YEAR-ROUND sunshine, crystal waters, sandy beaches and warm Mediterranean hospitality are the things that spring to mind when you imagine a trip to Malta.

While these can be found in abundance — not to mention the dream diet for a carb lover like me — during our four-day visit to the island we were also to discover a colourful and rich history spanning more than 7,000 years.

Many of the world’s most significant civilisations settled here for a spell and the country bears witness to this in every way, boasting the perfect blend of culture and relaxation.

Our visit started on a high note as my mum and I checked into the luxurious five-star Corinthia Hotel in St Julian’s.

Overlooking the sweeping bay, our balcony was the ideal place to unwind with the sweet little treats delivered to our room each day.

Part of me was disappointed that I ever had to leave that tranquil spot — even if it was to soak up a little more luxury by taking a dip in the spa pool or relaxing in the jacuzzi.

The hotel’s delicious buffet breakfast offered our first taste of the generous portions we would become accustomed to in Malta. The freshly-made pancakes — so fresh they were still warm — with maple syrup, cream and fruit, were my own personal highlight.

The on-site Caviar and Bull restaurant is also a must for fans of fine dining.

Exquisite food, attentive service and a stunning sea backdrop means it’s a real feast for the all of the senses. I tentatively decided to try out a local delicacy — rabbit ravioli — and the delicious sauce gently eased me out of my comfort zone (....perhaps the glass of prosecco helped too!) We could have happily whiled away the hours within the hotel grounds, but we had an island to discover.

Our charming and knowledgeable tour guide, Malta Tourist Board’s Clive Cortis, oozed passion and enthusiasm as he walked us around the bustling capital city of Valletta, which is nothing short of an open-air museum.

The world heritage site is dotted with cafés, churches, museums and shops and the city itself is a showcase of living history.

This is brought to life by a visit to Malta 5D, an interactive show with 3D film, moving seats, water sprays, scents and air blasts, depicting the many influences of the past and the battles which created the strong Maltese identity.

You’ll find yourself travelling through prehistoric temples, facing encounters with knights and participating in all out war — so authentic at points that I might even have had to close my eyes, just for a split second of course!

St John’s Co-Cathedral is a gem of baroque architecture, with art flowing through different chambers representing various cultures.

Two of Carravaggio’s masterpieces displayed here are absolute must-sees.

We stopped off at Ta Nenu for lunch, a restored old bakery which is tucked down a quiet side street. This hidden gem is full of character, with its large stone arches and the old oven still going strong.

We opted for a starter of lampuki pie — the fish itself is only found at this size in the waters between Malta and Gozo — and managed to make room to share a ftira, a round flat bread similar to pizza, with a hole for fillings of your choice. I could easily become hooked on this.

We turned down a ‘main course’ (the Maltese certainly eat well) to make our way to Cassa Rocco Piccolo, a lived-in house museum built in 1850 belonging to the noble De Piro family.

We were given a fascinating tour by the Marquis Nicholas De Piro, who brought the history of the nobility to life with his amusing anecdotes and display of antiques, even allowing me the opportunity to try on a traditional Maltese dress.

It is clear this is a much-loved family home and the Marquis stresses it is not about showing off his house, but keeping the history alive. Before leaving Valletta, a trip to the Upper Barrakka Gardens is a must. Elevated in the 17th century as a peaceful retreat for the Knights of St John, it offers one of the most spectacular views of the Grand Harbour.

A different view of the dramatic harbour is gained by taking a trip on a dghajsa — a traditional Maltese gondola-shaped boat — to the Three Cities, arriving in one of the three fortified towns — Vittoriosa.

It’s a pleasure to wander aimlessly around this small enclosed town, where, Clive explains, the Knights of St John settled in 1530. It was heavily bombed during the Second World War due to its harbour location and, while much of it had to be rebuilt due to the damage, it is still well worth seeing.

For an unforgettable taste of history, head south and visit the Mnajdra and Hagar Qim Temples. Tucked in an isolated position on a hollow cliff, with the surrounding land just as it was 5,000 years ago, these are the most atmospheric of all of Malta’s temples and the best preserved prehistoric site. They are believed to have been specially constructed to align with the movements of the sun and offer a fascinating insight into the changing product of human invention and graft. It is also definitely worth making time for the 4D show in the visitor centre.

While in the south, a boat ride in the caverns of the blue grotto is a necessity.

Named due to the brilliant phosphorescent colours of the underwater flora, it is simply stunning getting up close and being guided through the beautiful clean waters and impressive natural rock formations.

You can also enjoy the spectacular sight from above by driving through the Dingli Cliffs, where you will discover one of the most striking views and sheerest drops on the island. It is worth stopping off for lunch at nearby Diar il Bniet — a family-run farm with a clear passion for food and where we received the warmest of welcomes. For genuine Maltese food, matched with its charming rustic décor, it is a must.

Another traditional meal we enjoyed during our stay was dinner at Commando restaurant in the idyllic seaside town of Mellieha. Chef Damian Ciappara draws inspiration from his surroundings with a seasonally-influenced menu using fresh local ingredients. My fillet of sea bass was delicious, but my dessert of homemade mqaret — a pastry filled with dates, deep fried and served with honey ice cream — made a lasting impression and finished the meal off in style.

Of course, no visit to Malta would be complete without going to Mdina, also known as the silent city, which is where we headed on our final day.

It was a delight to wander around the winding medieval streets, through the legacies of various schools of architecture.

Mdina residents can’t renovate their homes, and only cars belonging to them are allowed in this walled city, making it feel like you really have stepped back in time.

The annual Mdina Grand Prix was happening on the day of our visit and we were lucky enough to come across Malta’s President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca at the end of a quaint street after making her opening speech.

She warmly shook our hands and wished us a pleasant stay, which was a fitting end to a holiday crammed full of Maltese hospitality.

It could only be topped off by a quick visit to Palazzo Parisio, one of Malta’s most opulent aristocratic homes.

Enjoying tea and scones within its beautiful surrounding gardens at Cafe Luna was so peaceful and tranquil, and the ideal place to recharge before our journey home, with heavy hearts.

They say that good things come in small packages — and Malta is the perfect package.

Sea views, gorgeous climate, friendly residents, a rich history and architecture, and fantastic food, all wrapped up in one very special little parcel.