The last great naval base of the Empire, home to the oldest structures on earth, the setting for the blockbuster Troy - it sometimes seems as if Malta is a historical curiosity rather than a modern-day holiday destination.
The last great naval base of the Empire, home to the oldest structures on earth, the setting for the blockbuster Troy - it sometimes seems as if Malta is a historical curiosity rather than a modern-day holiday destination. A favourite with British tourists throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Malta's star then waned as trendier resorts beckoned.
Famously resilient - after all, it saw off the Ottoman Empire in 1565 and the Luftwaffe in 1942 - the island is fighting back. The crowds have gone, tempers on the road are better and prices have fallen. October and November are still pleasantly warm with afternoon temperatures in the low to mid 20s, though you may catch a shower.
If you like to think big - say a huge palm-filled atrium, a grand piano in the lounge, a choice of excellent restaurants and bedrooms with every comfort - you can't do better than the Hilton (00 356 21 383 383; www.malta.hilton.com). A double room costs from Lm90 (£144 per night) in autumn.
If small is beautiful and designer style is high on your agenda, then book into the new 44-room Hotel Juliani (00 356 21 388 000; www.hoteljuliani.com) at St Julian's. Doubles cost from Lm36 (£58) per night in autumn. If romance is in the air, the gorgeously converted 17th-century Xara Palace (00 356 21 450 560; www.xarapalace.com.mt) is a suitable venue, tucked away from the crowds in the Silent City of Mdina. Doubles cost from Lm85 (£136) per night.
Zest at the Juliani and the De Mondion at the Xara Palace are two of the island's very best restaurants. The islanders' own poll says the best is Mangetout, at Xemxija, St Paul's Bay, for the fourth year in succession. Victor, the chef patron, delivers sublime French-Mediterranean dishes. Seating just 24 people, Mangetout (00 356 21 572 121) is always in demand, so book well ahead. Expect to pay around Lm15 (£24) per head without wine.
For that quintessential Malta holiday experience you can't beat the front row overlooking Spinola Bay, St Julian's. Try a plate of barbecued fresh fish with sauce Maltaise - a robust mix of tomatoes, onions and capers - at either La Dolce Vita (00 356 21 337 806), at around Lm12 (£19) per head, or the waterside Caffe Raffael (00 356 21 319 988), for around Lm8 (£13) per head.
No one comes to Malta just to shop, though there are lots of stylish, Italian-inspired, good-value shoe shops in Valletta.
The capital's other speciality is gold and silver filigree jewellery. See one of its masters, Maurice Borg, at work at The Silversmith's Shop at 218 Republic Street.
At Valletta's Sunday market never mind the quality, just join the scrum.
Best cultural attraction
To delve deeper into island history, book one of the fascinating tours at the labyrinthine underground Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (00 356 21 805 019, www.heritagemalta.org).
Stroll through history in the atmospheric honey-coloured streets of Valletta, the tiny but impregnable fortress capital built by the Knights of St John in the 1570s. Don't miss the Cathedral and the Grand Master's Palace. A tour of Grand Harbour is also essential viewing, and listening, to hear the epic story of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Boats depart from Sliema. For the archipelago's best beach take the ferry across the water (a 30-minute ride that costs around £2.50) to neighbouring Gozo and seek out San Blas, a gorgeous little golden cove.
Tucked away in the nightlife quarter of Paceville, Axis on St George's Street is a real grown-ups' club which has been grooving since 1988 with state-of-the-party light and sound systems, glass dance-floors, VIP rooms and big-name DJs.
The Manoel Theatre ( www.teatrumanoel.com) in Valletta, built in 1732, is one of Europe's oldest and most beautiful little playhouses with a wide repertoire. For more theatre, plus visual arts, music and world cinema, go to the St James Cavalier Centre ( www.sjcav.org), also in Valletta.
Best way to get there
Air Malta (0845-345 6045; www.airmalta.com) flies a no-frills service, Fare 4U, from London Stansted from £110 return in November, or a scheduled service from London Gatwick and several regional airports from £140 return.
British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com) offers return flights from London Gatwick from £89.
The No 8 bus goes from the airport to the terminal just outside Valletta City Gate, from where other buses service the island. Fares from the airport are strictly regulated and a list can be picked up from the tourist office there.
The best way to get around Valletta is on foot. If you get tired you can catch a touristy karrozin, a horse-drawn carriage, but be prepared to haggle on the fare.
For more information contact the Malta Tourist Office, Unit C, Park House, 14 Northfields, London SW18 1DD (020-8877 6990; www.visitmalta.com).Reuse content