by Juliet Rix, The Telegraph, December 11, 2017
Discover temples and baroque palaces in Europe’s next culture capital, says Juliet Rix.
Valletta is one of the European Capitals of Culture 2018 (valletta2018.org), and Malta’s pint-size capital, built by the Knights of St John, has been gearing up with a renovation frenzy. The year officially begins on January 20 during Valletta’s International Baroque Festival and continues with a host of events: performances, exhibitions and street parties.
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The Phoenicia, Malta’s iconic Thirties five-star hotel – the choice of British Royals – has just been fully refurbished. Doubles from €150 (£132) B&B (this winter only). Or try one of the new breed of luxury boutiques: the Coleridge has five antique-décor suites in the heart of the city. Doubles from €150 B&B.
Start at City Gate and pause by Malta’s new parliament by Renzo Piano (designer of the London Shard), before walking down Republic Street (0.6 miles/1km).
Visit the National Archaeological Museum to discover Malta’s Neolithic Temples and revered 5,000-year-old “Fat Ladies”.
People-watch in the main square and visit the Grandmaster’s Palace before taking a tour of Casa Rocca Piccola (casaroccapiccola.com), home of the noble de Piro family.
At the tip of the Valletta peninsula take in Fort St Elmo with the new National War Museum – and great views. See heritagemalta.org/museums-sites for more details.
St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Knights’ Church, every inch covered in dazzling baroque gold, paint and coloured marble. Don’t miss Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John the Baptist in the oratory. Visit as a tourist then return for Mass or a concert to see it in candlelit glory. (stjohnscocathedral.com; €10)
Relax in the bastion-top Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta’s highest point, overlooking the Grand Harbour, the Three Cities, and the Saluting Battery (cannons fired daily at noon).
Malta is famous for its silverwork and on little St Lucia Street along the back of St John’s Co-Cathedral is a row of jewellers selling everything from filigree Maltese crosses to modern designer pieces.
Drink in the view with your beverage at Panorama (panorama.com.mt). Book a table on the balcony and watch the sun go down over the Grand Harbour. Cocktails from €6.
Sit on the terrace of Rampila (rampila.com) between towering 16th-century bastion walls looking out at City Gate. Very good modern Mediterranean food. About €36pp (three courses, excluding drinks).
Off the map
Pick up a water taxi or the Three Cities ferry across the Grand Harbour to visit recently restored and opened Fort St Angelo: Malta’s oldest castle (€8).