"Malta’s story is one of survival,” says Vince Debono, a guide for the Maltese tourist board.

And anyone taking in the huge medieval fort at Mdina, which served as the capital city when the Knights of Malta ruled, will get a sense of this.

The Knights Hospitaller, the Carthaginians, the Arabs, the Romans and the British have all held the tiny island at some point, and all have left their mark.

A melting pot it may be, but make no mistake: Malta is 100 per cent Mediterranean. Set in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, and just 90 minutes by ferry to Sicily, its cuisine, history and climate make Malta a perfect destination for foodies, culture vultures and sun-seekers alike.

But I must confess that before arriving, I knew nothing of the island.

I had formed in my mind a kind of lazy sketch of a Mediterranean package-tour destination.

While Malta does offer tremendous value for money, it is much, much more than that.

I’m thankful for our guide’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the area’s islands, because they are saturated in history. They also offer rustic charm in abundance.

But it can’t all be rickety farmhouses and sheep wandering across the road, and so I stayed at The Palace, a five-star affair in the heart of Sliema.

A cool, urban hotel with an impressive infinity pool on the roof, the staff here are endlessly accommodating and polite.

Rooms are luxurious and it’s definitely worth inquiring about a harbour view.

On the first evening we ate at Gululu on the waterfront of St Julian’s Bay.

The owner, Julian Sammut, prides himself on being a restaurateur rather than a businessman and it shows – they do a healthy trade but the emphasis is clearly on an authentically Maltese experience, with food to match.

The Maltese are at pains to explain that Ftira L-Forn, a flat-bread piled |with fresh ingredients and oven-baked,|is not a pizza.

The only way to decide is to try it - it’ll set you back around €8.

In this picturesque port, washing the definitely-not-pizza down with a bottle of Maltese Merlot, such as Caravaggio at €12.25, your holiday has really started.

Speaking of the great Caravaggio, Malta has no end of sun-bleached Catholic churches, and one of them hides within it a glorious treat.

St John’s Co-Cathedral, built between 1573 and 1577, is impressive in its own right, but waiting for you in the oratory you’ll find what is considered by many to be the great Italian painter’s masterpiece, The Beheading of Saint John.

With the weather a very pleasant 20C in April, it would be criminal to stay indoors all day.

As Malta is smaller than the Isle of Wight, the ocean is ever present, and there is no shortage of sandy beaches flanked by remarkably clear, turquoise-tinged water.

Smaller still is another of the Maltese islands, Gozo. Gozo means ‘joy’ and the next time I visit this part of the world, I’d be tempted to head straight for this tiny, rural island. The ferry from Irkewwa takes about 20 minutes and costs €4.65. While there, be sure to pass the incredible Azure Window. Gazing out to sea through this huge, 20m-high natural arch, there is a feeling of being at the edge of the earth and you’ll really get an idea of Malta’s remoteness from mainland Europe.

Any account of Gozo would be incomplete without mentioning Gbejniet,a traditional hard white cheese dried in baskets and served with olive oil, chillies or crushed peppercorns and salt.

The place to have it is Ta’ Rikkardu’s, a restaurant nestled in the narrow flag-stone alleys of the ancient citadel.

The owner, Rikkardu, keeps the goats himself, and since the milk used is unpasteurised, the cheese is beautifully fresh, finding its way from the farm to your plate in half a day.

My trip was punctuated with delicious meals, so it seems appropriate that the last place I visited was probably the best of all.

Rogantino’s is off the beaten track, just outside the village of Rabat on Malta. The suckling pig is worth the ten-minute drive in its own right – delicious and equal to anything found on the island. A meal for two, with wine, will be around €55.

But what marks Rogatino’s out as special is the setting. The former hunting lodge dates back to the 16th century, and owner and chef Tony Grech explains that he fell in love with the place immediately and bought it as soon as he could.

Sitting on the huge terrace, looking out across sun-drenched fields, this hardly needed explaining.

From the restaurant, it’s straight a short trip to the airport, and back to earth with a bump and the joys of in-flight meals.

During a four-day gastronomic adventure, Malta had more to offer than could be squeezed in, and I’ll be back for seconds.