Valletta
For the love of Valletta! How to be a Belti for a day
Edward Bonello, a Valletta boy himself, shares his favourite spots to take in the full flavour of the Valletta experience.

Edward Bonello

Malta’s capital city Valletta is more often referred to by locals simply as il-Belt (the city). That’s because, for many centuries, Valletta was the one reference point for the rest of the island, and anything and everything started and ended here. So, in tiny Malta, no one really needed to specify which city they were referring to – there was just one.

You can only imagine how proud this makes Valletta residents, who are referred to as Beltin. But what makes a real Belti? What are the special traits and secrets the Beltin know about their lovely city? Do you have what it takes to bear this prestigious title – for a day?

Here’s a quick guide to spending your day like a Belti (m) or Beltija (f), and really take in all this lovely city has to offer!

If you are lucky enough to be residing in one of the several beautifully-restored palazzos-turned-boutique hotels in Valletta, you’re in for a treat. Start the day early, possibly at sunrise, and head down to St Barbara Bastion to take in the spectacular view, as the sun peaks from behind the fortifications across the Grand Harbour. This scene will stay with you for a while.

Valletta Grand Harbour

Once you’re up, go for a stroll in the streets of downtown Valletta. The city has always been split into two – upper Valletta is home to government offices, museums, fancy eateries, and high street shops. Lower Valletta, closer to the harbour, is the residential, more authentic (slightly rough around the edges) part. This is where you meet the real Beltin, who are as colourful and animated as the city itself.

Government Valletta

Then head to Pjazza Reġina and start the day strong. Get yourself a cappuccino or your favourite morning potion together with a couple of ricotta or pea pastizzi in one of Malta’s most iconic squares. Technically, this square is called Pjazza Repubblika, dedicated to Malta’s constitutional status, however many locals still refer to it by its old name due to the marble statue of Queen Victoria that sits in the middle – a testament to the country’s recent colonial past.

Once you’ve had your breakfast, it’s time to visit one or two of the magnificent churches – the crown jewels of the city. Malta and Gozo have some 365 churches and chapels dotted around the islands – 28 of which are in Valletta! At a time when the city had a population much greater than today, these churches served the spiritual needs of the residents. In turn, they were transformed into veritable temples of art and reverence.

valletta

We start with St John’s Co-Cathedral, built by the Order of the Knights of St John as their Conventual Church, and decorated by the finest artists they could bring in from all over Europe. The Co-Cathedral and its museum are home to works by Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and many more, as well as a wonderful collection of tapestries – regarded among the largest and most exquisite sets of tapestries woven during the Baroque era – making this one of the most impressive places to visit in Malta. Until 24th June, the tapestries are being displayed within the main nave of the Co-Cathedral, following an extensive restoration process that lasted 16 years.

Move on to St Paul Shipwrecked Church, dedicated to St Paul’s shipwreck on Malta in 60AD, which led to the island converting to Christianity. Then there’s the church dedicated to Our Lady of Portosalvo which has a long history associated with Valletta’s maritime heritage, and the rotunda dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel – a landmark that has characterised the Valletta skyline for many years.

Have you worked up an appetite yet? Naturally! Time to grab a quick bite Valletta-style, at one of the many lunchtime eateries that serve the thousands of workers who commute to Valletta every day. These often offer cheap and cheerful options of homemade favourites that can never go wrong. For a special treat, order a plate of ravioli with tomato sauce, a typical staple of the city – quick, tasty and sets you right for the rest of the day.

Valletta

It’s the afternoon by now, and if you’re visiting during the hot summer months, it’s time to refresh and go for a dip in the beautiful deep blue. The best swimming spots are at the very end of the peninsula, close to the breakwater. The sea is very deep here, and can get rough unexpectedly, so swimming here is only advised for strong swimmers. However, set against the hauntingly tall bastions of Fort St Elmo and the immense blue of the Mediterranean, this will possibly be one of the most beautiful dips of your life.

On the way back, make sure to take a stroll around the bastions and pass by the improvised summer beach rooms which make up a micro-village of their own. Developed questionably over the decades, these shacks are where some locals hang out during the long hot summer evenings, gossiping and chilling the nights away.

If you’d rather stay dry, a visit to one of the capital’s museums is always a good idea. There are lots to choose from; from the national museum of Art – MUŻA – which houses priceless paintings, sculptures, majolica, furniture, and silver by local and international artists, to the formidable Fort St Elmo, home to the national war museum, and from the National Museum of Archaeology, which offers a fascinating introduction to the prehistory and early history of the Maltese islands, spanning around 7,000 years, to Casa Rocca Piccola, a living museum, providing insight into the way Maltese nobility lived through the ages.

museum valletta

It’s early evening by now. Refresh quickly, and catch a show at the wonderful Teatru Manoel, a Baroque wonder of architecture, or at the delightful, open-air theatre space Pjazza Teatru Rjal. Alternatively, head to Spazju Kreattiv to take in some contemporary art.

Dinner time, and you’re spoilt for choice here. Valletta offers a wide range of restaurants, from Michelin-starred fine dining, to experimental, ethnic, continental, Italian, local and more. You will find a tonne of recommendations about restaurants in Valletta, which you can consider according to your tastes.

bridge bar valletta

And what better way to conclude the day than with a long drink at one of the several bars in the charming streets leading to the Grand Harbour – the ones in Santa Lucia Street are especially welcoming and guaranteed to send you home with the biggest smile you sported of late!

For the history buffs

Valletta takes its name from the Grand Master of the Order of St John who had the vision to transform the previously baron peninsula, into a modern Renaissance city that would be the pride of the Hospitaller Order. The Knights had just overcome their most significant challenge to date – the Great Siege of 1565, which put everything on the line for the tiny island. However, supported by the stoic perseverance of the locals, they emerged stronger than ever, determined to carve their place in history – and boy did they manage! On 28th March 1566, the Grand Master laid the first stone of the new city where today stands the church dedicated to Our Lady of Victories, and the rest is history.

This feature was first carried in the Guide Me spring/summer 2023 edition.

9th July 2023


Edward Bonello
Written by
Edward Bonello
Edward Bonello is a content writer, PR consultant and generally chill fellow. When he’s not happily tapping away at his laptop, he enjoys collecting useless trivia, watching B-movies, and cooking the most decent carbonara this side of Trastevere.

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