Malta Love Letter

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http://www.viewingmalta.com(image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

The immense, fortified harbor of Valletta is the vision most often associated with Malta–and it is there, in all its glory–but there is so much more. Recommend five full days here to explore its charm, history and grandeur.

STAY

  • Xara Palace (Mdina)–Our friend-who-lives-in-Malta describes the XP as “a lovely, old, classic palazzo hotel in the center of the oldest walled cities in Malta (& one of the oldest walled cities in Europe, pre-dating the Knights of Malta by at least 1,000 years).” He says it’s the best hotel in Malta. More important 😉, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed here when in Malta. Big views of the countryside from nice hotel rooms. Lovely to walk around Mdina at night after the tourists leave. Mdina is a 30-minute taxi ride from Valletta. We stayed at this Relais & Chateaux hotel last month and loved it. (17 rooms)
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Xara Palace

  • Casa Ellul (Valletta)-Despite the tacky art in its lobby, this is an attractive hotel in Valletta’s center, near the main tourist sights. It is a member of the usually-great Small Luxury Hotels group and Mr. & Mrs. Smith like it, too. (8 suites)

SEE THE SIGHTS

Air Malta’s website provides an excellent overview of the sights to see. Here’s what Mimi’s Travel File recommends you do on your fabulous trip to lovely Malta…

Hire a guide to drive you around the beautiful countryside. The Xara Palace can arrange this.

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17th cent. chapel on dramatic Dingli Cliffs (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Walk along the Dingli Cliffs to see the small farming plots sweeping down to the beautiful rocky coastline…and be swept away to another time
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Hagar Qim Temple (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Visit 5,000 year old temples, like Mnajdra and Hagar Qim (above)!
  • See the beautiful Blue Grotto (below)…
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Blue Grotto (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Have your guide deposit you in Marsaxlokk, an old fishing village, for lunch at a restaurant on the harbor, filled with colorful fishing boats.
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Marsaxlokk (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Mdina-Spend the afternoon wandering around Mdina, the first capital of Malta and small enough to cover in an afternoon.
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Mdina (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Mdina is a hilltop, walled, city fortified from as long ago as 1,000 BC by the Phoenicians. The Arabs arrived in the 9th century and named the town Medina (“medina” is Arabic for “walled city”).

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Mdina city gate (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Lots of beautiful buildings (17th cent. mansions of Maltese nobility), peaceful streets, serene feel…

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Mdina (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

  • Valletta — Explore Malta’s clean, low-crime, very attractive capital city, Valletta (pop. 7,000)
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Valletta’s fortifications (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

One of the first things you will notice about Malta is its massive forts, especially in Valletta. Due to its strategic location in the  middle of the Mediterranean and its deep, safe harbors, Malta has been fought over, time and again, for thousands of years.

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Valletta’s Grand Harbour (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

The fortifications that can be seen today come from two distinct periods: those of the Knights of Malta and those of the British era. Visit the National War Museum at Ft. St. Elmo. Malta was awarded the St. George Cross for heroism by King George VI for having withstood over 3,000 air attacks during WWII…a far greater number than the air attacks experienced by London.

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Valletta: Prime Minister’s office building (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

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Valletta: distinctive enclosed balconies on 16th & 17th cent. buildings (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

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Valletta: Renzo Piano-designed Parliament Building (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For the scoop on Maltese cuisine (traditional meals, etc.), go to Air Malta’s website, as it provides detailed background info. The following were our favorites…

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view of Harbour Club from the water

  • The Harbour Club–Sitting right on Valletta’s grand harbor, this restaurant provides beautiful views, good food, attractive interior decor, indoor and outdoor seating, stylish & upscale…glorious!
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view from Harbour Club of the water

  • Trattoria da Pippo (136, Melita Street)-FUN, small, in the heart of Valletta, lots of locals lingering over tables of good food

Recommend five full days, as follows: There is so much more to see and do on the Maltese islands. I have merely scratched the surface of its fabulousness.

