Malta – Eastbourne with attitude
Sliema harbour greets you with a combination of cafes and restaurants facing an armada of yachts.
I am told that somewhere in the midst of this plethora of rich man’s toys is Roman Abramovich’s personal vessel – although apparently the Russian tycoon has not visited this Mediterranean paradise since he started filling his playtime with Premiership football rather than sailing.
Maybe another reason for his prolonged absence is the fact neighboring Valletta is a favored haunt of not only the current players of arch-rivals Manchester United, but previously of that club’s legendary star George Best.
During my stay in early March – somewhat prior to the scorchingly hot summer tourist season when temperatures regularly reach 30 degrees centigrade – both Sliema and Valletta are more notable for the number of pensioners parading the harbor edge.
This is Eastbourne with attitude.
One night I am even woken from my slumber by a gaggle of Irish grannies chatting over late night coffee and cards. Remembering some of my own previous holiday indiscretions I feel too hypocritical to complain.
The reason for my early retreat to bed that evening had been a draining, but enjoyable, trek between Sliema and Valletta. The walk takes well over an hour, but gives a complete view of the harbor.
For those already feeling footsore there are a series of buses that run between the two places and a ferry which covers the water in just five minutes.
Numerous boats offer cruises through Malta’s seven bays, while horse and carriages can be hired for a quick tour of the highlights of Valletta.
The location is a favorite with Hollywood film makers with blockbusters Gladiator and Troy both filmed here. Those wishing to follow in the footsteps of Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt should check out The Malta Experience in Valletta.
Of course, this little island was heavily involved in battles of its own during the second world war. The nation was collectively awarded the George Cross for conspicuous gallantry during that conflict as a part of the British Empire.
The Maltese flag bears a replica of that award and numerous plaques acknowledging its wartime effort adorn buildings across the island.
Malta has a long and colourful history, having first been occupied by the ancient Phoenicans – a civilization centered in what is now the Lebanon – in 1000BC.
It has since provided a home for the empires of Carthage and Rome, been conquered by Arabs in the ninth century and been ruled by the Normans, Turks, Spanish, French and British.
The country was eventually granted independence in 1964 and is today the smallest member of the European Union.
Small in stature, but grand in history – perhaps Malta has more in common with those gregarious grannies than I first thought.