Turquoise seas, the mystery of the Knights Templar and rabbit stew – where else but Malta. The Maltese Islands are located in the middle of the Mediterranean on the passageway between Europe and Africa and is rich in culture, history and attractions. The local hospitality of Maltese people is famous and makes every visitor feel welcome from the minute you arrive.
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The Maltese archipelago, located only 93 km south of Sicily, is one of the smallest island states in the world with an area of only 316sq km. Despite its deminitive size, the islands are densely populated. Out of the seven islands that constitute the archipelago only the three biggest ones are inhabited. Malta, Gozo and Comino together have a population of over 420,000. Valetta, also called as the fortress city, is the capital as well as the commercial and administrative centre of the islands.
Malta’s colourful history dates back to the beginning of civilisation. The different stages of historical development left their marks on the islands. The mysterious temples built during the Neolithic period are remains of ancient times. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, the Romans and later the Byzantines all contributed to the varied history of these magical islands. An important date was marked in history when St Paul suffered ship-wreck in 60AD off the coast of Malta bringing Christianity to the islands.
Malta was conquered several times during history. First the Arabs in 870AD then the Normans and the Aragonese followed by the knights who made Malta a very prosperous player in Europe between the 17th and 18th century. This period was marked by the work of artists such as Caravaggio, Favray and Mattia Preti. Napoleon also set foot on the islands however the French rule did not last long. The British took over control and Malta stayed under British rule until 1964 when it gained independence. The system of legislation, administration and education follows the British example even today. In 1974 Malta became a republic and it has been a member of the European Union since May 2004.
In the past decades Malta has become a very popular tourism destination attracting over 1.5 million tourists yearly. Its Mediterranean climate with long, sunny and hot summers, cooler spring and autumn seasons and mild winter weather (occasionally windy and rainy) makes it an ideal destination. Swimming in the sea is usually possible until late October as the temperature often stays warm until the beginning of winter.
Despite of the general beliefs, that Malta is a sun, sea and sand destination, it has so much more to offer. The cultural scene provides exceptional programs all year round such as Malta’s national festivals: the Malta Arts Festival, Karnival ta’Malta, Jazz Festival, Fireworks Festival, the village fiestas or the Notte Bianca which is a unique celebration of arts and culture in the heart of Valletta. Besides the festivals, numerous galleries, museums, historical and religious sites represent the rich heritage of the Maltese Islands.
The natural environment of Malta is also exceptional with numerous natural spots to admire and explore. The surface of the islands is mostly rocky, baron and dry – with many breathtaking coastal cliffs offering beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Malta is a very popular diving destination. The abundance of underwater caves, reefs and wrecks attract thousands of divers every year. When visiting Malta it’s a must to try the local cuisine. Traditional delicacies such as extra virgin olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, the ġbejniet (sheep’s cheese), pastizzi and qassata (pastry filled with ricotta or peas), imqaret (date pastries) or the hobz biz-zejt (Maltese bread with tomato, onion, sheep cheese, tuna and olive oil) are only some examples of the ingredients of the delicious Maltese cuisine. [/wptab]
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Nightlife and Drugs:
The clubbing scene in Malta has always been popular amongst the locals; however it has recently become a party hub for tourists as well. The numerous English language schools attract loads of foreign teenagers and students who often get caught up in the sizzling party life of Paceville. Paceville is like the mini version of London’s Soho. Bars, discos, gentlemen clubs and restaurants lined up in one tiny street. Most clubs don’t have entrance fees thus it is relatively cheap to go out which attracts many young people, locals and tourists alike. In many cases the teenagers are very young and still they can get into one of these clubs without their ID checked. These nights often end with drunken teenagers trying to make their way home in the early hours.
