It’s been a while since I’ve done a lockdown armchair travel post – and, for most of us, we’re still not going anywhere exciting in a hurry. So M is for Malta, and a lovely sunny week in the summer of 2012 (plus a couple of old snaps from our stay in March 1993). We stayed in the resort that I think is probably the best place to be based in Malta –
St Julian’s Bay. It’s chic, elegant, close to Valletta but also a good springboard to other parts of the island. And considerably more attractive than Bugibba, which is where we stayed in 1993. You can spend hours here just drinking in the scenery.
It’s also an easy walk to Sliema, with its beautiful views overlooking Valletta.
They love a good parade in Malta. When we were there in 1993 it was carnival time, and we watched the arrival of King Carnival (to a very repetitive but upbeat pre-recorded soundtrack).
Meanwhile, in 2012, we were in St Julian’s at the same time when an effigy of the saint is paraded around the town.
To a live band accompaniment, of course.
One of my favourite places in Malta is Mosta, with its incredible Dome Church.
It’s notable for having survived a bomb attack during the Second World War when a bomb fell through the hole at the top of the Dome – but didn’t explode.
That was a lucky break. (Or God was on their side, whichever you prefer).
From Mosta it’s easy to carry on to the beautiful and blustery old capital of Mdina.
The wind really whistles around your wotsits when you’re perched up there, even in full summer.
Lion statues guard against you – or welcome you, depending on how you see yourself – as you wander round this quaint and very narrow old town.
But the views are stunning.
Of course you have to pay a visit to the modern capital, Valletta, with its steep streets.
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must-see.
The Hospital of St John perches near an attractive outcrop
A harbour cruise is also worthwhile
This is a picture of the so-called Three Cities taken from a harbour cruise in 1993 – very moody
I’d also recommend a trip to Gozo. Full of charming sights.
Here’s stunning Ramla Bay
And lovely Xlendi
We did a boat trip to the Azure Window
It was a stunning sight
Sadly no longer there
The islands are also littered with ancient temples. Here you can see Altar Niches at the Ġgantija Temples
Here’s an interesting thing: Maltese horse races are the “trot” variety!
I could bore you with many more pictures, but that wouldn’t be fair. Here’s just a few quirky parting shots.
Mussels in Smells?
No construction worker would be seen dead without his parasol
So pleased to see Michael Gove has got a proper job
Who’s captain of this ship?
I’ll leave you with an image of me nicking some chocolate almost thirty years ago.
Let’s hope we can go on holidays safely again soon!
Last days on holidays are always a sad occasion. They come round far too soon, when you feel you’ve hardly got your legs under the destination’s table, so to speak. And then you get sent back to where you came from, to the gloom of that 9 to 5 existence that you couldn’t wait to escape barely a week earlier. Unless you were having a rotten time, of course, in which case you can’t wait to get home.
But we had adored our little week in Malta; and so we resolved at Friday breakfast to make the most of the relaxation options and just stay around St Julian’s for the last day. So, alas, there would be no HOHO bus trip round the south of the island; there would be no trip back to Valletta to see the Grand Master’s Palace; but as the poet once said, it gives you a reason to come back.
My pre-holiday planning had revealed there were some classy looking restaurants with good gluten-free options at the Portomaso marina complex in St Julian’s. We still hadn’t actually found it – I could work out from the map whereabouts it should be, but in all our wanderings we hadn’t stumbled across it. So we determined to find it, and maybe identify a nice place for lunch, or dinner, or both.
It’s just off the Hilton hotel complex. You go through an arch, and then you have a wide descending staircase with restaurants off to the left and right, before you reach the water at the bottom and can then walk around either side and admire the yachts and motorboats. It’s beautifully clean, feels approachably exclusive, and makes for a nice leisurely walk.
There’s a small promontory you can walk around and end up on the sea side (as opposed to marina side), with lots of fascinating little rockpools. But what took our attention the most, were the little patches of salt in the rocks, a residue of the seawater, and, as Mrs Chrisparkle pointed out, nature’s own exfoliator. Off came the trainers and we rubbed fresh salt all over our tootsies, like a pair of podiatric pixies. Incredibly effective, and left your feet feeling really soft and energised. You could pay a fortune for a pot of that stuff at home.
