Truth be told, Malta has never figured on my travel hit list. I guess the lack of any notable hotels and its image as a cheap package holiday destination, have always put me off. But when I stumbled across a stylish boutique hotel in the capital, Valletta, I was intrigued and went away to do lots of research, so you don't have to.
A long weekend in the city convinced me that Valletta and the islands of Malta, with their wealth of things to see and do, are the perfect place for a short break and make a great change from the usual suspects. Perfect - if like me - you're looking for something different.
Firstly, there’s the history. I’m not usually one for sitting in a theatre watching a 40 minute film about a country’s past whilst on holiday but, on the basis so many locals had said we must do it, it would have been rude not to. And, to be fair, The Malta Experience was actually quite good, telling the story of how Malta came to be the country it is. Basically, positioned in the middle of important trade routes between Europe and Africa, Malta has been coveted, colonised, invaded and defended by everyone from the Bronze Age tribes, to the Phoenicians, the Romans, the French and then the British. This has left an intriguing 7,000 year heritage and a melting pot of cultural influences with even the Maltese language being an unusual combination of Arabic, medieval Sicilian Italian and English.
Secondly there’s Valletta. The city has UNESCO World Heritage Status and for good reason, it’s a seriously beautiful city with some of the most stunning architecture in the whole of the Mediterranean; amazing given the monumental bombings Malta took during World War II, for which the entire country was awarded a George Cross. Set on a tidy grid system, with the sea on three sides, the old town’s narrow lanes are lined with tall 16th Century buildings fronted with pretty wooden balconies; look up and you’ll see statues and coasts of arms high on parapets. The City Gate area has been remodelled by The Shard Architect, Renzo Piano, and the stunning new gateway and parliament building contrast beautifully against the fortified limestone walls of the city.
The city’s must see is definitely St John’s Co-Cathedral. Built by the Knights of St John to celebrate their 1565 victory over the Ottomans, its interior is all lavish Baroque gilt, marble and frescoes and it houses one of Caravaggio’s most important paintings, the “Beheading of St John the Baptist”.
Walk the city’s imposing fortified walls to the Upper Baraka Gardens where you will get spectacular views of the Grand Harbour. Take the local ferry the short distance over to the Three Cities of charming Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua complete with medieval streets, churches, palazzi and a rather smart marina full of fancy boats.
As well as all the old stuff, Valletta has a cool and hip side. A process of rejuvenation has meant a surge in cultural experiences - an International Film Festival; Folk Festival; Jazz Festival and Malta’s International Arts Festival - and the city was awarded the European Capital of Culture for 2018. At night the lights of the local restaurants along the waterfront twinkle as al fresco diners enjoy the wonderful food on offer which is a combination of the best the Mediterranean has to offer infused with local Maltese dishes such as fenkata (rabbit stew) and pastizi (small rolls of pastry stuffed with ricotta).
Malta’s diminutive size means that the entire island is easily accessible, from the medieval capital of Mdina and its Roman sister city of Rabat, to the many prehistoric sites and quaint seaside villages in the south. Whilst on a day trip to Gozo - via a 30 minute ferry ride - you can discover deserted coves, picnic on the beach, hike or cycle the rugged coastline or just sit back and relax in a place where life definitely moves at a slow pace. I believe the diving here is pretty good too.
For me, Malta is the perfect location for a few days away. It’s different and in the shoulder season the weather is still gorgeous but the hordes of package holidaymakers have departed. Even better, the grand dame of Valletta, The Phoenician, has just had a rather nice makeover and makes a perfect base to explore the island. Although I also know some gorgeous little boutique options too. For that all important short break where you want to enjoy yourself and not worry about the arrangements, let me take away the organisational stress and help you discover the Maltese magic - just email me at: email@example.com