THE MALTESE ISLANDS
You will find the Maltese Islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino glistening in the centre of the Mediterranean, 90 km south of the Italian island of Sicily and roughly 300 km north of Africa. The three islands have a population of around 450,000 in an area of about 320 square kilometres.
Malta is by far the largest island measuring 21 km by 14 km with 420,000 inhabitants and is the main administrative and commercial centre of the islands. Here I can soak up 7,000 years of intriguing history, enjoy spectacular baroque architecture, and relish all year sunshine across the most exquisite land and seascape. It’s a feast to the eye and a joy to the heart. Everywhere I see honey-coloured stone walls, a coastline of cute little coves, startling high cliffs, quiet sandy bays, all lovingly embraced by the deepest blue Mediterranean.
Malta is like a big fascinating outdoor museum. Relics of its astonishing past are clearly visible for me to see and I can delve into millennia of incredible history, explore the amazing feats and legacy of the Knights of St John, or walk in the footsteps of St Paul, the shipwreck survivor who became Malta’s patron saint. With all of that exhilarating activity I can never become bored in Malta. Each day I find a new delight, some quaint little spot to explore, a little hamlet or a cosy sheltered beach to rest and be massaged by the soothing sunshine.
Gozo is the second largest island, 14 km by 6 km, with 30,000 souls, greener, quieter, more casual and relaxing and a delight to wander at my leisure. I never tire of visiting Malta’s little sister where I feel time stands still, where the people are so genuinely friendly and charming and where the welcome I get is so warm and wonderful. I also get a strong sense of the religious piety of the people of Gozo. Beautiful churches adorn every little village, the Ta Pinu Sanctuary is now a world renowned pilgrimage centre and the Church of St George in Victoria is one of the most richly adorned churches in Europe. The landscape too is a joy to behold. Little farmsteads surrounded by greenery and dry stone walls, villages untouched by time, a craggy coastline of abstract beauty and a network of winding roads that always end at the edge of the blue Mediterranean.
Comino, the smallest island, is virtually uninhabited except in summer when it comes to life with an influx of divers, boaters and nature lovers. Perched midway between Malta and Gozo and measuring only 2.5 square km, it is a delight to visit for its sense of tranquillity, peace and solitude. There isn’t much to explore on this tiny barren rock, one hotel, an ancient church and a watchtower built by the Knights several centuries ago.
The Blue Lagoon is Comino’s great attraction. This little cove is famous for its unique turquoise waters floating over a bed of white sand and is a life-changing experience for swimmers and snorkelers. Scuba divers find the underwater caves irresistible and large numbers flock there to explore the mystique.
Most people, like me, visit Comino as part of a day trip from Malta. I prefer to go in the spring or autumn shoulder seasons to avoid the intense heat. I simply hop on a ferry in St Paul’s Bay and enjoy a lovely day, savouring the pleasure of the Blue Lagoon and rambling around this mysterious sun-baked island.
What is it that attracts so many millions of visitors to those little islands peeping up from the great Mediterranean? I don’t have the answer to that intriguing question. I guess it’s a combination of things, some rare qualities that define the Maltese and make them special and unique. To me, Malta is a magnate, luring me back every year and rewarding me with peace of mind, energy and wellbeing, and a yearning to return for more of their magic recipe.
An excerpt from ‘In Love With Malta’ (The Hidden Treasures)
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