Perched high on the imposing Sciberras Peninsula, Valletta immediately presents its massive, protective walls and vertical bastions to visitors arriving by sea. Rising to 47 metres in places, the fortifications protect lavish palaces, grand domes and illustrious gardens. Built by the Knights of St John on the narrow peninsular, Valletta is a compact, richly historical treasure trove of Baroque wonders. Ascend to reach the restful, flower-filled Upper Barrakka Gardens, where cannons fire and boom in salute at noon each day, sending echoing cracks of noise out across the waves below.
Recognised as 2018’s European Capital of Culture, Valletta is a fascinating and dense haven of history and intrigue. A busy, bustling capital, the breathtaking St John’s Cathedral - commissioned in 1572 - is almost concealed among its narrow streets. The relatively modest exterior is counterpointed by a staggeringly opulent, gold-leaf bathed interior, containing a Caravaggio masterpiece - the shadowy vision of the Beheading of St John.
Cinematic and magnificent, Valletta has served as a filming location for Game of Thrones - but real epic history abounds on this rocky isle too. From the prehistoric and megalithic sites of the Hypogeum of Paola and Tarxien, to the fascinating War Museum at Fort St Elmo. Mdina also waits nearby, and the former medieval capital is a striking contrast to the island’s main city. Cars are barred from its streets, and it offers endlessly atmospheric old-time wanders. With a strategic positioning in the Mediterranean, Malta is a jewel that many have wrestled for over the centuries. Independence from Britain was finally achieved in 1964, but the close allegiance remains evident, with English recognised as an official language, cars driving on the left, and red post boxes and telephone gleaming in Malta’s sunshine.