When you are as passionate about history as I used to be as a child, you look at Malta as a land where legends and fairy tales were born from real life heroes. A small rocky island in the Mediterranean Sea, not far from Sicily, Malta had its share of war and domination, from the early Middle Ages to the Second World War. Malta was involved in the Arab-Byzantine wars, was conquered by the Normans, lived through the Crusades, belonged to the House of Barcelona, became home of the Knights Hospitaller ( later known as the Knights of Malta ), was conquered by Napoleon, became a British colony and was the only British colony where integration with the UK was seriously considered, to finally gain independence in 1964. It would be an honest assumption that every piece of rock you might touch on this tinny island has probably witnessed so many now closed secrets of history. And it is indeed a small island, with a surface of only 300 km2, hosting a few towns and some villages.
The capital city of Malta is Valletta, but we decided to stay in Sliema, opposite to Valletta, in a place with a great sea view. Waking up to an amazing view has always had a great effect my state of mind. The ferry to Valletta is near and it only takes a short trip over the bay. Also, Sliema is available for hotel pick-ups in all day trips you might book and has a full range of buses taking you to different destinations.
We started fresh in the morning to explore the old town of Valletta, and had a lovely walk from the ferry drop off to the city center, passing by St. John s Co-Cathedral and the Church of our Lady of Victory. The last one dates back from the Great Siege of 1565 and it marks the Knights’ victory over the Turks, being the first church to be built in Valletta. Apart from the historical buildings, most common residences in Valletta have a lovely architecture, with fine windows, balconies and particularly colorful doors. It is important to arrive at the Upper Baraka Gardens by 11.30, to ensure a good observing place and hear the short comment, before the firing of the noon gun from the saluting battery below. Perhaps the world’s oldest saluting battery still in operation, this was installed almost 500 years ago and was originally used only on special occasions such as saluting certain vessels and dignitaries.
There are of course several museums you can visit in Valletta, but a particularly impressive place to see are the Lascaris War Rooms, an underground compound used for war purposes during the Second World War. There, a lovely guide with all the historical facts and some interesting stories will take you into the world of the heroic aerial resistance of Malta against the deadly German Luftwaffe and the Italian Air Force. The siege of Malta lasted from 1940 until 1942, and by the end of it, Malta managed to stay a solid support to the war effort for the Allies in the Mediterranean and North Africa. After visiting the Lascaris War Rooms, we had a short ride with horse and carriage along the coast, which was quite fun and not at all expensive.
We had lunch at a traditional restaurant downtown and afterwards boarded a bus to Popeye Village in the North of the island. This is the film set of the 1980 musical production Popeye, constructed in Anchor Bay during the last 7 months of 1979. The place looks amazing, but make sure you get there in time, since admission hours end quite early. We got there late, so we could not enter the set anymore, but had an amazing view over the bay from the top of the mountain.
The next day, we went on a day trip to Gozo and Comino Blue Lagoon. After the hotel pick-up in Sliema, we boarded a boat to the island of Gozo and we got there after a two hours sail. There, we visited the capital city, Victoria, with the Cittadella, a historic fortified city that contains the ruins of an old prison and Court of Justice, had a cofffee in a small market and then stopped in the town of Qala for the amazing views. In the afternoon, we headed towards Comino, where we had a walk arround the Blue Lagoon, with some of the bravest taking a bath, I say brave because it was the month of March. We ended this tour in the most spectacular way, as some of us returned back to Valletta by speed boat and had an amazing time with our crazy skippers making all sort of water drifts.
We spent the last day in Malta on another day trip, this time a visit to the old towns of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea, followed by a wine tasting at a local winery. Cospicua has a fortified harbour that seems stuck somewhere in the time of knights and pirates. Senglea resisted the Great Siege of 1565 and was eventually joined to Cospicua by a land bridge. In Vittoriosa, we had a walk through the narrow streets with a local guide and learned stories of the place. Later, we had a rest at a winery nearby, where we enjoyed local-style cheese and bread along the typical wines.