In a world of ever-changing landscapes, its something of a miracle that the island of Malta remains virtually untouched. With its fortified ruins, faded palazzos and honey-hued facades plus year-round warm weather, its the perfect short-haul escape.
Located slap-bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 93km south of the Italian island of Sicily, its quick and easy to get to in three hours and 20 minutes from Gatwick Airport with British Airways. And as for getting things booked and organized in this island nation, it couldnt be simpler: English is the spoken language in Malta.
Visit in spring or autumn and youll be greeted by cobalt-blue skies and none of the crowds. Start in the capital, Valletta. Located right on the water, this ancient walled city is where quirky artisanal markets, buzzy bars and al fresco restaurants meet 7,000 years of history.
Thanks to its architectural splendor, the whole of Valletta has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, described by the organisations experts as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
No wonder then, that over the years its ancient cobbled streets and flattering golden light has attracted big-name filmmakers. You might recognise parts of the city from the recent Murder on the Orient Express – scenes were shot against Vallettas sweeping Grand Harbour. A-listers cant get enough of Malta either: Angelina Jolie, Meghan Markle and even her Royal Highness the Queen are among its loyal visitors.
Like all the best cities, exploring Valletta is easily done on foot. St Johns Co-Cathedral is a must-visit for its elaborately adorned interiors, considered to be some of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. The Cathedral is also home to Caravaggios The Beheading of St John the Baptist, the Italian artists largest oil painting and the only signed piece of his work in existence.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens, five minutes away, are perfect for a post-cathedral stroll. Formerly the private gardens of the Italian Knights (dating back to 1661), they offer a floral-scented breath of fresh air as well as panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. Visit in October and you might glimpse some of the worlds most handsome sailboats gliding past, taking part in the annual Rolex Middle Sea Race.
With more than 300 historical sites to explore, culture-vultures are certainly spoilt for choice. For those who prefer the wind in their hair, the neighbouring islands of Gozo and Comino (a short ferry ride away) offer sandy coves, Evian-clear waters and first-rate dive sites.
The Maltese archipelago is actually one of the best places to dive in Europe, with a raft of caves, reefs and wrecks to delve into. Meanwhile, Ramla Bay on the northern shore of Gozo is Instagram gold: rust-coloured sand backed by pine trees and no signs of civilisation. Just geckos and swallowtail butterflies swooping overhead.
Stroll into any of Maltas cheerful trattorias and youll find a similarly warm welcome. Menus are simple, rustic and largely Mediterranean. The Sicilians, Romans, Spanish and French have all played a part in the flavours of Maltese cooking, and as you would expect, seafood is a staple with catch of the day including fresh tuna, swordfish, prawns, lobster, calamari, octopus and lampuki (dorado).