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Friday, February 22, 2008

Instant weekend

Matthew Teller says that 'early spring is just about the best time to be in the Maltese micro-capital', from The Observer:

..Malta is seriously hot in summer - and seriously overrun by mass tourism. Time your visit for the 'shoulder' season and you'll get plenty of sunshine without contending with the crowds.

In addition, a shake-up in flights now means better access to the island. At the end of March, Easyjet is taking over GB Airways' Gatwick-Malta and Manchester-Malta services, converting them to no-frills. BA is going head-to-head on the London route, starting its own full-service flights from Gatwick on the same day as Easyjet. And from 1 May, Air Malta launches an extra Friday flight from Manchester..

Forget Malta's image of cheap holidays amid concrete carbuncles: Valletta is a seriously cultured, beautiful city, designed on an orderly grid with the sea on three sides: as you stroll the main Triq ir-Repubblika, blue water can be seen to both left and right. Start out at St John's Co-Cathedral, built by the Knights of St John to celebrate their 1565 victory over the Ottomans. Its interior is all lavish Baroque gilt and frescoes, and it houses one of Caravaggio's finest paintings, The Beheading of St John the Baptist. Sample, too, the Grand Master's Palace, now the seat of Malta's parliament; it is awash with marble, gilt and ornate coats-of-arms..

Valletta is the nation's capital, but it's titchy: just 6,000 people live here (down from 20,000 a generation ago). For a flavour of the city's changing fortunes, head away from the bustle of Triq ir-Repubblika into the narrow streets of the semi-abandoned Manderaggio district, once a harbourfront slum - then catch the pint-sized passenger ferry across Marsamxett harbour to the upmarket suburb of Sliema, where the waterfront road is dominated by cafes, sleek apartment blocks and the ritzy Fortina hotel and spa, with its seven restaurants...

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