As American tourists return to Europe in droves, it’s becoming harder than ever to find off-the-beaten-path destinations.
But if you want to get ahead of the curve and visit Europe’s next hot spot that is a truly beautiful destination before everyone else, then now is the time to head to Malta.
Malta is a small European island nation situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is just 50 miles south of Sicily, and the nearest nations to the east and north are the African nations of Tunisia and Libya, respectively.
Malta boasts a year-round Mediterranean climate and a host of cultural and historical attractions. It is a popular stop for smaller cruise companies such as Viking and Ponant but isn’t yet on everyone’s travel radar.
Here’s why now is the time to visit:
Tourism In Malta Is Still Growing
In 2022, Malta welcomed 2.3 million visitors, making it their busiest year ever. These figures are only forecast to grow in 2023.
But these tourism levels are relatively low compared to other European destinations. Croatia received 15.3 million visitors in 2022, for example, while France welcomed 66.6 million tourists in the same year.
This means that while tourism in Malta is certainly growing, earning the nation the title of Europe’s next hot spot, and you will find a number of tourists at their larger cultural attractions, you’re unlikely to find them uncomfortably crowded.
Visiting now will mean that you can explore Malta’s three Unesco World Heritage Sites at your own pace, without the masses that other European World Heritage sites attract during the summer months.
Malta Blends The Best Of Two Continents
Its strategically important location between Europe and Africa means that Malta’s architecture and attitudes combine a unique blend of European and Arabic influences.
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This is reflected in the names of the streets and the people you will meet, the winding cobbled paths, and its ancient heritage sites. The best example of this is the Maltese language itself, which mixes Arabic with Italian, French, and English.
Malta offers the best of two very different worlds. Visitors can experience the best of Africa and the best of Europe in just one vacation and one location.
Malta Is Easy To Navigate
A handy hangover from the years of British rule, which began in 1814, is that English is widely spoken in Malta. This makes the country incredibly easy to navigate for English-speaking tourists.
Whether you’re ordering dinner or hailing a taxi, it will feel stress-free and comfortingly familiar in Malta.
Malta is also geographically easy to navigate. The capital city of Valletta, a walled city that is the cultural hub of Malta, is relatively small and can be comfortably explored on foot.
If you don’t stop for sightseeing or coffee breaks, then you can walk at a gentle pace from Fort St Elmo on one side of the city to the Valletta City Gate on the other in around 30 minutes.
This same rule is also true of Malta’s other cities and towns. But this is hard to do, because there is so much to stop and see on your way!
Plenty Of Art and Culture
Although Malta is a relatively small island nation, it boasts an abundance of art and culture to attract tourists.
There are 365 churches in Malta: one for every day of the year. Each of these churches has its own charm, and many also have incredible art collections.
Italian Renaissance master Caravaggio’s most famous painting, a large piece entitled “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” is located in Malta’s St John’s Co-Cathedral. Although a hugely important work of art, the church is rarely crowded.
If you prefer modern art, then the Valletta Contemporary Art Gallery is situated close to St John’s Co-Cathedral, and is considered to be the best art gallery on the island. Valletta Contemporary showcases the work of influential local and international contemporary artists.
The Chance To Island Hop
Finally, while tourists commonly think of Greece or Croatia when they think of an island-hopping vacation, it is also possible to island-hop in Malta.
Malta is the largest of the three islands in an archipelago, and all three are easy to reach and explore in one relatively short vacation. Malta is the largest and most significant of the islands.
The smaller island of Gozo is accessible from the main island of Malta by ferry or private charter. It is best known for its lush greenery and is a great place to explore unspoiled beaches or hike through the countryside.
The final and smallest island is Comino, with a total area of just 3.5km. This island is largely uninhabited but is popular with tourists and day trippers hoping to explore its beautiful beaches or snorkel in its clear and calm waters.
Now is the time to explore everything all three of these islands have to offer before Malta cements its reputation as a ‘must visit’ nation and the crowds descend.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com