We retraced our steps back through the marina and checked out the restaurants. By now it was already an acceptable time for early lunch, but they were almost all closed. We did however note a couple of possibilities, primarily Spoon, a Chinese restaurant with a gluten-free menu. Unheard of! Mrs C’s tastebuds started to quiver. The only Chinese food she’s had since she was diagnosed about ten years ago has been eggy rice. They were closed, so we couldn’t book, but we hoped there would be some tables available for the evening.
But that didn’t solve the problem of lunch. We headed back towards Paceville and thought we’d check out the Bay Street Complex again. It didn’t inspire us lunchwise, but we did get a nice bit of shopping done. Mrs C got a red shirt in a nice little boutique – not cheap but very trendy and excellent quality – and we both did well in the Terranova sale. I regret, gentle reader, that I am unable to bring to mind exactly what we eventually ended up eating. Or where. Or when. I know – I have let you down. It must have been something local, and by the same token, totally unremarkable and unmemorable. I do however remember staying out after lunch and popping into Peppi’s again, the bar/restaurant on the way into Sliema that we had visited earlier in the week, not for food but for that wonderful holiday institution, the “afternoon drink purely for the sake of it”. When we had visited before we loved the views on the outside terrace and also the wine was nice enough. We just wanted to enjoy the sit down, and to while away the sunshine of our last afternoon with a glass of wine. We’d had the La Vallette before, and it was nice but unchallenging; so, feeling bold, and trusting in the integrity of the establishment, I ordered a Half Carafe of the House White. Everything we had drunk before in Malta had been completely acceptable.
Until now. It was like warm radiator fluid. Not that I am a connoisseur of radiator fluids, at any temperature; but Mrs C and I agreed pretty rapidly that it was totally undrinkable. Actually on reflection, I’m sorry to say, it was probably more like urine than radiator fluid. It certainly had that colour; that early morning urine that’s been building up inside you overnight and strengthening as it develops. Too much information? You should have tried the wine. I called the waitress over and said it was disgusting and could we have a half bottle of the La Vallette instead, as I knew that would at least be generally acceptable. She took the carafe away, brought the bottle and two fresh glasses and offered it to me to taste. Me: “That’s much better, thank you”. Waitress (with added tetchiness): “So, you knew you would like La Vallette, and yet you did not order it at first. Why?” Me: “Because I wanted to try something else”. She stomped off.
We drank the wine; we lingered over the view; we rested and relaxed and watched the world go by. It was lovely. Then started the nagging internal question: would they charge for both wines, or just the nice one? No doubt they will have just tipped the rest of our carafe of urine into their simmering cauldron of bodily fluids out the back, so they would barely be out of pocket. The bottle was emptied; the bill requested; the waitress brought it over. They charged for both. €6,50 for the urine and €6,00 for the wine. I did a quick mental calculation: €6,50 + €6,00 + impertinent waitress = no tip. And no recommendation from me, either. Avoid them like the plague!
The last afternoon nap of the holiday is a bit of a damp squib as it gets overtaken by that thing called “packing”. All those fine bits of clobber you’d painstakingly prepared, folded and placed just-so in the outward suitcases now get screwed up and bundled back in any old how. Well that’s what I do; I think Mrs C comes along behind me and unscrews things and folds them out a bit more neatly. Not quite sure why – they’re destined for the washing machine, after all. One good thing – at least we weren’t flying Ryanair, so we didn’t have to dread unpacking everything in the airport concourse to satisfy their need to humiliate their passengers.
