It’s not every day that you get to experience your own home through the lens of a visitor. But, amid the many challenges that 2020 brought with it, us locals were given the opportunity to explore the Maltese Islands in a completely different light.
The quaint, narrow side streets of our towns swapped the usual crowds of visitors for more familiar faces. Quirky stores and historical cafes welcomed their neighbours when tourists stayed home. Meanwhile, a sense of camaraderie was built between new friends, colleagues and collaborators alike.
It was during this period that Warren, Managing Director at Alpine Sterling DMC, took to the streets of the island’s capital city, Valletta, to explore one of Malta’s most-loved treasures. Together with Pat Vella from the Hotel Phoenicia, Warren put on his virtual tour guide hat for a day to share his favourite haunts and hotspots in the capital.
If you’re already familiar with the history of Valletta, you can scroll down to watch Warren and Pat’s tour of the city and read all about the places they visit. Otherwise, here’s a little bit of context to help set the scene for your virtual tour:
A Brief History of Valletta, Malta
Often described as ‘the Gem of the Mediterranean’, the city of Valletta was built in the wake of the Great Siege of 1565 by the Order of the Knights of St. John. The history of Valletta has been built into the city’s walls and homes, with elements of its past waiting to be discovered around every corner. A city famously built ‘by gentlemen, for gentlemen’, Valletta was designed by Pope Pius VI’s appointed engineer, Francesco Laparelli. The Maltese architect and marine engineer Girolamo Cassar completed the project and is responsible for designing the Co-Cathedral of St. John – one of many cultural masterpieces to add to your Malta must-see list!
Originally, this early European city was established as a fortress following the Knights’ victory against the Ottoman forces. Valletta has, over the years, developed into a major cultural hub, earning its rightful title as the European Capital of Culture in 2018. It is also recognised by UNESCO as one of Malta’s three World Heritage Sites and has made its way onto Condé Nast’s ‘Most Beautiful Cities’ list.
While we could spend hours sharing our knowledge and love of this magnificent city, today we’re here to show you a few of our favourite places to visit in Valletta.
“The beauty of living and working in Valletta is that you can discover something new every day.”
Where to Go in Valletta, Malta
Casa Rocca Piccola
Those of you who have met Warren have probably heard of Casa Rocca Piccola, which has long been one of his top places to see in Valletta.
Currently owned and resided in by the 9th Marquis De Piro and his family, Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th-century palace showcasing the traditions and history of over 400 years of Maltese aristocracy. This living museum is also the family home of the de Piro family, passed on from one generation to the next.
A visit to Casa Rocca Piccola will give you insight into the richness and eloquence that has permeated the city of Valletta from the Baroque era up until today. As the de Piro family guides you around their beloved home, you can learn about the unique customs associated with the Maltese noble families of days gone by, while taking in the wondrous collections of art, furniture and silver on display within the home.
Interestingly, the palace also provided shelter to the city’s inhabitants during the Second World War, when Malta became the most heavily bombed place on earth.
Valletta is renowned for having some of the best cafés on the island, leaving visitors spoiled for choice when it’s time for a coffee break. Much like in other Mediterranean countries, it’s customary to kickstart the day with a freshly brewed coffee, as Warren and Pat explain.
One of the oldest – and most frequented – coffee shops in the city is Caffe Cordina. Housed in an eloquent palazzo, Caffe Cordina is situated right across from the impressive National Library and a stone’s throw from the majestic Grandmaster’s Palace and Casino Maltese. The café has become an icon of Valletta; the ideal place to enjoy a coffee and traditional Maltese ‘pastizzi’ – a savoury pastry with a delicious pea or ricotta cheese filling.
Opera Antiques, Valletta
Tucked beside the ‘Pjazza Teatru Rjal’ – an open-air theatre built in the ruins of the Royal Opera House which was destroyed during WWII – lies Opera Antiques, one of the capital’s hidden gems. The shop’s walls are lined with glass display cabinets filled to the brim with some of the finest jewels and antiques on the island.
Opera Antiques is where you’d go to find unique items – be it ceramics and porcelain, fine art, traditional Maltese filigree or antique jewellery. Each piece carries a wealth of history that Alfred, owner of Opera Antiques, will be more than happy to share with you during your visit.
Francis Bajada Menswear
As an island of approximately 450,000 people, you’re certain to meet friends and relatives wherever you go in Malta. In fact, during this particular visit to Valletta, Warren took the opportunity to drop into a shop on Merchant’s street and introduce Pat to his cousins who manage the store. Established in 1925 by their grandfather, Francis Bajada Menswear remains a leading destination for timeless clothing items for men.
AX Rosselli – A Luxury Boutique Hotel in Valletta
Making your way further down Merchant’s street, you’ll find AX Rosselli, the first and only 5-star luxury boutique hotel in the city of Valletta. Built in the 1600s, the original palazzo that is now Rosselli was home to Pietro Rosselli, a renowned goldsmith and philanthropist, and his wife, Alusietta Massa.
Situated within the boutique hotel is Undergrain, a Michelin-star restaurant. Adorned with a tailor’s tools and materials, Grain pays homage to the craftsmanship that has become synonymous with the street throughout history. The belief that a chef’s cooking is akin to a tailor’s garments – each craft requiring the artist to pay meticulous attention to detail – has earned Undergrain its reputation as one of the best restaurants on the island.
Stephen Cordina Aroma & Therapy
Cosmetologist, aromatherapist and perfumer Stephen Cordina is renowned for his signature scents, which are derived using the finest ingredients from all over the Maltese Islands. His shop, located within the city of Valletta, also doubles as a fragrance lab where Stephen offers one-on-one consultations to create bespoke perfumes.
Behind the building’s striking purple doors, Stephen also organises workshops for small groups to learn about the art of aromatherapy and create their own perfume from his very own recipe book.
The Hotel Phoenicia
An iconic landmark located just outside the Valletta City Gate, the Hotel Phoenicia was the first luxury 5-star hotel to be built on the island of Malta. Opening its doors in 1947, the Art Deco hotel has seen decades of cultural and artistic events unfolding within its grounds.
While living in Malta in the 1950s, before being crowned Queen of England, Princess Elizabeth was also known to enjoy attending dances inside the hotel’s majestic ballroom. Since then, this timeless hotel has witnessed countless celebrations being held inside the same walls.
One of the most stunning features of the Hotel Phoenicia is the infinity pool, which overlooks the historic Marsamxett Harbour and the Valletta bastions. The mild Mediterranean climate enjoyed by the Maltese Islands means that the breathtaking views from the hotel rooftop can be enjoyed practically all-year-round. More recently, the Hotel Phoenicia also opened a luxurious spa, where guests can treat themselves to numerous wellness and relaxation treatments during their stay.
Discover Valletta with Alpine Sterling DMC
While we’ve been able to show you around some of our favourite places to eat, stay and see in the city of Valletta, there’s so much more to be discovered during your stay in Malta. At Alpine Sterling DMC, we take great pride in our islands’ rich culture and history, which is why we’ll ensure that our visitors get the best experience of the Maltese Islands throughout their trip.
The city of Valletta has something to offer for every kind of traveller. Its historic buildings and stunning views provide unique locations for conferences and events, while a wide choice of cultural activities also makes the city an ideal destination to spend your leisure time.
If you’re planning a corporate, special interest or leisure trip, get in touch to find out how we can help!