One Day in Valetta
Updated: Nov 15
The last two weeks, I had talked about the faraway beaches of eastern Asia, but now it is time to return to a slightly more domestic destination. I say somewhat because even though our picturesque port of call is located in the Mediterranean Sea, it is probably not on the radar of many German tourists. And that is unrightfully so because where we are visiting today has everything on offer.
It is an island as diverse as one can be, with beaches and cliffs a rich landscape a favourable climate, and its towns being drenched in history to such a degree that it seems to seep out of every façade, every crack in the sidewalk. Still, quite a many destinations would fit into that description, so to narrow it down further let me reveal that we are talking about the southernmost member state of the European Union. We are talking about the port of Valetta on the island of Malta.
The approach was a spectacular one already, entering the bay of the Grand Harbour, the golden morning light painting soft shadows and bright dashes on the sandstone-yellow old town. Like a giant monolith, it rose at the port side of our AIDAprima, slowly backing up into the basin and towards the pier. Passing the outer breakwater, the forts of St Elmo and Ricasoli, we made for our dock, directly below the Upper Barrakka Gardens. It took some time to bring our massive ship alongside the small pier, but once it was completed, we were able to step out and feel some land under our feet, for the first time after the four-day-long Suze Canal transit.
We finished our unloading operation quite quickly and immediately grabbed some bikes to go on a short exploration round. For me personally, it had been a year since my last call to Valetta, for many others in my team it was the first contact they had with the island. Time would not permit us to follow the entire track and instead focused on a small section of the path winding its way through the old town of Valetta. The ancient city, with its stairs, one-way streets, and steep hills, is quite a challenge to navigate. Our exploration round took us barely an hour and ended at the Upper Barrakka Gardens, from where we could take a marvellous picture of our own ship in the morning light. From there it was a short downhill, through some narrow streets until we had reached back to our vessel. There, our guests already waited for us, with some other members of our team conducting the pre-tour safety briefing, just as we arrived.
This meant that we were able to directly gather our groups and without any other breaks, started our exploration of the island. I was guiding a group with e-bikes that day, and those were very necessary as we had quite a way to go in terms of uphill sections. But for starters, we first followed along the coast, until we reached an overpass over the highway. From here on, we passed the Royal Malta Golf Club, one of the first places where the British influence over the island can be felt undeniably strong in the design of the clubhouse. Past the golf club, our uphill climb started, through light forests and pastures, past the airport and the first genuinely ancient towns of the island.
The further we got away from Valetta, the more country-like the scenery became, our road now being bordered by limestone walls. Those walls are one of the typical sights on Malta, being likely used since thousands of years to fence of areas. They are built from limestone boulders, stacked loosely upon each other. These walls have been torn down, relocated, and rebuild countless times during the passing of the years and in a way, they are an excellent metaphor for the island itself. It is quite surprising, just how much historically significant events can happen on a singular island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Still, precisely this is one of the big draws of Malta. And riding over the island, through its tiny villages with their ginormous churches you can never really shake that feeling of being someplace significant.
But the beauty of the island is not only in old stone but also in its nature. And just such a place of nature we were about to reach on our tour, as we climbed towards the highest point of our whole track, the southern shore of Malta. Here the entire island appears turned on its side and falling into the waves. Almost two-hundred meters high, those are the famed Dingli Cliffs. Battered by the relentless winds, we can stand on the edge of those cliffs and watch the wave crash into the island far below us.
From the sheer and wild cliffs, we started our descent back towards the villages and townships, and especially one town, the old capital city of Mdina. The city has gained some notoriety in the last years the same way, so many other medieval towns have achieved theirs. Being featured as a piece of scenery in the Game of Thrones tv-series. Mdina is again, one of those places where you can almost feel the weight of history on your shoulders while passing through the streets. It is somewhat comforting to walk the shadowy streets between those old stone buildings and knowing that they are still standing, despite centuries of troubles, turmoil and adversities and they will always be there when all of our current struggles are nothing more than a side note to history. In Mdina, we also had a more extended break, so our guests could walk along the giant walls of the city and take plenty of pictures of the old buildings.
After finishing our break, we went on to continue our path downhill, and now I got the payback for not being able to explore the whole tour in the morning. The road that I had planned on using to connect back to Valetta had been closed off and I, not wanting to reveal the unexpected obstacle to my guests decided to turn right in the blink of an eye, and without checking my map. It was the wrong decision. Because now we were riding on a road between pastures, leading us back towards the airport. I kept checking my GPS for any option to turn and connect back to my planned track, without the need for retracing a prior part of the tour. And then I thought I had found one, in the form of a gravel road leading slightly uphill.
But it was the wrong decision again. While riding over the uncomfortably loose gravel, I was able to properly read my GPS and realized that the road would become dangerously steep at a later point. So, at an intersection with another gravel road, I stopped. We would be able to follow this second road to the airport, do a short stint on an already familiar part of the track and then get back to Valetta and continue our tour. So I did, what every self-respecting guide would do, and explained to my guests a long story about Malta’s agriculture that we had come out to see at precisely this intersection and then explained to them how we would ride past a sight we had already visited and how all of this was part of my preformulated planed tour.
It seemed to catch on, and we successfully made our way to Valetta, where all that was left to do was negotiate the city centre. At the same time, the local social-democratic party held a massive demonstration that blocked off access to half the sights we had intended to see. Nevertheless, we were able to also complete this part of our tour and with one last slow roll down a long hill, reached back to our ship. And after loading our equipment, we were able to have a sail-away with as stunning a view as on our arrival.