Steeped in history, with sparkling azure seas and a warm climate, it is little wonder that Malta has long been a popular tourist destination. If you are planning your 2014 summer holiday, here are just some of the reasons you should consider the Maltese islands as your destination of choice.
Throughout history, Malta's location in the Mediterranean Sea has made it an important strategic naval stronghold, and as such, everyone from the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors through to the Normans, French and British have, at one stage or another, ruled the islands. Though it became independent from Britain in 1974, Malta's rich and varied history is visible in its architecture and culture. Check one of the country's best preserved prehistoric sites at standing stones of Hagar Quim & Mnajdra, the 16-century Grand Master's Palace, and the golden-stone walled city of Mdina.
Surrounded by the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, Malta is a hotspot for exploring the sea. From boat trips exploring the rugged cliffs, bays and grottoes of the island, to chilled out harbour cruises, there is plenty on offer for the easygoing holidaymaker. And for more active types, scuba diving at popular hotspot Cirkewwa is a must-do, while the wreck of the HMS Maori in Valetta harbour is one for the more adventurous.
Malta's capital, Valetta, is the place to go when it comes to shopping, with English favourites like Marks & Spencer rubbing shoulders with designer stores. If it's more traditional Maltese fare you're after, head to the craft villages or Ta' Quali near Mdina or T'Dbiegi on Gozo.
On the food front, the north of the island offers sumptuous traditional Maltese cuisine, including filo pastry parcels known as Pastizzi, Fenek, a traditional rabbit stew, and the sweet date and spice-filled pastries called Mqret.
As such a popular tourist destination, Malta isn't without its party areas, the busiest of which are Paceville and Bugibba, but if you fancy an evening under the stars, the Bedouin Bar at the Westin Dragonara Resort is a summer highlight, while Twenty Two in Portomaso offers the most stunning of views. And for fans of one of Britain's maddest but greatest actors, The Pub, last drinking establishment of one Oliver Reed, is a must-do location.
Where to stay
For the most luxurious options, the capital Valetta is the place to stay. Both the Exelsior Grand Hotel is, as it sounds, spacious and high class, while the Phoenica, with its views of Marsamxett Harbour is a more boutique-style option.
The islands of Gozo and Commino also boast hotels - the Ta' Cenc on Gozo and the Commino Hotel - both of which are more affordable. Alternatively, try Airbnb to find a self-catering alternative, in the form of apartments available to rent in Valetta.
Have you recently enjoyed a holiday in Malta? What would you recommend to first-time tourist? Leave your comments below...