World Heritage in Malta
Judith and Jane explore a tiny Island with world-class
Little bigger than the Isle of Wight off the coast of England, Brits
may love Malta for its winter sun, but we find out that there is
much more to this little island in the heart of the Med.
One of a trio of unique islands comprising Malta, Gozo and
Comino, it is filled with a rich history, distinct food and fascinating
personalities. Invaded over the years by Greeks, Romans, North
Africans and French and British, Malta has many different
influences found in its architecture, cuisine and culture.
We discover we could
walk across the Mediterranean island just south of Sicily in a day, or drive around it in about an hour. Most visitors will begin any explorations a tour of Valetta. The Maltese
capital since 1571, it is a relatively new UNESCO World Heritage
Site, its maze of pretty cobbled streets surrounded by charming
yellow sandstone buildings.
The fortified three cities sit across the Grand Harbour and the
best way to see them is from the public Upper Barrakka Gardens
from with a (free) perspective from the Saluting Battery, probably
the island’s most visited tourist attraction. Malta’s remarkable
history is strongly influenced by the rule of the Catholic Knights of
St John and their presence dominates the splendid baroque
buildings of Valetta as well as its attractive palaces, forts and
Locals love to tell you that there is nearly one church for every
day of the year (an impressive total of 360). The most spectacular
is undoubtedly the magnificent St Johns Co-Cathedral in central
Valetta, built in 1570. With a barrel vaulted ceiling and gilded
arches, the highlight is Caravaggio’s gruesome Beheading of St
John masterpiece. Be prepared for crowds and to queue if you
want to see this piece of world-class art.
We decided to join the roll call of celebrities and politicians from
around the world who have stayed in the Phoenicia
(www.phoeniciamalta.com) and drink in the view with a classic
cocktail. Steeped in old world glamour, the Phoenica has a
charming terrace and spectacular views over the city. A timeless
island icon that was completely renovated for the 21st century, this
grand dame was reportedly one of Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite
Go to Gozo
Just a short ferry ride from Valetta is the island of Gozo. More
rural than the main island of Malta, Gozo is green and lush with
prickly pear bushes lining the roads and bright yellow lellux
flowers brightening the unspoilt landscape. The best way to
explore is by a bumpy but environmentally friendly Tuk Tuk ride.
The pace of life is slow here but highlights include the UNESCO
World Heritage Site of the Ggantija Temples, which, incredibly,
pre-date the Egyptian pyramids. The medieval Citadel of Victoria,
the island's capital was named by the British in 1887. Here is the
imposing Citadel, first fortified during the Bronze Age.
Liquid Gold in Malta and Gozo
The gastronomy of this archipelago is a unique combination of the flavours from all the nations that have left their mark here. We made our way around the islands discovering stories of their history and culture by tasting its local produce and meeting some of it enigmatic producers. . We started the day with a mid-morning snack of pastizzi, a flaky pastry patty filled with mushy peas or cheese at La Briosia in Rabat. Apparently, this popular spot is the only place on Malta that is open until the small hours, catering for anyone who needs sustenance after a heavy night out. To sample Malta’s olive oil we meet Ivan Galea, the owner of Girgenti Olive Grove, a peaceful fruitful space which yielded around 50 litres of the ‘liquid gold’ at the last press. Ivan is a gynaecologist by profession who has become one of the most passionate and committed olive oil producers in Malta. Visitors can wander around the groves hearing about his love for the olives and the land he loves and taste the oil as if they were the finest wines. Fine wines themselves are made across Malta in vineyards with medieval towns and rolling hills as their backdrop. Ta’ Betta Wine estate comprises 4 hectares of land 200 metres above sea level with 15,000 vines planted there as well as fig trees, carob trees and other flora. We are greeted by a number of dogs as we tour the vineyard as well as two donkeys and a goat before sampling the three wines produced by this family-owned business. Each wine is named after Grand masters of The Order of St. John to convey the heritage and roots of the Maltese islands. Eat There is no shortage of restaurants in Malta, from fine dining establishments in the big hotels to small Italian bistros in crumbling side streets. We found it pays to look for hidden gems such as the lovely Gozitan; a small cosy Gozoan restaurant off the main drag in St Julian’s serving delicious octopus and fresh fish in authentic charming surroundings. Stay Luxurious hotels abound in Malta from the sea-facing Radisson Blu and The Corinthia in St Julian, to the fabulous Phoenicia in central Valletta. There are also many small boutique properties and apartments dotted around as well as more rural accommodation on Gozo. www.visitmalta.com