Malta, Europe - Stein Travel
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Malta

It has been said that the Maltese islands are the 'open air museum of the Mediterranean', offering 7,000 years or more of history to explore with numerous cultural, historical and megalithic sites unique in the world. The islands boast prehistoric ruins older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt, and are steeped in the legacy of the medieval order of the Knights of St John, who used the island as their stronghold for defending Christendom.

The main island of Malta, covering just 95 square miles (246 sq km), is also a popular holiday destination because of its secluded bays and sandy beaches, washed by unpolluted clear blue waters. Set against the backdrop of the island's scenery and its honey-coloured stone buildings, Malta is alluring and fascinating.

Malta and its little sister island, Gozo, are not stuck in a time warp, however. The islanders enjoy life to the full, and the calendar is filled with summertime 'festas' with fireworks and revelry in every little parish in honour of the village patron saints, as well as the major carnival in early spring every year. The capital, Valletta, besides offering some awesome Baroque buildings and fortifications as its main sightseeing attractions, is bustling and bursting with restaurants and cafes. The island's compact size is also a plus for visitors; it takes no more than an hour to drive between any two points on the main island, and there is very little open space. The dense population means that the island is virtually one large urban area, with buildings occupying every inch.

Malta lies about 60 miles (97km) south of Sicily and 160 miles (257km) north of Libya, a strategic position in the Mediterranean that has made the islands a crossroads of history. The last occupiers were the British, who granted Malta independence in 1964, but the biggest and most unique influence was left by the Knights of St John, to whom the island was donated in 1530; the Knights reigned supreme over the island for 270 years, building magnificent churches and monuments to themselves.

Malta has its mysteries too, in the form of 30 prehistoric sites boasting massive Neolithic temples, considered to be the oldest freestanding stone buildings known to man.

Information & Facts

Attraction Overview

While on holiday in Malta, there are various things to see and do, as well as beautiful island beaches to enjoy. Visit St John's Co-Cathedral to see Caravaggio's painting and the inlaid tombstones covering the Cathedral floor. Still in Valletta, the Malta Experienceillustrates the history of Malta at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. The Three Cities are home to architectural displays of the island's maritime history, while Hagar Qim has a prehistoric temple complex with the oldest human structures in the world. Dive into the 'blue hole' at Dwejra's secluded pebbled bathing pool, and visit Marsalforn for great restaurants and bars. Malta offers visitors warm summers and mild winters.

Business

Business in Malta tends to be conducted as elsewhere in Europe; formally and politely. Punctuality is important; dress should be formal with suit and tie the norm, unless weather is hot when one can forgo the jacket. Handshakes and the exchanging of business cards takes place on greeting. English is widely spoken and so a translator is unnecessary. Business hours can vary but are usually 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Some businesses open for a half-day on Saturdays.

Climate

Malta has a typically Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. In summer temperatures can reach 84ºF (30ºC), but the heat tends to be tempered by sea breezes. In spring and autumn a hot wind, known as the Xlokk, sometimes brings high temperatures and humidity. There is little rainfall, and it occurs only in winter.

Communications

The country code for Malta is +356, and the outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom).City/area codes are not required. Local and international telephone calls can be made from hotel rooms, and most hotels also offer fax and Internet access. Maltacom telecommunications offices also provide these services in the main towns, and coin and card operated telephone boxes can be found all over Malta and Gozo. The islands are covered by two comprehensive GSM 900 and 1800 mobile phone networks. Internet cafes are to be found in all the main towns and tourist resorts.

Customs

The wearing of skimpy clothing away from the beaches should be avoided, and dress should be conservative to enter churches.

Duty Free

Travellers arriving in Malta from non-EU countries do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 100 cigarillos or 250g of tobacco; 1 litre wine and 1 litre spirits. Any large items or electrical equipment should be declared on entry (video cameras, televisions etc.), and currency must also be declared. Prohibited items include firearms, pornography, meat, poultry and their by-products, plants and drugs.

Electricity

240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three-pin square plugs are used.

Getting Around

Getting around in Malta is made easy by the cheap and reliable public bus system, which has its own character from the vintage buses. Services radiate from Valletta, so you may find yourself doubling back to get to other destinations. The buses can be uncomfortable in extreme heat since none are air-conditioned, but the short rides make it bearable. You can pick up schedules at terminals or on the buses themselves.

You can also take the white taxis that will take you anywhere on the island, or local pre-booked black cabs that are cheaper. Hiring a car in Malta is another option, and you can do so at many hotels, harbours, and the airport. Another pleasant transport alternative is hiring a bike, which you can do in Valletta.

Health

There are no health risks attached with travel to Malta, and water and food is safe for consumption. A reciprocal health agreement exists between the United Kingdom and Malta and as a result British citizens receive emergency medical treatment on the same terms as Maltese nationals on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Visitors should, however, take out adequate medical and travel insurance in case medical evacuation or further treatment is required. Travellers coming from a recognised infected area require a yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Language

English and Maltese are the official languages; Italian is also spoken

Money

The currency was changed to the Euro (EUR) on 1 January 2008. (Maltese lira are no longer accepted.) Banks, ATMs and exchange bureaux can be found all over the islands, as well as foreign exchange machines in the tourist areas. Banks generally open mornings Monday to Saturday, but exchange bureaux at the international airport are open 24 hours a day. Many hotels, shops and restaurants accept foreign currency, but currency and travellers cheques can be changed into lira at banks and tourist offices. Most hotels and restaurants, as well as many shops, accept Access, American Express, Carte Blanche, Diners Club International, MasterCard and Visa.

Passport Visa

The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, non-EEA passengers to Malta must hold return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. For visitors who are visa-exempt, extensions of stay are possible, by reporting to the Police Headquarters in Malta, no later than one week prior to the expiration of the period of visa exemption. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Safety

Malta is considered very safe for tourists. Crime is rare, though theft from parked cars and handbag snatching can occur. Local driving conditions are poor so exercise caution.

Tipping

A gratuity of 10% is expected in hotels and restaurants if a service charge is not included in the bill. Most services are tipped about 5-10% (including taxi drivers).

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