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Magical Malta: Rolling Geeks, stunning Game of Thrones locations and fireworks in the Med

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Although it wasn’t a grand display solely to mark our arrival, it felt fitting nonetheless as the country is home to some 35 firework factories, which are scattered around the small island.

The Maltese love a celebration, or so we’re told by our local tour guide Clive, and that appears evident with over 90 religious feasts every year. A predominately Catholic country, nearly every village hosts a feast dedicated to its own patron saint.

Typically held between May and September, these are times when locals fill the streets with music, decorations and delicacies.

Aerial view of Valletta

The fireworks really set the scene for what was an incredible three-day trip.

With a population of roughly 550,000, the Republic of Malta, which consists of three islands including Gozo and Comino, is less than 100km from Sicily and can be reached by ferry.

Gozo, which is home to 35,000 people, is the perfect spot for a day trip and offers a slower pace of life. Comino, the smallest of the three islands, has only two permanent residents, who are brothers.

Our first day consisted of a trip to the ancient walled city of Mdina, nestled in central Malta. It’s also got a tiny population – 230 residents – and offers a mix of medieval and baroque architecture and, like neighbouring Rabat and the rest of Malta, is made entirely out of limestone.

Fans of the fantasy series Game of Thrones might recognise certain landmarks in Mdina, including the brothel run by Irish actor Aidan Gillen’s character Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish. The Mdina Gate was also used as the gate of King’s Landing.

We then ventured to the Ta’Betta wine estate, which stretches across four hectares and is situated in Girgenti in Siggiewi. A relatively new winery on the islands, it produces 25,000 bottles of wine every year from a total of 85,000 vines (tabetta.com, tours from €65pp).

Visitors, often greeted by the estate’s four dogs in residence, can enjoy a tour and tasting experience by booking an appointment online.

Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua – also known as the Three Cities of Malta – are best explored via the Rolling Geeks tour (rolling-geeks.com, tours from €75 to €90).

Rolling Geeks tour

Described by our guide Nelson as an “open air museum”, the company offers electric powered golf carts, which are easy to drive and complete with pre-programmed GPS showing you where to go, and what to look at when you’re there. The tour offers a unique way to view everything the cities have to offer in one afternoon.

With over 300 days of sunshine every year, there seems to be many advantages to life in Malta including free childcare, a low crime rate and free public transport on certain routes.

However, according to Clive, the Maltese prefer not to “stretch their luck” and refrain from boasting about everything the small island has to offer. I, for one, cannot follow suit and must admit it’s one of the few holiday destinations I could seriously consider relocating to in the future.

It’s clear to see why Britain’s Queen Elizabeth adored her time in Malta so much. The newly married princess lived at Villa Guardamangia just outside the capital of Valletta for two years between 1949 and 1951 while Prince Philip was stationed in the country as a naval officer.

The late queen reportedly often referred to her time in Malta as being some of the happiest days of her life before being thrust into the role of leading monarch in 1952.

Clive had his own encounter with a member of the royal family before their day in the sun. A true professional, he did not divulge this information of his own accord but kindly answered our many questions once we learned of the fact via his website (maltaprivateguide.com; tours from €180 for three hours).

In 2015, when Meghan Markle was at the height of her Suits’ fame and a year out from meeting her future husband, she spent a few days discovering Malta. She too has family ties to the country as her great grandmother hailed from the region. The now Duchess even wrote about the trip on her former online blog, The Tig.

Ramla Bay, Gozo

One iconic feature of the country is its old buses, which were widely recognised and loved by tourists for their charm and nostalgia. Now replaced by more sustainable modes of transport, a few remaining Maltese buses are still being used for certain tourist activities.

Maltese homes, built along cobbled streets, are dotted with window boxes or balconies, which are painted in bright colours often to match the front door of the property. They remain a popular feature of Maltese architecture today.

Other noteworthy sights include St John’s Cathedral and the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta.

Whether it’s a stroll along the promenade in the bustling seaside town of St Julian’s or a visit to the Ġgantija Archaeological Park in Gozo, a trip to Malta is not to be missed.

Get there

Ryanair flies to Malta from Dublin, Shannon and Belfast. Seoirse stayed at the five-star Malta Marriott Resort & Spa in St Julians – a seven-night stay here ranges from €1,043 to €3,000 for two people sharing.

Seoirse was a guest of Visit Malta (visitmalta.com)

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