So it was the last evening; and we wandered back up towards Portomaso in the hope that the Spoon would have a table for us. But first, pre-dinner drinkies at the bar just outside the Hilton Complex. Lovely setting; the service was a bit slow, but we didn’t mind that; and we entertained ourselves by eavesdropping into the conversations of some of our posher co-drinkers. It was about 9.30pm now so our tummies were more than ready for a spot of Chinese. Spoon was very busy but they found us a table. And sure enough, there was a gluten-free menu! Part of the fun of a Chinese is to order lots of different meals and then all share them, so I ordered from both the g-f and the ordinary menus. The only thing I had that wasn’t gluten-free were the barbecued spare ribs, so I slavered over them completely by myself and I have to say they were gorgeous. We had seaweed and soup, crispy duck and beef with cumin. It was all a very plucky attempt to create a g-f Chinese banquet, and much of it was very tasty, if a little dry – especially the beef with cumin. It lacked that aromatic gloopy sauce that would have made it taste sensational, but which would almost certainly have enough gluten in to flatten your cilia at fifty paces. We still enjoyed the meal though; it was relaxed and elegant, and with a lovely view over the marina; and once again it made Mrs C feel a bit more mainstream in her restaurantability.
And that was it! Dinner over, we slunk back to the hotel miserably; well not really, we’d had a wonderful holiday and relished every minute. We didn’t have to get up too early the next day; the hotel arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport; transfers, flights and so on all took place smoothly; we were back home by 6pm. Verdict: Malta is a great place for a holiday. We could have done and seen much more, but we wanted it to be relaxing and it absolutely filled the bill. Now it’s your turn to visit!
One of the benefits of doing a Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour is that, included in your 15 Euros ticket, you get a free Harbour Cruise too. This really does make it a very good bargain, although you need to choose your cruise time carefully; at peak hours I understand you can be packed like sardines. We were lucky though. When we arrived at the Sliema Ferries departure point, a cruise was to depart in fifteen minutes time and there were still plenty of good places to sit and enjoy the view. If it were a cruise liner, I guess you could say we sat starboard, aft. Rather than facing the direction of the boat, we were looking out at 90 degrees, directly to sea – or land, depending where we were.
But first, a little tale of warning for when you’re walking along the water’s edge at Sliema. We decided not to bother with the bus as it was (as always) a perfect day for a walk and it really isn’t far from St Julian’s. We were just amiably wandering along the main road near the ferries, when we were jumped upon by an enthusiastic young chap wanting to sell us all sorts of trips. They were nice trips, and they were a good price; and we were tempted; but we decided to walk on, saying we’d come back, but really with the intention of doing our best to forget about them. That worked fine; he knew he’d lost the sale; he would find plenty more fish walking alongside the sea for on which to pounce.
Then another bloke appeared; this time quite a lot older, a very cheery bluff northerner. Not the north of Malta – more Yorkshire. He attempted to engage us in so many ways – where you from, where you staying, which hotel, blah-di-blah, and I knew it wasn’t because he was a lonely soul looking for a friend. “Which travel company did you use?” he asked. “We didn’t – just booked it with the hotel and bought the flights online”. “Ah, you look the type” he said. I wonder what type that is? His remit was to get us to go into the hotel across the road and “have a look round”. The hotel apparently was going to build some new accommodation somewhere and they supposed that if you were to go in and look around, and taste a little of their hospitality, you might be more likely to use them next time you come to Malta. Errmm, no, I don’ t think so. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, if you go over there, I get 50 quid”, he pleaded. “It’s timeshare!” we squealed in horror. “No, no, not timeshare” he blathered unconvincingly. But 50 quid is 50 quid and he wasn’t a bad sort. He started to succeed in making us feel guilty. “How long will they keep us there? 10 minutes? 15 minutes?” Mrs Chrisparkle asked, almost relenting with her natural kindness. “No more than two hours” he replied. TWO HOURS??? We almost trampled over him in our haste to escape. “Awww, I’ll have to get my 50 quid from some other people then” he offered, sounding a bit hurt. Yes mate, you will.
The harbour cruise takes about an hour and a half. First of all it dips down towards Ta ‘Xbiex and back alongside Manoel Island; then it goes round the top of Valletta past Fort St Elmo, back down past the waterfront, and further down towards Marsa; then back up the other side, past the Three Cities, over and around back to Sliema. It’s a very enjoyable way of taking in the views and seeing different parts of the harbour area – both scenic and industrial.
The MSC Splendida ship was visiting Valletta that day, and you get a very interesting perspective of such a large ship when you are just a little boat chugging past. I bet this is superb inside – Mrs C and I have definitely got our eye on it for a future cruise.
