Richard Moriarty, Jane Memmler
More than 50 years after surviving a Nazi onslaught from the skies during the Second World War, Malta is about to reaffirm its close bond with Europe by joining the European Union. A familiar holiday destination for up to two million Britons every summer, the island is now using its rich history to attract holidaymakers seeking the five-star treatment.
The country No bigger than the Isle of Wight its capital Valletta covers barely a square mile Malta has been strategically important to every great army due to its position in the centre of the Mediterranean. It was occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Sicilians and in 1282 was given to Spain.
In 1530, the Spanish King gave it to the Knights of St John, a religious order which fortified and occupied the island until it attracted the attention of Napoleon in 1798. Britain took over Malta two years later and held it until 1947 when it was granted independence.
The capital Valletta’s foundation stone was set in 1566 and it was the first planned city in Europe. A walled city surrounded by two harbours, Valletta is tiny but vibrant, alive with people scurrying through its many squares and narrow streets.
It is also easy to navigate as its streets form a neat grid.
In the evening it becomes a ghost town as the attention shifts to lively St Julian’s Bay, a five-mile drive north along the coast.
What to see: St John’s Co-Cathedral (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-noon and 1.30pm4pm) is a must. Built by the Knights of the Order between 1573 and 1578, its walls are adorned with ornate stone carving and it was described by Sir Walter Scott as having «the most striking interior».
It is also home to The Beheading painting by Michelangelo Caravaggio a dark work which captures the horror of the murder of John the Baptist.
Valletta’s defensive walls are best seen by boat so take a cruise around the harbour. Captain Morgan operates excursions from Sliema seafront (6.50ML/GBP 10.50).
Theatre-goers should peep at the Manoel Theatre on Old Theatre Street (1.65ML/GBP 2.70). It was built in Baroque-style in 1731 and is the third oldest European playhouse still in use.
Escape the midday sun by walking around Mdina the «Silent City». This fortified city, now home to just 500 people, was the old capital and is a 30-minute drive from Valletta. At its heart is the stunning Baroque Cathedral of St Paul’s.
Food and drink Rabbit stew (Fenek), washed down by the fizzy soft drink Kinnie, made from herbs and orange peel, is the national dish. A great place to try it is at the Ta’ Kris restaurant, just off Tignes seafront (80 Fawwara Lane) in Sliema. Once you summon the courage to bang on the door, friendly and attentive staff serve up tasty traditional Maltese food in an informal setting. A meal for two with wine costs around 21ML/GBP 34.50.
In the summer, all restaurants offer a vast array of fresh fish, while the influence of Italy just 60 miles away means that pasta and pizza feature on most menus. Malta also produces a small amount of wine, with Delicata and Marsovin two of the island’s better known vineyards.
In Sliema, most restaurants are on Tignes seafront so guests can enjoy the view of Valletta.
Competition ensures all are good value but Il Galeone (35 Tignes) is great for dinner, serving mainly Italian dishes. Next door, Portopalo is a good bet if the first is full.
St Julian’s is packed with bars but most cater to the younger crowd. A good place to try the national beer Cisk (0.60ML/GBP 1) or local wines is salsa club Fuego, a short walk away and popular with Maltese.
Shopping Specialities include Sannat lace.
Head to the market at St James’s Ditch in Valletta every Sunday.
Otherwise it’s Europe’s giants that dominate the stores. Zara (Tignes seafront) and Mango (High Street) both have stores in Sliema, as does Italian jeans label Diesel (St Anne Square). Prices are around 15 per cent cheaper than in Britain.
Did you know. . . ?
Malta has some of the biggest Manchester United FC supporters’ clubs in the world.
Sunday Express March 21, 2004