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Experience Europe’s ‘Land Down Under’

A boat crosses the waters near the island of Comino, which is where the popular Blue Lagoon is located. The Blue Lagoon is a popular day-trip for tourists who wish to escape the bustle of St. Julian’s. It’s also a great destination for snorkelers, divers, windsurfers and photographers. (Courtesy photo)

A boat crosses the waters near the island of Comino, which is where the popular Blue Lagoon is located. The Blue Lagoon is a popular day-trip for tourists who wish to escape the bustle of St. Julian’s. It’s also a great destination for snorkelers, divers, windsurfers and photographers. (Courtesy photo)

The Azure Window is another popular attraction located on the Maltese island of Gozo, close to Comino. This famous landmark is recognized in several episodes of the popular Game of Thrones TV series. (Courtesy photo)

The Azure Window is another popular attraction located on the Maltese island of Gozo, close to Comino. This famous landmark is recognized in several episodes of the popular Game of Thrones TV series. (Courtesy photo)

A Maltese flag flies on a clear day off the coast of Malta. The island country is a popular tourist destination located just south of Sicily. Out of all the European capitals, the capital of Malta has the warmest winters and the highest amount of sunshine per day. (Courtesy photo)

A Maltese flag flies on a clear day off the coast of Malta. The island country is a popular tourist destination located just south of Sicily. Out of all the European capitals, the capital of Malta has the warmest winters and the highest amount of sunshine per day. (Courtesy photo)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- "Welcome to Malta. Welcome to paradise," the taxi driver said with a smile as we stepped onto one of the island's costal jewels--St. Julian's.

Upon arriving at our destination, the streets were flooded with the sound of live music, the smell of seafood, and the light of the sun slowly setting over the beaches.

The island country of Malta is a popular tourist destination located just south of Sicily. Out of all the European capitals, the capital of Malta has the warmest winters and the highest amount of sunshine per day. The island is also one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries, with residents speaking both Maltese and English.

If you plan on going for just a weekend, be sure to stay in St. Julian's: a town settled on the north coast near the country's capital of Valletta. This area is catered to tourists from all over the world, with travel agents found just steps away from most hotels. Here you can book adventures ranging from swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, or boating on the blue lagoon.

Of the many adventures to choose from, my friends and I decided to dedicate an afternoon to scuba diving off the rocky shores of St. Julian's. Even if you aren't certified, most companies will give you a crash course that will allow you to dive up to 12 meters under the water, where you'll often find: fire worms, flying fish, scorpion fish, sea urchins, a multitude of coral, and unfortunately, diving bell spiders.

The timing of our visit could not have been better. The World Cup was in full swing, and we were constantly passing restaurants with passionate fans draped in their country's flag. Cheering could be heard at each end of the city during the day, and celebrations for each team's loss or win would continue into all hours of the night. We were also in Malta for the Feast of Corpus Christi--a major holy day in the Latin Catholic Church. The island's celebration took place in a town called Ghasri in Gorzo, where a giant church draped in thousands of lights stood tall. The celebration included a myriad of food trucks and a band that paraded through the city carrying statues and flags. At the end of the celebration, half of the town could be seen watching the magnificent fireworks show, while the other half snuck into nearby bars and restaurants to watch the final moments of Germany vs. Ghana.

Finally, if you get the chance, be sure to visit the cyan waters of the Blue Lagoon. Located on the island of Comino, the Blue Lagoon is a popular day-trip for tourists who wish to escape the bustle of St. Julian's. It's also a great destination for snorkelers, divers, windsurfers and photographers.

All in all, if you're looking for a quick getaway for a weekend, visiting Malta during the summer is a must. Aside from the popular nightlife, broad range of tourists, and dazzlingly ocean scenery, the country boasts a unique history and relaxing atmosphere for those who want to experience the perfect blend of North African and European culture.
To locals, living in paradise is the norm. But for travelers, calling Malta a 'paradise' couldn't be more of an understatement.