The Apprentice returned to our screens on Wednesday and the first episode saw this year’s sixteen contestants sent to (in Lord Sugar’s words) ‘spectacular Malta’. As the budding entrepreneurs dashed around the Mediterranean island (not much bigger than the Isle of Wight) and Gozo (half its size) on a shopping task, we caught glimpses of bustling markets, yacht-filled bays and sleepy villages.
Following the show, online searches for Malta increased by 1,500% – just 3 hours from London, it’s the perfect place for a short break. But if you don’t want to follow in the contestants’ confused footsteps, where should you head for on a visit to Malta?
First, Malta’s capital Valletta, named European Capital of Culture for 2018, a vibrant city of narrow streets, museums, bars and cafes. At the entrance is the Triton Fountain, impressive by day, magnificent by night.
Explore the city by foot – The Upper Barakka Gardens which offer a magnificent view of the Grand Harbour and visiting cruise ships; St John’s Co-Cathedral containing Caravaggio’s famous painting, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist; the new food market Is-Suq tal-Belt in Merchants Street; the Lascaris War Rooms, Britain’s defence headquarters during the Second World War.
If you’re in Valletta on a Friday night try The Bridge Bar – on a warm evening you can sit on the steps outside with a platter of local cheeses and Galletti (Maltese crackers) plus wine listening to a jazz band, soaking up the atmosphere.
A must-see is the medieval town of Mdina, also known as ‘the silent city’ partly due to its lack of cars and small population. Once the capital, it sits on top of one of the highest hills of Malta surrounded by stone walls. Only a limited number of vehicles are allowed to enter but there are horse drawn carriages for those who don’t want to (or unable) to walk around the area. Mdina is particularly attractive at night, lanterns lighting up the eerily quiet streets.
Gozo, Malta’s sister island, is less than nine miles long and five miles wide and can be reached by ferry (which takes about 30 minutes). All roads lead to the capital Victoria, known to the Maltese as Rabat, where the ancient Citadel is situated. It has been meticulously restored over the last few years and like Mdina is stunning at night.
A popular natural landmark seen on Game of Thrones, the Azure Window, collapsed last year due to heavy storms. Visit instead, the Inland Sea at Dwejra Bay (a small natural lagoon) and perhaps cross the island to the oldest prehistoric buildings in the world – the Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra; they’re about 1,000 years older than the Pyramids in Egypt and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Malta is sunny for over 300 days of the year, so there’s almost never a bad time to visit…