MAGICAL, mystical, memorable Malta. This honey-coloured Mediterranean island, at the gates of Africa and the east, has preserved its extraordinary 7,000-year heritage.

Megalithic temples, medieval towns, fortresses, palaces, catacombs and churches make it a fascinating place to explore.

With all-year round sunshine, sumptuous seafood and crystal clear waters, it is just 100 kilometres south of Sicily.

Like their Italian neighbours, the Maltese are full of warmth and passion and love to celebrate.

Sparkling festi' explode every weekend, from May to September, as every village honours its patron saint.

Every corner and crevice of each church is lit up with thousands of coloured lights - I've never seen anything like it!

Houses, monuments and shops are festooned with garlands, flags, banners and bunting.

Inside the church, stunning flower arrangements adorn statues and altars.

Chandeliers are lit and priceless gold and silver chalices, candlesticks and various precious items are on display.

The festive spirit spills on to the streets with food stalls, music and dancing.

Brass bands march by, followed by crowds enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

A spectacular fireworks display, with ear-piercing bangs, lights up the night sky.

The feast continues on Sunday when the statue of the patron saint is paraded in a procession.

It takes up to 30 men to carry the colossal figure through the village.

It's a fantastic feeling to be part of such a historic tradition and well worth checking out when they are being held.

To share and witness this living heritage is a rare privilege.

Malta is steeped in so much history, it really is a treasure island.

Mdina, the oldest city, built 4,000 years ago, is perched on top of a rocky crag, offering spectacular panoramic views.

Roam round its labyrinth of narrow winding streets and you can't help feeling soothed and relaxed.

This medieval walled citadel, the island's ancient capital, is known as the silent city'.

Only horses and carriages are allowed to travel past its majestic churches and palaces.

Yet centuries ago, it would have been a strategic battlefield.

The way the city was built created an ideal fortress.

The thick walls and curved streets made it extremely difficult for enemy arrows to hit their target.

The Phoenicians called it Maleth' or protected city'.

For the Arabs, the medieval capital was simply Medina' or city' and led to today's shortened form of Mdina'.

Just a few minutes away is an arts and crafts village.

Ta'Qali is the island's former airfield that played a crucial role in the Second World War.

A small museum remains on the site, full of fascinating memorabilia.

Huts and outbuildings have now been transformed into workshops and showrooms.

You can watch gifted Maltese craftsmen create Mdina glass, ceramics, candles, lace, paintings and all sorts of other skilled works of art.

Mosta has the third largest dome in the world.

The parish church, dedicated to the Assumption, was nearly destroyed on April 9, 1942, when a bomb pierced the dome but failed to explode.

Hailed a miracle, hundreds of lives were saved.

The detonator was removed and a replica bomb is now displayed as a memorial.

The jewel in the crown has to be Valletta, the island's capital.

It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a living, working city, full of hidden treasures.

The city is named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John in 1566, when Valetta was founded.

The best way to explore this majestic, 16th century city is on foot.

It was built on a grid-iron pattern where the streets criss cross each other at right angles so you can't get lost.

Begin by visiting the Upper Barraca Gardens, overlooking the Grand Harbour.

This is a sight that sailors through the centuries, from as far back as the Venetians, Crusades up to the convoys relieving the siege of Malta, would have welcomed.

Today it attracts luxury cruise ships, full of tourists keen to explore the history of this intriguing city.

Stroll along the streets and you will be captured by its hidden charm.

Traditional craftsmen, such as carpenters, blacksmiths and tailors, rub shoulders with mobile phone shops and designer fashion boutiques.

Don't forget to look up where you will see sheets flapping in the wind from sixth floor windows, amid stunning architecture.

Peep through arched passageways and you will discover elegant courtyards, elaborate staircases, tranquil fountains, hidden gardens or an elderly lady making a lace tablecloth.

Roam off the beaten track and you'll find little bars and cafes where you can join locals for drinks and delicacies at very reasonable prices.

There are no less than 32 churches and chapels, not to mention palaces, museums and exhibitions.

A must-see is St John's Co-Cathedral, built in 1572 and full of priceless treasures.

Go early to avoid the queue and book a guide.

Wireless headphones let you browse at your leisure and still listen to your knowledgable expert.

There is so much gold and opulence, it really is out of this world.

I stood in awe gazing at the sumptuous vault painted by the prolific Italian artist Mattia Preti.

The most memorable sight is two masterpieces by Caravaggio.

The powerful Beheading of St John the Baptist is so lifelike you can see every muscle and bone. The natural light in the painting is absolutely incredible. It is hard to believe it is not under spotlights.

The painting of Saint Jerome made its own history after it disappeared in an elaborate theft.

You can travel back in time and re-live the island's 7,000-year history in a multi-media show.

The Malta Experience brings battles and legends back to life in a dynamic 45-minute presentation.

This beguiling island is moving with the times.

Valetta Waterfront has been given a complete facelift and is now bursting with energy.

Restaurants, bars and designer shops have given this ancient city a new lease of life, attracting many world events and major conferences.

As the Euro takes over from the Maltese Pound or Lira on January 1, 2008, this dynamic island is facing the future with renewed confidence.

One thing is sure, it will never lose its magnetic attraction.