The European Capital of Culture 2018 seriously delivers (suitable for history buffs, architecture lovers, devout Catholics and those who simply want to enjoy a weekend away in the sunshine)
With recent visitors including Prince William and Angelina Jolie, the level of interest in Malta as a city break destination (for more than just resort-lovers) has understandably spiked. And, with a sunny disposition – weather and atmosphere-wise – pretty much all year round, we can see why.
A British colony until 1964, the Maltese drive on the left, handily use the same plugs as us and pretty much the whole population speaks fluent English – although, trying to get to grips with the Maltese language, which takes influence from Italian, Arabic and English mainly, is a feat in its own right.
Ever since Valletta was named next year’s European city of culture, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about.
Firstly, it’s the smallest capital in Europe and as we all know, good things come in small packages (sometimes) and this stunning city is definitely not an exception to that rule.
Built up by the knights of St John in 1530, this 1KM long capital is fortified around the harbour and promises to take you back in time. The city also used to have a population of around 25,000 but now only inhabits around 6,000 so you can bet on lots of space to explore.
In recent years, many abandoned palazzos have refurbished themselves into chic boutique hotels worth staying inland for. Palazzo Consiglia has a charming courtyard and a small, rooftop pool. Although they may only serve breakfast officially, it’s definitely worth asking the friendly front desk for a nightcap of Bajtra Prickly Pear Liqueur – after all, you are in the land of prickly pears so it’d be rude not to.
Although a lot was destroyed back in WWII, the city has kept its historical, and religious, charm throughout. And, with all the buildings still made out of stone from the island accompanied with colourful doors, you’ll be inundated with Instagram-friendly possibilities.
There’s a reason Malta has won awards for having the best restored buildings in Europe – and we can see why the queen chose to spend some of her honeymoon here (where Prince Charles was apparently conceived…)
If anyone asks you for a coffee in Valletta, they most probably mean at Caffe Cordina. Established in 1837, it’s been a staple for locals and tourists alike for their pastries, a la carte menu, Maltese wine and most importantly, Maltese desserts. Make sure to try some of the kwarezimal (hazelnut crumble base with spices topped with honey and almond) or my personal favourite, pudina (bread pudding.) And, for dinner, make a reservation at The Harbour Club to sample some of Malta’s finest cuisine, or opt for the more casual Cockney’s – which I promise is local, too, despite the name! Oh, and don’t miss one of Malta’s favourite things to eat: the pastizzi, a delicious ricotta pastry.
Malta has a very similar attitude to its Mediterranean neighbours so get those dresses, sandals and sunglasses out. But, note that most churches ask you to cover your shoulders so be mindful of that when you’re setting out to discover St. John’s Co-Cathedral or the Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck.
Considering the vastness of Malta’s offering – from rock climbing to Citadels – it’d be easy to get overwhelmed by what to do, so, if you can, it’s worth treating yourself to a tour guide to really tailor your experience.
The city is best seen from the harbour (by boat, no less) so hop in a dghajsa (a Maltese gondola) to catch views of the 12PM or 4PM cannon shot every day from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. And, while you’re at it, hop on a ferry to Gozo where you can enjoy a segway tour of the Island to explore its agriculture and see their renowned salt pans. Or, get lost in the winding Medieval streets of the Three Cities, directly opposite Valletta, where you can even drive a buggy car (complete with a culturally in-the-know ‘Rolling Geeks‘ GPS) to tour the area.
With other gems nearby like Mdina (the old capital that dates back 4000 years), panoramic views from Dingli cliffs and Ghar Lapsi, a hidden rocky bay ideal for snorkelling, all within driving distance, why not make this a week-long trip instead of a weekend?
Rooms at the Palazzo Consiglia start from £163 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. Fly regularly to and from Malta with easyJet and Thomas Cook with flights from £30 per person. For more information about the Maltese archipelago visit maltauk.com