Malta: The insider’s guide to the former British Crown colony
Step back in time and combine thousands of years of history with a feeling of déjà vu in marvellous Malta.
By Jeannine Williamson
Malta’s history has been shaped by many cultures, including the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, French and, last but not least, the British when it became a Crown Colony of the United Kingdom in 1814.
Although Malta was granted independence in 1964, the British influence that remains is part of the appeal of this sunny island which lies in in the middle of the Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa. There’s a real sense of home from home as you wander through the charming capital Valletta, where you’ll find red telephone kiosks and post boxes, well-known high street shops and cars driving on the left.
You’ll soon discover why Malta’s compact and walkable first city was crowned European Capital of Culture in 2018. The striking baroque architecture was created by the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem who ruled the island for more than 200 years. Landmark St John’s Co-Cathedral, built between 1573 and 1577, houses two of Italian artist Caravaggio’s most impressive works – The Beheading of St John the Baptist and St Jerome Writing. It’s called a co-cathedral because in the 1820s the island’s bishop decided to divide his seat between St Paul’s Cathedral in the ancient walled city of Mdina, Malta’s former capital, and St John’s.
Outside the cathedral take time to browse through the nearby open-air street market selling inexpensive hand-made lace, knitwear, locally produced honey and models of the bright yellow, orange, green and red British manufactured buses, dating back to the 1950s, which were once the main form of transport. Nowadays some of the restored buses are still used for nostalgic tours around the island.
The gun salute takes place at noon and 4pm when a society, dressed in historic British artillery uniforms, re-enact a time when guns were used to signify the time for passing ships
Malta is an archipelago comprising the main island and the smaller sister islands of Gozo and Comino, which are both well-worth visiting if time allows. Gozo is famous for the Ggantija Temples, built around 3500BC and the world’s oldest free-standing structures, and on Comino there’s the dazzling Blue Lagoon.
Make sure you try some of the local wine during your stay. Malta has been making wine for more than 4,000 years, but very little is exported. These fresh and fruity wines go well with traditional Maltese cuisine such as fish pie and vegetable ratatouille flavored with olives and capers. These are some of the many ways to get a real taste of these beautiful islands that combine British heritage with a rich and very individual Maltese culture.
Greek Islands & Malta with Celebrity Cruises
A 10-night The Greek Islands & Malta cruise sailing on the new Celebrity Beyond with Celebrity Cruises on 5 September 2022 from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Barcelona starts from £1,880 per person based on two sharing, with flights.