History and sunshine in Malta

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The mighty rock towering above us is a vivid reminder that Malta has been central to the history of the Mediterranean for thousands of years.

Just how the primitive folk of this small island managed to ease the 20-ton bulk into place is mind-boggling, and today the rock forms part of the ancient temples at Mnajdra, which feature within an impressive heritage park.

The park also houses a museum, where exhibits explain how the temples were built as a way of exerting authority, and also to provide a structure to the ancient folks’ lives. For instance, they were constructed in such a way that the sun’s shadow indicates what time of the year and day it is, a very early example of a clock.

It’s no surprise that, as well as relaxation and the warm weather, Malta’s remarkable history is also a big attraction.

The island measures nine by 13 miles and has a population of 400,000. Before you’ve even landed, old stone buildings and ancient monuments come into view, such is their presence on this little island.

Crosses crop up everywhere, from the eight-pointed cross of the Order of St John which protected the country against the Ottoman Empire, to the George Cross awarded to Malta following the merciless bombing by the Axis powers during World War Two.

There are also frequent reminders of recent colonial history. Though the days of British rule are long gone, clear British influences remain: English is the co-official national language, alongside Maltese, and people drive on the left.

Our base was the four-star, all-inclusive Seabank Hotel, which underwent an extensive upgrade by Thomas Cook last winter. Now featuring in their Holidays with Style programme, the rooms are chic and comfortable, there’s a large pool and four a la carte restaurants to choose from.

The hotel overlooks Mellieha Beach, the longest sandy beach on the island. Gently shelving sands, an abundance of watersports and bars make this a great place to relax when you want a break from the hotel pool.

After a day lounging in the sun, we head for the ancient walled city of Mdina, the name of which reveals Malta’s historic links to Arab countries.

There are many waterfront restaurants and the Vittoriosa Waterfront serves delicious locally-caught fish; the sea bass is particularly good.

For less than five euros, you can hop on a ferry and reach Malta’s little sister island, Gozo, in around 25 minutes. Gozo is a major tourist haunt too, also heaving with history.

The stones at Ggantija, the oldest free-standing structure in the world, puts our own Stonehenge somewhat in the shade at 7,000 years old.

With great history, decent food and predictable sunshine, Malta provides an unforgettable experience.