As the tires screeched down the tarmac of Malta’s one and only international airport, Modern Traveller took stock of its plan of action for exploring Valletta, the island’s fortress capital.
Based in Spinola bay, around a 30-minute bus ride away from Valletta, it would have been remiss of us not to begin by exploring the dining options outside of the harbour-side city.
With MT’s bags dropped, then, in the room and a hunger rumbling in our stomachs, we descended to the dockside for dinner at Raffael restaurant: a cosy cavern serving a delightful array of dishes, of which the seafood pizza truly tickled our tastebuds.
Feeling rightly full after a slice too many, MT proceeded to grab a drink at Crow’s Nest Pub, Saint Julian’s answer to a homely tavern. Watching the world go by here – or at Dick’s next door – is an enchanting way to end the day.
One windy night later, MT was up and ready for a day trip to Valletta. Like something straight out of Game of Thrones, this 16th-century citadel is nothing if not imposingly impressive.
As one of Malta’s many impeccably modern buses wound its way towards the terminal beneath Valletta’s main gate, thoughts turned to morning activities.
Admittedly, wandering through the limestone streets of this ancient conurbation, the architecture alone is enough to entertain and astound – from age-old balconies to divine domes to the recently remodelled city gate. What makes Malta – and Valletta – truly amazing, though, is what lies behind these incredible images.
Feeling historically inclined – and it’s hard not to be, in this place so steeped in bygone drama – MT headed underground to discover the subterranean realm of the Lascaris War Rooms, a rock-carved warren from which Eisenhower, Montgomery and the rest schemed in secret over just how to hold off Hitler during WWII.
Not one for the claustrophobic, this well-restored network of tunnels and rooms offers real insight into the lengths that Europe’s leaders went to in order to keep Nazism at bay, as well as informing visitors – including MT – as to just how important this small island’s role in the conflict was.
Feeling thirsty despite the below-ground damp, it was shortly time for a little more history – this time in a cup. A vintage cornucopia of sights and smells, Cafe Jubilee is the perfect place to take a morning caffeine hit, surrounded by shiny brass and panelled wood.
Soif sated, MT ventured to an altogether alternative type of museum. Casa Rocca Piccola is a private house which contains over 50 rooms within its 16th-century walls, as well as a vast collection of paintings, furniture, ornaments and more, all meticulously maintained as a testament to one family’s marvellous history in Malta. If you’re lucky – as MT was – the Marquis de Piro himself will reveal its treasures.
With an hour to spare before lunch, it was then back up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens to take in the captivating view over the harbour, and to enjoy the midday firing of the recently restored Saluting Battery over the bay – complete with appropriate pomp and circumstance.
Salute accomplished, MT gladly trotted off for a bite of lunch. Piadina Caffe is a dinky street-side joint that’s ideal for grabbing a quick snack or sandwich to enjoy on the sloping steps outside.
With tummies full it was time to take in something of Malta’s saintly history: Saint John’s Co-Cathedral is a 16th-century church, famous – among many reasons – for its 17th-century Baroque-style interior. Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the celebrated building also plays host to several renowned works of art, including Caravaggio’s The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Once you’ve reluctantly torn your eyes from the incredibly intricate internal decor, you might be left wondering – as MT was – why all the references to St. John? The guided audio tour holds the answer to most, if not all, of your cathedral-themed questions.
After all that walking it was surely dinner time, so MT headed underground into the cellar of Papannis, an Italian restaurant tucked just off St. George’s Square. With service as sparkling as the food was delicious, this was a stellar spot to bring an end to our day on this magical isle.
Supper over, there was just time for one last drink before we said goodbye to Malta. The Loop, in the centre of town, is a surefire spot for some 60s-themed art-deco fun, or, if you’re happy to head back to Spinola bay, Bianco’s makes for a brilliant wine-fuelled finish.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Content correct at time of publication. A changing world is one of the joys of travelling!