Malta’s capital Valletta will be European Capital of Culture in 2018 – and it’s easy to see why
An article written in the Irish Times by Deirdre Conroy
The narrow streets of the Collachio – the ancient part of the city – in Vittoriosa, which is full of charming houses and auberges, framed in colourful bougainvillea, oleander and jacaranda.
I fell in love with Maltese stone on my first visit in 2012. The buttery tones of Valletta’s sculptural edifices warmed my heart; I had never realised this tiny island contained such awesome architecture, mainly constructed from Globigerina limestone. It is no wonder that it will be European Capital of Culture in 2018.
I had always thought of Malta as a budget-package sun-holiday destination, and I’m not a fan of packages or sunburn. But when I flew there in 2012 to set sail from St Julian’s Bay to Sicily, I caught a glimpse of some intriguing, monumental fortresses that tempted me to return.
I take a direct Ryanair flight for a three-night exploration of this legendary rock in the Mediterranean, once known as the “medical” or “nursing” island, as it was ruled from 1530 to 1798 by the knights of the Order of St John.
I arrive at midnight after a four-hour flight from Dublin and am taken straight to my hotel, Le Meridien in Balluta Bay, on the outskirts of Valletta. The streets here are lined with magnificent 19th-century houses and up the backstreets, little Moorish terraces.
After breakfast, my guide, Miriam, arrives to show me my itinerary. I had specified my interests include local culture, archaeology and historic architecture, and that I love to swim in the sea. The latter was to be the most challenging wish.
We start with a stroll through the narrow streets of the Collachio – the ancient part of the city – in Vittoriosa, which is full of charming houses and auberges, framed in colourful bougainvillea, oleander and jacaranda.
Each doorway is so unique and eccentric that I surprise Miriam by constantly stopping to photograph them. We may think tourists are odd photographing our Georgian doorways – I get it now.
We come upon the very busy marina, berthing lots of Irish yachts, and make our way up to the gardens on Senglea Point where there is a spectacular panorama of the Grand Harbour and Fort St Angelo.
Speaking of sipping, it was time to eat. We head to the coastal fishing village of Marsaxlokk, and a pretty little restaurant, Tartarun, where we tried local prawn carpaccio, bruschetta with anchovies, home-smoked fish rillettes, calamari, teamed with coriander and lime mayonnaise – a new one on me – washed down with local rosé. The traditional Maltese dish is rabbit but I must admit, I avoided that one.
After a visit to the cliffs at the Blue Grotto, I regret I don’t have more time to take a boat ride there, but it’s always good to save something for the next visit. What I really wanted was a swim and we found a beach up north, at Golden Bay. It was still only mid-afternoon and on our return journey we visited the sophisticated Palazzo Parisio, with a charming garden for afternoon tea.
Malta was under Arab, Roman, and Norman rule through the ages. The Aragonese took control in 1282 and established the fortified city of Mdina. Ambling along its winding streets, I find intriguing doorways into ancient buildings that house elegant restaurants with tables in orange groves that would make you wish you had a month instead of a weekend.
For dinner that evening, I am joined by Stephen Place at Madliena Lodge, overlooking the sea. It is a lovely restaurant, full of character, with good steaks and local red wine. I can see why Malta is so popular with Irish tourists and tax residents, a conversation I overheard as I queued for my flight, was all about who was building what villa where – it was like being back in 2006.
There is a genuine cultural similarity with Ireland. Perhaps it stems from Catholicism; there are 359 churches between Malta and Gozo for a population of just 450,000.
In just one day I manage to see most of the island, including a vineyard. The island is about the size of Co Dublin, and nowhere appears to be more than 45 minutes drive.
Original Article: Click here