The strategic importance of the island, at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, has attracted a variety of civilizations over the centuries including the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Knights of St. John, the French and of course the British, who ruled for 150 years until 1964. Each has left a remarkable cultural and architectural legacy, visible across the island today. Guided by art historian Douglas Skeggs, the tour explores not only its finest cities such as Mdina, Valletta and Vittoriosa, but also some of its most spectacular and historic sites, and also examines Malta’s remarkable role in World War II.
LONDON / VALLETTA
Late morning departure from London Heathrow on an Air Malta flight to Malta International Airport.
Upon arrival transfer to the Phoenicia hotel, where three nights are spent. The hotel is situated just outside the city wall of ancient Valletta among seven acres of luscious gardens. Early evening meet for welcome drinks and a lecture by Douglas Skeggs followed by dinner at the hotel restaurant.
VALLETTA & MDINA
Depart by coach to explore one of Malta’s megalithic remains, the temple of Hagar Qim, which dates from the Ggantija period (circa 3600-3200BC). Continue to Mdina for a walking tour. The city was capital of Malta until 1571 and is situated inland on a high plateau commanding breath taking views of the island. Today the walled city with its narrow alleyways is very quiet with little traffic, which is why it has become known as ‘The Silent City’, and the tour will highlight the unusual mix of medieval and baroque architecture such as St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Lunch at Trattoria AD1530.
Return to Valletta for some time at leisure before a late afternoon private visit to the richly decorated St. Johns Co-Cathedral with its world-famous Caravaggio painting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist displayed in the Oratory for which it was painted. This painting is one of Caravaggio’s most impressive and uses of the chiaroscuro style for which he is most famous with a circle of light illuminating the scene of St. John’s beheading at the request of Salome. The Oratory also houses Caravaggio’s St. Jerome III also painted during his exile on the island. Dinner at Rampila Restaurant on the Bastions.
Morning walking tour of Valletta, Malta’s capital city and a World Heritage Site, featuring the story of the Siege of Malta during the Second World War. Start at the striking new Parliament Building, constructed between 2011 and 2015 and designed by Renzo Piano. Continue to the Upper Barrakka Gardens with their breath taking panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. The gardens date back to 1661 and used to be a private garden of the Knights of St. John.
Visit the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, one of Malta’s oldest churches, its interior dating from the 1570s although it has a 19th-century façade. In 60 AD St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta and brought Christianity to the population. The church houses many treasures including a fine altarpiece by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio and a dazzling gilded statue of St. Paul, carved in Rome in the 1650s and carried shoulder-high through the streets of Valletta on the saint’s feast day every February.
See the Grand Master’s Palace, formally the abode of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John, which has always been the house of government in Malta, first by the Knights, then the British and now hosts the President’s office. End at the Lower Barrakka Gardens for more outstanding views over the Grand Harbour.
Lunch at Trabuxo restaurant. Guided tour of the Lascaris War Rooms, an underground complex of tunnels and chambers that housed the War Headquarters from where the defence of the island was conducted during the Second World War. Dinner at the hotel.
VALLETTA / BIRGU / LONDON
Check out of the hotel and depart for a boat trip by traditional dghajsa water taxi across the historic Grand Harbour to Birgu, also known as the City of Vittoriosa, which occupies a promontory of land on the south side of the harbour with Fort St. Angelo at its tip. The Knights of Malta transferred the capital from Mdina to here in 1530; it was later transferred to Valletta. Take a walking tour through winding streets and see the impressive Fort St. Angelo from where Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette led the defence of the island during the Great Siege of 1565 by the Ottomans. The fort also played a vital role in the Second World War.
Light lunch at Don Berto restaurant. Transfer to the airport for an Air Malta flight to London Heathrow arriving mid-evening.