While Malta doesn’t boast many sandy beaches, it does provide plenty of opportunities to take a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean with most hotels and resorts offering direct access to the sea.
Sea access and airier spaces are a recurring motif in properties around the island. Wi-Fi is another must-have amenity.
Many properties are opting to replace Kid’s Clubs with activities. The Seabank is probably the most innovative property to embrace this concept.
Seabank’s showpiece is the large leisure area, which boasts the island’s biggest pool, 1,200 sunbeds (more than enough for everyone in the audience), ramps into the pool for disabled guests, water jets, jacuzzi, crazy golf, volleyball, beach football, archery and air rifle shooting.
The focus is all about experience – the more unique the better.
The Cavalieri, where we stayed, has rebranded itself as a modern art hotel. Management is transforming most of its bright entrance space into a gallery.
The foyer currently hosts abstract sculptures, pencil drawings and acrylic paintings, and new pieces were installed in October. Prices start at €800 if anything takes your fancy. The back of the downstairs restaurant will be converted into a gallery next year.
Malta is proving particularly popular with the French, who entered the top five markets this year. Our guide, Godfrey, says this is because agents are diverting clients from risky destinations like Turkey and Egypt and sending them here.
It’s debatable whether that’s a fair substitution, but Malta certainly offers a rich cultural and historical experience and fantastic hot spells during the summer.
A staunchly Catholic state, visitors can repent in any of the island’s 359 churches – or simply admire their beautiful structures. It’s possible to perform a wedding ceremony near the sea, preferably 100 metres from the shoreline.
You’ll certainly be looking to cleanse your soul after a night out in St Julian’s Bay, “the party Mecca of Malta”.
Paceville is where most of the action is. The streets are lined with clubs and pubs offering cheap pints, cocktails and shots of every taste and colour. And there’s cheap food at hand to soak up the alcohol.
Millennials and Leaving Cert holidaymakers looking to indulge will hardly venture anywhere else. But they don’t run the place. There are also more mature premises with heavyset bouncers keeping order. The upstairs bar in Hugo’s Lounge is recommended if you want to hang out with tipsy thirty-somethings rather than drunken teenagers.
You can quickly get away from the revellers if you want.
If you’re looking for peace, head north to Mellieha or St Paul’s Bay. The latter is a bit busier, but still ideal for families and older couples.
Located 35 minutes from the capital, Valletta, Mellieha is a bit out of the way and although the whole island is well-serviced by public transport and tour buses, you might consider hiring a car – which could be a bit of a hassle. The island is, unsurprisingly, quite congested, and major road works are under way on the island’s east coast until 2015.
Valletta is also undergoing a big renovation. The V18 project will see ongoing restoration across the city until 2018 when it becomes European Capital of Culture in 2018, alongside Leeuwarden in The Netherlands.
Malta and its sister islands were captured by everyone at some point, it seems. The Phoenicians, the Romans, Moorish, Normans, Sicilians, Habsburg Spain, Knights of St John, French and, finally, the English all took advantage of the island’s central location and used it as a military base.
This mixture of influences is most evident in the Maltese language, which is a concoction of Arabic, French, Latin and English.
Foodies will appreciate the array of sea creatures that make it on the menu. If you love your seafood, you must try the hake and the fish cakes in Zeri’s restaurant in Portomaso, St Julian’s Bay. If you’re more into turf than surf, then go for the Aged Angus beef eye.
If you have the time, you could take advantage of the island’s location and visit some of its neighbours. It’s easy to get to Gozo, Malta’s closest sister. The island hosts one family, one hotel, one policeman – and thousands of visitors a year. Or else you could spend a day and take a mini trip to Sicily, which is only 90 minutes by boat. The staff in most properties will help arrange your trip.
Malta ticks the boxes for a week in the sun: easy access to the sea, cheap and delicious food and a vibrant nightlife (if you want it).
Next time you reach for the Canaries brochure, think about sending your clients this way for a change.
Conor McMahon travelled to Malta with lowcostbeds, a global, trade-only bedbank.
This article first appeared in Travel Extra magazine.