Difference between revisions of "Malta"
Revision as of 10:34, 13 October 2012
Malta  is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea that lies south of the island of Sicily, Italy. The country is an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Għawdex or Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) being inhabited. For more tourist information about Malta, see: Malta - Travel Guide
History To Learn
Although small, Malta has a vast and rich history, with evidence for habitation going back to the Neolithic era (4th millennium B.C.). The country boasts some of the world's most ancient standing buildings (the Neolithic temples), and its strategic location and good harbours in the middle of the Mediterannean have attracted Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British, with the colonial period lasting until 1964.
The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers and Knights of Malta, took over sovereign control of Malta in 1530, and by 1533 the Order had built a hospital at Birgu (one of the Three Cities) to care for the sick. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, mounted a great siege of Malta with a fleet of 180 ships and a landing force of 30,000 men. In response the Order, with only 8,000 defenders, drove the Ottoman Turks away after a hard siege of several months. After this siege, the Order founded the city of Valletta on a peninsula, and fortified it with massive stone walls, which even withstood heavy bombing during the Second World War. By 1575 the Order had built a new large hospital known as the Grand Hospital or Sacred Infirmary in order to continue with its primary mission of caring for the sick.
In 1798, the French under Napoleon took the island on 12 June, without resistance, when the Grand Master of the Order capitulated after deciding that the island could not be defended against the opposing French naval force. French rule lasted a little over 2 years, until they surrendered to the British Royal Navy, under Admiral Nelson's command, in September 1800.
Great Britain formally acquired possession of Malta in 1814. The island staunchly supported the UK through both World Wars.
The island was awarded the George Cross for its heroic resistance during the Second World War. An image of the cross is displayed on the flag.
Malta remained in the Commonwealth of Nations when it became independent from Great Britain in 1964. It is still a member.
A decade later Malta became a republic. Since about the mid-1980s, the island has become a freight trans-shipment point, financial centre and tourist destination.
Malta gained European Union membership in May 2004.
Malta's climate is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and is similar to other Mediterranean climates. Winters are wet and windy. Summers are virtually guaranteed to be dry and hot.
Mostly low, rocky, flat to dissected plains, with a coastline that has many coastal cliffs and numerous bays that provide good harbors.
Malta is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Visitors from outside the EU, including Americans, must fill out a landing card, available on board some arriving flights (sometimes) or in the entrance hall of the airport from the small box between the customs agents.
Malta's own national carrier, Air Malta , has regular connections to many European, North African and Middle Eastern centres.
Ryanair  flies to/from London Luton, Edinburgh, Eindhoven, Dublin, Madrid, Marseille, Trapani, Bristol, Pisa, Kaunas, Krakow, Stockholm (Skavsta), Malmö, Seville, Valencia, Venice (Treviso), Wroclaw, Girona, Birmingham and Bari.
Easyjet  flies to/from Belfast, Newcastle, Rome, Milan Malpensa and London Gatwick.
Malta's international Airport  is located at Gudja.
There are frequent fast ferries to the Sicilian port of Catania (3 hours) and Pozzallo, Italy (90 minutes), but the seas can be turbulent with a heavy swell if it's windy. Usually the trip takes around twice as long on large passenger ships, but fares are lot cheaper, which makes it ideal for drivers of cars, trucks, or campers. Other destinations include Livorno, Salerno, Rome (Civitavecchia), Palermo, Genoa and Tunis. However, discount airlines like Ryanair can be more convenient and the prices of their flights are often comparable to the cost of a boat trip.
Until July 2011, one of Malta's joys (at least in small doses) was the wonderfully antiquated public bus system, consisting mainly of 1950s-era exports from Britain usually kitted up with more chintz than a Christmas tree plus icons of every saint in the Bible and then some. Fares were very cheap and even the longest ride across the island cost less than €1.30. The only catch was that almost all buses radiated out from Valletta, so you might have had to detour back to the capital to reach your next destination.
On 3rd July 2011 Arriva took over the bus service in Malta, offering a safer and more comfortable bus service. After more than a month of delayed and missing services, the new bus system is finally finding its feet. The Arriva website for the timetables and routes is: . A summary of the network on a "London Underground" style diagram is: .
