Copyright 2004 MGN Ltd.
Malta is becoming Europe’s biggest box office star with more than 70 hit movies filmed there. The Mediterranean island, billed as the new Hollywood, has doubled for ancient Rome in the Oscar-winning Gladiator, mythical Greece for Brad Pitt’s Troy, due out in May and Beirut in the spy movie A Different Loyalty with Sharon Stone and Rupert Everett. And the warm climate is attracting stars all the year round…even when they are not shooting movies, so you could stand a better chance of seeing Russell Crowe on a beach in Malta than in LA or Cannes. Here CATRIONA IRVINE guides you to the top movie locations as well as the bars and restaurants where you could rub shoulders with the celebs…
Malta’s baroque capital Valletta becomes Beirut for the movie A Different Loyalty based on the Kim Philby spy case and starring Sharon Stone and Rupert Everett.
The 16th Century Fort St Elmo is used as a Lebanese marketplace for the film, due out later this year.
The fort has a string of movie credits. It was a Turkish jail in the 70s film Midnight Express and used as a backdrop for Oliver Stone’s film Alexander the Great starring Colin Farrell and Anthony Hopkins.
Keep your eyes peeled for famous faces when you order lunch in Valletta’s most famous restaurant, Rubino, along Old Bakery Street. This old stone cellar is one of the few restaurants in the city serving traditional Maltese dishes such as lamb shanks and rabbit. For dessert, try cassatella, a ricotta cheese-based cake with glace fruit and marzipan.
Find out about the history of Malta when you visit St. John’s Cathedral (entry price approx pounds 2). It has 360 vaults, each with a different chapel dedicated to the saints.
Visit Valletta’s upper Barrakka Gardens for panoramic views to make a movie director weep. Then have tea in Cafe Premier in the baroque National Library.
Raise a glass to Oliver Reed in The Pub, now renamed Ollie’s Last Pub, in Archbishop Street, opposite the Grand Master’s Palace. The British star died in the tiny cave-like hostelry after a night on the tiles. The pub even sells mugs and T-shirts with his picture.
Valletta is fast becoming a second home for film and theatre luvvies. Musical impresario Cameron Mackintosh has bought a town house by the harbour and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston stayed at the nearby Villa Pespes.
No artificial lighting is needed to explore this ancient city at dusk when the setting sun illuminates the old stone walls. Malta’s former capital is one of the most dramatic cities in Europe, yet its almost eerily quiet.
It was used in Geena Davis’s pirate movie Cutthroat Island, while the square in front of St Paul’s cathedral hosted a carnival in Guy Pearce’s the Count of Monte Cristo. Sharon Stone stayed at the Xara Palace, Mdina’s only hotel. Book a table at the downstairs Trattoria AD1530 a favourite with the stars.
The waterfront along Vittoriosa’s Grand Harbour became a backdrop for the recent BBC drama Daniel Deronda. The gates of the fort at Vittorisia were also used to create scenes from Rome for Russell Crowe’s finest hour the movie Gladiator.
Parts of the city date back 3,000 years, while the more «modern» parts include a host of buildings from the 15th Century.
It’s hardly surprising Vittorisia has been used for so many films.
The balcony and grand hall of the Palazzo Pariso in Naxxar (entry pounds 5) sprang to fame in the 2002 movie The Count of Monte Cristo. This mini- Versailles Palace was built to the extravagant designs of the Marquis Guiseppe Scicluna. Sadly the Marquis died just six months after the palace was completed and his widow never visited it again choosing to live at what has become the casino in St Julians.
Don’t miss a visit to Ggantija, the oldest freestanding monuments in the world dating back to 3600BC (entry pounds 2). The Maltese say the temple must have been built by giants as the stones are so big.
Escape the papparazi by taking the 25-minute, pounds 2.50 return ferry from the mainland to neighbouring island, Gozo.
The filming of a dozen movies and Billy Connolly’s decision to buy a home there has not disturbed the peace and quiet.
First stop for movie fans is the Azure Window in Dwejra, a 100m natural arch used for scenes in Madonna’s movie Swept Away. Take a stroll around the old capital Cittadella, remodelled as a Greek fort in BBC series Byron. Then cool off with a dip at Ramla Bay a great beach on the north of the island.
La Dolce Vita restaurant on St Joseph’s Street was a favourite dining spot for Brad Pitt when he was filming Troy.
It overlooks the harbour and, hardly surprisingly, specialises in seafood. Go for the seabass smothered in rock salt and roasted a meal fit for a star.
Peppino’s across the road is also a hangout for movie cast and crew. The upstairs restaurant is one of the places to see and be seen this summer.
There are several hip bars and clubs along St Joseph’s Street. Manchester United and England football star Gary Neville owns a local property and runs a two-week football camp for island children during the summer.
Gary’s fellow United stars are also regulars in the sports clinic at the five-star Hotel Fortina, just a few minutes’ drive from St Julians in the town of Silma.
In May, this celebrity hotel opens what it claims to be the world’s first spa bedrooms with their own whirlpools, steam rooms, swimming pools and detox tanks.
There are not many sandy beaches in Malta but one of the largest is Golden Bay, which was used for Troy and A Different Loyalty. Just a short drive away is Anchor Bay, home of the Popeye Village where Robin Williams starred in the 70s musical version of the cartoon. A fun park has been built around the set. Entry is about pounds 4.50 for adults, under 12s get in for free.
Sunday Mirror March 14, 2004, Sunday