This European island has ‘the best climate in the world’

Malta’s up-and-coming capital took centre stage when it was crowned 2018’s Capital of Culture, but there’s much more to the enigmatic island than Valletta. The Local’s Commercial Editor took a whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secret.

This European island has 'the best climate in the world'
Photo: Rabat, Malta

Certain countries have a habit of stealing the limelight when it comes to culture. Tourists seeking their fix of classical and renaissance history typically flock to Greece or Italy, piling into packed attractions that have been snapped more times than Kim Kardashian’s backside.

Rome and Athens might be home to some of Europe’s most famous historical sights, but one nearby island offers all that and then some.

Photo: Rabat, Malta

Megalithic temples, turquoise lagoons, stretching beaches and a spattering of historic cities, Malta is a bitesize country packing an ancient punch. The little anomaly in the Mediterranean is a veritable sponge, soaking up 7000 years of history, remnants of which are still peppered across the island today.

Click here to start planning your trip to Malta

Best of all, you can explore Malta’s finest in just a couple of days at any time of year (it’s acknowledged to have the best climate in the world with over 300 days of sunshine a year). Around every twist and turn on the rugged landscape is a characterful little time capsule – many of which pre-date the most ancient of ancient cities.

Photo: Mdina, Malta

Once Malta’s capital, the fortified city of Mdina was founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC (that’s nearly 3,000 years ago) and reduced to its present size following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Sitting atop a hill in the southwest of Malta with sprawling views as far as the eye can see, Mdina still positively brims with history and tradition.

READ MORE: Make this small Mediterranean capital your next city break

History buffs should make sure to check out some of the finest mosaic pavements preserved from the Roman era at the Domvs Romana, a ruined Roman era house that’s been open to the public since 1882.  More ‘recent’ residents included the noble families of Maltese middle ages who occupied the impressive palaces that still line the pristine streets.

Just a short walk from Mdina, neighbouring Rabat offers a picture-perfect look into Maltese island life. The word itself means ‘suburb’ and today it’s still home to 11,000 inhabitants who must thank their lucky stars they wake up there every morning.

If I had to put a label on Rabat, I’d describe it as a sort of Moorish Provence. Vines and fuchsia flowers creep up the limestone buildings, bow windows are adorned with colourful wooden shutters and, much like the streets of Valletta, everything seems to gleam. The residents take meticulous care of each nook and cranny, conscious that every passerby will share their little corner of the world on Instagram.

READ MORE: Make this small Mediterranean capital your next city break

Stop off for lunch at Da Luigi restaurant while you’re in the area. The family-owned restaurant serves lovingly prepared local and fusion dishes like champagne-battered tempura and Cassata Siciliana, a sweet ricotta tart wrapped in green marzipan. Wash it all down with a glass of local wine as you look out onto a idyllic view of the Maltese countryside.

Photo: View from Da Luigi

Make your way from Rabat over to Marsaxlokk (about a thirty minute drive), a traditional fishing village in Malta’s south eastern region. Still in use by Maltese fishermen, colourful Luzzu fishing boats bop around on teal waters along the horizon. Every Sunday there’s an open market where you can buy the catch of the day or other locally-produced items like honey, jams, sweets and wine.

Photo: Marsaxlokk

From modern-day fishing villages way back to the megalithic period, Malta is home to three of the world’s oldest freestanding structures: Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien. The prehistoric temples sit on a hillside bordering the ocean and date back to between 3600 BC and 700 BC. Stroll through the stones and mill around in the museum where you can learn more about these ancient marvels which predate Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

Photo: Malta's megalithic temples predate Stonehenge and the pyramids

Less than two kilometres away, you’ll find yet more rare wonders (I told you the island was compact!). Malta’s famous Azure Window may sadly have collapsed in 2017, but its Blue Grotto is fortunately still standing. Even on a grey day you can see the bioluminescent water lapping around the ancient rock formation. Explore the seven caves by that make up the grotto by licensed boat departing from the tiny harbour set amid an inlet of the cliffs in the seaside village Wied iż-Żurrieq.

Photo: Caves at the Blue Grotto

It might sound like a lot, but the determined traveller can cover much of Malta in a couple of days. Of course, if you really want to take it in everything this little island has to offer, then it deserves a longer stay. Perhaps Malta’s most appealing quality is that whether you’re there for a day or a week, there’s plenty to discover and more than enough left over for next time.

Click here to start planning your trip to Malta

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Visit Malta.


How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules