Travel art trip sponsored
by the Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa.
So, it’s cold, very cold. The snow has begun falling. Jack Frost is up and about. Christmas tunes fill the air. Winter is in full flow.
“But stop,” you say. You’ve had enough of the cold, of the snow, of the Christmas tunes, of winter. You want to return to summer, if you even had one. Well all is not lost. And you don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe to find it. Let me take you to a collection of islands known as Malta.
I left a snow covered Prague in the early hours of the morning, and landed 20 degrees warmer in Malta, a few hours later. Malta is an archipelago, which sits in the Mediterranean, South of Sicily, and east of Tunisia. So, as you can imagine, it’s hot. Perfect for a winter getaway, for those sun seekers out there. But what if you want a little more from your holiday than pools, beaches and sun? Well, I went in search of the answer to that very question, partly out of necessity, as it rained quite a bit during my visit.
Before I begin my cultural quest, I first want to tell you about my accommodation for the trip. The Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa, in Mellieha to the North of the main island, is an excellent 4 star luxury hotel, with 4 restaurants, 4 bars, 3 swimming pools and a Spa / Fitness room. The hotel is ideally located for sun worshipers, it’s only 1km to Malta’s largest beach. Also, more importantly for me on my quest for culture, it has a bus stop right outside, with routes to the whole island.
My suite for the trip, and the view from my balcony.
View from the hotel rooftop of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha.
The hotel library, with its fireplace.
One of the hotel’s many pool.
Views of the hotel.
Fine dining at the Arches Restaurant and Wine Cellar -one of the best wine collections on the island, and the cellar is on display in the restaurant.
And as for the small town of Mellieha, though its main claim to fame maybe the nearby Mellieha beach – the largest sandy beach in Malta, it does have some architectural gems, most prominently the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha.
Mellieha street scenes
Remains of local cave dwellings.
Now, let me tell you of my quest to find a few places of interest you can enjoy, even if the weather does its worst. I decided to concentrate my search on the Capital of Malta: Valletta, which can be easily reached via a plethora of bus routes that pass right by the front of the hotel – tip, if you are the only one waiting at a bus stop, signal to the approaching bus, as one drove straight past me.
Built by the Knights Hospitaller, Valletta is the most southern capital of Europe. Though the city was very badly damaged during the devastating island-wide bombings of World War Two (15000 tons of bombs were dropped on Malta. It was awarded a George Cross), many historic buildings still stand, or have been rebuilt. Positioned on a small peninsula, this city maybe very small, but it still holds some amazing Baroque and Neo-Classical wonders, all tighly packed between narrow streets. It is also bookended at either side by the Fort of Saint Elmo, bordering the coast, and the City Gate, bordering the land. The buses drop you off right by the City Gate, so just make your way slowly to Fort Elmo, zig-zagging through the narrow city streets, exploring as you go.
Here are a few places of interest I found during my exploration, all perfect for a rainy day:
This elegant wonder, is definitely worth a visit. Just be prepared. It gets very busy. With 175 years of history, and a unique interior, which has to be seen, this cafe is rightly famous in the city. So come see what the Cordina family has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
National Museum of Archaeology.
If you are interested in ancient history, then this maybe the place for you. With history dating back before the great pyramids, Malta has a story to tell. The museum’s exhibits range from the Early Neolithic (5000bc) to the Phoenician period (400bc). A special mention must go to one amazing exhibit. It maybe small, but it’s impressive. The ‘Sleeping Lady,’ which was discovered in the equally impressive Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni, is dated to around 3000bc. There is something so realistic and yet stylised about this figurine of a sleeping lady. It is said, it may symbolise death, or eternal sleep, or just someone’s mum snoozing – the last one was mine.
The Manoel Theatre.
Constructed in 1731, on the orders of Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (Grand Master of the Knights of Malta), this theatre is possibly Europe’s third oldest in use. It is also Malta’s national theatre. Upcoming events include – Concerts, Operas, Musicals, Masterclasses and Baroque festivals.
I was honoured to get a personal viewing of the theatre, when it was closed for a national holiday. I sat and sketched the empty interior from the theatre’s stage. There is something magical, movie like, when you sit on the stage of a grand theatre. The curtains goes up, and the lights go on. The boxes look down on you. You have the whole place to yourself. I can only imagine what it is like to watch, or star in a performance here. So, if you get the chance, pay this historical theatre a visit.
Casa Rocca Piccola.
This 16th century palace is still a privatly owned home. The current occupants being Nicholas de Piro and his wife Frances. The former, it turns out, is a big fan of art, more on that later. The palace has over fifty rooms, including two libraries, drawing rooms, a chapel and its own air raid shelter / cavern complex. It also has the largest private collection of Maltese lace. Due to schedule restraints, I didn’t have time to sketch in the palace, but I was treated to a wonderful personal tour of the building, by its current owner Nicholas de Piro. The man has a love of art and Malta, which shows in many of the rooms. The house is not only a museum, a lived in one, it is an art gallery and a testament to Malta’s past and present.
The Palace Armoury
This was Malta’s first public museum, opened in 1860. As you would expect for an island whose history is so intertwined with the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John (formely the Knights Hospitaller), the country’s historical armoury is well stocked. Its collections of arms and armour date from between the 15th and the late 18th century. One of its stand-out collections covers the period of the Great Siege 1565 – when Malta held off an invasion by the Ottoman Empire (the defense of Malta was led by Grand Master Jean de Vallette – the capital is named after him). The armoury is split into sections – Swords, Firearms, Early Armour, Great Siege Period, Main Armour, Crossbows, Pole Arms, Artillary. Everything a budding Knight Hospitaller needs.
Streets of Valletta.
And no visit to the capital of Malta can go without mentioning its streets. With a grid layout and an interesting visual mix, seemingly infused by the crammed streets of classical Italian and Arabic cities, the streets beckon you to explore every corner. And you are never more than a short walk away from a sea view, with Malta’s massive forts jutting out into the Mediterranean. The city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you can see why.
In the end, I discovered Malta does have some cultural gems, for those in search of more than sun. So whether you are seeking a warm, winter beach and pool vacation, or an exploration into an ancient island, with cultural delights, Malta is waiting for you.
Thank you to the excellent Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa for sponsoring my trip to Malta.