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A Day in Valletta

Today was our full day in Valletta. We didn’t really have a plan for the day, we just decided to explore.

We learned that the hotel runs a free shuttle up into Valletta at 10 o’clock, and back at 6pm so we decided to take advantage of the shuttle into town, at least. So by about 10 o’clock we we were dropped at Castille Place which is on the south western side of the town, by the Auberge of Castille. We spent a short while looking for a tourist information centre and an ATM, and found both, but I would have to say that the TIC was disappointing. After that we just walked. First we found our way onto Republic Street and walked north-eastwards into the heart of Valletta. I was enjoying the old buildings and their distinctive architecture – all built of limestone, and all with balcony windows at various levels. We walked up to Great Siege Square and on to Republic Square where we had a coffee at a large outdoor café – Café Cordina. (As with any Mediterranean outdoor coffee shop, there is a real café across the street with loos, etc.)

Having fortified ourselves we walked on down Republic Street past Palace Square and then dropping down towards Fort St. Elmo. On the way we passed Casa Rocca Piccola, a 16th century palace of a Maltese noble family, which is still owned by the family and which offers tours. The next tour was already fully booked but we decided that if we could, we’d return later in the day.

Then we continued down to Fort St. Elmo at the end of the promontory on which Valletta is built and then headed south onto Mediterranean Street alongside the Grand Harbour. This section was pretty hot and busy but we visited the Siege Bell memorial and then found refuge from the heat in the peace of Lower Barraca Gardens, where we sat and rested for a while. But then it was onwards, heading south-westwards along Castille Curtain, St. Barbara Bastion, and up the steps towards Upper Barraca Gardens. On our way there we heard the noon gun being fired from the Saluting Battery. We found Upper Barraca Gardens to be nowhere near as peaceful as the Lower Gardens, although it’s possible that the several excursion parties from the big MSC ship that was berthed in Valletta today may have been a factor. Certainly these gardens were busy and not relaxing. We climbed up more steps out of the gardens and found that we’d pretty much returned to our starting point.

By this time it was also lunchtime so we returned to Café Cardino for that, after which we walked back down Republic Street where we were able to join to 2pm tour of Casa Rocca Piccola. This was interesting – a 16th century house , still occupied by the original family (and still lived in – it’s their town house) complete with lots of old paintings, furniture and fittings. There’s also a garden, hidden away from the street, which was very peaceful. Then there’s the bomb shelter….. the owner visited Germany in the later 1930s and became convinced of the danger of war, and decided to convert a couple of old wells below the house into air-raid shelters. One was for the household and held about 20 people, and the other, larger, shelter was for the local community and held about 100 people. Both were used in earnest during the war, but although there was significant bomb damage in the area, the house itself was not hit.

By this time it was about 3pm , and we felt it was time to return to the hotel. So we made our way to Old Bakery Street and along it to Hastings Gardens. Here we hit a problem – the hotel was directly ahead, but there was no way through, just acres and acres of old fortifications. We could either turn left towards Triton Fountain and then back to the hotel, or right and go along the fortifications. We chose the latter, which was almost certainly the longer route, but it did give us some excellent views of Marsamxett Harbour. Eventually, feeling very hot and thirsty, we returned to the hotel just before 4pm, having been out for six hours.

This was just a brief visit, but I really liked the architecture and ‘feel’ of Valletta. I have a feeling that I’d like to return some day.

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