I am reaching the end of a serious stint of work related travels, bouncing in and out of London and landing in Ireland, Malaysia, Portugal (travelling North to South), Madrid and now Malta. Malta is the perfect place to finish. Based on the sleepy island of Gozo (the locals pronounce it Goh-zoh, all slowly), the only thing that moves quickly here are the cats darting for your food, or me, darting for mine. Occasionally.
I have been really enjoying my gentle explorations. More on Gozo soon, for I am not finished here yet. Lets starts with Valletta. Yesterday, I headed for the Maltese metropolis, for a wander and bite to eat. Gozo locals think Malta quite intense and busy, and sure, by Gozo standards this is so. For me, it was dreamy and peaceful. Valletta is not an excessively large city, but there is much to see.
The entirety of Valletta, is protected by UNESCO, and it is so pretty. Lofty limestone houses with windows jutting out, just to see what you are doing below. Painted to match the limestone, occasionally green, pops of red and some blue. At times, these seem to reach to each other across narrow alleys that stretch to the sea, never reaching, always hoping, always calm. Lots of steps, some hills, gorgeous parks like the Lower Barrakka Gardens, overlooking the sea, complete with a folly of a neoclassical temple within. There are lots of churches, standing proud, and St John’s Cathedral, boasting the work of the Knights of St John, including some by one of their most famous members, Caravaggio (who was eventually defrocked). The water surrounding the walled city of Valletta, in the sun an electric blue, gives Malta a sometimes surreal feel as it slinks against the city walls.
I start with a wander, as I always do, and I have a list, but I only have a day here, so I have to choose. I start with breakfast at Prego, an old Maltese café, with some of the best pastizzi in town, crisp flaky pastry, almond shaped and filled with fluffy ricotta which peeps out to say hello. I also tried a qassat, taller and plump with split peas, made of a shorter thicker pastry with a lid on top (nice but more appropriate for a heavier day, I think).
From there to St John’s Cathedral to explore, for a girl cannot live on pastizzi alone, although she can try. The main Caravaggio is breathtaking and the cathedral itself is glorious. Which it should be, with the money from some of the greatest noble families of that time pumped into it. It puts me in mind of a trip to the Vatican many years ago, but on a much smaller scale. Which isn’t surprising when you hear that the Vatican was a source of inspiration for a lot of the baroque detailing.
Time for a late lunch, and I am working through my recommendations from locals and readers (I really love your recommendations, keep them coming). I meander to D’Office, a neighbourhood restaurant with some tables outside. I opt for local lampuki (mahi mahi) from the specials, roasted simply in the oven, with a glass of Maltese white wine on the side (€22 for both incl sides). The fish so fresh, and cooked just so, retaining its moisture and flaking off the bone perfectly. I sat a while, soaking it in from my alley vantage point, and watching the little French bulldog at the next table patiently waiting for his share (he got it).
Valletta, I need more time with you, but what a lovely beginning.
Prego, 58 South St, Valletta, Malta (I was advised to get there early, as they sell out).
D’Office, 132 Triq l Arcisqof, Valletta, Malta
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