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Trip Report A Wonderful 8 Days in Valletta & Malta

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My wife and I had a marvellous 8 days in Malta, 15 –22 March 2013. Based on all our planning research we were really looking forward to the visit. And I’m glad to say our high expectations were well exceeded! Other than a storm on our arrival day the weather was pleasant throughout, mostly warm sunshine, ideal for sightseeing. We love walking and did loads, which was one of the pleasures of the holiday, just ambling around in the early spring sunshine soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the lovely architecture. We used the excellent public buses extensively getting great value from our 7 day tickets (€12).

I would like to pass on to you some of our lovely experiences, so here goes.

Friday
After an on-time 7am flight from Dublin, public bus to Valletta and then a walk down lovely Republic Street we got to our amazing accommodation, ‘Majestic Town House’ in St. Ursula Street. This was very spacious, comfortable and an ideal base for the holiday.

Given the veneration of St. Paul in these parts we thought it apt that our first visit was to the nearby eponymous Church of the Shipwreck. The interior is Baroque ornate with beautiful marble columns, paintings and numerous treasures.

Walking around the gorgeous streetscapes it was interesting to see the ubiquitous colourful wooden balconies. We are very interested in architecture, viewing it as a form of public art and Valletta is a fabulous exemplar. We took in the Lower Barracca Gardens and the road around Fort St Elmo. We got a ‘free’ tour of the surroundings on the circular bus 133, including a stop in front of the imposing Auberge de Castille. We finished the day with a fine meal at Palazzo Preca, followed by a walk down atmospheric Strait Street.

Saturday
We started our early morning walk with a cappuccino and pastry at Caffe Cordina, at the outside seating with the decorative Bibliotheca building in the background. It was lovely to sit and watch the streets awakening.

Continued to the charming Upper Barracca Gardens and admired the fabulous views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities. After walking around the Saluting Battery we took the panoramic lift to the waterfront and had a pleasant walk by the sea.

Back at the upper level we took the delightful, narrow Ursula Street back to base. At 11am we very much enjoyed the 45 minute Malta Experience show, which briskly and engagingly covered 7000 years of Maltese history. An added bonus was the ticket also covered a wonderful tour of the astonishing Sacra Infermeria. The excellent guide gave an entertaining history while escorting through the long ward, the beautiful vaulted basement and the theatre.

In the afternoon we visited the Grand Master’s Palace. We do not usually frequent war-theme museums, but found this particular Armoury museum absorbing. The State Apartments are wonderful, with the flamboyantly decorative Corridor of the Knights leading to the other ornate rooms.

Later that evening we heard fireworks and celebratory music. We wondered what festival was on, but it was the victorious Labour Party marking their recent election triumph. After experiencing the communal merriment for a while beyond the bus station we repaired to the great Guze Bistro for a wonderful meal.

Sunday
The accommodation is opposite a closed monastery of nuns and we enjoyed the morning choir and organ music when their chapel door opens as a welcome to the wider community to mass. We went in and were surprised at the number of nuns present.

We continued down Theatre St past the imposing Carmelite Church to the waterfront, seeing the waterpolo pitch. Had a fine walk admiring the blue sea with Sliema and Fort Manoel opposite and the massive bastions on our left, with their strategically placed watchtowers. We marvelled at the bulk of the bastions, particularly striking when walking to the area where renovations are underway. It was interesting to see a little religious grotto hewn out of the rock and almost hidden within the walls.

We arrived at the fine St. Publius church and had a look at its lovely red draped interior. Given the clear sunny morning we went to the tranquil Hastings Gardens and had excellent views over the whole area. On the way home we visited St. Paul's Anglican Church, which with its plain interior is a striking contrast with all its neighbouring Baroque.

We availed of the lovely sunshine and visited Mdina, which from entering through the fine gate we thought absolutely gorgeous. The yellow hue of the architectural stone was resplendent in the bright sunshine and everywhere was pristine clean. We entered the Carmelite Church and gazed at its wonderful dome and interior. We continued to Bastion Square for panoramic clear views over much of Malta. Then to the Knights Experience, featuring tableaux and audiovisual, which was interesting. The ticket included the nearby enjoyable Mdina Experience in a fine theatre.

In the Don Mesquita Café with its outside bean bags as a kids amusement we had a fine Maltese platter. We visited the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral, which fortunately was open again in the afternoon. Beyond the lovely façade, the whole interior is fabulous, including the floor design.

That evening we attended an enjoyable performance of ‘Cav & Pag’ at the charming Manoel Theatre. It was interesting to walk in off the street and be almost instantly in the performance area.

Monday
An early bus to Mosta took us to the massive and sumptuous Rotunda. The circular space within is breathtaking, as is its famous dome. Took the next bus to Naxxar and spent over an hour at the splendid Palazzo Parisio. We arrived shortly after the 9am opening time, so we had the Palazzo practically to ourselves! The highly ornate ballroom is the crowning glory, with sumptuous chandeliers and gorgeous walls and ceilings. The lovely vaulted cellars and the tranquil extensive gardens are further attractions.

Back in Valletta mid morning we visited the incomparable St. John’s Cathedral. The high Baroque is superlative. We found the museum very interesting with the great collections of choral books, vestments and tapestries. We admired the famous Caravaggios.

