Sun-drenched and dripping in charm, Malta is one of those rare, magical islands that still offers it all: heart, heritage and a healthy dose of wellness wins
Rich in history and butterscotch backstreets, Malta might not seem like the most obvious destination for wellbeing wins but, as Nicola Moyne discovers while completing her first half marathon abroad, it’s an idyllic isle for restless explorers.
Swathes of blond coastline loom on the horizon as I pound the sun-dappled pavement beneath my feet and gulp in mouthfuls of salty sea breeze. My 13-mile route passes yacht-dotted harbours, cinnamon-scorched fortresses and craggy emerald coves while I wave to the eclectic folk bands propelling us on with their jaunty percussion and ghana-inflected joy.
Joy, Malta is full of the stuff.
I run to the rhythm of the tide, its wild island winds whipping the finish line as I complete my first overseas half marathon drenched in sun and sweat, and flushed with enthusiasm. I’ve been in Malta for a matter of hours, but its layers of green and gold have already bewitched me.
This humble Mediterranean hotspot, with its medieval Mdina and culture-rich capital, is now buzzing with boutique hotels, Michelin-star bistros and slick City Gate architecture. But it’s here, weaving my way through Valletta’s golden labyrinth of quiet cobbled lanes, sloping gently down to the glittering surf, that I truly stop running from the bustle of urban life.
Perhaps that’s why, in recent years, Malta has transformed itself into not only the European capital of culture, but a soul-enriched retreat for wellness warriors coveting a sense of calm. Besides the annual GiG Malta marathon, which takes place in February/March each year, there’s a wealth of newly opened new-gen spas to explore.
Take Sanya Eco Spa, for example. Set in a residential pocket of the city, some 30 minutes from Valetta’s main attractions, it might not look like much for the outside (I enter somewhat bewildered from the sunken depths of an underground car park), but a powerful Aryvedic massage and signature facial (complete with electric pulse technology plus gentle peel), soon make up for my wrong turn, and I spend a blissful hour afterwards soaking up the spa’s jacuzzis, pool, sauna and thermal shower offerings, before tucking into a vegan menu of dhal lentil curry and kale fries.
However, you needn’t even leave your hotel for a treatment if you’re booked into the Rosselli AX Privilege. Beautifully baroque, this historic bolthole’s boutique interiors feature an ocean of marble and lashings of velvet, while the rooftop bar and pool are perfect for city-view sundowners. Nestled in a labyrinth of characterful lanes right in the heart of Valletta for easy urban strolling, this is the city’s first five-star hotel and, as a result, treatments come to you here.
Feeling tight and sore from the race, I find myself indulging in an in-room massage – welcoming a tiny, yet powerful female masseuse into my vast suite for the king of all pummelling sessions and an aromatic dousing of organic Maltese lemongrass oil. Wonderfully de-knotted, I head out for lunch at the trendy waterside Harbour Club and decide to wander round round the decadently decorated Cathedral and take a traditional dghajsa boat hop across the bay to explore the Three Cities’ artisan quarters (and Brad Pitt’s yacht, of course).
Famed for its azure-blue lagoons and historic, medieval hilltop towns, Malta’s sunburnt landscapes seem to take on a quieter quality here away from the buzz of the city. And the lure of its 15-mile coastline (check out golden bay to the west), honey-coloured coves and neighbouring island of Gozo – whose sprawling red-sand beaches make for the prettiest sunset sails – calm me.
The island itself might be small in comparison to its Mediterranean cousins, but Malta has maintained something so many of them have lost to the glitz and glamour of premium sprawling resorts and elite members’ club capitalism: charm. What can be better for the soul than that?
For further information on where to go and what to see, check out maltauk.com.
Return flights from London Gatwick to Malta, including three nights in a double room at the AX The Saint John Boutique Hotel, located in the city centre, start from £380 per person. The price includes return flights, hotel accommodation, hold luggage and airport transfers. Rooms at Rosselli AX Privilege start from approximately £105 per night, or £140 for bed and breakfast.