Real Holidays' Hollie heads to Malta to explore 2018's European Capital of Culture...
Until recently, I hadn’t given too much thought to visiting Malta. But after hearing that its capital Valletta was to be 2018’s European Capital of Culture, I was inspired to see for myself what it had to offer.
The moment I first saw the honey coloured buildings of Maltese limestone, I knew I was going to enjoy walking around the historic streets. I learned rather quickly that it’s very easy to get lost in Valletta - Google Maps doesn’t function here quite as well as in other European cities. However, this proved to be a blessing in disguise as I discovered many hidden corners and was able to completely focus on my picturesque surroundings. Historically, Malta has been a strategically important naval base, which was easy to imagine as I looked out over the harbour’s turquoise waters.
I was staying not quite in Valletta itself, but in an area called Senglea – one of the Three Cities of the Grand Harbour area. My hotel was the newly opened Cugo Gran Macina, an all-suite property built into the city’s ancient fortifications. With such an impressive exterior, I was excited to step inside and see whether the interior could live up to expectations - and I can safely say that it did!
The uninterrupted views of the waterfront from my split-level Grand Harbour View Room were startling, with every aspect of the design being well thought out. Each room is individually designed, and in some you can glimpse where the original fort was destroyed and how the hotel has been built to restore it to its former glory. The hotel breakfast was equally impressive, with a small buffet complemented by a la carte dishes from pancakes to French toast and fry-ups.
With a rooftop pool and huge sun terrace overlooking the harbour, you could easily spend your days relaxing at the hotel, before venturing out to the Valletta on the year-round ferry service which takes just five minutes. Upon arrival, you can then use your ferry ticket for the lift up to the famous Upper Barrakka Gardens. With panoramic views of the Old Cities, it’s a great place to get your bearings and makes a great starting point for a walk into the historical centre before a leisurely lunch.
You’ll eat very well in Malta. The cuisine is mostly inspired by Italy, so the pizzas and pastas were excellent. A meal at Sotto Pizzeria on South Street was a real winner – possibly the the best pizza I’ve ever eaten – and they also had fresh truffles on the menu during my visit.
I also paid a visit to the iconic Hotel Phoenicia to check out the results of its year-long renovation, completed in May last year. Located opposite the Triton fountain in the heart of the city, its grandeur is offset by the homely feel and enthusiastic staff. Surrounded by seven acres of gardens and with an inviting infinity pool, it’s a real oasis of calm in the city.
Malta is a destination which I think could appeal to anyone. There’s a great balance of the historic and the modern, and the increased spotlight on the destination this year makes now a great time to visit. With its southerly position ensuring a long sunny season, its ideal for long weekend breaks combining culture and relaxation.Call 0207 359 3938 or contact us to speak to Hollie planning a Maltese escape.