Besides the ethical issues related to partying and drinking at a relatively early age, the party scene is also a hub for drug dealers and the area has the highest number of reported crimes. In the Maltese culture, drinking and driving do not preclude each other thus accidents, often fatal ones, happen due to people driving home after a night out in Paceville. The area is definitely subject of many debates whether it ruins or rather contributes towards tourism and besides that, the opinion of the locals also matter, who often rather avoid the area. If you care considering a visit to this area, here are a couple of suggestions:
- When visiting Paceville drink responsibly
- Go in a group of 2-3 friends and keep an eye on each other
- Do not drink and drive
- Be aware of pickpockets and take care of your belongings
All Inclusive Resorts and Cultural Exchanges:
Tourism, like other social phenomena is based on exchange. Exchanging ideas, lifestyle, money and culture is and integrated part of tourism. Malta is a destination of extremely diverse cross-cultural exchanges. Due to the small size and high population density of the island, tourists and locals live side by side and get in daily contact with each other. Relational tourism is based on the concept of “living like a local”, discovering the authentic side of the destination such as the local traditions, authentic cuisine, customs and habits.
The rapid urbanization and development of all-inclusive resorts in the Maltese Islands resulted inauthentic, globalised leisure centres and motivated the more informed travellers to move towards the periphery of these areas. Nowadays more and more tourists arrive in Malta with the intention of visiting less popular sites and areas. The Maltese islands are extremely rich in history, culture and traditions (Valletta was named European Capital of Culture 2018); however the large number of tourists presents a serious threat to the authenticity and identity of the Maltese Islands. The most significant threats of the expansion of all-inclusive resorts are commodification, standardisation, loss of authenticity and cultural clashes. Keep a couple of these ideas in mind when visiting Malta:
- When visiting the Maltese Islands show respect towards local traditions and habits
- Try to adapt to the local lifestyle and respect cultural differences
- Participate in local events e.g.: the village fiestas, celebrate with the locals and get a taste of their culture
- Engage in creative tourism; learn about different traditions (agriculture, horticulture, arts and crafts)
- Buy authentic local products, handicrafts and souvenirs to support the local farmers and artisans
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned around the impacts of all-inclusives and have published various reports on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the friendly people of Malta is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
The Maltese Islands is home to approximately 4500 species of fauna and flora species – out of what 85 are endemic. There are several important marine and terrestrial habitats on the islands, such as the coastal cliffs to the west that attract a large number of breeding birds. Unfortunately, there are not many regular breeders in the Maltese Islands but they are all unique and many species are under protection by law. There are various protected areas in Malta where unique biodiversity can be found. Bird sanctuaries, nature reserves and special areas of conservation are under national and international legal protection.
The Maltese waters are also home to a large number of marine species. The unique combination of wrecks, cliffs, caves, rocky and sandy sea beds provide an ideal home for groupers, various bream, amberjack, squid, octopi, flying fish, stingrays etc. The unique dive sites attract large number of divers every year putting high pressure on the marine ecosystem. In many cases, inexperienced divers cannot control their buoyancy or improperly secured gear can damage the local marine environment. If you are considering a snorkeling or diving trip, look for ‘marine friendly operations’ that practice coastal conservation. These include giving environmental briefings, using available moorings rather than anchoring to fragile ocean floor, using wastewater pump-out systems and participating in local conservation projects. Anything that you take with you on the boat should be kept safe and disposed of once you return to the shore, not in the water, including cigarettes!!
Another important issue that endangers the marine and coastal life is the increased sewage pollution. Many popular bays were closed down in recent years due to high level of pollution. Besides the inability to swim in these areas the pollution highly damages the marine ecosystem and the coastal habitats. Here are a couple of Travel tips for visiting Malta:
- Dive with expert local divers
- Participate in bird watching or nature walks and learn more about the local flora and fauna from expert guides
- When visiting nature reserves do not leave the signposted route
- Do not collect plants, animals or fungi
Mass Tourism – Seasonal impacts on the local environment:
Malta, due to its small size, faces serious environmental dangers. The small island state has unique natural and geographical characteristics that is under pressure as a result of economic development. In the past decades Malta has experienced a rapid depletion of agricultural land due to increased demand for industrial constructions, entertainment facilities, tourism resorts and residential buildings. Besides the impacts of economic development, Malta’s ecosystem is very fragile and its resistance to negative influences is relatively low. The long coastline is exposed to natural forces such as strong winds and sea-waves resulting in a high degree of soil, beach and cliff erosion.
