Key points about this information item A brief introduction to the island of MaltaDiscover Malta, a jewel at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea Description:
Discover Malta | A brief introduction to the island of Malta
Malta is one of those places that many people have heard of but quite a few are not entirely sure where it is! Most will be able to say it is in the Mediterranean, but would find it difficult to pinpoint exactly where. In fact, Malta is the most southerly European country, being 58 miles south of the tip of Sicily and just 180 miles from North Africa.
No doubt you have heard of the Maltese Cross, the symbol of the Knights of Malta and the Maltese Falcon, a detective novel and Hollywood film.
Malta is not a single island, but an archipelago of five islands, Malta, Gozo, Comino, Cominetto and Filfla. Only the first three are inhabited, with Cominetto and Filfla being quite small. A regular ferry crossing is available to Gozo on a RORO service from Cirkewwa, the northernmost tip of Malta to Mgarr, the southernmost tip of Gozo. A small passenger ferry connects Comino, which is located between Malta and Gozo.
Malta is characterised by the rugged coastline and low hills. There are no rivers on the island and so the drinking water is supplied either from groundwater or by using reverse osmosis to remove the salt from sea water. The coastline is peppered with small coves and caves, many only reachable by boat or climbers, but there are several good beaches catering for the summer tourists.
Malta has a rich history stretching back more than seven thousand years to prehistoric times. With its strategically important location, Malta has been the scene of many battles and the islands have had many different rulers, the last being the British, who governed the islands from 1800 until 1974.
Malta's capital is the grand fortress city of Valletta. Built by the Knights of Malta after the Great Siege, it was purpose built to withstand attack from both sea and land. The bastions are massively thick; you can’t miss them as you cross into the city at City Gate. Inside the city is much to see and you could easily spend several days here alone.
Many of the wars that involved Malta were over religion. The Maltese are staunchly Catholic, while the Turkish enemies of old are strongly Muslim. The Knights of Malta had deep-seated links with the Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome and part of their reason for being was to promote and defend Christianity. The Knights had a tough fleet of war ships and would often raid passing Turkish ships, which of course made the Knights a bit of a nuisance for the Turkish!
The strong religious connections can be seen in the grand churches that seem to be in even the most humble of small village, but particularly in St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the Rotunda in Mosta and St Pauls Cathedral in Mdina to name just three. If you intend to visit the churches, please remember that it is polite to be respectful and cover your shoulders and legs. Most churches will have signs outside forbidding the wearing of shorts or sleeveless tops inside.
Crime in Malta
Malta is a very safe place to visit and you will feel safe even walking around the streets at night. There is very little crime, although it is sensible to take basic precautions in tourist areas;
- Don’t leave valuables in your car
- Don’t leave anything in view in the car
- Watch out for pick pockets, particularly in the Paceville / Sliema areas
Driving in Malta
This is an experience that you may not believe until you experience it. If you have been to Italy, then you will find Maltese driving similar, with little or no regard for rules of the road. To make matters worse, many of the roads are in a poor state of repair. An influx of European money has helped in some areas, but there is still a long way to go.
Health care in Malta
If just visiting on holiday, then don’t forget your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), which entitle you to basic free cover. It is no substitute for comprehensive travel insurance though, as the EHIC will not cover the cost of repatriation for example. No particular precautions or vaccinations are needed when visiting Malta.
Food and drink
The tap water in Malta is safe to drink but you may not like the taste very much. It is a mixture of groundwater supplies and reverse osmosis treated sea water. There is a distinct taste and most locals use bottled water for drinking instead.
So avoid the water, but definitely try some of the local drinks available. There are two large wineries and many smaller ones on the islands. Marsovin and Delicata are the largest players and produce a range of wines form cheap and cheerful right up to Internationally recognised brands.
Farsons is the local brewery and they produce Cisk lager, Hopleaf and Blue Label dark beers. They also brew various well known brands under licence for distribution to the local market. If you like craft beers, then Gozo is the place to visit and the Lord Chambray brewery. It's a very small but growing business and brewery tours are available and free.
Two other well known Maltese brands are Kinnie and Twisties. Kinnie is a bitter orange carbonated drink, which most people either love or hate, while Twisties are a baked crisp snack that kids (and adults) generally love.
You will find a bit of everything in Maltese cooking, from Turkish kebabs, Greek specialities, pasta from Italy and of course some bits of British. Maltese specialities include rabbit and surprisingly, snails. Also worth a try are the pastizzi. These are savoury snacks sold in countless bakeries across the islands – try the filo pastry cheese cakes or pea cakes, they are delicious.
I hope this brief look at Malta has grabbed you interest and you want to know more. If so, take a look at the local information pages to explore the fabulous Maltese islands.
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