Malta's white taxis are the ones you can pick you up off the street. They have meters that are uniformly ignored, figure on €15 for short hops and not much more than €35 for a trip across the island. There are now Gov't approved fares for taxis from the airport ranging from €10 to 30.
For cheaper airport transfers and local taxis try using one of the local "Black cab" taxi firms such as Malta Taxi by Sean Taxi Service , Peppin Transport (Cheaper Online Prices) , Malta Airport Cabs , Malta Taxi Online  with a high quality of Service allow you to book on line from UK or Malta Car Bookers  or Malta airport transfers. Their rates are normally lower than white taxis but their services must be prebooked (at least fifteen minutes' notice).
If you would like a taxi tour, it is a good idea to book it in advance with an agreed price and arrange to be picked up from your hotel or apartment. The tours are best kept short, around 3 to 4 hours should do it. In a car you will be able to cover Mdina, Rabat, Mosta, Valletta and the Blue Grotto. However, some people say that when visiting historical sights it is best to also hire a licensed tourist guide (who will wear their license while on tour) and accuse taxi drivers of often giving inaccurate information.
Renting a car in Malta is a fine way to see the country, since it's cheap and driving conditions have improved greatly in the last ten years. Having your own car allows you to make a lot more of your trip and discover the many hidden charms these small islands have to offer.
There is GPS coverage of the Island by popular brands, however do check with your rental company as to whether they make this available to you or not. Popular opinion states that the GPS mapping of Malta isn't altogether that accurate, where certain routes planned on the GPS, will send you up one way streets without warning, best to use common sense in conjunction with this technology. Also the Maltese can be a very friendly bunch of people when giving directions are concerned.
There is the regular ferry service  between Ċirkewwa on Malta and Mġarr on Gozo, it goes every 45 minutes in the summer and almost as often in the winter. You buy a return ticket at the Gozo end for about €4.70 (no ticket required in Malta). There are also irregular services to Comino.
Regular flights between Valletta Grand Harbour and Mgarr by Harbourair  started recently. There is also a planned service to Sicily. The company also offers scenic flights for around 90EUR that take 30 min and provide beautiful views of the Maltese islands. Flights start in Valletta's grand harbor. Check-in and ticket office is at the sea passenger terminal, on the very end of the "Valletta waterfront", behind the cruise ship terminals.
Scheduled helicopter service between Malta and Gozo has been terminated.
Renting a bike in Malta is not a very common and popular practice but it doesn't cost much, and offers enough flexibility to explore. Bicycle rental shops are present all over the island but it is always better to book them from beforehand via their websites so as not to be disappointed.
Cycling is an orginal and fun way of discovering Malta and Gozo, known for their very small size. It is a good idea to cycle on the West of Malta, in the areas of Dingli Cliffs and Fomm ir-Rih as they are far from congested cities and offer a pleasant view.
It should be known however that most roads in Malta are dangerous for cyclists; most Maltese motorists are not friendly towards cyclists and there are no bicycle lanes. It is best to stick to country roads making sure to rent mountain bikes as country roads can get bumpy and uncomfortable for city bikes. In summer, do not go cycling between the hours of 11 am to 4 pm as the heat is unbearable.
By charter boat
The boat charter industry has grown considerably in Malta over the last few years. Malta's favourable tax regime for commercial yachting and its central location in the middle of the Mediterranean sea has meant that large, famous charter yachts - such as the Maltese Falcon - and a whole range of small and midsized yachts are now available for day and week charters. The Grand Harbour Marina has become the principal centre for bareboating (self-hire yacht chartering). It is the headquarter of such companies as The Sunseeker Experience , Yachthelp  and Navimerian Malta Yacht Charters .
Valletta is relatively small and very safe for walking - as are both Mdina and Birgu, other old cities of Malta. A bus tour or car hire is more recommended for Gozo though.
The official languages are Maltese and English. Italian is widely understood and spoken. Some people have basic French, but few people can speak fluent French in Malta. By law, all official documents in Malta are in Maltese and English and many radio stations broadcast in both languages. Virtually all Maltese citizens speak English fluently.
