No one would have mistaken us for crazy-in-love honeymooners, but we could pretend we were during our one weekend away from the kids.

We were in Malta, a Mediterranean island south of Sicily, to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. At home in London were our three children, ages 7, 9 and 12.

Many may know Malta as the place where President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met before heading off to Yalta for their summit with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

More recently, it was where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in November. And if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.

In the end, this spit of land between Italy and North Africa was much more than good enough.

As well as boasting warm weather virtually year-round, the former British colony stands out from other Mediterranean islands in the sheer number of cultural and especially historical monuments crammed into such a small space.

There are prehistoric monuments built 1,000 years before the Pyramids, Roman ruins and art by Caravaggio, one of the greatest Italian painters of the 17th century.

Malta's recorded history dates to about 800 B.C., when the country was inhabited by the Phoenicians.

Since then, Malta has been influenced by many inhabitants -- Italians, Turks and Arabs, to name just a few. In 1814, Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire.

That's why it's no surprise that today -- 44 years after achieving independence -- Malta is an island of pubs, afternoon teas, red telephone booths and World War II monuments.

We started our visit with a walk through the fortified capital city of Valletta, a gorgeous honey-colored site that Hollywood has embraced as a backdrop for many films. It doubled as Rome in the movie "Gladiator," and Brad Pitt pranced around the streets for weeks in a leather skirt while making "Troy."

It's easy to see why Malta is so popular. Street after street, the Baroque architecture of Valletta -- believed to be the first city to use a grid system -- is captivating. And there are many standout sights that deserve a closer look.

In particular, there's St. John's Co-Cathedral, a beautiful 16th-century gem that houses two Caravaggio paintings, including the famous "The Beheading of St. John the Baptist."

The National War Museum houses photographs and memorabilia from World War II, when the island survived intense bombardment during 69 consecutive days of raids by German and Italian forces.

But the high point of our weekend came not in Valletta but in Mdina, once the island's capital and now known as the Silent City, which we reached by bus.

Eerily quiet, each of the small city's tiny alleyways -- walled in by the Arabs -- meander in such a way that it's impossible to tell what's around the corner.

There we enjoyed a bottle of local wine and a lunch of rabbit stew -- the island's specialty -- at a lovely restaurant called Ciappetti that's advertised as "probably the best restaurant this side of the island."

Malta, renowned for its diving, offers a good map showing the most popular dive sites at its tourist offices, and the larger hotels can arrange for water skiing, fishing, sailing and windsurfing.

The island is easy to visit. At just one-tenth the size of Rhode Island, the 124-square-mile country is a breeze to navigate. People speak Maltese and English, and for those who don't wish to rent a car, Malta has a fleet of more than 500 orange and yellow buses that shuttle visitors to most of the main destinations for just under $1 a ride.

The Excelsior Grand Hotel, where we stayed, is a splendid five-star facility that has started taking guests even though it's still under construction and won't officially open until April 1. It's only a few minutes' walk from Valletta, and many of the 426 rooms have balconies facing the picturesque harbor. Spacious rooms were priced at about $220 a night.

As we left Malta, I realized that the trip had ticked all the right boxes. Rich historical sites transport you from the Stone Age to the Romans and beyond in just a few miles. The local cuisine includes the freshest calamari I've ever tasted. And the customer service -- not always Europe's forte -- is impeccable.