After dreaming of going to Malta for years, my husband and I recently had the opportunity to visit this famed island nation. From the first settlers over 7,000 years ago, to enthusiastic fans of Games of Thrones, Malta is a travel destination that attracts people from all walks of life. With UNESCO World Heritage Sites, temples older than Egypt’s ancient pyramids, and a fascinating multi-cultural history, Malta may just be one of the most appealing locations for people who appreciate art, history, natural wonders, and international cuisine.
Add to this the fact the Malta legalized same-sex marriage in 2017, and you can imagine how excited we were to visit. Our two-hour flight from Zurich arrived in the early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to check into the Hilton Malta before heading out for cocktails and dinner.
As we usually like to do when we arrive at a warm weather destination, we immediately unpacked our bathing suits and went for a swim. Fortunately, the Hilton Malta has four outdoor pools, two additional paddle pools for kids, and a heated indoor pool. We chose the adults only Horizon pool overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 70s, unfortunately the water seemed to be about 54 (12 centigrade)! After a couple of high-pitched squeals, brought on from the initial shock, we swam around like kids at summer camp. Needless to say, we were the only people in the pool. To this day we still say to each other: “If we could swim in that frigid pool, we can swim anywhere.”
Following a quick change, we headed downstairs to the lobby to meet Clayton Mercieca, one of the organizers of Malta Pride (www.gaymalta.com/maltapride). Some may consider Clayton to be the epitome of “tall, dark, and handsome,” but make sure you add to that “activist, humanitarian, husband, and father.” Luckily for us, Clayton would be our unofficial “gay guide” to Malta during the next couple of days.
First stop on our agenda was dinner at a nearby restaurant in St. Julian’s called Two Buoys. With an eclectic menu featuring everything from fresh seafood to burgers to Maltese specialties, a welcoming staff, and a beautiful harbor-side setting, we felt right at home. After ordering drinks, Clayton told us about the LGBTQ community in Malta and the diverse venues and annual events that visitors will enjoy (see LGBTQ Malta sidebar).
We were so impressed with the variety of things gay people can see and do in Malta that we couldn’t wait to go out and experience some of the unique LGBTQ happenings. Right after dinner we joined him for a pop-up lesbian karaoke and dance night at a nearby bar. All I can say is, if this is the kind of LGBTQ parties that happen regularly in Malta we want to move there! The women running the event created a wonderful environment where everyone was welcome. We danced, laughed, sang along to some of the best songs from the 70’s and 80’s, and didn’t want the night to end.
The next day, it was time to explore the history and culture of Malta. Fortuitous for us, Visit Malta (www.visitmalta.com) had arranged for a private guide, Vince Debono (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) to show us some of the major highlights of Valletta, the magnificent capital city. Vince was born and raised in Malta, so his knowledge of Maltese culture gave us a special insight into present day life and an appreciation for history, architecture, and art for which this country is well-known.
Walking through the large square near the entrance to Valletta, the first thing we discovered was the Tritons’ fountain, which is a symbol of the sea, closely associated with ancient Greek traditions. It was designed by Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap and constructed in 1959.
The recently completed (2014) Renzo Piano designed City Gate, Parliament Building, and open air theatre have added a new dimension to the historic entrance to the Maltese capital. These sights, along with Valletta’s status as European Capital of Culture for 2018, have witnessed a rebirth of the city, with restored buildings, and new museums, hotels, bars, and restaurants. The government has also bought and will renovate Villa Guardamangia, the former home of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth when she lived in Malta between 1949 and 1951.
With so much to see and do, we made sure to take time and enjoy the outdoor cafés and restaurants during our tour of Valletta. Strait Street offers numerous drinking and dining options, as does Republic Street, which is home to the magnificent St John’s Co-Cathedral. The splendid edifice was built between 1573 and 1577 during the reign of Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere. A baroque masterpiece in its architecture and sculptures, the church boasts some of the most beautiful works of art by Mattia Preti and Caravaggio, including The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The Cathedral is a major tourist attraction, so make sure to get there early before the crowds arrive, or arrange for a private tour guide.