An island in the sun

 

Last month, Emirates, the Dubai-based airline recently chosen for a carload of awards by Business Traveller, Conde Nast and others announced a new route from Dubai to Malta via Larnaca, giving people from Cyprus the opportunity to visit the Maltese islands without having to change in Greece or Italy. From what Iíve seen, a round-trip ticket bought online costs around £140 including taxes and each flight takes less than two hours and run three times a week.

 

I had the pleasure of visiting Malta a few years ago on business staying at the Intercontinental in St Julians, near Sliema on the east coast. Our host took us around the island, driving us around on roads that seemed to have been trodden on by dinosaurs in stiletto heels, to each and every corner of the island.

 

The island of Malta is the largest of the Maltese Archipelago. The other inhabited islands  are Gozo, a popular day-trip destination for tourists, and the tiny island of Comino. Of the uninhabited islands Filfla, bombed for target practice until 1971 and earlier the site of a chapel visited by fishermen is the most interesting. Filfla is now protected and only scientists and conservationists are permitted to set foot on the island.

 

On the main island, Valletta, the fascinating Baroque city founded by the Knights of St John, with its streets of steps and its palaces, is now a UNESCO World Heritage city. I spent a quite afternoon walking up and down the city, gazing at its old buildings. There are 320 monuments in Valletta. Obviously, I didnít count them all, but Iíll take UNESCOís word for it.

 

Later in the evening, back in St Julians, I took a brisk walk before dinner, to the harbour, to see the little wooden fishing boats, brightly coloured and decorated with eyes at the front, to ward off the evil eye. The meal was a less enjoyable experience.

 

We also visited Mdina, the silent city, less than half an hour away by car. No cars are allowed within the walls of Mdina; its lonely walled streets, narrow and dark are deathly quiet. On its outskirts, one can visit St Paulís Grotto, where the Apostle is said to have lived and preached in the first Century AD. Our host rushed us off for a workshop before we had time to visit.

 

The next day it was off for a visit to the beautiful little harbour of Marsaxlokk (which I was told is pronounced Marsa-schlock) and to the salt-marsh nearby. Then our host organised another meeting, then dinner and breakfast and drove us back to the airport the next day. As the plane took off I smiled, hoping one day to return to Malta. Granted, the Maltese islands are very small, and the nightlife kind of non-existent, but for a short break? I urge you to give them a try.

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