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Most people think of Malta as a single Mediterranean island but in fact it it is part of a group - an archipelago - due south of Sicily. Although distinctly European, thanks largely to being under the control of Great Britain for more than a century, it enjoys more of an African climate. But when you consider that in terms of latitude it's further south than Tunis, you can appreciate why.
Of the group of islands, only the three largest ones – Malta, Gozo, and Comino - are inhabited and as Comino's population is listed officially as four, then it's effectively the biggest two that are inhabited.The other islands are called Filfla, Cominotto, St Paul's islands and Fungus Rock.
Although the largest by some distance, Malta is still quite small - just 27km long at the biggest stretch, which is from the northwest to southeast. It's about 14.5km wide at its widest point so everywhere on the island is very accessible, provided you can manage with the erratic road signs. Gozo is the little sister of Malta and is roughly a third of the size, generally quieter and more rural.
The third of the main three islands, Comino, sits between the other two. You'll glide past it if you take the ferry across the Gozo Channel between Malta and Gozo. Comino's most best known assets are it's exceptionally clean waters used for swimming, snorkelling, diving and windsurfing. It is also home to the stunning Blue Lagoon - a patch of water and natural phenomenon that is renowned for its dazzling bright azure waters.
Geologists believe the Maltese islands are part of a land bridge between Sicily and North Africa. These were the only parts to remain above the water level when the sea rose at the end of the last Ice Age. One can only assume that it was once quite mountainous as the sea bed falls away sharply in places providing the islands with good, deep harbours. The Grand Harbour of Valletta is very well-known and has made Malta an attractive strategic military base due to its large sheltered and extremely deep port as well as the island's position between Europe and North Africa.
In total, Malta covers only 300 km² in land area and has an increasing population getting on towards half a million people - making it one of the world's smallest yet most densely populated countries. Its capital is Valletta, a purpose-built fortified city created in the late 16th century, while the largest town is Birkirkara. Over the rest of the island there are many small towns and villages with the northern coast more densely populated than the south.
Malta has no mountains, rivers or lakes and the island is primarily a massive limestone outcrop. This characteristic golden stone has been quarried for centuries. It has been and still is used as the primary building material. The limestone produces a rocky coast for the most part although there are some isolated sandy beaches on both Malta and Gozo.
The climate is hot! Officially, it's Subtropical-Mediterranean, which means mild winters and hot dry summers. The rain occurs predominantly in the winter when flash flooding is not unheard of in isolated locations - due largely to sewers at the bottom of big hills built to cope with dry weather. Valley Road in Birkirkkara is a renowned flooding blackspot where you can often see cars floating away in violent storms! Strong maritime winds can make Malta feel cool during the spring but fluctuations in ambient temperature are generally small.
The average annual temperature is just short of 20°C - one of the highest results in Europe - but most people visit in the summer when it's almost constantly in the low to mid 30s. That's courtesy of some 3,000 hours of sunshine every year (which again is one of the highest figures in Europe). Even in December, Malta averages five hours of sunshine per day and this rises to 12 hours per day in July. Malta also tops the charts for the average annual sea temperature, which at 20°C makes swimming all year round a distinct possibility.
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