If you look at the map, the Three Cities emerge as finger like promontories, protruding deep into the harbour. I caught this picture of a look-out at the end of Safe Haven Gardens at Senglea – notice the eye and the ear decorations which represent vigilance.
We saw some incredibly grand and expensive yachts on this little jaunt. Here’s the Martha Ann. Read about it and positively salivate at the prospect of hiring it for a week.
And this little beauty is called The Maltese Falcon. The narrator on our little boat said it cost 280 million Euros. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I think our skipper was a little nervous at getting too close to it – imagine the bill if you had an accident!
By comparison, the Areti is a bit of a minnow. Still, I wouldn’t mind it as a gift. Any offers?
I could show you more yachts, but it would only make you jealous. We navigated safely back to Sliema, very pleased with our free excursion. We stopped for lunch at one of the places opposite the Sliema ferries – very nice salad but they would only serve you wine by the glass. That’s one of my pet hates. In that roasting sunshine a glass of wine that started chilled (-ish) quickly becomes chambré if you’ve no ice bucket. Afterwards we plunged ourselves into the dark recesses of the shopping streets of Sliema to look for bargains. Mrs C thought the handbags and shoes looked promising. However, on closer inspection, they failed to come up to her exacting standards, ludicrously cheap though they may have been. We looked for jeans in the Levi shop and other groovy outlets, as we are nothing if not trendy. Everything was either way too expensive or way too small. There were a few UK-type shops – Marks & Spencer, BHS, etc; and you could buy the same clothes in the UK for much cheaper, so there wasn’t a lot of point buying them in Malta. So in the end, rather like the runner-up in The Weakest Link, we left with nothing.
After a relatively early afternoon nap – for which relief, much thanks – we decided we would have dinner around the bay in St Julian’s and then head off to Paceville to witness the much vaunted nightlife. For dinner, we returned to San Giuliano, because the food is ok and it’s a great location. I was very happy with the stylish “Still life with water and wine bottles” pictures I took.
Night fell and we walked up the hill in the direction of noisy and raucous youth. We thought we’d have a drink in a little bar somewhere we could sit outside, but there were surprisingly few places, and those there were, were absolutely full. Then we stumbled upon De Olde Keg. To be honest, it promised little from the outside, but there were seats and it was relatively clean. We tripled the average age of the clientele, but that’s never put me off before. No one seemed to be serving outside, so I went to the bar and asked for two glasses of white wine. Two mismatched glasses of wine were haphazardly poured out with a “wotever” attitude. The price? Two euros. Mentally, I took all my criticisms back. Naturally I presented Mrs C with the smaller of the two glasses. And you know what? It didn’t taste at all bad.
It was getting late (for us) but Paceville was just waking up. We found a welcoming looking bar/club/restaurant called Soho Lounge, nabbed a really good outside table, ordered a rather delicious bottle of white wine and watched the youth of Malta and several other countries getting tanked up, refused entry, acting riotously, wearing precious little, and all those other things young people do on a Wednesday night out. It was a bit like Bridge Street in Northampton but with less fake tan. We left around 12.30am to go back to the hotel; for Paceville that’s the equivalent of morning elevenses. But we had a busy day lined up for Thursday…
Tuesday came around quickly, it only seemed like a few days since we’d arrived; oh, it was! A week’s holiday isn’t a long time. Seeing as how our adventures trying to get back from Bugibba had ended up with our buying a week long standard bus pass, there didn’t seem a lot of point doing more Hop-on Hop-offs at 15 Euros a day. So we decided to take the bus to Valletta and have a leisurely strolling-around-the-capital sort of day.
A word about the buses: if you are a long time visitor to Malta, you will no doubt remember the old Morris buses: colourful, ancient, smoky, slow, reckless, uncomfortable, dirty and highly entertaining. However, last year a new broom swept the island clean of these characterful monstrosities, and now it’s served with a spanking new, sleek fleet of modern buses, run by Arriva. From a practical point of view it’s a superb improvement; from a romantic point of view, a little bit of history just got erased. Still, getting from St Julian’s to Valletta couldn’t have been easier, quicker or more comfortable.
You get disgorged at that big fountain-in-a-roundabout in Floriana, just outside the city walls. It’s not the most elegant or beautiful gateways to a city; in fact it feels like the tradesmen’s entrance, with hundreds of people looking for the correct bus stop and hundreds of bus drivers avoiding eye contact with you. There are a number of food and drink stalls around but they all look a bit down at heel. It’s not helped by the fact there is a huge amount of development going on at the moment, so you’ve got all this and a building site too. However, once you tread your way carefully through the small entrance and into that first square, things start to improve considerably. There’s still a lot of building work going on; but you can’t get in the way of progress, can you? At least we were pleased to see that the guys working on the sides of the buildings were taking sun precautions by working under a parasol.
Armed with my trusty guidebook, Mrs Chrisparkle and I embarked on a walk round the ramparts, and then a further exploration inside the city to catch some of the major sights. We turned left, and up the staircases till we found ourselves at Hastings Gardens, with its magnificent views across the water from Ta’ Xbiex to Sliema (nowhere near Hastings). The rampart walls are amazingly thick and would have kept out the most mischievous marauder. The gardens are very attractive and would be a nice place to rest with a book in the sunshine; but we had no time for that, so it was onward, down the steps, past the Anglican cathedral and on towards St Sebastian’s Bastion, if that’s not a tautology. The views out to sea – particularly of Manoel Island – and of the charming old buildings inland are very rewarding and it makes for a pleasant sunny walk. We did get pestered by a horse and cart man though. How many times did he need to be told we didn’t want to be paraded around the town in the back of his manky looking carriage with his sorrowful looking horse? Several, as it turns out. With our pasty pink skin and solar topee hats I’ve no idea how he knew we were tourists. “Don’t know why you’re walking this way, you can’t get into Fort St Elmo, you know”, he warned. I gave my “so what?” shrug. I don’t think it was the response he sought. He trotted dismally off, like a dismissed extra in a wild-west movie.
It was however true, and annoying, that you can’t get into Fort St Elmo, unless there’s some special military re-enactment going on. Part of the building is given over to the National War Museum, which I am sure is very interesting, but if you know Mrs C at all, you would know there was no chance of going in. Instead, we dropped down into the town along Merchants Street, which, like most of Valletta, has very tall buildings and is quite a narrow street, so you don’t get much sun at human height. The architecture is ornate and grand, and there are some splendid big doors, behind which lurk mysterious churches and palazzos. The morning market was just packing up, which is presumably how the street gets its name. Eventually we found ourselves at the back side (so to speak) of St John’s Co-Cathedral. We had decided we would visit either the cathedral or the Grand Master’s Palace, but not both. The cathedral won.
Inside it’s astonishingly ornate and beautiful, a veritable festival of the Baroque. It was built between 1572 and 1581 as the main church for the Knights of St John, so it’s not surprising they made a bit of a song and dance about it. You get an audio guide with your entrance fee but, to be honest, there is so much information to read, hear and understand that you could turn a simple visit into a lengthy history lesson; and I feared that by deconstructing it into its separate parts you might lose the overall magic of the place. Instead, we just wandered around, admired the art and the incredible skill required to make the building what it is. The oratory has an extraordinary Caravaggio, “The Beheading of John the Baptist”, and it’s well worth giving it a good few minutes of your time to appreciate it in full. I hope the photos give you an indication of just how splendid the cathedral is.
Time for lunch, and we had a nice salad and a bottle of Trebbiano in the middle of Merchants Street – a couple of the cafes had staked out tables and chairs in the middle of the pedestrianised area. Alas, they didn’t run to a wine cooler, and in the Maltese sun it didn’t take long for the cold white wine to warm up. But we soldiered on. I can’t remember the name of the place and their receipt didn’t mention the name either – curious. It definitely existed though.
We remembered enjoying the Malta Experience the last time we were here in 1993 and thought we would go again, for Auld Lang Syne if nothing else. Just one tourist attraction, that’s not too reprehensible, we thought; and it would be informative and enjoyable. And so it is. You basically sit in a very shallow but wide cinema and take in a 45 minute audio-visual account of the history of Malta. It’s comfortable, and the sound and picture quality are very good. One of the screen images of modern Malta as a tourist destination includes a picture of the Costa Concordia; they might want to think about changing that.
Unexpectedly, after the Malta Experience, included in the price is a little private tour of the Hospital of the Order of St John. Most people toddled off after the presentation and so missed it; only about eight of us waited for the beaming jolly lady to take us across the road to visit the hospital. As we walked towards it, the horse and cart man was lingering around again. “Ah, you came back to me, I knew you would”, he said. We just stayed silent with our noses in the air. The hospital is adjacent to or somehow joined in with the Mediterranean Conference Centre, so not only did we see the two main hospital halls, with their pageantry banners and plaques, but also the theatre stage where Bush and Gorbachev met formally to end the Cold War in 1989. It was a very interesting addition to our day’s sightseeing.
And that was it really. A bit late in the day to attempt any more sights, and we wanted to get back to St Julian’s for a decent nap as later on we would be going out to dinner with a Maltese Eurovision star. I know; what a name-dropper. In our best bibs and tucker, we waited outside the hotel for them to arrive. Just before 9pm there was a loud beeping of horns as said star waved maniacally at us from behind his steering wheel and we dashed across lanes of the moving traffic to hurl ourselves in the back of their car. We zoomed up the hilly streets until we found the only parking space in Paceville. They recommended this rather expensive but very nice Italian/Mediterranean restaurant in the Bay Street complex, the San Crispino. The staff there obviously recognised our famous host and so we got an excellent corner table and some very smiley and courteous service! The dinner and the company were both excellent, plus we had a nice bottle of Gavi to wash it down. Bay Street at night was a very lively place, even on a Tuesday; one of the cafes was holding a late night tea dance which, at even past midnight, still had a lot of people of all ages waltzing around. We got back to St Julian’s by about 12.30, and I think we might have sneaked in a little half-bottle of wine to read by on the balcony before lights out at 1am. A perfect day of sightseeing and socialising!
It’s rare for Mrs Chrisparkle and me to have a relaxing holiday. We tend to get up and go places, explore off the beaten track, visit areas that are not yer actual normal holiday destinations. Oh, and go on cruises, which is the complete opposite. But this time we did feel like having more of a slow, self-indulgent wallow of a holiday. We chose to go to Malta, as, apart from a couple of day’s strolling around Valletta on cruises, we hadn’t been there since 1993. That time, when we were Relatively Hard Up, we spent the grand total of £189 each on two weeks at the Hotel San Pawl in Bugibba, half board, with Blue Sky Holidays (remember them?) One day on that holiday we visited St Julian’s Bay, which we remembered as being unspeakably beautiful – although your average abattoir is probably more beautiful than Bugibba – and we vowed if we ever came back to Malta we would stay at St Julian’s. So, true to ourselves, that’s precisely what we did.
We flew with the now defunct bmibaby from the splendidly useful East Midlands Airport to Malta’s international airport at Luqa, which has certainly enjoyed a facelift since 1993. On that occasion, only one of our two cases made it to Malta; the other went on a trip to Rome and it was five days before we were reunited with it. That was a good lesson learned – before then, we used to pack “his” and “hers” cases, but ever since we have always divided our clothes up half-and-half between each case so that if one bag doesn’t make it, you don’t have the problem of one of you being fully dressed and the other naked, which can be very embarrassing.
Our pre-arranged taxi met us and whisked us to our hotel, the Juliani, facing the westernmost tip of Spinola Bay. We chose the Juliani on the strength that it was the Number One hotel for St Julian’s on Tripadvisor, and I’m not surprised at its rating. It’s a charming, welcoming hotel, superbly located, with wonderful staff and delicious, big breakfasts. In fact I still miss Kenny’s, Zsuzsi’s and Gabor’s attentiveness in the mornings. Their combination of friendliness and politeness was very hard to beat. We had a junior suite, which meant we had a balcony overlooking the bay, perfect for an afternoon read and relax, or indeed a late-night relax combined with a half-bottle of wine from the minibar. Goodness me, hasn’t Maltese wine improved since 1993? More of that later, I expect.
Anyway the Saturday we arrived (25th August 2012) St Julian’s was gearing up for its annual festa day. Every town in Malta has a day when they celebrate its saint, and St Julian’s was certainly in party spirit. The streets are decorated, fireworks boom day and night, the roads are closed, marching bands perform and seemingly thousands of people descend to enjoy roadside eating and drinking. On the Sunday, a large effigy of St Julian would be paraded through the town, to and from the church I suspect. Everyone is in a very jolly mood and it was a pleasure to witness it. Our hotel room balcony had a great view, as you can see from that top picture!
Regular readers will know that when we are abroad we need to sniff out the availability of gluten-free food so that Mrs C doesn’t starve to death. Some Internet research beforehand suggested it wasn’t going to be a problem. And indeed, I am delighted to report that Malta is great for coeliacs. I understand there are quite a few high profile Maltese who are coeliac and as a result there is considerable awareness out there. A lot of Maltese cuisine is Italian-influenced; the majority of restaurants are the pizza and pasta type, which would normally be hell for a coeliac, but I would say that every third or fourth Italian restaurant in Malta will have provision for serving gluten-free pizza bases and pasta. As for the taste of the offerings, well, that’s another matter. But there are very many plucky attempts to integrate gluten-free food with standard fayre, which will make your favourite coeliac appear less of a sore thumb, when it comes to standing out with your restaurant choices.
With average temperatures 34 degrees every day, and mornings, noons and afternoons filled with wall to wall sunshine, we thought we’d start off with salads for lunches and see how it progressed through the week. For our first lunch, we turned right out of the hotel and strolled past Spinola Bay and got as far as Paul’s Sea Breeze Restaurant at Balluta Bay. We sat by the sea edge and had delicious, huge salads and a nice bottle of white wine and instantly felt we were in holiday mood. It’s an unsophisticated but perfectly friendly place, perfect for a restful lunch, and whilst we didn’t actually go back again during the course of the week for a meal, we did buy White Magnums from them whenever we were passing.
We walked on, round the bend of the bay into Sliema, just to see how far we could get in how short a space of time. The answer is quite a long way, and we identified a number of potential eateries en route for later in the week. After half an hour or so, we decided to head back, as our very early start (leaving home at 4am) was catching up with us so we were in great need of that delightful institution, the afternoon nap. It was, after all, a holiday.
The nap got extended, and extended again, but eventually we shook ourselves out of our comas and changed for dinner. This time we turned left out of the hotel. We got the last available table (not having booked) at Lulu Restaurant. Unfortunately we were too distant from the bay to see all the evening fireworks, which was a shame – although we did catch some later on after the meal – those fireworks go on for some time! There’s one price at Lulu – and it’s for a three course meal chosen from their menu, which includes a bottomless jug of mineral water too. The atmosphere and the food were great, and the service was friendly and polite if occasionally a little forgetful. I had the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad, followed by the Pork Schnitzel and the Apple Pie. I can’t offhand remember what Mrs C had, but she enjoyed it very much. Sadly they didn’t have a dessert that was gluten-free, so her set price three course meal had perforce to become a two-courser. Lucky she’s not a big eater.
We were also introduced here to what would become our favourite Maltese wines – the Gran Cavalier range from Delicata. Twenty years ago, Maltese wine was absolute paint-stripper. You had to buy really expensive imports to get anything decent – or simply stick to drinking Cisk beer. But the arrival of the EU has had a splendid impact on the Maltese wine industry and nearly everything we drank during our week was decent to some degree (with one major exception). We had the Gran Cavalier Sauvignon Blanc at Lulu and it was to die for. Yes, it’s a bit expensive for a local wine, but absolutely worth it – actually at €17,50 for a bottle Lulu was about the cheapest place you can buy Gran Cavalier wines.
Thus, full and satiated, we fought our way back to the hotel past the good natured crowds all happy to be celebrating good old St Julian, sat on the balcony to watch the end of the midnight fireworks, indulged in a half-bottle of Delicata from the minibar – alas not Gran Cavalier but the Cavalli Sauvignon Blanc if I remember rightly – which was fine for a nightcap. By about 12.30, our poor tired little bodies gave as an ultimatum – go to bed or collapse where we were standing. Bed it was.