Island life

The Maltese archipelago consists of three main islands: Malta itself – the biggest and busiest island – sleepy, rustic Gozo, and tranquil Comino.

Comino, with its famous Blue Lagoon, is a popular day’s sailing trip. Most operators offer barbecues on deck and a chance to plunge into the limpid waters of the inland sea.

On Gozo, wander around the capital Victoria, and enjoy the view from its imposing Citadel. Take a boat trip from Dwejra to the towering arch of the Azure Window. And check out the Ggantija Temples – dating back to 3500BC, these are among the world’s oldest structures.

This is also the place to get outdoors. Cycle the coastal paths, stopping for a lazy beachside lunch; take the plunge and go scuba-diving; or explore the various options for rock climbing.

Grand designs

Malta offers attractions of a different kind: the meandering streets of Mdina, the grandeur of Valletta, and the bright lights and party vibe of Sliema and St Julian’s.

A cruise around Valletta’s Grand Harbour on a traditional fishing boat offers epic views out to sea and of the fortifications of the Three Cities. The busy marina is an integral part of Malta’s history and wealth, and the docks still reverberate with activity.

For a taste of medieval Malta head to Mdina. The silent, dusty alleyways with their decorative doorknobs and covered balconies have barely changed since the Knights of St John made the city their capital.

Elsewhere, the fishing port of Marsaxlokk with its colourful boats and bustling market is well worth a visit. From there it’s a short hop to the mesmerising waters of the Blue Grotto. End your days bar-hopping in St Julian’s, or enjoying a slap-up meal at Valletta’s Waterfront.

Dream destination

So varied is Malta’s allure, you’re bound to find something to please. The islands are old enough to offer a richly cultural experience, yet young enough to feel accessible and fun.

Factor in year-round sunshine and friendly, welcoming people – who speak the Queen’s English in a soft, sultry guttural – and perhaps seven years wouldn’t be so long after all.

The Maltese cross

Malta’s strategic importance was matched by the ferocity of the bombing campaign it sustained in World War II. George VI awarded the Maltese people the George Cross in 1942, to mark their bravery. It still adorns the flag.

The distinctive eight-pointed star known as the Maltese Cross is the symbol of the Knights of St John, who ruled Malta from 1530 until Napoleon turned up in 1798.

Entering the Order of St John was a bit like becoming a monk for the aristocracy. The knights first came to prominence protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land during the crusades.

Today the knights exist only as a charitable order, but their rule on Malta left a legacy of ornate fortresses and flourishing cities.

» Claire Goodall travelled with Air Malta (0906 103 0012). Return flights from Gatwick and Heathrow start from £99.