As you approach the Islands' capital city of Valletta, your eyes will fix onto the Grand Harbour, with the reflection of the hearty sun bouncing off crisp breezy waves, while the majestic bastions glance into the depths below.
Grand Harbour's reputation as one of the safest natural havens in the Mediterranean is not its only charm. This magnificent port is a living display of Malta's rich heritage of archaeology, history, architecture, art and culture - all dating back to 7,000 years.
Nowadays, the Grand Harbour has become an irresistible scene for over 250 cruise ships, with almost 200,000 passengers on board, which visit Malta every year on their Mediterranean itineraries.
The history of the Maltese Islands is intertwined with that of the Mediterranean Basin, with the major civilizations of the area having moored on Malta due to commercial interests with merchant galleys, or even in military operations with fully armed warships. From the times of the ancient Phoenicians to Malta's role as home port for the Royal Navy's Mediterranean fleet, Maltese ports have hosted a diverse range of sea craft from various countries. Now that Malta is an independent republic and a new member of the European Union, its harbours are known best to commercial ships, cruise liners, chartered and private yachts as well as nautical aficionados. The coastline's craggy inlets and bays, most of which wonderfully secluded and inaccessible from land, provide the privilege of mooring for a swim or lunching on board in privacy. Malta boasts over 750 metres of quay space dedicated exclusively to the sailing leisure market.
For a country steeped in maritime history, the Maltese archipelago naturally has plenty of facilities for sailing enthusiasts. Malta's climate and central location make the Islands an excellent base for a sailing holiday for young sailors getting started as well as experienced, qualified mariners alike. Groups and experienced sailors may charter a yacht for an evening sail or longer trips. Several yachtsmen venture out to the Italian islands of Sicily and Pantalleria or the Aeolian Islands. Whether your love for the sea is a lifelong passion, or whether you are just starting to appreciate the majesty of the waters, the Islands have a flexible range of sailing options to suit various interests and levels of experience.
Surrounded by the crystalline Mediterranean sea, Malta's climate provides near perfect sailing conditions all year round. The best time for competitive sailing is autumn through to mid- summer, with a full programme of races organised locally between April and November. Apart from the odd three-day period of winter storms, the prevailing winds make for excellent sailing. The Mistral (north-easterly) wind and the more humid, southerly Sirocco provide the force you need to get under sail. The Islands' natural adequacy for mooring yachts and sailing boats is gracefully complemented by a variety of local companies which have a solid track record and strong specialisation in providing services for yachts, their passengers and crews. These include pilots, towage, bunker operators, suppliers, and most of all the ship and excursion agents.
Malta has established itself as an attractive yachting centre, which is also a good base for winter berthing. The marinas are sheltered from open seas and life on board in the winter months does not reserve uncomfortable surprises.
The Msida Marina, a creek off Grand Harbour, boasts almost 300 berths, while the construction of a new marina is almost complete in Vittoriosa, the historic Three Cities area which has served as a harbour since Phoenician times. Other berths are available at the Portomaso Hilton complex in the Paceville/St Julian’s area as well as the Mgarr Harbour, Gozo. In addition, Manoel Island provides excellent repair and haulage facilities where boats can be stored on dry land for maintenance during the winter.
For more information about the Maltese Islands go to the Malta Tourism Authority's website www.visitmalta.com