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26 September 2013

Valletta: Europe’s Most Underrated Capital?

Welcome to Valletta, Malta and to the Alexander Ball Temple in the Lower Barracca Gardens. Photo: Cebete.
Welcome to Valletta, Malta and to the Alexander Ball Temple in the Lower Barracca Gardens. Photo: Cebete.

When you think of grand European capital cities, places like Rome, Paris and Vienna probably come to mind at first and while these famous cities are undoubtedly brilliant, it’s easy to forget about some of the smaller, yet equally fascinating, capitals across Europe.

Valletta, Malta’s historic capital city, is a prime example. Its incredible beauty, history and culture make it one of the best city break destinations in all of Europe, yet this tiny Mediterranean island of Valletta  on Malta remains well under the radar of many holiday-goers.

The view of Valletta, Malta from Sliema. Photo: Paul Stephenson.
The view of Valletta, Malta from Sliema. Photo: Paul Stephenson.

If you’re planning a visit to the Maltese capital, here’s a brief guide on where to go and what to see:

History


One of Malta's Megalith Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: WikiMedia.org.
One of Malta's Megalith Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: WikiMedia.org.

Throughout history, Malta’s desirable location in the Mediterranean, below Italy and north of Libya, has drawn many nations to stake their claim on this tiny island: First came the Phoenicians, followed by the Romans, Normans, Habsburgs and finally the British from whence it received its independence in 1964. Later that same year, it became a member of the United Nations and went on to become a republic in 1974, and finally entered into the European Union in 2004.

With such diversity in history, it's no wonder that history buffs seek out Malta to explore its fascinating past especially in Valletta's National War Museum, not to mention many of its UNESCO World Heritage sites scattered throughout the 55-hectare island—chief among these, the Megalithic Temples—11 prehistoric monuments erected between 5000 and 700 B.C. that claim the title as the oldest free-standing structures in the world; although that fact is still being debated in light of the Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.

Scenery


Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, Malta. Photo: Malcome Bott.
Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, Malta. Photo: Malcome Bott.

One of Valletta’s best attractions is simply its gorgeous landscapes. Walk around the Upper Barracca Gardens and enjoy panoramic views of the city’s charming Grand Harbor. The public park, which sits atop Valletta’s historic fortifications, is an ideal spot for a picnic or a romantic stroll. If you’re looking to extend your scenic walk, the Lower Barracca Gardens are equally stunning.

Another shot of the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, Malta. Photo: Wolfgang Jung.
Another shot of the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, Malta. Photo: Wolfgang Jung.

Whilst Valletta’s natural scenery, the sun-drenched coastline and the sparkling Mediterranean, provide a scenic backdrop, the city’s man-made structures are also worth mentioning. You don’t have to be an architecture enthusiast to enjoy the striking beauty of 16th-century Baroque St. John's Co-Cathedral; the 18th-century Rococo palace—home to the National Museum of Fine Arts; and the many grand, Renaissance-era buildings that line its cobblestone streets.

Saint John's Co-Cathedral built in the 16th century by the Knights of Malta. Photo: Ondablv.
Saint John's Co-Cathedral built in the 16th century by the Knights of Malta. Photo: Ondablv.

Spectacular interiors await inside Saint John's Co-Cathedral. Photo: jonralinson.
Spectacular interiors await inside Saint John's Co-Cathedral. Photo: jonralinson.

Cuisine

Foodies feel right at home in Malta, where the cuisine is a brilliant mix of Italian favourites, North African flavours and age-old recipes unique to Malta’s rich heritage. If you’re dining out in the city, head to Da Pippo Trattoria on Melita Street. The cosy eatery has attracted many a famous celebrity.

Epicurean adventurers to Valletta must try the rabbit stew (stuffat tal-fenek), a Maltese specialty served in nearly every restaurant. Other Maltese dishes include Timpana, a baked macaroni dish, Pastizzi, savoury fritters and Klamari mimlija: calamari stuffed with rice, breadcrumbs, capers and herbs.

Valletta, Malta. Photo: Paul Stephenson.
Valletta, Malta. Photo: Paul Stephenson.

Valletta may be smaller than some of the better-known European capitals, but it’s no less noteworthy. If you’re looking for a less obvious city break destination, visit Malta’s hidden gem before the spotlight finally shines on Valletta and visitors start to flood in ....

This article was produced in partnership with Thomson Holidays.

12 comments:

  1. I haven't been to Valletta since 1972; looks totally different without an aircraft carrier and a couple of destroyers in the harbour! Favourite place on Malta was the ancient capital of Mdina ... wish I had some pictures, but I wasn't really into photography back then

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    1. Hi there my friend and thx so much for stopping by!! Indeed I bet it does look very different than 1972 ... I could only imagine how much change for the better has occurred. When you do return, please stop back and share your pics.

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  2. Malta is a beautiful place! Valletta is gorgeous with all of its yellow stone. I went a number of years ago, now, I just need to go back.

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    1. Hi there Corinne and thx so much for stopping by to share your thoughts! Yes, you must return one day soon!! It's waiting for you!

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  3. I'd love to visit Malta. Most of Europe is so crammed with tourists. Valletta would be a nice respite from that. I love the look of all the beige of the city itself set against the blue of the ocean.

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    1. Hi there my friend. First of all, thank you for following my blog! I am truly honored! Malta is a wonderful escape from the hordes of tourists, but not for long! Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts!

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  4. Stunning photos, Jeff. I've wanted to go to Malta since I was a child and saw my little celebrity movie crush Mark Lester in Sudden Terror (original title Eyewitness). The movie was shot on Malta and even back then I was captivated by the scenery. I really must make the trip to Malta next time I'm in Sicily. Simply gorgeous post!

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    1. Hi there Lesley! I couldn't agree with you more my friend! I would love to see all that history and sublime scenery first hand. Now, I just need to make it to Sicily too!!

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  5. Just added this to my Must See list. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by my friend and for your kind comment as well. Glad I could inspire you too!!

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  6. La Valetta and Malta as a whole, is the world´s most beutiful country and most friendly people I´ve ever known,,,

    Me and my wife had a wonderful time in the pearl of the Mediterranean !

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    1. Hi there my anonymous friend and thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your travel experiences to Malta. Certainly sounds like you had an amazing time!!

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!