Here's why your next long weekend should be in Malta
I've never been a fan of paradise, until i washed up on the dusty Maltese shores, that is.
Going in, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I predicted the typical easy-going Southern-European (Italy, Greece) vibe, plentiful sun, cheap wine and being an island country - surrounded by water.
All of this was true, and some. It's one big, brilliant rock that keeps calling my name. In fact - I would go as far as saying that Malta might just be the perfect long weekend escape. Here's five reasons why:
1. Breathtaking scenery
The capital city, Valetta, is unique in that it is surrounded entirely by water. From almost every part of town, visitors can spin around and catch a gleam of one of the most pristine waters on earth.
The entire country is essentially a gigantic rock, and at the water's edge are enormous flat, bounder stones - perfect for late night wandering, and even better for throwing down a towel and soaking up some sun.
The architecture is out of this world - think early-European mixed with a dusty gold-rush-era feel. The rock that makes up the island has been deteriorating over time, and the dusty atmosphere takes you back to a time that makes you feel like you've stepped back more than one hundred years.
For the best beaches, you'll want to skip off the main island and take the passenger ferry across to Gozo, the northern island. Famous red-sand beaches like the northern coast, the waters of which enjoy 20 degrees plus temperatures all-year round - perfect for swimming.
2. It's walkable
Considering the entire country is just 27 kilometres long, and 15 kilometres wide, it should come as no surprise that getting around is particularly easy.
The streets of Valetta are wide, mountainous and well-paved, and nothing beats a scenic stroll through the older parts of town, out to the water.
Inside the main city, there's no shortage of things to do - boutique museums where you can sample traditional Maltese culture and learn about their British rule (and later, their independence), a movie theatre showing classics and contemporaries, cute cafes and bars, and opportunities for shopping.
Some of my very best memories have been captured just picking up take-away meal and wandering down to the rocks to enjoy, watching the evening sun go down. It's truly heaven on earth.
Conveniently, Valetta sits across the bay from Sliema, a smaller town that lies on the other side of the harbour. A regular passenger shuttle (10 minute boat ride) costs €2 and takes you from one side to the other. Sliema is just as walkable, but takes the local architecture to an even more impressive level, with narrow winding streets and a breathtaking harbour that sprawls alongside the boutique hotels.
3. Colourful life
There's just something colourful and lively about the Maltese way of life. Like the Italians, they speak with their hands, enjoy a glass of wine, and when the sun is out (that's most of the time here), they will take to the rocks, beaches and sea to celebrate with their friends and family.
Everywhere you go, there's a local band, or even just a boombox playing, with local background noise adding to a society that's naturally rich in culture and colour.
The locals are super-chatty and interested in your story, and you get the feeling they're just a little perplexed how the big wide world has taken such a big interest in their little island.
Almost everybody speaks English (but of course the younger generation are better), but it's just as fun to listen to the locals chattering quickly in Maltese (which to me sounds like a compelling mix of Italian and Arabic).
4. The weather
As you might expect, Malta enjoys a warm climate and is drenched in sun for more than 300-days of the year. In July and August, the temperature will regularly top 35 degrees, and even in winter, expect to see days around 20 degrees, although there is a higher likelihood of rain in the colder months.
On my two visits to Malta, I can't remember seeing a cloud - it's just that consistent. So if you only have a few days to holiday, and you don't want to be disappointed with fluctuating weather patterns (hello, Scandinavia), then a quick skip to Malta might just be a safe climate bet.
5. Accessible and affordable
More than 20 European countries fly direct to Malta, making it super-easy to get to. If you're flying out of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy or Denmark, flights are usually available for less than €100 return.
Once you're there, you're unlikely to break the bank. The Luqa Airport bus (look for bus stop #1 on the left as you leave the terminal) runs regularly, and the route takes you directly into the capital (30 minute trip), setting you back just €2 each way.
Food and wine is incredibly cheap. Most of the typical street restaurant meals are available for less than €10 (burgers, pizzas, chips, salads, etc), and some of the higher end cuisine establishments still come in under €20 per person. For a glass of reasonable red wine, don't pay more than €5, or €15 for a bottle.
Accommodation is most expensive in summer, but unless you're looking for high-end places to stay, you're unlikely to pay more than €50 per night. Airbnb seems to have taken off like a charm across Valletta, so make that your first point of call for a traditional Maltese homestay experience.