Our first morning in Malta we had breakfast on our balcony. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the sea beckoned us. But, today was not our day to sail. That would be another day. Today we were getting an overview of Malta’s history and culture which dates back over 4,000 years. From the bastions of Valletta to the winding streets of Mdina, there is a story to be told and we intended to hear it, and experience it.
We started in Valletta, Malta’s economic and business center. It was built by the Knights of St. John, funded with money from European nobility after the knights’ successful defense of the island against the Ottoman siege. It is a fortress city with bastions and fortifications. A highlight is St. John’s co-Cathedral, a masterpiece constructed in the 1500’s also housing a fine museum with magnificent tapestries. The hospital is another “must-see.” At one time, it was the best in Europe, again, funded by European nobility.
Next stop was Mdina, impressively perched on a hill overlooking a valley built above Arab foundations, encompassing a fine cathedral and many narrow alleyways. We were here for the view, and for lunch at Bacchus, located an old town house serving Maltese and Italian food.
The highlight of the day was the Hypogeum, recently opened and taking reservations for only 10 people at a time. It is an incredible 3-story building of approximately 1600 s. ft. dug into the rock by using only flint tools. It is a neo-megalithic temple you will find no where else. The upper chambers are irregular and roughly finished, but as you descend, the walls are more finely finished. It had been buried with construction debris but when a well for the home that donated the debris could not be dug, a worker admitted to dumping construction materials into a “hole.” The “hole” turned out to be the Hypogeum. Once discovered, the well was diverted and reparation of the Hypoegum began.
After a long day, we returned to our hotel, the Westin Dragonara, a low-rise resort hotel overlooking the sea, where you can boat, jet ski, swim and bask in the sun. At night, the surrounding area offers salsa, disco and karaoke until wee hours in the morning. The hotel has three restaurants, and after our long day we opted for dinner at the Compass Rose, the hotel’s flagship restaurant. It is elegant with beautifully set tables and impeccable service. The menu is enticing. The wine list may be the best on the island.
Two other highly recommend restaurants are: The Barracuda located in St. Julian’s, overlooking Balluta and Spinola Bays, directly on the water’s edge, in an 18th century villa. It retains the Maltese character yet with a very sophisticated and elegant decor reminiscent of a fine French restaurant. Also recommended is La Maltija in Paceville, a short distance from the Westin Dragonara, which features local wines and dishes in a comfortable atmosphere. We spent a week on Malta, and wish we had stayed longer. It is an incredible land with fascinating tales.
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