Have you ever felt that you spent half your summer holiday physically travelling on planes, trains and automobiles - obsessively packing in the ‘must see’ sites, sitting for hours on a bus and then being told, when you arrive at a ‘must see’ spot, that you only have ten minutes to take photos, have lunch, walk around and ‘enjoy’ the atmosphere?!
This is why I loved Malta – at only 25 miles across, my husband and I found we could leisurely explore the whole island in a week.
We stayed in Sliema - this is a lively town with many modern buildings and restaurants - but the reason I adored it was due to the wonderful views across the Marsamxett harbour to the mystical capital, Valletta. From every point on its east coast, we could see the (understandably) much-photographed Carmelite Church dome in the distance, its colour transforming from a Mediterranean sand to a beautiful orange-pink at sunset. I found that features such as this give Malta its personality – old meeting young, tradition meeting innovation, ancient meeting modern, everywhere you look. I was impressed by how the island has cleverly embraced the modern while valuing traditions in a way that still makes it popular with all ages – young 20-30 year-olds love the new ‘American-style’ malls, but they have been designed to blend in with the surrounding buildings in a way that won’t upset traditionalists. Menus in the majority of restaurants also reflect the mix of old and new – the Maltese loved it when we ordered their traditional dishes (rabbit is a particular favourite on the island) but they are very passionate about the modern presentation of dishes also.
For such a small island I found endless activities to take part in and places to visit. I was particularly eager to see the co-cathedral at Valletta (which people often wrongly assume is the Carmelite Church dome) - this houses Caravaggio’s famously severe The Beheading of John the Baptist. I thought the cathedral was attractively simple outside, but jaw-droppingly intricate within – I think Sir Walter Scott put it perfectly in his description that it was “the most magnificent place I ever saw”.
Our time in Mdina, the old capital, was definitely the most peaceful part of our trip. In this ‘silent city’ I gained a true sense of Maltese life before the innovative (but arguably disruptive!) Knights of St John arrived. We certainly entertained all members of the family in Mdina – my husband’s parents enjoyed getting peacefully lost in the grid-like street pattern (as the town is only mile across, it’s impossible to be lost for long!) while children (in this case, my husband and I!) enjoyed the drama of the Mdina dungeons (think the London dungeons, Maltese-style). There are a set of ‘olde-worlde’ stocks outside which we used to take some comical photographs – I may have left my husband in these slightly longer than he expected!
We adored Malta’s passion for embracing tradition together with the modern, fun side of life.
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