Valletta, Malta

With this cold weather setting in, all I can think of is turquoise water and sun-drenched skin. The Maltese archipelago offers a picture-perfect trio of islands fit for just that! It has all the charm of nearby Sicily with far fewer tourists. Valletta, the tiny nation’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a walled city that dates back to 1565, and has a vibe that’s Mediterranean with a North African twist. This underrated destination is finally stepping into the global limelight as a 2018 European Capital of Culture.

Valletta is Malta’s fairytale capital, built by the Knights of St John on a peninsula that’s only 1km by 600m. Its founder decreed that it should be ‘a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen’, and it retains its 16th-century elegance. It may be small, but it’s packed full of sights; when UNESCO named Valletta a World Heritage site, it described it as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’.

The Renzo Piano–designed City Gate, Parliament Building and Opera House have changed the cityscape and brought it into life. These sights, along with Valletta’s status as European Capital of Culture for 2018, have seen the city reborn, with new museums, restored golden-stone fortresses, and new hotels, bars and restaurants in 16th-century mansions. Valletta’s outskirts are also worth a visit. Take the beautiful ferry trip to the Three Cities or visit the astounding prehistoric Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

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