Chalkmarks: Valletta, the capital of Malta

MALTA is like being at home in the UK but with the heat turned up. Valletta, the capital, has proudly kept its red post boxes, everyone speaks English, they drive on the left and best of all they use British plugs. No wonder hundreds of us have moved here and even more visit each year.

News of any of this had never reached me so it was like a welcome homecoming on a weekend city break – but with better food, weather and beaches.

It might be just a tiny dot in the middle of the Mediterranean but for sightseeing and shopping it more than punches above its weight.

It has been a force in history for 7,000 years. Here you can visit the world’s oldest freestanding temples, built long before the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge.

Chalkmarks Malta
The scenic view: Overlooking the Three Cities
Chalkmarks: Malta

It’s filled with medieval palaces and 359 churches – almost one for every day of the year.  And if you’re not serious about history, the small nation is streets ahead when it comes to buying presents made from the most gifted hands.

There’s stunning lace, olive oil, great wine, creamy goats cheese, silver jewellery and colourful glassware.

It has also been used as a film location hundreds of times including the blockbuster Gladiator and for the first series of Game of Thrones.

The Maltese islands come as a trio: The busy mainland Malta, sleepy Gozo, where residents still leave their keys in the front door, and small Comino, which has just three residents and a policeman. We guess he doesn’t have to be Sherlock to figure out whodunit.

Instead of heading straight to the beaches with the holiday crowds, I make my way to Gozo and to the centre Victoria to browse the markets.

Chalkmarks Agents visit Malta remotely during lockdown
Green, grassy plains: The walk along the high city walls
Chalkmarks: Malta

I end up at Ta’ Savina, which sells traditional produce from the island including tomato pastes, artichoke pate, sea salt and flavoured oils. My bag gets so heavy it stretches the handles.

Having exhausted the shops, in the afternoon I take the steep path up to the ancient Citadel. This small-fortified town was built around 4,000 years ago to protect the island from attack.

I walk along its high city walls enjoying the views of pale green, grassy plains that stretch out to the coast.

On the way down the trail, always stopping to look in at the shops, I found Ta’ Rikardu’s restaurant to sample some of the goat’s cheese.

Throughout the islands, it was the same experience: the ancient beside the everyday.

One minute I was sitting on the stone steps that were laid down thousands of years ago, and the next I was eating freshly made cheese with warm bread and swigging a glass of red wine from a local vineyard.

Satisfied after a great day, I head out to Patrick’s Tmun Lounge, Restaurant and Steakhouse where I drained a Cosmopolitan. The place is swanky, dimly lit, and with an open log fire blazing on a television screen.

Chalkmarks Malta1
Valletta packed with medieval town houses
Chalkmarks Malta
Look up: St John’s Cathedral featuring the two most famous 17th century paintings by Caravaggio

While it has a list of options on the menu for dinner including fish cakes, and pork cheeks, I treat myself to grilled steak – well, it is a steakhouse. I follow this with the warm and sweet crème brûlée to finish. Delicious.

With a belly full of food, I rest at the plush Ta’ Cenc Hotel & Spa. This hotel is another reason to stay for longer. It’s a five-star hideaway on the island’s highest point overlooking the cliffs. It has 83 stone-built bungalows, its own rocky beach and a 17th century palazzo.

The main building has dozens of comfy sofas while my room opens out on to a swimming pool. Inside it’s decked out with a feel for the grand old days. I sink into the big comfy bed and quickly slip into a deep sleep.

In the morning I take the 15 minute ferry ride over to Malta to explore the smallest capital in the EU, Valletta.

The first explorers came over from Sicily, Italy, 7,000 years ago. After about 1,000 years, they built the pre-historic temples. After another 2,000 years the Phoenicians arrived (Lebanon today) and people followed from north Africa. Plenty of cultures in between then conquered the islands.

Hardly a period of time exists that didn’t leave behind a relic to be discovered.

It was in 1814, Malta became part of the British Empire. It received the George Cross for its part in the Second World War, the highest award of the honours system for civilians in 1942.

What’s more the Queen even lived there on and off while the Duke of Edinburgh was stationed as a Royal Navy Officer between 1949 and 1951.

The small metropolis is packed with medieval town houses and no modern buildings taking centre stage.

I queue in the warm air to get into the popular and enormous St John’s Cathedral built for the Knights of St John to see the two most famous 17th century paintings by Caravaggio.

When learning about the times gone by becomes too much, I rest in the bright sunshine drinking coffee.

And for a well-earned halt, I check into the five-star Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa. This is across the road from the President’s Palace and botanical gardens.

Once a private residency, the hotel has maintained a smart and well-tailored decor throughout.

The Caprice Lounge Bar becomes the most important place for me with a live singer and a heady list of cocktails to taste.

As I settle in for my last night, I realise I hadn’t stepped foot on a beach or dipped a toe in Malta’s turquoise waters. That’ll be another trip.

Chalkmarks Malta Natalie Chalk
Feeding the goats before tasting the cheese
Chalkmarks: Malta

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