My interest in Malta was first kindled when I heard someone refer to its people as Maltese. Is that, then, where Maltesers come from? (I dread to think how exhausted that joke is…). A quick look on Google maps taught me that Malta is a small UNESCO World Heritage dot between Tunisia and Sicily, not another haunt for Brits abroad on the Costa del Sol, as I had imagined. I then discovered it was used to film such visually striking movies as Gladiator, Troy and Casino Royale; my excuses for staying at home were running out. When I saw that Malta’s national team returned from the Table Football World Cup in Germany last September as world champions, and I could get there on a low-cost airline, the decision was made: I had to go.
I very much doubt that any pun was intended when the foundations of a few seaside residences were laid and Paceville was born on the edge of Spinola Bay in Malta, but those foundations have blossomed and now form part of the island’s beating heart. The name says it all: people in Paceville live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow. The streets are lined with bars, pubs and Malta clubs, a scene which has established itself as world class and attracts a myriad of fun-seeking punters throughout the year. By chance, it’s also where most Malta hotels exist, a particularly convenient synergy when planning your visit.
I very quickly learnt that Paceville is not a good place to go if you value your sleep. Fortunately, it takes mercy on the jetlagged traveller, who may find themself wide-eyed and alert on the stroke of midnight and dead to the world at noon, as I did. It is a place that comes alive at night, with countless watering holes to suit every need, from the Boogie Bar to the Buddha Lounge, and everything in between. But Malta should not be confused with Magaluf. Indeed, there is much to see besides strobe lighting and sticky floors.
A few kilometres down the coast, squeezed neatly within a thin peninsula, sits Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital city of Malta. A childhood spent being dragged around obscure European hill towns and more cathedrals than I care to remember, means I usually approach historically significant places with a slight feeling of anxiety, expecting to spend hours with my nose in a guidebook trying to work out exactly what it is that makes the pile of bricks in front of me exceptional. Indeed, the history often means more than the constructions themselves, but not so in Valletta.
Without the remotest appreciation of its 16th century foundations, I happily wondered the narrow streets of the city, an intimate place which exudes charm. The numerous churches and palaces are undeniably beautiful, but I personally felt a greater appreciation for Valletta’s Fort Saint Elmo, whose solid walls dominate the city’s façade onto the sea. The view afforded from this vantage point is staggering: to the left and right, settlements bunching and burgeoning onto the water’s edge, while straight ahead the silky blanket of the Mediterranean Sea lollops and lulls. I trawl the globe looking for idyllic spots to read a book, and was delighted to make this find.
It is impossible to dislike Malta, an island which has something for every holidaymaker. Paceville will not appeal to everyone’s preferences, but is, nevertheless, a vibrant place which overflows with energy and activity. Valletta, in complete contrast, is a historical hub with more architectural splendour than many of mainland Europe’s cities can boast, along with a superbly quirky old British telephone box lurking on one of its street corners! It turns out that Maltesers don’t actually come from Malta, but this disappointment did little to dent my impressions of a marvellous island.