If you are yet to go on an international vacation this year, and you’re unsure where to travel now that summer is nearing its end and the chilly winds of autumn are starting to blow, we might have just the spot for you that will offer both an idyllic beach getaway, and an unforgettable cultural immersion.
August is now behind us, but if booking trends are anything to go by, Mediterranean Europe will stay just as trendy in the off-season. As it is awfully busy year-round, Italy is not exactly the best pick if you’re looking for smaller crowds, but perhaps its tiny, stunning neighbor is.
In case there was room left for doubt, the island nation of Malta is one of the hottest destinations this fall, and it’s certainly where you should be headed:
One Of The Smallest, Prettiest Countries In Europe
Malta is both an archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and one of the world’s smallest sovereign states, with a population of over 500,000 and an area of only 122 square miles.
Located South of Sicily, in Italy, halfway to the North coast of Africa, it is one of Europe’s Southernmost states, as well as one of its hottest and more arid.
In Malta, summers are long and scorchingly hot, and we would not recommend you visit in the peak season when it’s 45°C / 113°F out, and staying outside for longer than two hours at a time is virtually impossible (not to mention the excessive crowding).
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However, fall may be the perfect time to be a tourist in Malta, as temperatures are not as high, with an average of 28°C / 82.4°F during the day, though it can get warmer even, and balmy evenings, when it drops to a pleasant 20°C / 68°F.
With an average of only five rainy days in September (nine in October), and as many as 12 hours of daylight every day, you will have enough time to sightsee and explore Malta at leisure without suffering from a heatstroke or pulling your hoodie up.
Trust us: you will need those precious hours.
Why Should You Spend Your Vacation In Malta?
Malta may be small, but it is a highly concentrated historical area. Originally a province within Sicily during the Roman Empire, it would tread its own path as a separate polity in the wake of the Arab invasions of the 9th century.
This event heavily influenced Maltese culture, language, and townscapes, but Malta would be re-conquered by European powers in the 11th century and reassert itself as a stronghold for Christianity in the continent’s far South.
Over the centuries, power would pass on to the Normans, the sovereign order known as the Knights Hospitaller, and the British, who established a colony for over 150 years, leading up to full independence in the sixties, all of which have left a profound mark in Malta.
Cities are traditionally built out of native limestone, giving them a signature yellowy color, much like Sicily’s and North Africa’s, but where Malta differs is in the presence of traditional red telephone boxes scattered around the Old Towns – obvious remnants of the British Empire – and its left-hand traffic.
Through its close historical ties to Sicily and the wider Mediterranean, Malta is irrevocably Southern European, though with a British flair. Some of the town names were Anglicized following colonization, and unsurprisingly, today all of Malta is at least conversational, if not perfectly fluent, in English.
It is, after all, one of two official languages, the other being Maltese, a close relative of Arabic.
More Than Just A Fascinating Heritage
There is more to Malta than merely its fascinating heritage: it is jam-packed with gorgeous sandy beaches, lapped by the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, and fairytale citadels straight out of a medieval movie set (except they’re very much real).
Some of the most emblematic walled cities of Malta is the capital, Valletta, known locally as ‘Il-Belt’, with long, narrow streets that lead down to the port, lined with ochre-colored edifices with colorful and ornate, classically Maltese protuberant balconies.
Mdina is the second most-visited attraction in Malta, and a 2,800-year old gem surrounded by a dry moat, only accessible via what would have been a heavily-guarded ostentatious city gate.
Mdina boasts winding alleys, ancient churches, and a sweeping panorama of the rural Maltese hinterland and the well-developed coast beyond from atop its ramparts.
The ‘Three Cities’ of Vittoriosa, Cospicua, and Senglea should feature on your itinerary as well. Sitting across the bay from Valletta, they form a contiguous habitation zone and are easily recognized for their thick, fortress-like outer walls and big, round domes.
That’s only the island of Malta itself, as the Republic of Malta (the country) has at least two other islands worth exploring.
Malta Beyond The Main Island
These include Comino, famous for its Blue Lagoon, where the Mediterranean is perhaps at its brightest blue, and Gozo, home to 39,000 inhabitants.
Gozo is Malta’s smallest sister, and its capital, Victoria (Rabat in Maltese), is the main landmark and a medieval citadel housing a beautiful Baroque cathedral, 16th-century dwellings, and world-class History museums.
If you feel like combining your immersion in Maltese culture with some beach time, head to Għadira Bay, in the North of the main island of Malta, where you will find a long stretch of sandy beach and crystal-clear waters.
They stay warm in the fall, particularly throughout September, with the highest sea temperature being 26 °C (79 °F).
Malta Is Incredibly Easy To Explore
Seeing that Malta is a small country, and driving from the extreme East to the Westernmost point of the island will not take you longer than an hour and a half, tops, with traffic, you can cram a lot of sights into a three to five-day itinerary (but not all).
Naturally, we would suggest you stay at least a week to fully take in the subtropical atmosphere and discover both Malta and Gozo at a slower pace.
If it’s crowds you’re wary of, you will be glad to know arrival figures tend to drop considerably throughout fall. Malta is a very touristy place, so odds are it will still feel somewhat busy, even in autumn, but it is nowhere near the crazy levels of tourism seen in summer.
As a result of the drop in demand, prices tend to fluctuate down as well, so you might benefit from cheaper hotel rates, as well as more reasonably-priced tourist excursions, though that is certainly not a given.
In case you were wondering, Malta is both in the European Union and the Schengen Zone, and the national currency is the Euro.
Where To Stay In Malta
Some of the best places to stay in Malta include Valletta, the capital itself, as it is well-connected by bus and ferry to other parts of the main island, as well as Comino and Gozo, Sliema, a development zone notorious for its high-rise seafront condominiums, and St. Julian’s, a resort zone and nightlife spot.
There are no direct flights from the United States to Malta, but it is served by one-stop connecting flights in mainland Europe, usually Italy, and if you are already in Europe, you are able to find low-cost tickets traveling to Malta, sometimes for as cheap as $27 one-way, when booked some weeks in advance.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com