Malta may be among the smallest countries in the world but it is a powerful magnet with its hours of sunshine, warm winters, wide use of English, EU membership, a reasonable cost of living and a slower pace of life. Not forgetting the sights …
Whether sailing a yacht or enjoying a coastal walk, Malta’s marinas are beautiful spots at which to spend a sunny afternoon. The archipelago is one of the Mediterranean’s most important maritime hubs and the islands are lined with natural and man-made ports. These are the most beautiful:
Not only one of the most spectacular harbours in Malta but one of the most impressive in the world. An important hub of Maltese maritime history, the harbour is flanked by the striking capital of Valletta on one side and the historical towns of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua on the other.
Fort St. Elmo and Fort Ricasoli stand guard over the head of the port, while its mouth is guarded by the commanding Fort St. Angelo, a historic defence fortress.
The harbour has many berths catering to yachts, visiting cruise liners and cargo vessels, with Vittoriosa Yacht Marina home to the super yachts of the rich and famous, making it a popular attraction for boating enthusiasts.
On the other side of Valletta lies Marsamxett Harbour. Filled predominantly with leisure vessels, the harbour has a number of berthings occupied by the boats of visitors and locals. In the middle of the harbour is Manoel Island, home to Fort Manoel – an 18th-century fortification built by the Order of Saint John. Sail directly to the island or access it by a single road from the mainland.
On the south side of Malta is fishing village Marsaxlokk, famous for its brightly painted fishing boats known as luzzus. The boats are traditionally decorated with blue, yellow, red and green stripes, and feature a pair of painted eyes on the bow.
While the harbour is less popular with visitors due to its distance from the capital, it’s worth a visit if not just to gaze at the boats and dine on fresh seafood at the restaurants. There’s also a popular fish market on Sundays.
St. Julian’s Bay
St. Julian’s Bay, bordering the thriving area of St Julian’s, is home to a number of harbours, including Portomaso Marina, a popular place to moor yachts and super yachts, and several small bays where boat enthusiasts take their vessels out for a spin. Spinola Bay, a small cove lined with restaurants and bars, is one such place, which sees an influx of boats on a sunny day.
From the main island of Malta, it’s also worth sailing over to Gozo, the second-largest of the country’s islands. The main port is Mgarr Harbour, a beautiful marina with a super yachts area for those extra-special vessels and plenty of things to do close by. Gozo is greener and more rural than Malta, and is a thriving hub of adventure sports, water sports, culture and nightlife.
Back on Malta, St. Julian’s is one of its most popular coastal districts, with waterfront restaurants, modern nightlife and glistening blue bays. With so much going on, it’s easy to while away a summer’s day in this lively neighbourhood, and here’s how:
Relax: Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay
If the summer heat gets a little too much, take a dip in one of Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay’s six pools, or secure a spot on the hotel’s private beach and enjoy a swim in the sparkling Mediterranean. If you’re feeling adventurous, take part in a range of water-based activities offered by Sun & Fun Water Sports and Yacht Charter. Alternatively, take a break at Apollo Day Spa and enjoy natural treatments such as massages, scrubs, wraps and facials.
Dine: The Villa Restaurant
Set in a stunning 19th-century building overlooking Balluta Bay, The Villa Restaurant is one of St. Julian’s most impressive eateries. The focus is on fresh produce and there are four seasonal menus presenting a selection of seafood, meat, pasta and tapas dishes. Choose to sit outside on one of two beautiful terraces or dine inside in the striking settings of the 1920s-style dining room. The bar serves classic and experimental cocktails and wine; a charming spot for an aperitif or digestif.
For somewhere a little more intimate, head to the family-run Peperoncino. The venue itself is warm and welcoming while the menu reflects Malta’s multicultural dining scene with a fusion of Maltese, Sicilian and Italian fare. The restaurant is particularly famous for its fresh seafood offerings – you can’t go wrong with the fish special of the day.
Drink: Tiffany Champagne and Wine Bar
If you like to enjoy your cocktails in glamorous surroundings, visit Tiffany Champagne and Wine Bar. On the waterfront overlooking St. Julian’s marina, the bar is a place to see and be seen. Select from an extensive menu of over 300 wines and 50 champagnes and watch the sun set over the harbour. Visit on a Friday for live jazz performances or don your most vibrant red attire for the weekly “Party in Red” each Saturday.
Party: Bar Celona Lounge
Set in the throngs of St. Julian’s bustling nightlife centre in Paceville, Bar Celona Lounge is a restaurant by day and a club lounge by night. Each evening, funky house music pumps out of the modern venue as guests enjoy cocktails and live performances by musicians and dancers. One of the choicest venues on the strip, dress your best to fit in with the trendy locals.
On the more historical side, the Knights of St. John, or Knights Hospitaller, was a prominent medieval order charged with the care of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem and the protection of Malta. While the order’s heyday was in the 16th and 17th centuries, its influence can still be felt in museums, palaces and churches across the island.
At the heart of the historical city of Vittoriosa, a former home of the Knights of St. John, lies The Inquisitor’s Palace – one of the few surviving palaces of its kind and the only one in the world that’s open to the public. A fascinating insight into Malta’s history, the palace museum invites visitors to learn about the Knights and explore reconstructions of the rooms as they would have been in previous centuries. Head to Vittoriosa Square to see the Green Victory Monument, which commemorates the Great Siege of the 16th century in which the Knights stood their ground against the invading Ottoman Empire and saved Malta from capture.
Fort St. Angelo
A grand castle rebuilt by the Knights of St. John as a fort to protect the island, Fort St. Angelo played a monumental part in the Great Siege of 1565. Located on the Vittoriosa waterfront across the Grand Harbour from the capital, the fort is considered the jewel of the island’s military heritage. While the interior is closed for renovations, visitors can get a picturesque view of the fort from Valletta. To feel part of the action, visit the Saluting Battery where, each day at noon and 4pm, replica cannons are fired over the harbour in the direction of Fort St. Angelo.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
St .John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta was built as a church for the Knights of Malta. Architecture, art and religion come together in the beautiful Baroque building, whose walls are filled with important works of art, tapestries and artefacts donated by the Grand Masters or the Knights, such as Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist”. Look closely at the walls themselves and you’ll find the Maltese cross – the emblem of the Knights of St. John – carved into the opulent décor.
The Palace Armoury
For many, the most striking symbol of the Knights was their armour. The Palace Armoury in the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta is home to one of the largest collections of armour and arms in the world. From the original stronghold in Valletta, the museum showcases items used by the Knights of St. John in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, as well as suits of armour worn by noblemen such as Jean Parisot de La Valette, 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta.
A cornerstone of the Knights’ work, Sacra Infermeria was a large hospital established by the order in 1574. The 600-bed infirmary was particularly famous as it was so ahead of its times in terms of surgical techniques and hygiene. Visitors can tour the site to learn about the lifesaving work of the Knights, walk through the huge Great Ward and see a reconstruction of a medieval pharmacy.
Article by Corinthia Hotels, home of The Budapest Times and its sister publication Budapester Zeitung