We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the Hypogeum for the 2.30 tour. We found this fascinating The visitor flow through the underground levels is very effective and the audioguides informative. The movement was un-rushed and the group had sufficient time to stop and examine the various caverns and artefacts. The extent of the chambers is most impressive. We marvelled at what the ancient people created and achieved with primitive tools.

For a complete change we took passing bus 81 to delightful Marsaxlokk. Taking a table right at the seafront we lunched in one of the seaside cafes. We explored all around the harbour area admiring the many colourful boats, the luzzu, making a very colourful panorama.

Back at base we had a unique eating experience at Legligin Restaurant, courtesy of Chris who is a one-person powerhouse serving a fabulous range of delicious little dishes. Later we had cappuccino and desert at the Hotel Phoenicia, in the sweeping foyer area.

Tuesday
Wishing to see some of Sliema, we took bus 12 to the Ferries stop and had a lovely stroll along the waterfront in the early morning sunshine.

We decided to go to Gozo and took bus 41 to the port, intending to catch the 11.15 ferry. But unfortunately our bendy-bus banged into another on the St Paul bypass, necessitating police being called, examinations and investigations. Passengers hopped off and hurried to another bus to take the 12-noon ferry. We were intrigued on the ticketing arrangement (pay on return journey) but I suppose it makes sense that whoever travels to Gozo eventually returns.

We had a most enjoyable day on Gozo. After lunch at Independence Square surrounded by the open air market we explored the marvellous Citadel. First stop was the impressive Cathedral whose façade was substantially under scaffolding. The interior is wonderful, including the convincing trompe l'oeil of a great dome.

While waiting for the bus to the cliffs we took the circular 313 for a brisk 20 minute tour of Victoria and surrounds. Arriving at Dwejra around 5pm was an ideal time to see these wonders in the fading golden evening light. Had a fine walk on the slightly rough terrain around the cliffs. Descending the walkways opposite the main attraction window, we had panoramic views of the formations as the sun descended.

Later in Valletta we had a great meal at the Rampila Restaurant, dramatically located atop the bastions. The little museum was a surprise bonus.

Wednesday
Spent the day in the Three Cities, taking bus 2 to last stop Richie. Entering Birgu/Vittoriosa through the impressive Gate of Provence, we found it delightful, quiet and sedate.

We visited a number of top class attractions, beginning with the fascinating Inquisitor's Palace. The interior is relatively plain. The palace rooms are engaging, including the kitchen area with its stone ovens and sink. It was lovely to walk around the tranquil garden. We found the coverage of the inquisition engrossing. We had to bow to enter the Judgement Room, as was intended by the inquisition authorities with such a low door.

We had a grand walk along the marina waterfront marvelling at the super yachts. Work was underway at Fort St Angelo. I enquired whether a visit was possible to be told that restoration work is scheduled to finish in 2015 when it re-opens as a visitor centre. We had a tasty risotto lunch at the Sottovento Ristorante. Entry to the Maritime Museum was included in the previous ticket so spent an hour at this impressive waterfront building, formerly a bakery for the army. It portrays well Malta’s long and fundamental seafaring history. The gorgeous St Lawrence’s Church was open and we admired its interior.

Walking around the peninsula to Senglea/L-Isla we entered through imposing bastion gates. We visited the beautiful Senglea Basilica. Continuing to the end of the grand main street we arrived at the pleasant garden and then to the famous vedette, being vigilant to the sculptured eye and ear. We went to the wharf with a view to catching the ferry to Valletta but ended up hiring a private little boat for €5 across to the lift area.

Being only 5.30pm we decided to take bus 91 to the pretty seaside village of Marsaskala, and saw further typical Maltese countryside as the sun subsided. Back at base we enjoyed an excellent dinner at La Mere Restaurant. To end a marvellous day we went to a 9.15 film at Embassy Cinema. We had the cinema to ourselves and when walking home at 11.30pm the streets were deserted, confirming the truism of Valletta closing down early.

Thursday
To see the famous temples in the south we got the 7.44am bus 72 to Qrendi and a pleasant 25 minute walk later arrived at the impressive Hagar Qim reception. Seeing the protective canopy for the first time was like the space age meeting the stone age. Both temples are fascinating and thought provoking. We wondered at the ability of the ancient people to manipulate, move and stand the massive stones and their motivation.

In the afternoon we visited the very interesting Bibliotheca, The attractive façade is in contrast to the plainer reading room. Important historical documents are on display and we were allowed into the inner reference space where we perused some recent English language newspapers.

After refreshments at Cordina we toured the marvellous National Museum of Archaeology, this with the added attraction that it is the only Auberge open to the public in Valletta, the Auberge de Provençe. Currently the museum exhibits the stone and Bronze ages; the coverage is superb.

We had passed the Carmelite Church with its massive dome a number of times and were delighted to have an opportunity to see its magnificent interior. Continued to Boat Street where the setting sunlight imbued the lovely building façades with a wonderful golden tint.

Our final dinner was a good one, at the great Malata. The stonework and vaulted ceilings are wonderfully atmospheric, as are the black & white photos. It was interesting to see the old Opera House and the contrast with its modern contemporary and controversial replacement at City Gate.

Friday
Our last morning. Had a pleasant walk in the lovely sunshine, a concluding glance at the great Co-Cathedral and photographed some shop signs from a bygone time, including those for His Master’s Voice and an Air Conditioned Cinema.

We had a wonderful time in Malta and have so many abiding memories!

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