Valletta Malta Port Guide - Cruise International

Valletta Malta Port Guide

By Cruise International | 21 Sep 2010

Malta’s amazing history spans 7,000 years, from the first Stone Age settlers whose temples can still be seen in the rocky countryside, through waves of invasion and occupation including the Normans, Arabs, Knights of St John, who founded Valletta, and latterly, the British.

The port of Valleta, Malta

The port of Valletta, Malta

The island of Malta is accurately described as one big openair museum, with stunning architecture, ancient watchtowers and historic villages to explore, and activities ranging from cycling and walking to some of the finest scuba diving in the Mediterranean.

Although Malta has always had a bit of a bucket-and-spade image among the British, it’s changed dramatically in recent years, with world-class hotels and restaurants, exciting shore excursions for cruise passengers, some stunning day spas and a lively cultural calendar, including the annual Arts Festival from late July to mid August, which brings touring orchestras and art exhibitions, and opera under the stars on a floating stage at the glamorous Portomaso development in St Julians.

Cruise ships moor in the port of Valletta within walking distance of the old town – be warned, the walk is up a steep hill!

Historic port of Valletta

Bizarrely, brass door knockers are a popular souvenir and are of high quality. Maltese lace is sold everywhere and olive oil, jars of Maltese honey and sundried tomatoes are good food items to take home. Gozo glass items are beautiful and silver filigree jewellery is popular, too. Maltese wine has improved immeasurably over the years. The best is Grand Maitre, produced byMarsovin and named each year after a different Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Only 10,000 bottles are produced annually. The ’98 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon retails for over €1,000 (approx. £774) a bottle.

Malta has some world-class restaurants, although you will always find more basic establishments if you want meaty dishes, fish, stews, lots of pasta and chips. Make a day of it at Palazzo Santa Rosa, deep in the countryside. A detailed and slightly eccentric menu features dishes like sea urchins, or risotto with porcini and cognac, as well as ‘Watership Down’, or rabbit (tel +356 21582736). Or dine in a 17th-century windmill at Il Mithna in Mellieha, where the speciality is duck breast with honey, five spice, ginger, fig and an apricot and orange marmalade (tel +356 21520404). In Valletta, Taste at the Fortina Hotel serves fabulous Asian-Mediterranean fusion dishes by Australian celebrity chef Tom Kime.

The National War Museum in Valletta is an evocative portrait of 1940-1943, during which time the island was famously held under siege. In Mdina, the Palazzo Falson is an amazing personal collection of antiques, armour, painting and silver.

Mediterranean Malta

Not to be missed in Malta

The approach into the harbour
Some cruise lines will offer commentary, identifying the various domes and spires, but either way, the solid bastions and the ancient city behind them are a breathtaking sight.

A tour of Valletta
Join a tour that includes the Upper Barracca Gardens for views of the walls, St Johns Co-Cathedral, which houses Caravaggio’s Beheading of John the Baptist, and the Palace of the Grand Masters.

Turner’s painting of Malta

The Malta Experience
An excellent audio-visual production taking you through the island’s 7,000 years of history. It’s at the Mediterranean Conference Centre (tel +356 21243776). Mdina The ‘silent city’: Mdina is simply gorgeous, mainly pedestrianised and beautifully preserved, its streets lined with old palaces and noblemen’s houses. There are tours, but you can easily get there by bus and lose yourself in the silent streets.

Take a day trip to neighbouring Gozo. Ferries operate from Cirkewwa, a taxi ride from Valletta, or you could splash out on the new seaplanes which offer a scheduled service between Malta and Gozo and scenic tours around the Maltese Islands, including private charters. The aircraft seats 14.

Fact File
Getting about There are plenty of taxis, which operate on a meter. Harbour tours by boat are fun and the best way to see the amazing skyline of the capital and the honey-coloured ramparts. If you’re feeling adventurous and have time to spare, try the local buses – ancient, rickety, colourful and a real experience. Organised vintage bus tours can be booked (tel +356 21694967). Horsedrawn carriages are everywhere and the horses are in good condition – but it’s not a cheap way to get around.
Climate Malta enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate – hot, dry summers and cooler but usually bright winters. Wear a sunhat in the middle of summer.
Currency Malta adopted the euro in 2007 – the old Maltese pounds are no longer valid. Credit cards are widely accepted.