The Sunday fish market offers a glimpse of traditional island life and the harbourside restaurants serve excellent fish dishes.
The original capital of Malta until the Knights of St John settled in Valletta, Mdina has been a fortified city for more than 3,000 years. Its Palazzo Falson museum dates from the 13th Century and is full of objets d'art and furniture (+356 2145 4512; Triq Villegaignon; 10am-5pm Tue-Sun; £8).
Gozo is Malta's smaller and much quieter sister island. Only a third of the size of Malta and with less than one-tenth of the population, its fertile rolling landscape, long sandy beaches and traditional villages make it well worth a weekend stay.
The Ggantija megalithic temples in Xag-hra, Gozo, are one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and date from around 3600 to 3200BC. Locals traditionally believed the 6m-high walls were constructed by giants (+356 2155 3194; access from Triq L-Imqades; 9am-5pm; £3).
Eat and drink
Rubino has won acclaim for reinventing Maltese cuisine and its dishes depend on seasonal offerings, with specialities such as deep-fried doughnuts with anchovies (+356 2122 4656; 53 Triq L'Ifran, Valletta; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Tue & Thu-Sat; mains £8-£12).
Close to the megalithic ruins in Xag-hra, Oleander serves up authentic Maltese cuisine on the pretty village square. Regulars rave about its pastas and bragioli, the Maltese national dish of beef olives (+356 2155 7230; Pjazza Vittorija, Xag-hra; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains £10-£14).
Ir-Rizzu is a typical trattoria in Marsaxlokk. The only thing to eat in this fishing town is, of course, fish, which is delivered daily. Choose your fish, then watch it being cooked in the open kitchen (+356 2165 1569; Xatt is-Sajjieda, Marsaxlokk; lunch and dinner; mains £8-£16).
Oliver's represents the high-end of the Paceville district dining scene in St Julian's, with a formal red dining room to match. The real draw, however, is its modern Maltese cuisine. Try the braised rabbit with tomato fondue (+356 2138 0023; 19/21 Paceville Ave, Paceville; dinner Tue-Sun; mains £12-£18).
Widely considered to be Malta and Gozo's best restaurant, Ta'Frenc is near Marsalforn on Gozo. The menu is international, but heavy on local produce, such as the fishcakes with seven herbs (+ 356 2155 3888; Triq ir-Rabat; closed Tue; mains £21-£45).
A traditional-style guesthouse, Maria Giovanna is Gozo's best budget accommodation. Located in Marsalforn, the house sits just back from the waterfront. Rooms are decorated with rustic furniture and all have balconies (+356 2155 3630; 41 Triq ir-Rabat; from £35).
Point de Vue is just outside the walls of Mdina and the closest accommodation to the historic town centre. It opened as a guesthouse in 1889. Its views over the surrounding countryside are particularly pretty, especially from Room 4 (+356 2145 4117; 5 Saqqajja, Rabat; from £60).
Book early to snare time at the extraordinary Valletta G-House. A restored 16th-century townhouse in the historic quarter, the adults-only apartment comprises a cellar kitchen, modern bathroom and a vast bedroom with traditional balcony (Triq it-Tramuntana, Valletta; from £64 per night, minimum 7-night stay).
Considered to be Malta's finest hotel, the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz is a vast, sprawling complex. The rooms, food and facilities are top-notch, but the affected grandeur can feel a little sterile. The nearby village of San Lawrenz is one of Gozo's most picturesque (+356 2211 0000; Triq ir-Rokon, Gozo; from £110).
Malta's boutique hotel, Hotel Juliani overlooks Spinola Bay in St Julian's. The style is rather Miami Vice with rooms decked out in black-and-white stripe soft furnishings and lots of rattan (+356 2138 8000; 12 Triq San Gorg, Spinola Bay; from £130).
How to go
British Airways, easyJet and Air Malta fly to Malta from major British cities (from £105). Flights land at Malta International Airport, just south of Valletta. Bus No 8 links the airport to Valletta (50p); a taxi costs £13. There are regular ferries to Gozo, a 25-minute crossing (£4 return).
Find your way
Malta and Gozo are served by an excellent bus network run by the Malta Public Transport Association (fares from 40p-50p). The main terminus is at Valletta's City Gate. Car hire is available at the airport (from £17 per day).