VALLETTA, Malta -- Located 60 miles off the coast of Sicily,
Malta is the newest country member of Memtta. Long popular with
Europeans as a vacation retreat -- Malta attracts more than 1
million visitors annually -- the island nation remains unfamiliar
to most Americans. "We are the best-kept secret in the
Mediterranean," Michael Piscopo, North American director for the
Malta National Tourist Office, said.
But that interest is stirring, he said, as more cruise ships
call at Valletta, and several U.S. tour operators have added
programs to Malta. North American visitors to Malta increased by
approximately 29% during the first half of 1997, compared with the
same period last year. The tourist office seeks a modest goal of
50,000 North American visitors by the year 2000.
A nation made up of five islands, Malta is located almost smack
in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Malta is well placed
geographically and culturally, according to Piscopo, to work with
other Memtta countries in expanding and enhancing regional
Malta offers fine weather, beach attractions, picturesque
fishing villages and harbors. In addition, there is a showcase of
art and archaeology on the island, visited through the centuries by
welcome and unwelcome peoples: the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines,
Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, French and English.
Although the country could be called an open-air museum spanning
6,000 years of history, two periods are unique to Malta. Prehistory
is marked here with neolithic temples older than the Egyptian
pyramids and Stonehenge. The area also bears the remains of tenants
between 1530 and 1798, when the Knights of St. John ruled.
What to see:
* Valletta, Malta's 16th century capital city, dominates the
island's historical harbor. The city is full of wonderful sights:
the 16th-century Co-Cathedral of St. John, the Grand Master's
Palace and its Armory, the Barracca Gardens and the massive
bastions guarding the city. Also of interest is the Auberge de
* Mdina, a half-hour from Valletta, is entirely surrounded by
massive walls built for protection a thousand years ago, with
marvelous palaces and churches within. In the former capital, visit
the Baroque Cathedral and Museum and the splendid Palazzo
* Gozo, a 20-minute ferry ride from Malta, is smaller, greener
and more rural; the beaches with no adjacent high-rises are on
Gozo. Of primary importance on the island is the Ggantija
megalithic temple complex. Built in the fourth millennium B.C., it
is the oldest freestanding structure in the world and is today a
Unesco World Heritage Site.
For more information, contact the Malta National Tourist Office
in New York at (212) 695-9520.