Bed down in a palace
Recent years have seen large areas of Valletta shrouded in scaffolding as its ancient palazzos are converted into swanky boutique hotels, partly in anticipation of the European City of Culture juggernaut hitting town in 2018.
One of the best is the Luciano Al Porto, with red-shuttered rooms leading off an elegant spiral staircase, and fine views over the Grand Harbour to go with your breakfast.
For a spot more luxury with Far Eastern touches try the Locanda La Gelsomina across the water in Vittoriosa. Here you can practice your warrior pose on the rooftop terrace of a 400-year-old palace.
Hit the road
Given Malta’s main island is is a fun-sized 27km by 14km, hiring a car gives you access to pretty much everywhere. While you will need to get to grips with local driving etiquette (take no prisoners and don’t bother indicating), barrelling along a coast road, preferably in a convertible, is hard to beat.
The Maltese-only road signs can prove confusing, so invest in a GPS. A circuit from Valletta, north to St Paul’s Bay (San Pawl il-Baħar), via the beach of Għajn Tuffieha and the Blue Grotto, another pretty coastal spot on the west coast, makes for a fun day out.
Just resist the temptation to take a “short cut” inland where you may end up on a rutted track following a horse and cart.
Embrace beach life
Malta gets ferociously hot in high summer when everyone and their zija (auntie) heads to the nearest beach. The picture-postcard option is The Blue Lagoon, a shimmering expanse of turquoise water surrounding tiny Comino islet, between Malta and Gozo.
It’s well worth the day trip despite the inevitable crowds (arrive early if you want enough space to lay a beach towel).
“Paradise Bay” (yes, Malta knows how to market itself), a jet-ski ride south, lives up to its name with a pretty crescent of white sand accessed down a cliffside path.
If you really want somewhere off the beaten track try St Peter’s Pool in the far southeast. A stunning natural swimming pool, you’ll find locals (and adventurous dogs) diving from the limestone cliffs to cool off (bring everything you need as there are no facilities down here).
Get cultured in the capital
Valletta, Malta’s capital, seems built for aimless wandering. Its grid of sun-dappled Baroque streets is punctuated by vintage shop signs, red British-era pillar boxes and ornate timber balconies.
Inside the gloriously over-the-top St John’s Co-Cathedral (“co” as it shares duties with another cathedral in Mdina), you’ll find two masterpieces by Caravaggio, completed while a guest of the Knights of St John in 1607 (that the painter was a wanted murderer at the time appears to have been a detail the knights were happy to overlook).
A block away, gleaming suits of armour stand guard along the marble corridors of the Grand Master’s Palace, worthy of a visit if only for its stunning tapestries depicting the exotic wildlife of the New World. A musket shot from here, Malta leaps into the twenty first century with its bold new parliament building by Renzo Piano.