2015 was a rough year for us all – there were the Paris attacks, war in Syria and mounting fears over climate change, terrorism and the rise of Donald Trump. By the time 2016 rolled around everyone was hoping for some light relief. Holidays are supposed to be about getting away from it all; finding a place where reality has morphed into a perfect version of the world – where the weather’s good, the food is great and the people act as if everything is as it should be.
Malta is that place. It looks how holiday’s are supposed to look – in 2014 the country was voted as the place with the best weather in the entire world, the second safest country and the best place to retire. With astoundingly low crime rates and endless sunshine, this is it – the perfect place to go to escape our messy world. Hire a car in Malta with easyCar and cruise between the five places on our list to experience ultimate escapism.
A fairytale world in Xerri’s Grotto
Descend down a 10m spiral staircase, to take a tour of an otherworldly cave hidden beneath an ordinary home in Gozo. The cavernous hideaway was discovered in 1924 by the current owner’s grandfather when he was digging a well. It was then extended by the family who used it as an air raid shelter in World War II. Today Xerri’s Grotto is a firm favourite among in-the-know tourists. The stalactites and stalagmites are illuminated with the electric lights creating a theatre of shadow shapes, cast behind the knobs and mounds of the cave’s calcified formations – some reaching up to a metre tall.
Maltese beaches are the kind that make you miss a breath and think, is this actually real? Wied il-Ghasri Bay is a pebble beach that snakes between the cliffs as if it was a fjord. The bay is very popular with divers who like to explore the hidden underwater caves. Reach it via Ghasri and Marsalforn, by boat. At Wied iż-Żurrieq, on mainland Malta, a 40m high natural arch rises out of the blue waters. Visit mid-morning when the sun shines directly into the grotto. Boat tours of the area explore seven separate caves, each with their own name – there’s honeymoon cave, reflection cave and even cat’s cave. Back on Gozo, San Blas boast burnt-orange coloured sand which rubs shoulders with the lush green valleys on Malta’s northern coast.
Cliffs that feel on top of the world
Walk along the Dingli Cliffs at sunset, looking across the sea at the slither of uninhabited island, Filfla, and towards Tunisia. This is Malta’s highest point where the earth suddenly drops away, 250m above sea level. Watch herds of goats trot past as their herder corrals them along the side of the road. Malta is perfect for dreamy walks that pick their way through out-of-this world landscapes.
Escape dry land and take to the seas
Carve your own path through Malta’s bright blue waters by kayak. Weave between hidden caves and, what feels like, unexplored corners as you hear only the swoosh-swoosh of your paddle stroking the Mediterranean. The St Paul’s Island Tour, led by the company Sea Kayak Malta, leads kayakers to the small island where St Paul was supposedly shipwrecked.
The story goes: St Paul was on his way to Rome when a storm struck and the crew was forced to wait in the sea near Malta for daylight. According to the Bible there are still four anchors in the water, leftover from when his ship rested here. In the morning the crew was forced to run the ship aground on the island’s sandy beaches. The ship broke apart in the process but nearly everyone aboard survived. This sparked the beginning of Malta’s unwavering faith in Christianity, one that stands mostly unshaken today.
After the island visit and more stories of St Paul, the kayak tour will slip around the stunning coastline to Mellieha Bay and on to Imgiebah Bay, where you can relax swim or snorkel. There is a picnic lunch at Mistra Bay and an after lunch visit to the caves skirting Xemxija Bay.
Step into the kaleidoscope world of Marsaxlokk
On Sunday, do as locals do and head to the Marsaxlokk Fish Market. Here you can buy fresh seafood, caught that morning, before it is packed off to the island’s most upmarket hotels and restaurants. You can also find locally-made honey, jams, vegetables, souvenirs and clothes. Even if you’re not in the market to buy anything, the market is fascinating to walk around – it is a kaleidoscope of colour. Escape the stalls and explore Marsaxlokk itself, the picturesque fishing village. The water lapping at the edges of the harbour is dotted with Luzzus, traditional Maltese fishing boats – coloured yellow, blue, green and red; the boats normally have a pair of eyes painted on to protect the fishermen at sea.