(c) October 2013 Oliver Bonten
The smallest country of the European Union is a cluster of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean, South of Sicily, North of Lybia, East of Tunisia. The largest of the islands, Malta island, has about the size of Frankfurt, the whole nation is smaller than the smallest German state (which is a city state!) Very easily overlooked on any map of the EU. Yet, deeply connected to European history and pre-history.
The advantages of Malta as a holiday destination are that it's close enough for short travel, warm enough in October, small enough to be visited in a short time, and reasonably safe. At first I was concerned that we would run out of things to see and do, but in the end, I didn't even get around to do any scuba diving. Malta has some of the most impressive megalithic remains, then played a minor role during Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Arab times, until it became the residence of the knights of St. John (the Hospitallers).
After their miserable failure to defend Rhodos, the knights were issued a patch of land from the personal possession of the emperor which the emperor considered to have little to no value – the Maltese islands. The local population wasn't asked. They were, initially, not happy. Here on Malta, the knights' impressive victories against the Ottoman army brought them back into imperial favour and opened not a few coffers, which in turn led to some of the most impressive fortress-building.
Changing hands two more times, Malta ended up as a British possession, and played an important role during WW2. Due to its size, Malta is densely populated, yet it has countryside and city areas, and especially the Northwest and the second island, Gozo, are pretty rural.
At one point between the Romans and the Hospitallers, Malta was Arab (as was nearby Sicily), and from this time the Maltese people speak an Arab dialect. Culturally, Malta is heavily influenced by Sicily, with a culinary emphasis on small animals – rabbits are a local specialty.
Because of the limited size of the country, we booked a package tour with a specialist travel agent ( Maltadirekt.de ) and stayed in the same hotel the entire time. Car rentals are cheap but between the major points, there are also efficient bus routes.
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