Located 60 miles south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, the Republic of Malta consists of five islands: Malta, Gozo, the smaller Comino, and two rocky, uninhabited islands, Cominetto and Filfla. Surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean, Malta's beaches prove to be an enormous draw throughout the summer months. Perhaps the most popular beach, Ghadira Bay in Mellieha is easily accessible, boasts shallow water from some distance out, and even has a floating play area that can be reached by swimming. Another family-friendly beach, Paradise Bay near Cirkewwa, is also one of the most picturesque and is a popular spot for snorkeling.
Golden Bay in northwest Malta is a popular tourist beach with wide swaths of soft sand, but a strong undercurrent here means children should be kept under close watch and restricted mainly to the beach. Adjacent to Golden Bay, the protected area of Ghajn Tuffieha — accessed by a hundred or so steps, or by hillside paths — is considered to be one of the finest beaches in Europe. For a bit more adventure, local guides at Blue Grotto on the southern part of Malta take visitors out in small boats to explore the caves there that are surrounded by fantastic rock formations.
The Maltese islands have been inhabited for thousands of years as evidenced by numerous prehistoric sites that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Ggantija — or "Giants' Tower" — on Gozo dates back to about 3600 BC, making it the oldest freestanding temple in the world. Actually two temples enclosed by a boundary wall, these impressive structures were constructed before metal tools would have been available to the island builders and prior to the wheel being introduced. Nearby, the Xaghra Stone Circle was used as a burial ground, presumably by the same inhabitants who practiced religious ceremonies at Ggantija. The Circle dates to between 3000 and 2400 BC, while an older chambered tomb on the site was used as far back as 4100-3800 BC.
Also found on Malta is the Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni, the only underground prehistoric temple in the world. This 5400-square-foot necropolis also dates from 3000-2500 BC. A statuette known as the Sleeping Lady that was excavated from the site can be seen at the Museum of Archaeology in the capital city of Valletta.
Fast-forward several thousand years to the late 16th century when a more modern temple was constructed — St. John's Co-Cathedral built in Valletta by the Knights of Malta. The ornate interiors and Caravaggio masterpieces housed here belie its austere façade. Intricate carvings decorate the interior walls, while a vaulted ceiling is covered with ornate paintings. Side altars depict scenes from the life of St. John, and each of eight chapels in the co-cathedral is uniquely decorated and dedicated to one of the Knights' eight patron saints. A number of important Knights are buried here, and their elaborate marble tombstones are works of art in themselves. The most famous work in the church is Caravaggio's 1608 depiction of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist — the only painting ever signed by the artist.
A satellite of Malta, the tiny island of Gozo offers sandy beaches and incredible rock formations. Soft sand and clear, shallow water draw visitors to the beach at Ramla Bay. The Giants' Tower is the world's oldest freestanding temple, and ancient tombs date back to 4100 BC.
Surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean, the beaches on Malta are the island's main attraction. The family-friendly beach at Ghadira Bay boasts shallow water and a floating play area, while Paradise Bay near Cirkewwa is a popular spot for snorkeling.