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1:37pm Tuesday 17th April 2012 in Reviews
A picturesque 19-hectare vineyard could easily have been mistaken for one in Tuscany.
But I was sampling my mouth-watering flight of fine wines in the middle of a former RAF airfield on the island of Malta.
The Meridiana Wine Estate has close ties to World War Two and Britain’s 150-year colonial occupation.
Situated within a three-hour flight of the UK, Malta is a vibrant melting pot of history, art and architecture.
I spent a week in the bustling town of St Julian’s on the eastern coast, five miles from Valetta — Europe’s smallest capital.
And as I snaked my way through the network of roads, I could immediately see why the tiny country has one of the highest densities of historical sites in the world.
Home to 320 monuments, including grand cathedrals, opulent churches, statues, fountains and palaces, Valetta resembles an open-air museum and is one of nine World Heritage sites to grace Malta.
It also boasts a host of high-end boutiques, alfresco cafes and restaurants, with a peppering of British post boxes, red phone kiosks and a branch of Marks and Spencer serving as a reminder of the island’s colonial influences.
I moved on to Vittoriosa, the Knights’ original capita for lunch and was treated to an authentic slice of traditional Maltese life, with the doors of the locals’ homes left wide open and young children playing on the cobbles.
The rest of my trip was spent exploring the plethora of other historical gems that Malta’s 120 square miles have to offer.
Touring the medieval walled citadel of Mdina, home to the National Museum of Natural History, palaces of past Grand Masters and the Bishop’s Cathedral, I could see why it is nicknamed “The Silent City”.
With a population of just 200, only the cars of the residents are allowed within its confines, making the streets of the island’s original capital peacefully serene during the day.
I also trod the grand marble staircases and walled gardens of the Palazzo Parisio, a stately home in the ancient village of Naxxa.
The most exhilarating part of my trip came as I whizzed along the cliff tops of Dingli on a Segway — one of the best ways to see the island’s countryside.
After all that, it can truly be said that Malta is so much more than a small Mediterranean island.