Valletta’s long-awaited artistic resurgence is upon us, but what makes this sun-kissed city the perfect European Capital of Culture in 2018?
1. All Valletta’s a stage
With its wide-open piazzas, and smaller enclosed arenas, the city offers plenty of opportunities to bring out the thespian in you! If you’d rather watch than be watched, simply grab a seat at the stunning open-air theatre near the City Gate entrance or settle on one of the many wooden benches and behold the world, with its infinite personalities and possibilities, go by.
2. There’s an exhibition on every corner
Art is not confined to museum spaces and auditoriums but, like everything in this city, it has gone al fresco. Look up and you will see statues of saints perching, like pigeons, on their street corners. Even the simple door knob is an artistic creation: fish, birds or the Maltese cross are intricately moulded in brass and set on Maltese wood.
3. The bar walls are canvasses
Fine art photography, sketches, and paintings adorn the walls and ceilings of many of Valletta’s cafés, pubs and cocktail bars. The establishments spill onto the streets, their honey-orange drinks adorning the tables at all times of the day, especially at dusk as the heat begins to subside. Whether you like your aperitifs fizzy or still, there’s a drink – and a bar – in this town with your name on it.
4. Food makes an artistic statement
Republic Street, the main thoroughfare slicing the city in the centre, teems with restaurants whose dishes often look too good to eat, though the divine smell of their cuisine will have you salivating. Famous local chefs working all over the city design their creations with the freshest of local ingredients, adorning them with herbs and sauces reminiscent of visual art worthy of the Turner prize.
5. You can dance in the streets
Music is part of Valletta’s identity. Jazzy tunes drift out of its many coves and buskers show off their skills at every corner. This city’s history is linked to the history of its old record stores, piano sellers and band clubs. If you’re lucky enough to be in Valletta during the feast, follow the band as it marches through the streets to the sounds of the trumpet, trombone and drums.
6. It’s a veritable Babylon
Just walk through City Gate, the imposing entrance and piazza designed by Renzo Piano, and you will hear the sounds of the world. French, German, Italian, English and the local language of Maltese mingle and echo, creating an acoustic experience which puts you right in the heart of Europe.
7. History is alive and well
The Maltese pride themselves on their history, and Valletta is a city which has aged gracefully. While some areas have had some work done, the nip and tuck has been done with its best features preserved. Opulent residences hide behind plain façades while the stone walls, curved balconies and baroque buildings reflect a past which is still kicking.
8. It’s an authentic vintage shopping experience
Whether you’re looking for one-of-a-kind pieces or simply want to browse through local wares, Valletta offers a unique experience: old family businesses, some of which have been around for 100 years or more, live side-by-side with newer vintage stores, offering respite from the fast-fashion shopping of the bigger department stores.
9. The city feels like a film set
And it actually is one. Steven Spielberg, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt have all walked past the city’s architectural gems. The capital is an Oscar-worthy actress, having doubled for Italy, France, Spain and Turkey amongst many others. Her most infamous foray into the magic of the movies was with the 1978 cult classic Midnight Express, directed by Sir Alan Parker, and filmed in Fort St Elmo, a film which showcased her dramatic skills and consummate professionality.
10. It’s an urbanite’s playground
All you need to do is walk, walk, walk. Valletta is intimate, with its pretty cul-de-sacs and smooth stairways opening up to views of the Grand Harbour. There’s no need to catch a bus, or take a taxi to fully enjoy this city. Just grab your best walking shoes and explore its cultural heart and soul.