Historic and Beautiful Valletta and Malta: An Insider’s Guide
Long known as a culturally rich jewel of the Mediterranean, Malta has been delivering old world charm and plenty of sun to visitors for centuries. Lately however, an exciting new mix of hip eateries, bars, parties and contemporary art have popped up, attracting a diverse and international crowd. With Valletta (its main hub) being named the 2018 European Capital of Culture, there’s no time like the present to soak up the sights and charm of this vibrant and mesmerisingly beautiful place.
WHAT IS MALTA LIKE?
Malta is one of Europe’s smallest countries, just south of Sicily and and east of Tunisia – it’s a true melting pot of cultures and styles. Centuries of conquest and occupation from many different empires (have a read here for a potted history) have resulted in a unique and charming mix of customs, food and architecture.
It’s size means that a standard day in Malta could have you enjoying some fantastic North African cuisine, staring in awe of Greek ruins and ending the day in Valletta, partaking in the Italian custom of the passeggiata – an evening’s stroll through plazas and cobbled streets – having been to the beach in between.
Away from the buzzing capital you’ll find everything from untouched coves filled with some of the clearest water in the mediterranean – like lovely Ghajn Tuffieha Bay (below), to fascinating fortified cities dating back to antiquity. Discovering the island is easy given its compact size and usually perfect weather. “Sunny” doesn’t begin to describe Malta’s enviable climate. It offers long summers, very mild winters and more days of sunshine than anywhere else in Europe.
WHERE TO STAY
One Maltese property we’re thrilled to have as part of our collection is Julesy’s B&B. This gorgeously restored 18th century townhouse is elegant yet relaxed and conveniently located in the central Grand Harbour. The stunning scenery from Julesy’s BnB rooftop boasts views to Valletta, Fort St Angelo and as far out as Mdina to the north of the island. The harbour, just minutes away, also moors some of the worlds most famous super-yachts throughout the year. The Three Cities offers travellers an authentic Maltese experience away from the high rises and typical tourist traps in other parts of the island. (We asked owners Julie and Glen to give some insider tips too).
WHAT TO DO
No matter what you’re after, Malta delivers in spades. Enjoying its pristine waters is easy, with many companies offering scuba diving, sailing classes and other sightseeing day trips. Seeing Malta from the sea is a must during the summer months. You can hire a private yacht for a very special private experience or take one of the many day tours on offer, which leave from Sliema. If you want to drive yourself around the harbours and stop off for a swim, then try Malta Self Drive Boats for a bit of fun and adventure. Kayak rentals are available too and for the more adventurous, try your hand at some extreme sport flyboarding.
With 25 neolithic sites dotting the island, it’s impossible not to take in some significant history. The hypogeum – an underground necropolis dating back to over 3000 BCE – is a favourite.
While its wealth of history is staggering, Malta’s currently thriving modern art scene is definitely a must-see. Blitz Gallery is a stand out space that regularly hosts events and houses artists in residence. The St. James Cavalier is another innovative spot that has become a cultural institution and is home to alternative theatre, art house cinema, and other mediums. And another is the island’s Contemporary Art Gallery.
Party like it’s 1999 …
If you really want to cut loose, the island hosts regular massive parties with international DJs and recording artists. One event is The Isle of MTV Malta, a free music event held in Valletta at the Granaries each year, which attracts local and international pop artists. Much of the clubbing action takes place in the coastal Paceville region, a 20 minute drive from Valletta. There’s also an array of super-clubs dotted around the island: the best are Cafe Del Mar (below), Club Aria and Gianpula which attract international DJs throughout the year.
DINING AND DRINKING
One stand-out is Legligin, a hidden, small eatery serving a mix of North African and Maltese foods on small sharing plates. For high-end dining experiences, Tarragon in St. Paul’s Bay or Panorama in Valletta won’t disappoint. Jeff’s Pastizzeria, located in the town of Gzira, is a no frills place serving the best pastizzi (traditional savoury, flaky pastry) in Malta. The casual Tico-Tico Bar in Valletta keeps locals and visitors happy, with the party usually spilling out onto Strait Street. Once a no-go zone, it’s been reinvented as a hip area, filled with boho-chic bars and restaurants.
Michelangelo Club Lounge is the newest addition to Malta’s gay scene. Spread over two floors, it’s a fun and flashy place to dance the night away. If you’re after a less frantic night out, the Birdcage Lounge in the northern region of Rabat is the place for cocktails and cabaret. Rubies is Malta’s lesbian focused night spot. This casual hangout hosts karaoke and has a relaxed outdoor terrace.
Getting to Malta is simple, with multiple airlines offering direct flights from many European cities. Malta International Airport is a 15-minute drive from Valletta’s city centre and due to the nation’s size it’s within a 45-minute drive from anywhere else on the island. Regular ferries from Sicily operate too, with a journey time of 1.5 hours.
Malta’s public transport buses offer very convenient connections throughout the island. The main terminus in Valletta is where you can catch buses anywhere – you can download the Tallinja journey planner to help you plan you trips. By water you can catch the ferry to and from Valletta to The Three Cities and from Sliema to Valletta. The ferries run every half hour. In summer months, the ferries run up until midnight and in winter until 7pm. Should you wish to go to Gozo – where Further Afield also has the amazing Dar tal-Kaptan Boutique Maison (below and check out their Meet the Owners blog in the next few weeks), the ferry service runs every 30 minutes until midnight to and from Malta and Gozo all year round. Local cab services are also available – the most trusted and reliable services are GreenR or eCabs, both of which can be booked from your device and the price to your destination is quoted on booking.