Day 1: Tour the countryside (SE & central Malta, including Marsaxlokk, pre-historic temples Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, Blue Grotto, and Dingli Cliffs); wander Mdina after tour

Day 2: Valletta

Day 3: Wander Vittoriosa, the city across harbor from Valletta

Day 4: Tour NE Malta, then hop evening ferry to Gozo & spend the night at either the Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort (Our friend-who-lives-in-Malta says, “I am told that the Kempinski is the best…& most attractive”) or Hotel Ta’Cenc (click through to view website)

Day 5: Explore Gozo (“small, easy-to-reach via a ferry every 15 minutes from mainland Malta; clean, well-managed island with authentic feel,” per our friend-who-lives-in-Malta)

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Gozo (image http://www.viewingmalta.com)

-posted May 2016

Savannah on my Mind…

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STAY

  • Hamilton-Turner Inn (330 Abercorn St.)–Built on 1873 with very high ceilings and some lovely architectural details, the H-T Inn is well-located on beautiful and quiet Lafayette Square in the heart of the historic district. Good breakfasts, plus cakes and cookies throughout the day, plus cheese/crackers/wine at cocktail hour, plus port after 8 pm. Mostly pretty décor.
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Hamilton-Turner Inn

  • The Brice (601 E. Bay Lane at Houston St.)–If staying in an old house on one of Savannah’s squares is not your thing, stay at The Brice. It is a Kimpton Hotel—and decorated stylishly, as expected—& near (not on) the waterfront, which is touristy-tacky though historic and active.

OF NOTE: The Ballastone Inn and the Mansion on Forsyth Park get lots of positive press but the former is not on a square and the latter has faux-Greek statues out front & is located on large park versus small, charming square.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  • The Grey (109 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–in a revamped Greyhound bus station with fabulously renovated art deco architecture, great food (its chef worked at NYC’s acclaimed Prune restau for years), good service, excellent staff…and it’s full of life.
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The Grey (photo by Quentin Bacon)

  • Collins Quarter (151 Bull St.)–fun ambience, good music (not live, except on occasional Sundays), attractive décor (candlelight, gorgeous flowers, exposed brick, big windows), excellent food, warm & friendly staff, and a service-oriented owner.

View More: http://joshmorehousephotography.pass.us/cq

SHOP IT!

  • E. Shaver Bookseller (326 Bull Street at Madison Square)–a DREAM of a bookstore with knowledgeable staff, a small tea room, beautiful books in a beautiful location! Reminds me of the charming bookstores of London.

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  • Satchel (4 E. Liberty St. at Bull)–beautiful leather goods (mostly purses) designed and produced on the premises by SCAD students and alums, seven of whom were sewing away when I was there…no barrier between store front and workshop, and if you would prefer your chosen purse in a different color, the staff offers an array from which to choose. I am still lusting after a bag I saw there…matter of fact, that one in the photo looks pretty great!
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Satchel creation (photo by Izzy Hudgins)

  • SCAD Shop (340 Bull St.)–creative, artistic jewelry, paintings, stationery, etc. made by some of the 12,000 SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) students in Savannah

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SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Town Squares–Walk (or take a pedi-cab) the historic district’s 26 squares, filled with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss…nothing finer than looking at the GORGEOUS old houses in and around the squares.
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Owens-Thomas House

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  • SCAD Museum (601 Turner Blvd.)–beautiful architecture (American Institute of Architects award-winning) meets world-class exhibits (contemporary art, plus some fashion)

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  • Ships of the Sea Museum (41 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–If you like ship models, those displayed here are excellent; if you don’t, the pre-Civil War house in which they’re exhibited is fun to see and has an interesting history.
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photo by Attic Fire

  • Bonaventure Cemetery — If you’ve read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which I loved, you will want to visit Bonaventure Cemetery. Even if you haven’t, it’s a wonderfully evocative place…Spanish moss, romantic tombstones, very Southern.

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DAY TRIP

Tybee Island–A very pretty, 20-min drive from Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island is a beach town-that-time-forgot meets a-little-bit-of-kitsch. No pretense or McMansions here; instead, think small, 1950s beach cottages on small lots. Gidget would be right at home here. Tybee is an little barrier island w/a fun feel on the Atlantic Ocean, so bring your beach wear.

SavannahSurf

BONUS: If you’re a history buff, check out well-preserved Fort Pulaksi National Park on the drive back. FP  has informative docents, exhibits and signage.

Reading companion: To get you in that Savannah state of mind, read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

-posted April 2016