Áine Kenny headed to the small Mediterranean island of Malta recently and discovered an ideal holiday location.

When I first announced I was going to Malta, most people asked quizzically why I chose there and where it even was. I was as ignorant as them - I had briefly touched upon Malta in my European Politics class but I didn’t know anything about its amazing history. Now that I’ve spent five days there, I am surprised we don’t know more about our smallest EU member state.

My boyfriend (who’s very well-travelled) and I (a person who didn’t know what a travel note for the bank was until he told me) jetted off from Terminal One on the 3rd of April. The flight was the longest I had ever been on, almost four hours. It also didn’t help that the baby from hell was on board, she literally cried for the entire journey. Tired yet hopeful, we touched down in Malta after 11pm and hopped into a minibus with some other tourists and were driven to our hotel, the BeHotel in St Julian’s/Paceville. We booked through RyanAir’s holiday packages and it made our lives so easy. We had transport to and from the hotel, our room was booked for us, and we had no hassle trying to organise taxis for ourselves.

The only way I can describe St Julian’s is that it’s the touristy Las Vegas of Malta. There were flashing signs, pubs, casinos and strip clubs everywhere, which surprised me as I heard that Malta was quite a Catholic country. There are plenty of statues of various saints, Jesus and Mary about the place in Valetta - but I wasn’t going to see them until Wednesday.

St Julian’s has a small bay with a beach, and a main, hilly street lined with the aforementioned bars and restaurants. There were numerous premises owned by someone named Hugo, he had an Italian restaurant, a pub, a lounge, a burger place, and even a hotel. You could spend a week there and still not have been in everything he owned!

For the first day, we just relaxed and sunbathed by the pool, which was on the roof of our hotel, which in turn was situated right inside a shopping centre. I thought the weather was great, but then again, I hadn’t been on a sun holiday since I was nine so any weak rays of sun and I start to freckle. Some days there was a cold breeze but in comparison to Irish weather it was quite hot. It was funny to see the locals walk around in jumpers and jeans while we were wearing shorts!

The following day we had booked a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to see the South of the country. It was only €20 and I would recommend getting up early to have the full day for exploring. The island is so tiny, only the size of a province of Ireland really. Yet this did not take away from its beauty. We stopped in the capital city of Valetta first, with buildings made from limestone. There were large churches, gardens, walls and apartments with iron railings and washing strung up on balconies. There were also lots of stray cats (which Darren said I shouldn’t pet because they were “diseased” so I just took pictures of them instead).

The people in Malta were lovely. They had a lot of British tourists, understandably so as Malta was a former British colony. We learned about its history in Fort St Elmo, the war museum. It was defended by the Knights of St John during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. It was also owned by the French under Bonaparte’s rule, then taken over by the British. It was heavily bombed during World War II and finally got its independence, marking the end of the island being a pivotal military base for whatever world power owned it at the time.

The city of Valetta was especially beautiful to me. The Mediterranean Sea shimmered a clear blue along the water front, where you can enjoy a beautiful meal. The two main types of food offered in Malta are seafood and Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza. Another very beautiful place was the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, which had curved, hand-painted fishing boats which were bright blue, yellow and green bobbing along the water. Markets lined the port, with people selling food and clothes. Blue Grotto is another viewpoint, you stand right on the island’s edge and the sea stretches out in front of you, burning sun beating down. Think the Cliffs of Moher with a higher temperature.

I cannot recommend Malta enough. It has everything: an interesting local history, beautiful old buildings juxtaposed against new glassy skyscrapers, not to mention the fantastic nightlife (70 shots for €25 was an offer I saw  - St. Julian’s will be the next Magaluf). It would be an ideal couple/friends/family holiday, as each part of the country offers something unique. So, if you’re looking for somewhere a bit different, consider this underappreciated island which lies below Sicily and to the right of Tunisia.