Tourism also magnifies the stress placed on the local Maltese environment. Tourism in Malta is seasonal and the large number of international visitors that flock to the archipelago during the European summer leds to increased traffic and demand on the island. Besides land transportation, airports and harbours occupy large areas compared to the total size of the island and significantly contribute to noise, sea and air pollution. Increased waste management issues are also closely related to tourism activities and can lead to significant health hazards, besides ruining the aesthetic qualities of the island. Due to its small size, Malta’s inland areas dedicated for eco-tourism are easily accessible for those as well who are not particularly interested in sustainable tourism activities, thus these places become frequently visited causing irreversible damages on the long term. Here are a couple of tips for travelling in Malta to reduce your impact on the local environment:
- Try to visit the island outside the peak season in order to reduce seasonality and the pressure on support systems
- When visiting rural areas join local guides or genuine eco-tourism service providers and follow their expert advice in order to reduce the negative impacts of tourism activities
- Do not leave any waste behind, especially on the beach!
Malta is located in the Mediterranean Basin, thus it is characterized by a typical Sub Mediterranean climate. Summers are usually long, hot and sunny and winters are mild but occasionally rainy and windy. Malta has one of the highest numbers of sunny hours per year in Europe. The annual rainfall is relatively low and it falls mainly between October and March. The summer months tend to be very dry without a single drop of rain. Time by time Malta is hit by strong winds. Humidity is often a problem as it rarely goes below 40%. The sea temperature stays at around 15C even in the coldest months thus it is suitable for swimming all year round (for the brave ones). In summer the sea temperature often exceeds 21C.
If you would like to experience Malta during the summer season you have 8 months to visit the island. The weather starts to warm up in April and reaches its peak in August. The average temperature in the warmest month is between 28 and 34C during the day and it cools down to 19-24C during the night. As the sun’s rays tend to be very strong it is advisable to avoid the midday sun. In the beginning of the season (April) and the end of the season (November) the temperature usually falls between 17-25C during the day. Winter usually lasts from December to March. The coldest month is January when the temperature falls under 20C during the day but it rarely drops below 10C. Snow doesn’t fall in Malta however one can experience thunderstorms and heavy winds that usually last three days.
Due to the special characteristics of the island, sustainable development and environmental protection have vital importance. Malta’s limited natural resources, small size and limited water supply have raised important issues in terms of sustainability. The rapid industrialization, urbanization and increased demand in the tourism industry have put bigger pressure on Malta’s natural environment than ever before.
Water supply is a major issue on the islands. Malta is highly dependent on desalination due to its limited fresh water resources and lack of rainfalls. The agricultural sector also suffers from limited water supply. Malta’s hotels, restaurants, waterpark and the golf course require huge amount of water putting even bigger pressure on the limited resources. Urbanization and deforestation are also important issues. It has led to reduced agricultural lands and the ongoing developments endanger the identity of the traditional Maltese villages. Deterioration of the coastal areas and the marine eco-system is closely linked to coastal tourism. The impacts of climate change can also be felt on the islands. The Maltese government is continuously monitoring and working on the implementation of environmental policies in order to increase the use of renewable energy, to reduce air pollution and increase air quality, to implement waste management and to control the negative impacts of public transport. The “blue flag beaches” is an initiative that aims to protect Malta’s bays and beaches. In 2014, 9 beaches have been awarded quality flags for its efforts in sustainable management.
The national identity of the Maltese population is multifaceted influenced by its religion, history, politics and unique language. The Maltese people are very proud of their past and heritage. For this reason knowledge of history and the local culture is highly appreciated. The Maltese people are warm and welcoming. When meeting someone a handshake and a smile are most common. The Maltese might seem reserved at the beginning but only until the point they get to know you. Humour is an important element of communication and Maltese humour is often understated. If you get invited to a Maltese home it is recommended to bring small gifts such as flowers, chocolate or wine and small gifts for the kids.
Malta is a religious country and the yearly calendar is full of special celebrations and fiestas. These religious celebrations are taken very seriously. The Maltese are also proud of their unique language and the fact of being a bilingual nation. Malta is often called the land of nicknames. Based on the saying “Your nickname reflects your behaviour” the use of nicknames is very popular and surnames are often replaced by family nicknames. It is very common to call someone by their first name and family nickname. In earlier times towns and villages had their own nicknames.
