Lija, Balzan and Attard probably won't be familiar names, but that's exactly why you should visit these three Maltese villages, and discover their lesser-known charms.

All located within 20 minutes or so of Malta’s pretty capital Valletta – which has become a tourist hotspot since being crowned European Capital of Culture in 2018 – the Three Villages (as the area's known) are awash with historic sites and activities, and offer the perfect opportunity to experience the traditions of this Mediterranean island.

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Knights of St John, who ruled Malta for 288 years, built their country residences and hunting lodges here and many still remain.

Even the streets are a history lesson. Meandering through the atmospheric sandstone avenues of these villages is a treat for architecture buffs. Follow this itinerary for a wander through the past.

Stop 1: Lija

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Lija's house museum / Image: Tim E White

Start in Lija, and be sure to visit the local antiques museum. It's based in the house of former mayor Joseph Mangion, who has turned his place into a showroom dedicated to collectibles.  

From top to bottom, you can expect religious trinkets, antique furniture, traditional cooking instruments and pink – lots and lots of pink. If taking a peek into someone else’s home is your thing, you’ll have a whale of a time.  

To arrange a visit to the museum, contact the Malta Tourism Society. 

Stop 2: Attard

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The villages of central Malta are a window onto traditional life / Image: Tim E White

Next, weave between jacarandas, cypress and palm trees as you make your way around the San Anton Gardens in Attard, next to the official residence of the Maltese president.  

It’s home to swans, peacocks and lazing kitties, and popular with foreign dignitaries. The gardens are a treat for the eyes and ears, with photogenic fountains, beautiful plants and a serene atmosphere.  

Stop 3: Balzan

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Inside Balzan's ornate parish church / Image: Tim E White

Wrap up your tour in glorious style at Balzan Parish Church, a Tuscan-style Doric centre of Christian worship that’s chock-full of ravishing holy artworks from noted Maltese talent. 

Keep an eye out especially for the distinctive devotional statues of Sigismondo Dimech all around the entrance, and a famous altarpiece completed in 1857 by Valetta-born painter Giuseppe Calleja.