Just 80 miles south of Italy, Malta basks in the warm Mediterranean sun. Surrounded by the sea, the island nation is just 122 square miles, but has no less than three World Heritage sites; played a major strategic role in World War II; and was shaped of a long line of invaders and rulers, from the Phoenicians to the British.
You can see it all on Holland Americas Line’s 2017 World Voyage, which calls on the Maltese capital of Valetta.
The historical city of Valetta – all .3 square miles of it – is one of Malta’s World Heritage Sites. The Knights Hospitaller arrived in 1530 and started building, giving the old city its Baroque look. Take a tour to walk the same streets as the knights and admire their churches, palaces, hospital, treasury and other beautiful buildings, many still in use as museums or government buildings. At the Bararakka Gardens, there’s are breathtaking views of the city and harbor. Be sure to step into St. John’s Co-Cathedral to see the Caravaggio paintings and the elaborate marble tombstones of the knights.
Malta’s Wine Country
Wine lovers can take an excursion to the southern wine region of Malta. Here, winds that blow all the way from the Sahara create good conditions for vineyards that grow several varieties of grapes, including the indigenous Gellewza and Ghirghentina. You’ll also visit Marsaxlokk fishing village, which has a thriving trade in swordfish, tuna and lampuki (also known as mahi-mahi). For history buffs, Turks sailed into the harbor at the beginning of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565; this is also where Napoleon landed in 1798, ending the long rule of the knights.Through the Countryside to Mdina
Like Valetta, Mdina is ancient and well worth exploring. Founded by the Phoenicians in 700 BC, Mdina served as the capital of Malta through the Middle Ages. Inside the impressive city walls, St. Paul’s Cathedral sits where Paul the Apostle is said to have met the governor of Malta after being shipwrecked. Some of the oldest structures along the narrow streets are the Palazzo Santa Sofia (the ground floor was built in 1233) and the Palazzo Falson, now a historical museum. Walk down Villegaignon Street, noted as the most beautiful street in Mdina, to Bastion Square; go up to the parapet perched on the walls for a wonderful view.
The Great Siege of Malta
If you’re interested in the Great Siege of 1565, an excursion to Vittoria (also known as Birga) is for you. For four months, a force of about 6,000 knights, soldiers and residents of Malta battled a much larger force of invading Ottomans (some estimates say 48,000) and turned back the invasion, with lasting impact on the balance of power in Europe. A walking tour of Vittoria includes Fort St. Angelo and other sites involved in the knights’ defense of Malta, as well as a Victory Monument.
Clearly, Malta is brimming with history; some of its greatest treasures are seven megalithic temple complexes, constructed of massive stones (megaliths) in the fourth and third centuries BC. These are among the most ancient religious sites on Earth; considering the limited resources available at the time of construction, they are masterpieces of architecture. An excursion will take you to the Hagar Qim complex, which includes a paved forecourt, a main temple, a bastion, dwellings and more. You’ll be amazed by the oval-shaped chambers, the altars, and the statues that have been excavated there.
Malta has so much to offer: talk with your cruise travel professional about HAL’s World Voyage, all of your options for excursions on a Malta cruise stop, and get ready for a megadose of Mediterranean beauty and history!