Maltese is a Semitic language, though it has borrowed a substantial amount of vocabulary from the Romance languages (particularly Italian). The closest living relative of Maltese is Arabic, particularly the dialect spoken in North Africa known as Maghrebi Arabic (spoken in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) though Maltese is written in the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic script. Maltese is also more distantly related to Hebrew and Amharic, so if you speak any of these three languages, you'll recognise some similarities. It also has substantial English elements in it. Knowing a few phrases in Maltese may be useful. See the Maltese phrasebook for details.
Transportation costs are much cheaper by European standards. Food costs are very reasonable. Having a Maltese size pizza in a decent restaurant costs around €6.50.
The ancient capital of Mdina, also known as the Silent City, rests at a high point in the heart of the island. Surrounded by the scenic town of Rabat, this fortress is one of Malta's finest jewels, boasting architecture, history and a quality cup of coffee with a splendid view. Mdina gets very peaceful and romantic in the evenings when the day trippers leave.
Valletta is similar in that it boasts a rich history, only being the modern capital, it is very much alive and much more modern, serving as both a shopping area during the day and offering an array of museums and cultural sites. Of particular note is St John's Co-Cathedral, built by one of the earlier Grandmasters of the Knights Hospitaller. It contains the various chapels of the Knights' langues, with Caravaggio paintings, tapestries and various relics of immense value to the Maltese heritage. The very floors of the Cathedral are the tombs of the most famous knights of the Order of St John, and a crypt, though off-limits to tourists, hosts the bodies of some of the most illustrious of Grandmasters, including the city's founder, Jean de Valette.
Must see attractions include the Unesco World Heritage sites such as the Hypogeum and the megalithic temples that can be admired on both Gozo and Malta and are the oldest in the world!
In Gozo, a rural atmosphere is predominant. Billy Connolly purchased a home in Gozo several years ago, owing to the island's quiet and relaxing nature. Visitors will be interested in taking a look at the impressive geographical feature of the Inland Sea, carved out by the Mediterranean. One is also obliged to visit the Citadel, Gozo's version of Mdina. Gozo is situated 5km north west of Malta and can be reached by a 25 minute crossing from Cirkewwa, the harbour of Malta.
For a look into more traditional Maltese life, the seldom seen south of Malta is a possible option for visitation. Townships like Ghaxaq often escape public notice, but some of the island's finest churches lie in the south. The many churches of Malta are testaments to the style and design of their times. Many towns in the north were stripped of their culture due to rapid urbanisation, but this has been felt less in the south of Malta.
If you visit Malta in summer, be sure you visit one of the town/village feast. Every town or village has at least one feast dedicated to a saint. The feast usually lasts for one week (in most cases from Monday to Sunday), with its peak being usually on Saturday. During this week, the village or town will be decorated with several ornaments and work of arts such as statues, lights and paintings on tapestry. In most cases, the feast would also be furnished with fireworks, both air and ground (which are quite spectacular and rather unique to Malta). In most cases, the ground fireworks are presented the day before the actual feast day late at night. There are differences between one village feast and another, and some are more attractive and more famous than others. Some of the most famous feasts are those of Our Lady of the Lily in Mqabba (third Sunday of June), Saint Philip in Zebbug (second Sunday of June), Mount Carmel in Zurrieq (Sunday before the last of July), Saint Mary of Imqabba, Qrendi, and Ghaxaq (on the 15th of August), Saint Catherine of Zurrieq (first Sunday of September) and the Nativity of Our Lady in Naxxar (on the 8th of September).
During the month of April, a fireworks contest occurs in the Valletta/Floriana area, where different fireworks factories compete with eachother exhibiting their finest works both ground fireworks and air fireworks. It is spectacular and above all its free to attend to.
Quite a few wine festivals are organized during summer, two of which are organized in Valletta and one in Qormi. It is a great experience to taste several Maltese wines at very cheap prices. (In the Qormi festival (September) and Delicata winefestival (August), you buy a 10 euro cup, and you can drink as much as you like; in the Marsovine winefestival (July), you buy a cup and 14 tokens for 10 euros). A beer festival (July-August) is also organized in Ta' Qali.
Finally, Malta's megalithic temples are the oldest free-standing structures on Earth, and one should not forget to take walks in the countryside. The most popular tourist destinations of Sliema and St. Julians probably have the least to offer as regards a taste of Malta, though they continue to be the most frequented. They are the most modern of locations, with most old buildings having been knocked down due to the monstrous construction industry fuelling the economy. Malta's main nightlife area can be found here, especially in Paceville.
