With the continuing confusion and uncertainty over the traffic light system for overseas travel, you want to be sure that your first holiday away in over a year is going to be a transformational experience as well as superb value for money.
Sunshine, cultural thrills, historical marvels, mesmerising views, delightful food choices in easy daily travelling distance, the Maltese archipelago is comprised of five islands – including the main one – Malta, as well as Comino and Gozo.
The cyan waters of this are a spectacular display of natural phenomena that is impossible to forget. It also makes us wish this to be preserved for future generations, so visiting the waters is also a contemplative and considered excursion.
Likewise, Filfla, home to a colony of European Storm Petrels, along with small numbers of Cory’s Shearwater and yellow-legged gulls may only be accessed with the express permission of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Part of its success as a bird sanctuary is due to unexploded bombs that lie in its surrounding waters, residual from its days as target practice for the Royal Air Force. This deters all but the most dedicated naturalists.
Nonetheless, these are examples of the many wonders found in and across the archipelago and how Malta never ceases to surprise and mesmerise.
For recharging, recreation and relaxation the three main islands are perfect idylls of sun-soaked marvels and hidden curiosities. In our series of blogs over the coming months, we will take you inside the Malta experience by focusing on Where to go, How to do it and What to expect, in order to savour the very best experiences that will remain with you and your loved ones long after you leave the island’s shores.
Valletta – Glowing city on a hill
Shimmering at the end of each street lined with lovingly crafted limestone buildings, lies the Mediterranean Sea. Merchants, invaders, and liberators have all been brought to the shores of Malta by the powerful currents of the Mediterranean. The sea is the constant steward of the island’s fortunes; always visible, often audible and its provision sometimes lying on your plate in the form of a delicious entree or succulent main dish.
The core of the city rests on Mount Sciberras. Choose a vantage point to view the busy and majestic Grand Harbour to the south and the quieter and more leisurely Marsamxett Harbour to the west. You can also embark on a delightful tour of these.
Admiring the cityscape from the sea is perhaps the best introduction to the extraordinary architecture of Valletta. You will also become acquainted with the three cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. More on these will follow in our blogs.
The limestone, from which Valletta’s buildings are constructed, reflects sunlight and rays rebounding from the sea to become dazzling near-white, shades of peach, and – as daylight dwindles – a candle-like glow.
Embrace the unknown
American jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Chet Baker, famously performed “Let’s Get Lost” and on arrival to Valletta, there can perhaps be no greater inspiration for your attitude on the first day you begin exploring this awe-inspiring citadel.
So, what’s it like to do this and what can you expect to see?
City squares centred with fountains, neatly arranged tables for tea and Pastizzi,
elegant historic buildings accessed by passing through stone archways and then suddenly you’ll see incongruities such as an all too familiar red pillar or phone box. It all puts the mind in an open state of delighted curiosity – “What’s around the next corner? “ – you find yourself asking. The twittering of birds punctuated by the hourly chiming and clanging of ancient bells, reminds you of nature eternal in a place of dramatically measured history. The squares open to boulevards which in turn become sloping streets and alleyways that slant with inevitable purpose towards the harbour and coastline.
Cafés, bars and boutiques are set into the terraced side streets – distractions within a delightful collection of distractions, where you can sit, chat, absorb and let go of the past anxieties that may have followed you here.
As inevitably as the downward slopes lead to the harbour, other stone staircase streets beckon you to climb another passage, stroll past family homes with flower boxes on the terraces, up to the walls of Fort St Elmo.
While walking around it and standing atop its walls, the phrase “commanding views” resonates with literal meaning. Traffic, which can so often blight a pedestrian’s city tour, is contained due to the limited access the narrow streets afford. Preservation from invasive modernity by the most effective and unintended method.
After such a stimulating stroll, a delightful place to savour a leisurely lunch is Da Pippo Trattoria where abundant fresh seafood is used in superlative dishes.
If Da Pippo is busy on the day, there are two Michelin starred restaurants in Valletta – Under Grain and Noni – and another, De Mondion, further afield in Mdina, less than a 30 minute drive from the capital.
Come the evening, and recharged after your post-lunch siesta, enjoy the soothing sea breezes with a drink or perhaps a second dessert down at the Valletta Waterfront.
You may feel after such an interlude, that you wish to make more of the night. Either head back into Valletta to find Strait Street, a renovated former red light district that now houses romantic bars and bistros – or you could venture over to Paceville, it has a concentration of nightclubs and bars.
Nature, Culture and Entertainment are abundant in Malta offering the transformational experience we all need this year.