- The Maltese capital, Valletta is like an open-air museum, dubbed a ‘city of palaces’.
The cream-coloured battlements of Valletta rise from the emerald waters of the harbour like sheer cliffs.
On top is a bustle of domes, towers and homes. Arriving in the Maltese capital by sea should be on everyone’s bucket list.
We arrived on board Celebrity Reflection, a stunning cruise ship and part of the Celebrity Cruises fleet. Valletta is also the home port for Celebrity Reflection.
It seems appropriate that this LGBT+ friendly cruise line is registered to Valletta. After all, Malta now has some of the most advanced laws in the world, including marriage equality. And yes, same-sex couples can get married on board Celebrity Cruises ships.
We had breakfast in the main Oceanview Cafe while the crew docked Reflection.
Breakfast on a Celebrity Cruise a true feast. Imagine all the best hotel breakfasts you’ve ever seen, and then lay them alongside each other, and you’ll get some sense of the choice.
From cereals, fruits and muesli to breads, pastries and tarts, to cooked breakfasts, cold meats, cheeses, and smoked fish, you’ll find something to start your day. You can even go for an Asian breakfast of congee rice or Indian aloo mutter – it’s delicious.
Discovering the open-air museum that is Valletta
Valletta has long been recognized as an architectural gem. The ruling houses of Europe dubbed it Superbissima – Italian for Most Proud.
Moreover, when future British Prime Minister visited in 1830, he described it as ‘a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen’. Today, UNESCO recognizes it as a World Heritage Site.
You can discover 7,000 years of history on a visit to Malta and the neighboring island of Gozo. But Valletta itself is most famous for its Baroque palaces and Renaissance Cathedrals.
The Knights Hospitaller erected the most important buildings from the 16th century.
Malta was also a British possession for 150 years until 1964 and still has scarlet post and phone boxes, just like in London. As a result, English is an official language, alongside Maltese.
It’s worth building up your energy if you are planning to stroll around Valletta, it is extremely hilly. Though there is a €1 ($1.17) lift to take you to the top of the high walls.
The city’s most historic buildings – its cathedrals and the auberges where the knights lived – are well preserved. Many of the residential streets, by contrast, have a slightly distressed grandeur, which somehow lends them character.
The city is on a grid system, so it’s easy to wander without getting lost and soak in the atmosphere of the quieter parts of town. The streets are narrow, giving you plenty of shade, and overlooked by distinctive windowed balconies.
Malta, an island hero
We wandered from the grand Triton Fountain, through the dramatic City Gate to enter the old town. On our right, outside the imposing new Parliament House the Malta Youth Orchestra were entertaining the crowds with an free concert.
Next to the parliament stands the sight of the Royal Opera House, it’s ruins are a monument to the air assaults Malta withstood during World War II.
When the war came to North Africa, Malta’s strategic importance was greater than ever. If the British could hold the island, they could use it as a base to stop the Facists in Italy and Nazis in Germany resupplying their armies. Indeed, Churchill called the island ‘an unsinkable aircraft carrier’.
As a result, the Italians and Germans flew an incredible 3,000 bombing raids against Malta over two years. They aimed to destroy Britain’s ports and air defenses.
Britain’s King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross, the highest medal of civilian valor. It is the only time it has been given to a place. Malta subsequently incorporated the cross into the corner of their red and white national flag.
You can see a plaque recalling the award outside the Grandmaster’s Palace, where you can also admire the Maltese soldiers in their smart white uniforms. Another plaque displays the letter from US President Franklyn Roosevelt praising the island’s fortitude in the service of freedom.
Malta in more than one day
The joy of being on a cruise is you get a fresh destination to explore each day. The problem is that one day is never quite enough.
On a future trip, we’ll be discovering Valletta’s friendly LGBT+ scene. And we’ll be exploring beyond the main island of Malta to little Gozo, famous for its ancient past, hiking trails, stunning beaches and scuba diving in crystal clear waters.