Malta’s traditional cuisine has been influenced by its invaders over the past decades and by its proximity to Sicily and North Africa. The islands’ Mediterranean cuisine offers a diverse mix of speciality restaurants and local places serving the best traditional Maltese dishes. The secret of good Maltese cooking lies in the fresh local ingredients, herbs and spices. Due to the small size of the island, you are never too far from the nearest farm to taste or sample some local produces and delicacies.
The Maltese cuisine is very seasonal. In summer it is time for some hobz biz-zejt, a slice of crusty Maltese bread rubbed with juicy tomatoes, topped with mint, onion, sheep cheese, anchovies, tuna and olive oil, a brilliant snack for the hot summer days. In winter times the Maltese people often eat hot vegetable soup called minestra served with bread and oil or fish dishes especially the Aljotta, fish soup with garlic. Besides that, rabbit (pictured) is very popular just like ross fil-forn (baked rice), timpana (stuffed pasta baked in puff pastry) and imqarrun (baked macaroni). Hot pastizzi (pastry filled with ricotta or peas) with a nice cup of strong Maltese coffee or a can of kinnie (Maltese fizzy drink) is a great choice.
Village festivals have their own unique selection of snacks and desserts. When wondering amongst the food stalls one should definitely try the imqart (pastry filled with date paste) or the gubbajt (nougat).
When visiting Malta try the local produce, visit farms, vineyards, fruit orchards and olive groves to get a real taste of the Maltese Islands and to help keep traditional agriculture alive by supporting local farmers.
The official language of Malta is Maltese, followed by the second official language, English. Modern Maltese has become and independent language and is one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. The history of the Maltese language dates back to times of the Arabic occupation in 870AD. The Arabic roots of the Maltese language are the most obvious in case of numbers or place names. Through the past decades foreign words such as English, French or Italian have been added to the language. It is really impressive, that despite of the foreign influences, the locals managed to protect and preserve their unique language.
The Maltese language is the only Semitic language using the Latin alphabet completed by some special characters to accommodate specific Semitic sounds. The current linguistic situation is very complex. Maltese and English are used by most of the people. Maltese gives the sense of belonging, tradition and history to its speakers while the English language helps them to avoid being culturally isolated. English is also the language of international business. Italian is also widely spoken on the islands. Try a couple of these useful phrases:
- Good morning: Bongu
- Good evening: Bonswa
- Good night: Il-lejl it-tajjeb
- Pleased to meet you: Ghandi pjacir.
- How are you: Kif inti?
- My name is: Jien jisimni
- I’m from..: Jien minn
- Please: Jekk joghgbok
- Thank you: Grazzi
- Very good: Tajjeb hafna
- Sorry: Skuzani
- Where can I find? : Fejn insib?
- How far? : Kemm hu boghod?
- How much: Kemm?
- Yes: Iva
- No: Le
If you are interested in learning the language, there are many language schools on the islands offering Maltese classes for non-native speakers.
Religion plays a very important role in the Maltese culture. More than 90% of the population is Roman Catholic and most of the people practice their religion on a daily basis. Roman Catholicism is established in the constitution of Malta as the state religion; however other religions are also accepted and respected. Minority religions such as Buddhism, Jewish, Islam, Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox are growing due to the high number of ethnic groups settling down on the island.
Religion in Malta is a central topic of public discussions mainly when it comes to morality. From an early age children learn about religion and religious practices at school and are prepared for their Holy Communion and the Confirmation. Despite of the fact that the Maltese are considered a very religious nation, the modern catholic Mata is slowly shifting away from ‘church-led-values’.
The village fiestas that celebrate Malta’s religious legacy give a unique touch to the local culture and heritage. Celebrations of the three patron saints of the islands: St Publius, St Paul and St Agatha together with the feast of the assumption of Mary (15 August) and the feast of our lady of Victories (8 September) mark important dates in the country’s history. It is believed that there are 365 churches in the Maltese Islands, one church for each and every day of the year.
As a traveller, don’t forget that churches are places of worship. When visiting wear appropriate clothing and show respect.