Es­cape to Malta

Make Val­letta your next city break Ex­plore his­tory and na­ture on the Mal­tese is­lands’ pint-sized cap­i­tal... and be­yond

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Promotional Feature -

When you think of the clas­sic Euro­pean city breaks, your mind may not drift to the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean. But it ought to: Malta’s cap­i­tal, Val­letta, is a sun-rich city filled with his­tory and a Baroque el­e­gance ripe for ex­plor­ing over a re­laxed week­end or, bet­ter yet, ex­tend your trip to the Mal­tese is­lands and dis­cover Gozo and Comino. And with Val­letta de­clared this year’s Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture – and 400 events tak­ing place through­out the is­lands to cel­e­brate – 2018 is the ideal time to stroll those streets…

Pint-sized with a punch

Stand­ing on a peninsula mea­sur­ing 1km by 600m, Val­letta is Europe’s small­est cap­i­tal. No space has been wasted: its streets were forged by the Knights of St John, who fought off the Ot­toman Turks in the 1565 Great Siege be­fore ful­fill­ing their vi­sion for a bul­wark against the East. Val­letta still looks as good now (es­pe­cially with 300 days of sun a year), with some of its star at­trac­tions re­built af­ter be­ing de­stroyed in the Sec­ond World War.

The spec­tac­u­lar, newly recre­ated City Gate whets the ap­petite for Val­letta’s ar­chi­tec­tural gems, in­clud­ing the TARDIS-LIKE St John’s Co-cathe­dral – hum­ble and fortresslike on the out­side but gilded ex­trav­a­gantly on the inside. A tour of the sim­i­larly en­riched Grand­mas­ter’s Palace is fas­ci­nat­ing, while the Na­tional Mu­seum of Ar­chae­ol­ogy houses plenty of Ne­olithic arte­facts.

Labyrinthine streets are filled with buzzing bars, ho­tels and restau­rants set in re­stored 16th-cen­tury man­sions – the lo­cal wine here is not to be missed. The pair of forts on its fringes – St Elmo and St An­gelo – have watched over the city since the mid-1500s, while the ter­races of Up­per Bar­rakka Gar­dens give tran­quil views across the Great Har­bour – the for­mer eye of the siege – and be­yond.

Be­yond Val­letta...

Malta is com­pact, too, so it makes sense to turn your city break into an ex­tended tour of the coun­try. On the cap­i­tal’s doorstep lies one of the planet’s best-pre­served pre­his­toric sites, the 6,000-year-old sub­ter­ranean necrop­o­lis of Hal Saflieni Hy­pogeum. A ferry across the har­bour (or pedal the scenic, long way round) takes you to the for­ti­fied ‘Three Cities’ of Birgu, Sen­glea and Cospicua, all re­built by the Knights, while the stylish Sliema also lies north of Val­letta.

Malta’s other is­lands are worth ven­tur­ing to as well. Only a 25-minute ferry ride away, Gozo leads a slower way of life; its trail­webbed rugged land­scapes and re­cently added 42km coastal cy­cling route shows off the best of this isle. Sleepy gar­dens and squares speckle cap­i­tal Vic­to­ria, while the maze-like Ci­tadel lords over the whole is­land. Ex­plore an­cient vil­lages and shores lapped by azure wa­ters, div­ing in oc­ca­sion­ally for some fine snorkelling. Mean­while, sand­wiched between Gozo and Malta (a 10-minute boat ride away) is Comino, a land ringed by sea cliffs and caves, and home to the rip­pling Blue Lagoon – per­fect for a dip.

Boast­ing na­ture, his­tory, cul­ture and ad­ven­ture, a trip to Val­letta and the Mal­tese Is­lands of­fers a big, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble travel ex­pe­ri­ence that be­lies its size. Per­haps the best things re­ally do come in small pack­ages...

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