Quirky nuances abound in Malta: whitewashed houses adorned with names, brass doorknobs shaped like whales, and a hodgepodge of cultural influences. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Knights of St. John, French, and British have all ruled this Mediterranean archipelago, which finally gained independence in 1974. You’ll get a dose of the tropics here with an occasional palm or bougainvillea, but most of the landscape is arid and hilly: a popular filming location for dramatic epics. Valletta, the capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been named 2018 European Capital of Culture.