After the darkness… let the sunshine in
by Claire Sweeting
Start dreaming about a time when we can swap the magnolia-painted walls of our kitchen-diners for the historic walls of a sun-soaked European city. And cities don’t get much sunnier than Malta’s capital, Valletta, which bathes in over 2,970 hours of sunshine a year, twice the amount bestowed on poor old Manchester in the UK.
A great choice for conference and incentive trips, Valletta is one of the smallest capitals – and most concentrated historic areas – in the world, so it’s easy to explore on foot. Built by the Knights of St John in the 16th century, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a masterpiece of the baroque.
It was made a European City of Culture in 2018, and its new National Museum of Art, MUZA, is worth a visit for the building alone – a ravishing 500-year-old mansion originally home to those the Italian-speaking knights.
Many visitors choose to stay in smaller, boutique hotels in the middle of the atmospheric capital, but conference planners love the more flexible options of The Excelsior or The Phoenicia just outside the city, which offer more bedrooms and dedicated meeting spaces.
Wherever your delegates stay, they’ll want to make a day of it in Valletta, and there are a rich variety of sights to explore between meetings and networking.
VALLETTA IN A DAY
Pass through City Gate; the door to Valletta. The impressive gate marks the beginning of Republic Street and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, as was the dramatic new Parliament Building, which extends to the ruins of the opera house, bombed in WWII and never rebuilt.
Next visit the Upper Barrakka Gardens, a beautiful public garden dating back to 1661, with breathtaking panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. From here move on to the Lower Barrakka Gardens and the Siege Bell Memorial, a neoclassical-inspired temple built in 1992 to commemorate those lost during the Siege of Malta.
Enjoy lunch at St John’s Square and try traditional Maltese pastizzi, a delicious savoury filo pastry filled with either rich ricotta cheese or mushy peas (it’s tastier than it sounds!).
Then visit the magnificent St John’s Co-Cathedral. The elaborate, gold-adorned interior is widely considered to be the best example of baroque style anywhere in Europe. It is also home to Caravaggio’s largest painting and perhaps his masterpiece, The Beheading of St John the Baptist.
Later, explore the 16th-century palace, Casa Rocca Piccola, home of the aristocratic de Piro family, to get an insight into the customs and traditions of Maltese nobility over the past 400 years. Don’t miss its fascinating network of underground tunnels that were used as bomb shelters during WWII.
Enjoy fresh seafood on the waterfront overlooking the Grand Harbour or, for a more traditional Maltese meal, try the national dish of Stuffat tal-Fenek (rabbit stew).
When you’re sated, move on to Bridge Bar for a night sampling Maltese wine, while listening to live jazz on the steps of this ancient and unforgettable capital.
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