Culture vulture – a person who is very interested in the arts. Not then, a terrifying bird ready to pick apart music, books and movies from a person’s brain, thankfully.
Culture is something which should be celebrated and the EU have that same thought every year. In fact, they have it twice. Each year since 2004, they have named two European Capitals of Culture in a bid to highlight a city’s excellence in relation to the arts – putting on a number of performances, exhibitions and events to attract even more visitors to these already amazing destinations.
Hot on the heels of Aarhus (Denmark), and Paphos (Cyprus) in 2017, comes 2018’s entries of Leeuwarden (Netherlands) and Valletta (Malta). The latter has been a popular destination for anyone visiting the small island of Malta for centuries. But if this city wasn’t on your radar for your next city break, here’s a few reasons why it should be.
In this blog, we’re going to give you a brief introduction to the city’s greatest assets themselves, before giving you some information on the numerous events throughout 2018. All combining to a heady cocktail that’s sure to leave you with one imaginary foot on Maltese shores.
Though Valletta itself doesn’t have a beach in its city limits, the island of Malta is a small one, meaning you’re never far from amazing sands. The closest of these is St George’s Bay just eight kilometres away. Reached by car in under 20 minutes, this Blue Flag beach is a popular summer choice in the heart of Malta’s party capital Paceville. Full of bars, restaurants and shops, there is also a cinema and bowling alley close by. Other popular options are Golden Bay and Ghajn Tiffieha Bay, both around 20 kilometres away on the northwest part of the island. For a more off-kilter option, St. Peter’s Pool is a 30-minute southerly drive – this isolated stretch of clear water has no real facilities and no clear signposting, meaning its untouched beauty will take your breath away. Often deserted on weekdays, visitors should organise their own travel and refreshments, because there aren’t any food stalls or salesman flogging dodgy sunglasses in sight.
Valletta’s baroque past is on display across numerous structures and the city itself is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Military forts, deep moats, embellished palazzos and an abundance of residents living life from their bespoke balconies all contribute to Valletta having an architectural identity like no other. Specific highlights include the Auberge de Provence, which is now the National Museum of Archaeology, and the Grand Master’s Palace, which was once home to the leaders of the Knights of St John. Many of these building have been recently restored ahead of Valletta’s 2018 debut as the European Capital of Culture.
A well-known Maltese adage is that ‘you won’t have a bad meal in Valletta’, but in order to achieve that, one should stay away from the tourist-baiting restaurants and steer more towards the side streets. With dishes like freshly grilled fish and rabbit stew being two local favourites, good advice would be to follow your nose. For an authentic Maltese breakfast, pick up a ricotta or mushy-pea-filled pastry at Capri Caffe, grab an espresso at Caffe Cordina, bask in nostalgia at the vintage-themed Café Jubilee for lunch, before settling for dinner and drinks in the upmarket Charles Grech Café.
Though there are certainly even more great restaurants outside of these, a general rule of thumb is, if it’s busy inside and it has ‘Café’ (or Caffe for you Maltese purists) in its name, it’s generally a safe bet.
Despite having events since the turn of the year, there are still a number of amazing dates in the cultural calendar for 2018. The Valletta Green Festival is a celebration of Malta’s vast open spaces from 4-6th May, fashionistas clamber to the city from 28th May – 2nd June for Malta Fashion Week and the city’s scenic Grand Harbour takes centre stage at the Valletta Pageant of the Seas on June 7th. With film, art and literature festivals taking place during the summer months, there are also a number of events towards the end of the year. Science in the City runs on 28th September to bring accessible science to the masses, Malta Book Festival runs throughout November and the Closing Spectacle for the year is due to kick off on 15th December. A full programme of events can be found here.
Whichever event takes your fancy, one thing that’s certain is that Valletta has a number of things going for it outside of these amazing celebrations. So, calling all culture vultures, why not spread your wings and descend on the Maltese, and European Culture, capital for your next holiday destination?