The locals' guide to... Malta

Malta is so small it's a surprise no one has slipped it into their pocket and taken it home. Since they haven't you can still enjoy the great history, art, beaches and restaurants packed within its shores...

Malta

How do I get away from large tour groups wearing matching caps?

While Malta has some amazing things to see - the island's a speck in the Mediterranean Sea - there aren't a great deal of them to go around. Tour groups flock to the big ones like iron filings around a magnet and so the path to peace and quiet is all about timing. Since the island is so bijou you can get to most places in a taxi before the tour groups have had their tour breakfasts and you can see loads on a short break to Malta. Go to the strange Fred Flintstone-esque Hagar Qim Neolithic site just as the sun is rising over the sea and then have your own non-tour breakfast in the nearby fishing village of Marsaxlokk.

Where do the locals party?

Tourists have a strangle-hold on the nightlife as holidays in Malta have been popular for ages among Brits. But the locals - this being a deeply Catholic country - really cut loose during the countless parish saints' festivals held over the summer months. Nearly every town has a three-day long extravaganza of fireworks, music, drink, dance and general mayhem with communities competing to lay on the best event.

Restaurants without an 'all-you-can-eat tourist buffet'?

Outside the tourist hot zones of Sliema and St Julian's it's actually quite easy to avoid the crowds at meal times. Valletta has some great restaurants with splendid views over the city and sea like The Carriage and Giannini, where dinner ends with fantastic little complimentary chocolate treats. Or make for any of the little fishing villages that dot the coast for some fine seafood for a cheap holiday meal.

The locals' absolutely secret number one tip : Malta travel can be tricky. There's a saying that the Maltese don't drive on the right or the left, they drive in the shade. Bear that in mind if you hire a car.

A quick guide to where the locals hang out

Malta

The beach: Bahar ic-Caghaq. Look out for two small sandy beaches on the coast road between Qawra and St Julian's.

The water: Get there early and swim in the eerily clear waters of the Blue Lagoon along from San Niklaw Bay before the crowds arrive in their boats.

The flicks: Eden Century Cinema in St Julian's. It's massive so there'll be something on you want to see.

The trip: In summer as temperatures start to hit average IQ numbers take a cooling boat trip around Valletta's Grand Harbour.

The view: By day or night Fort St Angelo and Grand Harbour look magnificent from the Upper Barakka Gardens. Or drink in most of Malta from the Pjazza Tas-Sur in the hill-top town of Mdina.

The museum: St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta has two of Caravaggio's most inspired works, St Jerome Writing and The Beheading of St John the Baptist.

The coffee: Café Ranieri on Republic Street. And if you want a cake with that coffee this is the place.

The place for people watching: Valletta bus station, just outside the city gate. Nobody seems to quite know what's going on.

Details:

Hagar Qim neolithic site, Hagar Qim Temples, Qrendi, +356 21424231, www.heritagemalta.org; Ggantija Temples, Temples Street, Xaghra, Gozo, +356 21553194; The Carriage, 22/5 Valletta Buildings, South Street/Triq Nofs In-Nhor, Valletta, +356 21247828; Giannini, 23 Windmill Street /Triq Il Mithna, St. Michael's Bastion, Valletta, +356 21237121; Eden Century Cinema, Triq Santu Wistin, St. George's Bay, St. Julian's, +356 23710400, www.edencinemas.com.mt; Upper Barakka Gardens, Castille Place/ Pjazza Kastilja, Valletta; St John's Co-Cathedral, St John's Street/Triq Ir-Repubblika, Valletta, +356 21220536, stjohnscocathedral.com; Café Ranieri, Republic Street, Valletta, +356 21249063; Plaza Regency Hotel, 248 Tower Road, Sliema;

hotels - already got ideas where you would like to go?
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Can I drink the water?

The eight essential questions you'll need answering

Which local animal is likely to hospitalise me?

There are sharks in the seas around Malta but they tend to steer clear of the beaches - which may mean they have an aversion to banana boats.

Which native liquor will make me think I am attractive?

Limuncell, a lemon liqueur, and Bajtra, made from prickly pears, are the most popular Maltese liqueurs. They seem like easy-to-guzzle fruity numbers and then you wake up under your table.

How can I avoid a beating by the local hard nuts?

Don't worry, the Maltese Cross isn't a reference to the locals' bad tempers - you'll find islanders a friendly bunch.

Will I get lost?

Possibly for about five minutes. Malta is perfectly formed but it's not winning any biggest island contests. Climb a tree and you can see most of the country. So finding your malta hotel should not be a problem.

Will I find myself?

When he was wanted for murder in Italy, Caravaggio escaped there to think about what he'd done. He got drunk, had a few fights and was asked to leave. Let that be a lesson.

Should I take an umbrella?

Only for keeping the sun off your beer. Most of Malta's annual 24 inches falls in the autumn and winter months.

What should I order in a restaurant to impress the locals?

The Maltese are proud of their fresh produce like zucchini, artichokes, tomatoes, figs and peaches. So order local stuff to get the thumbs up.

Can I drink the water?

Yes but rising sea levels are threatening to compromise Malta's underground water reservoir. Tourism puts a bit of a strain on Malta's drinking water supplies so help them out by sticking to the bottled kind.

 
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