I’d like to imagine that most travellers would use a map or follow the signs posted in the city centre to find these gardens, however, I decided to look for it by going on an impromptu walk instead.
The result of my randomised stroll left me looking upwards towards the cliff edge of the Upper gardens rather than actually being there. This put me in a bit of a predicament. I needed to figure out how to get to this higher ground, but in doing so I got to discover another side of Valetta – one that wasn’t filled with tourists.
As I roamed through the streets, straying further and further away from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, I came across the residential side of the city. By this, I mean there were barely any shops or cafes. The roads were simply lined with beautiful, terraced houses. You could barely hear a sound. Only the birds, the waves and the soft, distant buzz of the centre managed to fill in the quiet, aside from the light, endless taps of your shoes.
If you decide to go on a random walk yourself, do make sure that you pack plenty of water and wear a sunhat. As the afternoon went by, I ended up seeking solace from the sun in any shaded place I could find – even if it meant that I had to crouch on some local’s front steps and fan myself with a bunch of leaflets which advertised Malta’s events.
I eventually made my way back towards the city centre after walking in a complete circle around the south of Valletta. I wandered past Fort St. Elmo, ogling at the towering walls enclosing the museum that divided the waters of Marsamxett Harbour from the Grand Harbour. And then I headed back along the streets, taking in the colourful display of houses. The locals glanced at me oddly, so I was certain that I was in the wrong area.
I found this to be the most pleasant part of that afternoon, aside from taking a visit to the magnificent St. John’s Co-Cathedral. This was because I got to stroll at my own pace, to soak up the radiant sun rays and to be away from the loud chatter of the main streets. This co-cathedral is one of the most important buildings in Valetta. It featured high, intricately detailed ceilings, breath-taking architecture and rich history of the Knights of Malta. Another fascinating point of interest with this cathedral is that it hosts one of the most important paintings of Caravaggio’s portfolio – ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist.’ A sight to behold in memory only, considering photos are not allowed.
Now, although Malta may seem like a holiday in the sun for some travellers, there are lots of large events taking place across the calendar, meaning there is always something to see no matter the date you visit. Starting from March, Valetta hosts the Spring Carnival in honour of the classic Catholic Carnival. This features the townspeople clad in rich, animated costumes in their traditional patterns, celebrating this event late into the night. As you travel through the streets, you’ll find that every town and village have a distinct, varying taste of these festivities. It’s not just this carnival where you’ll see the Maltese extravagance.
In May, you will discover the International Fireworks Festival. As Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this festival is another way for individual towns and villages to celebrate their respective patron saints individually. You may have noticed on your journey that the Maltese make good use of vibrant colours in their festivities and the fireworks festival is another way to unite the people through land and sky.
As we venture inland, you’ll find that Valletta isn’t the only city with an enchanting maze of streets. Mdina, also known as the ‘Silent City’, was once the old capital of Malta. If you’d like to bask in the quiet residential nature even further, then I highly encourage you to visit this city.
Like the rest of its sister cities, Mdina boasts the historic memory of its predecessors. This warm destination exudes strength and power with fortified walls encircling the small capital, whose population is roughly 292 people, a beautifully carved gate and a huge lookout point from the far side. It’s been the home of noble families and the very wealthy for thousands of years. In the distance, you can see the stretch of the Mediterranean Sea and look down upon the smaller neighbouring villages just like the noblemen before us.
But Mdina isn’t named the ‘Silent City’ for nothing, though it may sound charming, its name means exactly that. The roads here are much narrower than Valletta, Sliema and Marsamxett Harbour. They are, in fact, too narrow for cars to drive through, so as you walk along the cobbled pavements, you’ll find yourself lost in the calm quiet of your own feet hitting the floor. If you’re lucky, you may come across horses too. Attached to a small carriage with brightly painted wheels matching the colours of the resident’s doors, these horses and their riders offers tours around the old city. As you go along, the guides will explain and introduce every aspect behind the history of Mdina and will stay outside whilst you pop into the splendid St. Paul’s Cathedral, which honours the noblemen of this city.
And here we are, back on the promenade. Dinner has finished but the drinks continue to flow. The night has just begun.
I sigh, feeling content and relaxed. The moon has drifted even higher in the sky and my wine glass has been polished clean. My comfort lies with Malta, a destination filled with charm and history who I know will welcome us with open arms once again.
Sophie Terry’s Twitter is @petiteprose_ and her blog is: https://petiteprose.home.blog/