Beyond guidebooks around the Maltese islands (part I.)
Traveling to Malta for the umpteenth time? Staying longer than a short-term vacationer? Living on the rock for over 14 months, within weeks I’ve finished off all the sightseeing the guidebooks had to offer. Then I put the map and a bottle of water in my bag and let the roads take me wherever they had to take me. Out of this experience I’m starting a series of alternative trips around the islands to share some handy tips with fellow travelers.
The day when you thirst for good company and culture on the island, put on your walking shoes, a high SPF sunscreen and get to the Maltese capital to spend a day around Il-Belt (The City), Valletta.
Unless you stay in the city, take a morning bus to Floriana, just outside the capital. You won’t get to make that fun trip with the doorless yellow buses anymore since they were replaced by their modern successors in 2011 but at least you can take advantage of an air-con ride. Much needed. Navigating around the island by car? Leave it in the MCP Car Park in Floriana (Triq L-Assedju L-Kbir) for 5€ a day. Before getting into Valletta, grab a coffee at the very local Bon Appetit (Triq Sant’ Anna 19, Floriana) next to Citadel insurance. The always-vibrant cafeteria is ran by its owner who also does the cooking, so friendly service and a nice variety of local meals and sweets are guaranteed. The place is packed with employees jumping-in for morning coffee and daily lunch from the nearby offices.
Walking towards Valletta on the same road, you come across a small diner hidden under the arches of Floriana. Lollies bar (Triq Sant’ Anna 14, Floriana) is undoubtedly one of Malta’s indigenous places. The snack bar has only 3 tables, which makes it very cozy and a perfect location if you want to interact with the locals. In the mornings and lunchtime peak hours it’s a thrill to watch the staff preparing the many varieties of Ftiras and Hobzas within a blink of an eye. Ftira Polpetta, the bun filled with different fresh veggies and home made meat is a must try.
With your daily caffeine infuse and filling breakfast it’s time to dive into Malta’s diverse cultural life. Apart from the buzzing shopping streets, churches, palaces and gardens, Valletta has a lot on offer for the contemporary art lover. Walking up on Girolamo Cassar Street with the enormous cruise ships down on your right side in a few minutes you reach St. James Cavalier (Castille Palace, Valletta). The creativity center is located in a 16th Century fort and is proudly promoting Malta’s cultural aspirations with state-of-the-art exhibitions. The establishment features a theater, an art cinema and a music room also. Until 30th March you can check out the playful installations of Emanuel Bonnici on the upper galleries and the unconventional portraits of nine well-acknowledged Maltese artists at the Main Hall.
Walking to the heart of the city up on In-Nofsinhar Street, turning right on I-Ifran Street and to the left to Santa Lucija Street you find a 400-year old Valletta townhouse, home to a variety of top-notch artistic events. Blitz (Triq Santa Lucija 68, Valletta) hosts various artistic programs on a project basis from photography exhibitions to music events. Currently the hype is unquestionably around Kris Micallef’s underwater shots. The young and creative photographer takes you to his imaginary world where human body’s motions are slowing down, colors are changing, lights are refracting. The exhibition is on till 20th March.
A few steps away in the same street, Studio 104 (Triq Santa Lucija 104) with its colorful entrance hosts an exclusive print and collage exhibition of London-based David Orme till 8th March. Get immersed in the cultural traditions and social interactions by studying the abstract prints of the artist.
Turning towards the main street, walking up the stairs of Republic Street you’ll encounter a cozy little meeting place that opened its doors a few months ago to cater for young and old, friends and lovers, bohemians and business men. Gugar Hangout & Bar (Triq Ir-Repubblika 89A) is the space to grab vegan snacks, healthy desserts, delicious juices and just spend some time with that exciting book in your hand you spotted on the shelves. The stimulating place hosts an art gallery as well showcasing works of upcoming local artists.
Whether it’s afternoon or the sun is diving under, get lost in the narrow side streets of Valletta to admire its baroque-style buildings and just breath in the atmosphere. Going down the old pavements and stairways the unique vibe of the city will surely enthrall you.
Do you feel the night is still young? Is it a Friday? Perfect! From end of May to beginning of October St. Ursula street is the place to spend a jazzy night. Every Friday evening Bridge Jazz Bar (Triq Santa Ursula, Valletta) entertains music lovers with live open-air jazz sessions. The concert kicks-off around 21:00 when people start to gather around making themselves comfortable on the pillows placed on the steps of the street. The minimal decoration of lights and candles make the atmosphere even more enchanting. Treat yourself with a glass of cold drink and enjoy an unforgettable night in Valletta.
Off the beaten track around the Maltese islands: