Malta covers 246 sq km with 136 km of coastline; the sister island, Gozo, is 14 by 7 km and has 43 km of coastline; and tiny Comino covers less than 3 sq km. The total population of the islands is less than half a million, a devoutly Roman Catholic country but with Allah as its name for the father of Christ.
The Order of St John ruled supreme here for nearly 270 years, and its crusading knights, “the flower of European aristocracy”, left part of the magic of their era in towering fortifications, stately palazzos, and noble baroque churches and cathedrals whose walls are adorned still with the art of Caravaggio, Antoine de Favray and Mattia Preti; a disproportionately grand legacy for such a small island. In addition, just about every major power player in European history – from Count Roger the Norman, to Napoleon – has squabbled over and left a mark in some corner of the island. The only visitors who came in peace were St Luke and St Paul, who planted the banner of Christianity.
For those who do not wish to griddle themselves under the relentless sun, there are over 350 churches to visit, walks along the cliffs, terrific swimming, diving and sailing, and the monumental remains of prehistoric sites older than the Pyramids of Egypt.
The islanders, both Maltese and Gozitan are an energetic, industrious and shrewd people. Short and stocky, loud and proud, but with an open and warm nature, than can en masse resemble a cast of amphetamine-fueled characters from a cartoon. Yet, for a much invaded people they are almost welcoming, and the only timidity you may find is on Gozo.
But, of course, the-times-they-are-a-changing. New services and tariffs have, inevitably and markedly, risen. One of the things that has not changed so far, is the cheeky grin the Maltese always sport, except when behind the wheel of a car. Beware, their driving is anything but Catholic.