Veer off the tourist track and explore the temples, landmarks, and museums of hidden Malta
You’ve wandered the cobbled streets of Valletta, gone for a dip in Comino’s Blue Lagoon, and witnessed the stunning interior of the St John’s Co-Cathedral. What comes next? Malta may be small in scale, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to explore – or more ways to get off the tourist trail. Discover hidden Malta at historic sights like the Skorba Temples, landmarks like the Casa Rocca Piccola, or the St James Cavalier creative centre. Malta may not be big, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowds.
You won’t have to journey far to find the first on our list of hidden Malta sights: it may be accessibly located in Valletta, but the Casa Rocca Piccola is too often overlooked. A 16th century Mediterranean palazzo-cum-living museum, it’ll give you insight into the lives of the Maltese nobility of yore. Why not join a Champagne Tour and enjoy a fascinating insight into the history of the building and its inhabitants by the home’s owner, the Marquis de Piro, before a glass or two of bubbles in the beautiful courtyard.
Given that the entire city of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it can be difficult to decide where to begin. Once you’ve gazed upon the iconic sea vistas, break away from the crowded shoreline and dive into the tranquil Barrakka Gardens. Divided in two, the upper gardens generally attract more visitors, while the lower gardens offer a bucolic peaceful escape – and drop-dead Harbour views.
Where better to immerse yourself in old Malta than one of the archipelago’s many historic villages? Xagħra, on the island of Gozo, is a good starting point. One of the area’s earliest settlements, it offers plenty to see: from the Ta’ Kola windmill to a number of nearby caves.
For the more macabre traveller, there’s nothing quite like an amble through the catacombs. St. Agatha’s Crypt and Catacombs are found beneath one of Malta’s oldest churches and are as unsettling as you might expect. Here you’ll also find stunning frescos and sculptural reliefs – and a heritage dating to ancient times.
Founded by knights, used as a defensive outpost in battles against Napoleon, and even utilised throughout WWII, Fort San Lucjan, originally built in the 17th century, has some compelling history. In a country that’s chock-a-block with local landmarks, this one represents a more hidden Malta. Head over on Saturday mornings, when small groups can take an insider tour of the facilities.
We already know that Ghar Lapsi happens to be one of Malta’s best swimming holes. But if lazy paddling isn’t quite your pace, you can also head to this coastal enclave for some adrenaline-pumping abseiling. Once you’ve shimmied down the sheer cliff face, perhaps a victorious dip is in order?
For any Londoners reading: no, we are not discussing the tube. Rather, Malta’s historic Victoria Lines that have more in common with the Great Wall of China than the London Underground. These fortifications, which separate Rabat from Mġarr, date back to the 19th century…and just so happen to offer excellent built-in walking itineraries.
Despite the fact that it’s housed within a 16th century fort, the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity is as contemporary as it gets. Visitors can check out gallery exhibitions, catch theatre performances, settle in for an arty film screening or even attend musical performances – it’s a veritable cultural smorgasbord.
Watch as crowds flock to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum or Ħaġar Qim – and then smugly head to the Skorba temples instead, which have no less ancient pedigree but are sure to be less attended. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple complex is picturesquely ruinous (only fair, given that it’s been around since 4850 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest standing landmarks).