“OUR island nation is as varied as our cuisine,” tour guide Mario Cacciottolo, of Dark Malta Tours, tells me as he casts an arm over an isle set adrift between two continents. “We have one foot in Africa and one foot in continental Europe; with influences from Britain and the Middle East swirled in.”

My first stop is Farsons Brewery. This ex-British colony’s most famous brewer has an excellent museum whose highlight is a handwritten note from a crewmember of the Royal Oak. My hairs stand on end when I read the words written just before the Royal Navy battleship sailed out of Malta en route to being tragically torpedoed in Scapa Flow with the loss of all hands. The most visually striking Scottish connection at the brewery is the building itself, a masterpiece of Scottish architect William Bryce Binnie.

Binnie also designed Malta’s landmark Phoenicia Hotel, a glorious art deco wonder where I enjoyed Prosecco and canapes later on this trip. For now, I wind my way to St Julian’s at the Radisson Blu resort right on the Mediterranean (www.radissonhotels.com). My days are bookended by burning sunrises and smouldering sunsets – more like a cruise ship than a hotel, a vibe enhanced by their nautical Bridge Bar.

Malta is a densely packed nation. Half a million Maltese people are crammed into an area the size of Washington, DC. It is sprinkled with cities that are more like sibling towns, awash with grand stone buildings and swathes of history, including the “Three Cities” of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. The latter two founded by the Order of St. John in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The undoubted highlight is Valletta. Malta’s capital is a Unesco World Heritage-listed monument hewn in stone by the Knights of St John five centuries ago.

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It is 15 years since I was last in Valletta and I find the streets spruced up with cafes and bars among the historic buildings. Bartender Arman has seen it all: “Much of our prosperity comes from being part of the EU and you can see people from all over Europe thriving here.”

I find multiculturalism across Malta. Fittingly, my tourist office contact is a South African named Tolene van der Merwe, whose passion for Malta is infectious.

“When I came to Europe I was disappointed by Paris, but I found what I had been looking for here – the real old Europe,” she explains as we enjoy a stroll through the time warp of Valletta. She is not alone as 2022 saw more British visitors than pre-Covid in 2019.

Malta’s Grand Harbour stakes a claim to being the most dramatic port in the Mediterranean. I decide to tackle it by kayak. Slowly emerging beneath the bulbous bastions and vaulting fortifications I see why Napoleon expressed relief he didn’t have to attack the city after he was able to take it with barely a scuffle.

Being on the water Valletta’s grandeur soars all around – it’s obvious why it’s a favourite location for Hollywood.

The most chocolate box pretty Maltese city is undoubtedly Mdina. Instantly I’m engrossed in a mosaic-kissed Roman house, then cross the mighty moat into an old Disney castle to make Disney proud. Mdina may be no secret, but its magic refuses to be dimmed. I rumble through the stone streets on a horse-drawn cart, easing by the vaulting cathedral to a terrace with a bird’s eye view of bijou Malta.

Lunch is a delight at the Restaurant Mdina – rice wrapped in vine leaves, falafel, couscous and brightly coloured salads draped in olive oil from the surrounding groves.

I eat well across Malta. There is Chophouse, with its steaks and views of Valletta, and graceful Gracy’s Arts & Supper Club, where I discover just how good Maltese wines are over local Gozo prawns topped with black truffle. They’ve a glorious whisky speakeasy in the basement too, brimming with Scotland’s finest.

At 59 Republic across the square one lunch brings oysters with an umami kick, then Scottish scallops before Beef Wellington; finished off with the sunshine that bathes my spring trip.

Local specialities abound. I try the famous street food pastizz – think a steak bake filled with mushy peas or ricotta and a more croissant crust. Beige, but delicious. The local pizza is a revelation too. Unesco recognises this unique, ingredient-packed pizza. I make my own at the olive plantation Girgenti, like a calzone crossed with a thin Neapolitan base. Something I’ll be trying at home.

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I’ve mentioned those wines and they are wildly underrated with an impressive 13 vineyards. At Ta’ Betta Wine Estates I stroll four hectares of terrace 200m above sea-level. The peppery Shiraz blend is a joy, but the highlight is their oaked Chardonnay – if they’d told me it was Burgundian I’d have believed it.

The British influence emerges at the Corinthia Palace, where I take afternoon tea in plush surrounds. The waitress sees my kilt and smiles. “We get a lot of Scottish people on Malta. We always have. But then we get a lot of everyone here in the middle of the Mediterranean.”