Discovering hidden gems is one of the best parts about traveling. One of the most wonderful places we discovered in Malta was recommended by Charles and Ron. Ensconced behind the front doors of an unassuming building in the town of Naxxar was the elaborate and enchanting Palazzo Parisio (www.palazzoparisio.com). This beautiful palace with lavish interiors, refined architecture, and charming gardens, was built in the 19th century by Marquis Giuseppe Scicluna as his private residence.
It has been described as a miniature of Versailles, with ornate crown molding, elaborately decorated ceilings, murals, and rare objets d’art. The magnificent walled gardens of the Palazzo Parisio are among the finest in Malta, and the only privately owned gardens open to the public. From the twisting paths through the orange grove, to the flowering trees and unique shrubs, this is a lush landscape you will definitely want to take your time to explore. Admire the many exotic species of flora, including jacaranda and oleander, the borders of jewel-like cinerarias and fragrant freesias, the tall spiky agapanthus, over 65 species of hibiscus, a vast array of bougainvillea, and the profusion of cascading geraniums.
Here you will find an ideal spot to enjoy nature before lunch or afternoon tea at Luna, Palazzo Parisio’s daytime restaurant. If we lived in Malta, we would come here often to roam the gardens and enjoy drinks or a meal with friends. For anyone who wants to get married in Malta, the stunning Baroque designs of Palazzo Parisio, with its gilded ballroom and lush, romantic gardens, have made it one of Malta’s most sought after wedding venues. My husband and I looked at each other knowingly and said to each other, “this would be a great place to renew our vows someday.”
Encouraged by the Dalai Lama to “Once a year, go someplace you have never been before,” we were delighted to have chosen Malta. The historic places we visited gave us an insight into the diverse culture of this fascinating country, and the people we met shared their favorite places with us and made us feel at home everywhere we went.
During our final night in Malta, we joined a group of LGBTQ Maltese and visitors from around the world at Maori Bar (www.facebook.com/HMSMaori) in Valetta. As we approached, a giant duck blocked the streetside entrance and hissed at us as we tried to enter. Someone who works at the bar came out and told us to walk around to the other side of the building if we wanted to come in without being chased by their fowl friend.
This bohemian “dive bar,” with its stunning location tucked beneath historic Fort St. Elmo and overlooking the sea, is named after the HMS Maori that was shipwrecked just off shore in 1942. The night we were there, we met a dive instructor who gives underwater tours of the ship, a gay couple from the UK who spends every summer in Malta, local LGBTQ artists, musicians, poets, and the owner Simone Falzon.
Simone is a true free spirit who encourages others to express themselves and their creativity every day. Her bar is an integral part of contemporary Malta. It is a place that will inspire you and provide an opportunity to meet like-minded people. She often hosts LGBTQ events, as well as poetry readings, art exhibits, and more.
As we spoke, I felt as if we had always been friends. Amidst the packed bar, filled with laughter, conversation, and music, we talked directly into each other’s ears. We railed against conformity, advocated free love, and celebrated being together at that very moment in Malta.
When we travel, we often meet some of the most amazing people on the final day of our trip. Is this just a coincidence, or is it a destination’s way of telling us “we want you to come back”? Whatever the reason, we know we will return to Malta soon.