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Surprising Malta

It’s a small island in the Mediterranean that breathes a million wonders. In fact, it is the second smallest island country in the world, next to Singapore. You can drive around the whole country in

It’s a small island in the Mediterranean that breathes a million wonders. In fact, it is the second smallest island country in the world, next to Singapore. You can drive around the whole country in two to three days, but with its beauty, we’re sure it takes years before you get over a place such as Malta.

Landing at its international airport, we couldn’t feel just yet the Southern European country vibe. I even asked, as we drove to the hotel, if we were still in the Middle East. The architecture has major influence from the Arabian countries. The houses and buildings look similar to what can be found in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and old Dubai.

Apparently, Phoenician traders, who built the area now known as Mdina and its surrounding town, Rabat, inhabited Malta for a long time. The Middle Eastern influence extends to the language, traditions and even food in the country. Clueless of such information, we decided we’d chase its beauty dating back to 5200 BC that cements its history and culture as one of the firsts in the world.

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Where to stay

Finding our home in Malta was an easy feat. In the heart of the island stands the grand Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa which has been known to host many heads of states, top dignitaries and celebrities in its time. It is positioned between the island’s capital Valletta and Mdina-the picturesque medieval silent city that is still inhabited till this day. It is also located next to the Presidential Palace, making it the ideal starting point for exploring.

Other than a room to stay, the hotel is perfect for dining, resting and planning the rest of the Maltese discovery. It offers the guests an extensive range of facilities, including the Athenaeum Spa complete with a wide range of revitalising treatments, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts.

What to do

Breathtaking natural sights and beaches, beautiful summer weather and over 7,000 years of history make Malta one of the most interesting places to visit in Europe. Malta has often been described as an open-air museum and there is plenty for history enthusiasts to discover! Guests must make sure to visit Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

Those looking for a more relaxed holiday can unwind at one of Malta’s unique beaches. There are golden sands, red sands, blue lagoons, rocks and inland seas each offering different experiences. The Maltese waters are amongst the clearest in the world housing a variety of reefs, creeks, natural harbours offering unique diving as well.

Meanwhile, those looking for a pinch of Hollywood glamour, then they should know at first that Malta is where the likes of Gladiator, Troy, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings (trilogy) were filmed. In fact, casting in and hosting these international movies and television series help boost the country’s economy. And there are tours that would take travelers to where Brad Pitt, Russel Crowe and Sean Connery would hang out while they were filming on the island.

In our case, we did not want a very exclusive and ultra-luxurious tour but still we wanted something special. We wanted historical exploration, a lot of sightseeing and a million of pictures to take with us from the trip. Lucky enough, since guests at Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa can get help with the hotel we were able to experience Malta in a not-so-ordinary way.

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Malta in our eyes

We started our day with a visit to the old city of Vittoriosa. Across the Harbour from Valletta lie the Three Cities, a collective description of the three fortified cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa, and Senglea, which are enclosed by the massive line of fortification created by the Knights of St John, the Cottonera Lines.

The city of Birgu, as it was originally known, was established as the capital by the Knights upon their arrival in 1530, and its harbour, in use since Phoenician times, served as Malta’s principal harbour. After its victory in the historic Great Siege against the Turks, the city was later christened Citta Vittoriosa, the Victorious City.

While en route to the Three Cities, we paid a visit to the Waterfront and the Grand Harbour Marina. The Grand Harbour Marina is probably one of the most amazing marinas in terms of its setting and location. The architectural beauty of the palaces along the one kilometre waterfront is notable, and include the Malta Maritime Museum, and Fort St Angelo – headquarters to the Knights of St John.

We continued our journey to the heart of Vittoriosa, for a brief tour of  Collachio. This area was reserved by the Knights for their exclusive use, and their auberges and early palaces, as well as the impressive Inquisitor’s Palace, are all situated in this area.

Sliema, Malte

Before we went to the capital city, Valletta, we grabbed the rare opportunity to visit a private residence of British ex-pat resident of Malta, Mr. Jim Dunn. This lovely home is a marriage of two large 300-year-old townhouses; and after almost six years of painstaking attention to detail, the properties have been restored into a wonderful residence that reflects not only a significant number of Maltese traditions, but also the extensive travels of its owners.

After a sumptuous lunch in Michael’s at Valletta, we enjoyed a guided tour of the highlights of the Capital city of Malta. Designed and built from scratch by the Knights of the Order of St John, the city of Valletta is a veritable open air museum, rich in works of art and architecture, while holding an important role in Europe’s history. Highlights of our visit in Valletta included the tour of St. John’s Cathedral, the Conventual Church of the Knights and home to Caravaggio’s largest and only signed work, and the visit to Casa Rocca Piccola – a historic residence where we learned how such noble houses were lived in in the past.

The next leg of our journey to Malta included a tour of Mdina, The Silent City and Malta’s old capital. The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years ago. It is lamp-lit by night and no motor vehicles could enter, hence referred to as ‘the silent city’, Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city while being extraordinary in its mix of Medieval and Baroque architecture. It has had different names and titles depending on its rulers and its role but its Medieval name describes it best – Citta’ Notabile, the noble city. It was and still is the home to Malta’s noble families.

After Mdina, we went to its neighboring town Rabat. Again, this is a touristy place where one can shop for the best souvenirs. We were also taken to Mosta Dome that is popular for its story  of the chuch being miraculously saved despite the bomb that was dropped inside it during the World War II.

Our last stop was one of Malta’s most beautiful heritage homes: the stunning Palazzo Parisio. Dubbed as a ‘miniature Versailles’. Palazzo Parisio is the most magnificent of all of Malta’s stately residences. Built in the 18th century by the Portuguese grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena, it was purchased and largely renovated in the 19th century by a prominent nobleman who enriched it with immense style and opulence. He turned it into a great, stately home that it is now, still cared for by his descendants.

Spent but totally enlightened and overly pleased, our visit to Malta definitely supressed our hunger for history and culture. While packing our suitcases for Dubai, we knew we had to visit it again. Perhaps next time, we would take more pictures from its famous film sites and definitely more Instagram posts from its Mediterranean beaches in Gozo.

by Sherry Tenorio

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