Sample the local delicacies. In Summer, the island is perfect for water sports and beach activities. The island has been described as an open-air museum by some; one is unlikely to run out of things to see during a visit to Malta. Each township has its own unique sights to offer if one pays close enough attention. Hiking in the countryside offers a taste of rural Malta, especially if trekking along the coast of Gozo. Sailing is a wonderful option, as Malta boasts an impressive array of caves, scenic sunsets, and other views.
There are a number of great annual festivals worth attending. Valletta Carnival - February/March Malta Carnival national activities will be held in Valletta and Floriana. Dance and costume competitions will take place in the capital and Floriana followed by defiles which include triumphal floats, bands, grotesque masks and lots of dance. Malta Carnival is an unforgettable experience of fun, colour, art and merriment.
Għanafest - Malta Mediterranean Folk Music Festival  - June The Malta Mediterranean Folk Music Festival is a fabulous 3-day event of Mediterranean folk music, including Maltese folksongs (għana), Maltese songwriters and folk ensembles, together with guest folk musicians from neighbouring Mediterranean countries. Għanafest also hosts a series of workshops on traditional instruments and a special programme for children, and is complemented by traditional Maltese food and the marvelous surroundings of the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Floriana.
Malta is a great place to dive, with it being possible to dive all year around. The water temperature varies from a cool 14°C in February/March to warm 26°C in August. The visibility of water is generally high, making it a good place to learn diving as well.
The dive sites are located close to shore. Consequently, most dives start there, making everything easier and cheaper. The dive sites include rocky reefs, some wrecks and cave diving (especially interesting is the dive in the Inland Sea in Gozo). There will tend to be more marine life during the warmer months, when you can hope to see tuna, octopus, moray eels, seahorses, fire worms, soft coral along with the usual sea grass and underwater ridges.
Christmas in Malta
Christmas is a largely religious affair on the Maltese islands. This is due to the fact that most Maltese people are Catholics. During the festive season, various Christmas cribs, or Presepji, as they're called in Maltese, can be seen on display in churches, shopping centres, etc.
The Maltese people have many Christmas customs that are unique to the island. A very popular traditional Christmas dessert is Qaghaq ta' l-Ghasel. These are light pastry rings filled with honey.
Malta has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Distinctly Maltese cuisine is hard to find but does exist. The food eaten draws its influences from Italian cuisine. Most restaurants in resort areas like Sliema cater largely to British tourists, offering pub grub like meat and three veg or bangers and mash, and you have to go a little out of the way to find 'real' Maltese food. One of the island's specialities is rabbit (fenek), and small savoury pastries known as pastizzi are also ubiquitous.
The Maltese celebratory meal is fenkata, a feast of rabbit, marinated overnight in wine and bay leaves. The first course is usually spaghetti in rabbit sauce, followed by the rabbit meat stewed or fried (with or without gravy). Look out for specialist fenkata restaurants, such as Ta L'Ingliz in Mgarr.
True Maltese food is quite humble in nature, and rather fish and vegetable based -- the kind of food that would have been available to a poor farmer, fisherman, or mason. Thus one would find staples like soppa ta' l-armla (widow's soup) which is basically a coarse mash of whatever vegetables are in season, cooked in a thick tomato stock. Then there's arjoli which is a julienne of vegetables, spiced up and oiled, and to which are added butter beans, a puree made from broadbeans and herbs called bigilla, and whatever other delicacies are available, like Maltese sausage (a confection of spicy minced pork,coriander seeds, garlic and parsley, wrapped in a hog casing) or ġbejniet (simple cheeselets made from goats' or sheep milk and rennet, served either fresh, dried or peppered).
Maltese sausage is incredibly versatile and delicious. It can be eaten raw (the pork is salted despite appearances), dried, or roasted. A good plan is to try it as part of a Maltese platter, increasingly available in tourist restaurants. Sun dried tomatoes and bigilla with water biscuits are also excellent. Towards the end of summer one can have one's fill of fried lampuki (dolphin fish) in tomato and caper sauce.
One must also try to have a bite of ħobż biż-żejt, which is leavened Maltese bread, cut into thick chunks, or else baked unleavened ftira, and served drenched in olive oil. The bread is then spread with a thick layer of strong tomato paste, and topped (or filled) with olives, tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and the optional arjoli (which in its simpler form is called ġardiniera).
A typical soft drink that originated in Malta is Kinnie, a non-alcoholic fizzy drink made from bitter oranges (called "Chinotto orange") and slightly reminiscent of Martini.
The local beer is called Cisk (pronounced "Chisk") and, for a premium lager (4.2% by volume), it is very reasonably priced by UK standards. It has a uniquely sweeter taste than most European lagers and is well worth trying. Other local beers, produced by the same company which brews Cisk, are Blue Label Ale, Hopleaf, 1565, Lacto ("milk stout"), and Shandy (a typical British mixture pre-mixture of equal measures of lager and 7-UP). Other beers have been produced in Malta in direct competition with Cisk such as '1565' brewed and bottled in the Lowenbrau brewery in Malta. Since late 2006 another beer produced by a different company was released in the market called "Caqnu". A lot of beers are also imported from other countries or brewed under license in Malta, such as Carlsberg, Lowenbrau, SKOL, Bavaria, Guinness, Murphy's stout and ale, Kilkenny, John Smith's, Budweiser, Becks, Heineken, Efes, and many more.
Malta has two indigenous grape varieties, Girgentina and Ġellewza, although most Maltese wine is made from various imported vines. Maltese wines directly derived from grapes are generally of a good quality, Marsovin  and Delicata  being prominent examples, and inexpensive, as little as 60-95ct per bottle. Both wineries have also premium wines which have won various international medals There are also many amateurs who make wine in their free time and sometimes this can be found in local shops and restaurants, especially in the Mgarr and Siġġiewi area. Premium wines such as Meridiana  are an excellent example of the dedication that can be found with local vineyards.
The main Maltese night life district is Paceville (pronounced "pach-a-vil"), just north of St. Julian's. Young Maltese (as young as high school-age) come from all over the island to let their hair down, hence it gets very busy here, especially on weekends (also somewhat on Wednesdays, for midweek drinking sessions). Almost all the bars and clubs have free entry so you can wander from venue to venue until you find something that suits you. The bustling atmosphere, cheap drinks, and lack of cover charges makes Paceville well worth a visit. The nightlife crowd becomes slightly older after about midnight, when most of the youngsters catch buses back to their towns to meet curfew. Paceville is still going strong until the early hours of the morning, especially on the weekends.
Interestingly it does not rain much on Malta and almost all of the drinking water is obtained from the sea via large desalination plants on the west of the island or from the underground aquifer.
Malta has promoted itself successfully as an entirely bi-lingual nation for Maltese and English. It counts for many educational institutes in the rest of the world as a country where English is the first language and they therefore will often even subsidize students to go there to learn it. The vast majority of Maltese citizens speak English to a very high standard.
For foreigners work is unfortunately often very hard to find, the Maltese are rather insular and figures show that even in the tourist sector they are very reluctant to hire people not from the island. There is a sense that since joining the EU there is more willingness to hire professionals from abroad as the business sector diversifies.
Malta is generally considered safe. However, visitors to Paceville at night should exercise caution. There are repeated incidents of alcohol and drug fueled violence there, and police presence is negligible.
Due to Malta being a major Mediterranean port, sailors with shore leave tend to become quite rowdy after long voyages, as well as with the advent of low cost air travel coming to Malta has brought an influx of teens from across Europe enjoying short cheap weekend breaks in the sun.
The main health risk in Malta is the fierce sun in the summer, which can scorch unsuspecting tourists. Apply sunblock liberally.
For ambulance, fire or police dial 112. The main hospitals are Mater Dei Telephone: (+356) 2545 0000 and Gozo General Hospital in Gozo, tel. 2156 1600. For a complete list of government hospital services visit .
The country has three mobile phone networks available: Vodafone, Go Mobile, and Melita Mobile. Due to international agreements with providers across the globe, Vodafone, GO and Melita are sure to be apart of your carriers roaming plan.
Internet cafés and wi-fi zones are quite abundant with connection rates peaking at 30mbps.