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This little country is possibly Europe’s best-kept secret

There are some countries that remain an enigma, even when many of us travel the world daily via the internet. Malta is one of those countries, although we’re starting to suspect its mystery may be intentional…

This little country is possibly Europe’s best-kept secret
Photo: © viewingmalta.com

One of many things you probably don’t know about Malta is that it’s an archipelago. Granted, it’s a small archipelago made up of just three islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. But when each is as rich with natural beauty and history as the Maltese islands are, three is more than enough.

Planted in turquoise Mediterranean waters, just 90 kilometres south of Sicily and 300 kilometres north of Africa, Malta is a secluded gem with old-world charm. What’s more, with 300 days of sunshine a year and an average temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, it’s a year-round destination.

It’s also an eclectic spot with something for everyone. And we mean everyone. From sun-seekers to history buffs, water sports fanatics to self-confessed foodies.

With megalithic temples older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge (and claimed to be the oldest free-standing structures on Earth), 365 churches and chapels built from the 11th century onwards, spotless beaches, trendy restaurants, hip bars, and a climate that’s been voted “best in the world”, it’s hard to find a single place that offers more.

Find out more about Malta and start planning your trip

Holidaymakers searching for sun can unwind on stretching shorelines bordered by crystal clear seas. Sailing, snorkelling, windsurfing and scuba diving, among other water sports, are on offer, so you can spend a day at the beach even if you’re not a sun worshipper.

Ghajn Tuffieha beach. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

Among Malta’s many virtually untouched beaches are Ghajn Tuffieha, a narrow stretch of golden sand that appears to have been frozen in time 2000 years ago; the Blue Lagoon on Comino, a picture-perfect spot with cyan water and breath-taking views of the archipelago; and the red sands and lush greenery at Gozo’s Ramla Bay.

There are ferry terminals on all the islands so you can hop about the archipelago and soak in a view of the vast open ocean along the way. Ferries run all year round and take approximately 20 to 40 minutes each way, so you can easily explore all three islands.

After a day in the sun, you’ll be faced with the challenging task of picking where to eat at one of the many restaurants serving local and international cuisine. And wherever you’re staying — whether St. Julian in the north or Birzebbugia in the south — you’ll find a menu to suit your taste.

Order the catch of the day, share a freshly baked pizza, or try traditional Maltese dishes including rabbit stew and widow’s soup, a hearty hotpot with lumps of fresh goat’s cheese.

Dine at one of Malta's many cafes and restaurants. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

There’s also an up-and-coming nightlife scene with sleek cocktail lounges, rooftop bars, and late-night clubs — including a resident DJ spinning tunes at Twenty Two, Malta’s highest nightclub on the twenty-second floor of the Portomaso Tower.

The country’s potential as a party destination hasn’t gone unnoticed. For the past three years Ibiza favourite Annie Mac has chosen Malta to host her pre-summer event, Lost & Found Festival, held each year in May. It’s lured in a whole new type of tourist and spurred on the country’s ongoing efforts to rival popular destinations like Barcelona and Croatia.

But it’s not all beaches, restaurants, and bars. For those of you who like your sunshine holidays with a side of city break, Malta is proof you can have both. Although it’s been independent since 1964, everywhere you look you see well-preserved evidence of the several civilisations that have inhabited Malta over the past 7,000 years.

Read more about everything there is to see and do in Malta

Previously, Malta was a naval base for a succession of superpowers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, and British, to name just a few. For lovers of culture, this is perhaps one of Malta’s most alluring qualities.

The blend of customs left behind is evident everywhere. From the cuisine (a mix of rustic Mediterranean dishes) and the local language (descended from an extinct variety of Arabic with Italian and French influence — although English is also widely spoken), to the architecture (a combination of styles from Siculo-Norman to Baroque and neoclassical) and the art (including several Caravaggios painted by the Italian artist during his 15-month stay on the island).

The waterfront in Valletta. Photo: © viewingmalta.com

Its capital city is among the three Maltese sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Valletta, known locally as “Il-Belt”, was built in the late Renaissance period and is awash with cultural and historical features. It’s no surprise the city has been named 2018’s European Capital of Culture.

Since earning the title in 2012, Valletta has received a facelift, including the regeneration of Is-Suq tal-Belt, an indoor market built in the 1860s under British rule. Many of its ancient palazzos have also undergone a transformation and are now stylish boutique hotels and apartments.

