48 Hours in... Malta
For first time travellers to the island, a visit to the capital Valletta is a must. Built on a peninsula that separates the Grand Harbour from Marsamxett Harbour, it was the first city in the world whose streets were designed on a grid layout.
The city tour starts at the bus terminal at the entrance of the city on Triton Square. Considered to be one of the best ways of travelling around the island, the bus network features original vehicles dating back from the 50s and 60s. From the square, you walk past the building work for the new Parliament building and into the heart of the city.
First stop, St John’s Co-Cathedral completed in 1577 and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Its plain façade is in direct contrast to the ornate interior and splendid inlaid marble floor containing over 400 tombstones. The side chapels were designated to the eight langues of the order; most worthy of note is the chapel of the langue of Aragon. The highlight for any visitor to the cathedral is the Oratory, home to a unique collection of paintings by Caravaggio.
Feeling refreshed, continue to Casa Rocca Piccola, the home of the De Piro family. Here you will find a unique collection of antiquities, each room within the house has its own theme. From the ‘Summer Dining Room’ with its intricate Maltese lace embroidered with the family coat of arms, the house chapel containing a 17th century alter, to the Sala Grande which is the tallest room in the house with some of the best original Maltese furniture dating back to the 15th century.
Stroll to the upper Barracca Gardens, which offers excellent views of the Grand Harbour and witness the noon-day salute. The perfect place for lunch or afternoon tea is the landmark Phoenicia hotel and gardens.
In the afternoon, either spend more time in Valletta to explore the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Hospital of the Order of St John or visit the neighbouring “Three cities” of Birgua, Bormla and Isla. The ‘Malta at War Museum’ in Birgua is perhaps the best attraction, here you can watch a 20-minute documentary filmed in 1943 and narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, on the siege of Malta by the Axis forces.
If you still need another fix of culture, then in the evening you could visit the National Theatre at the Teatru Manoel, one of the oldest theatres in Europe.
Using a private guide and driver or using the fabled bus network, journey to the city of Mdina, the towns of Naxaar, Mosta, Rabat and visit the temple complex of Hagar Qim.
The Church of the Assumption of our Lady dominates the skyline of Mosta. It is the world’s third-largest unsupported domed church, following the same design as the Pantheon in Rome, but on a larger scale. Any visitor here will be told about the “Miracle of Mosta” - during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe in 1942 a bomb fell through the dome in the middle of a service, but did not explode.
The Palazzo Parisio & Gardens is one of Malta’s great stately homes, a miniature “Versailles”. The Scicluna family has owned the palace for over 120 years and there is a very good restaurant in the gardens for al-fresco dining.
Known as the “silent city” due to the limited use of cars, it is a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of Valetta. Entrance to the city is through an impressive walled gate leading into a labyrinth of smaller streets. Located in the 2nd oldest building in the city is the Palazzo Falson, containing a vast collection of historical items including a library of 4,500 books.
As with any Maltese village, town or city, the church is the main focus of the community. St Paul’s Cathedral was built in the baroque style and contains a superb display of ornate interior frescoes.
The perfect place to pause and have an afternoon tea whilst soaking up the peaceful nature of the city is Xara Palace Hotel.
Any visitor to the village should explore St Paul's Catacombs, reminiscent of the underground cities found in Turkey’s Cappadocia, it covers over 2,000 sqm mostly on one level and was probably built by early Christians on the island.
Temple complex of Hagar Qim
The prehistoric site of Hagar Qim is a group of megalithic buildings whose origins are over 5,000 years old. This makes them some of the oldest man-made structures in the world and pre-dates the fabled pyramids of Egypt by over 2,000 years.
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