With all this going on, it’s no wonder Malta likes to retain an air of mystery — although this gem in the Mediterranean won’t stay hidden for much longer. Visit the country’s official tourism page to find out more and start planning your trip.

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Visit Malta.

 

TELEVISION

‘I didn’t realize Norwegians were so cool!’ Swedes on hit show ‘Skam’

Skam. It's everywhere – on the internet, ads on public transport and the hot topic at work and school. But could this Norwegian teen drama even end the age-old rivalry between Sweden and Norway? The Local took to the streets of Stockholm to find out.

'I didn't realize Norwegians were so cool!' Swedes on hit show 'Skam'
A scene from Norwegian show Skam. Photo: NRK

If you haven’t heard of it already – “Skam” (which directly translated means “Shame”) is now Norway's most successful web-series ever with more than 200,000 viewers per episode. Set in the posh district of Frogner, West End Oslo, Skam follows a group of teenagers through their daily lives. While the pilot episode aired in September of 2015, the show has more recently taken its home country by storm – and abroad. 

And as it turns out, it has made the Swedes view their Nordic neighbours in an entirely new light.

Categorized by Sweden's public broadcaster as a “youth series about friendship, love, sex, parties, and betrayal”, there seems to be much more to the show than meets the eye. Since its airing it has broken boundaries – even its own. Although the show's creator, Julie Andem, has said Skam's target audience is 16 year-old girls, it seems to be catching the attention of all ages and genders.

Julius, a 17-year-old male from Stockholm, disagrees with the target audience, arguing that “every teenager can relate to the show. It's a reality for all of us. I’ve talked to some adults who watch the show and even they love it too.”

“I've watched the show with my mum and my 25-year-old sister,” Clara, 18, tells The Local. “I think it can be for most ages actually.” 

Axel Hammar, a 17-year-old, believes that “in our modern society, people are now more open and accepting. This is not just a 'girly' show.”

Perhaps it is Skam's dense and pertinent themes which promote the show's popularity. In just three seasons, it has transcended the mere title of “teen show”, featuring issues such as feminism, homophobia, islamophobia, eating disorders, and mental illness. Problems that can be relevant to anyone.

Mathias Olsson, a 52-year-old Stockholmer, says that after watching the show he feels included in such issues. “It helps you understand what is important in today’s society.”

“The problems really are fascinating and interesting,” Julius adds. “That’s why it's so popular.”

Sussie Wernersson, 50, says her “Skam addiction” comes from the show's tendency to focus on “real life issues.”

Others argue that Skam's specific Nordic influence is the key to its success. “The show – and all the problems in it – are for everyone, especially those who have grown up in Sweden or Norway,” says 19-year-old Kattie.

READ ALSO: Danish fans invade Oslo school in hope of seeing stars

Daphne, a 19-year-old female, agrees that the show's spotlight on Scandinavian teen culture is completely unprecedented. “It's also relevant for older people because it shows an interesting side of teenagers' life in a part of the world that no one has seen before. I haven’t heard of any other shows in the Scandinavian area about teenagers.” 

'Skam' has even been hailed for making Norwegian culture more popular in other Nordic countries, as it was awarded the Nordic Language Award on December 5th, 2016. Is this possible in Sweden, where the “Sweden vs. Norway” rivalry is the source of many common jokes? 

“I had no idea how Norwegian teenagers had fun, how their social hierarchy worked, or how their perspective was towards foreigners,” Daphne notes. “I definitely know more about Norway now then before.”

However, when asked about Skam's ability to end the friendly rivalry between Sweden and Norway, she exclaims: “No! That’s forever.”

Others believe that the show can be the start of something new. Alva, 14, jokes: “I think I'm more into Norwegian guys now.”

Carina Mårtensson, age 59, thinks that “it could certainly be a bridge between our cultures”.

Whether that is true or not, Skam has definitely changed Swedes' opinions of Norwegians. Kattie confesses that before watching the show, she thought Norwegians were “boring”. “I didn't realize Norwegian culture was so similar to Swedish culture,” she tells The Local. “I didn’t realise [Norwegians] were so cool!” 

Julius comments on how the show has changed teen language in Sweden: “Now, many kids who watch Skam start to speak Norwegian, like the word “hooke” (meaning making out). Everyone says that now.”

Whether viewers are Norwegian, Swedish or from any other country, it is undeniable that Skam's fearless plots and relatable storyline sheds light on social issues for some and serves as a mirror image for others. Axel Hammer says: “Despite any label or stereotype, I think most people can see themselves in Skam.”

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