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Malta For Honeymooners
A Mediterranean retreat for culture vultures
Newlyweds who are looking to soak up more than sunshine on their honeymoon should look to Malta as their destination. Located between Sicily and North Africa in the Mediterranean Sea, this archipelago is often perceived as a picturesque retreat, ideal for water sports and sun bathing. But its central location has created a diverse and relatively undiscovered arts and culture scene. I went to see for myself exactly what Malta could offer the couple looking to combine sun, sea and cultural sights. My first stop was to the old capital city of Mdina, which is located in the heart of the island.
Mdina in MaltaAs a walled city, it remains an enclosed space and houses approximately 200 people who live alongside (and inside) the palaces, museums and the Cathedral of St Paul. Aside from a few parked cars, Mdina appears untouched by modernity, which only adds to the allure of the city locked in time. The narrow, deserted lanes are perfect for a long, romantic stroll, amongst a combination of medieval and baroque architecture. If you visit in the afternoon, you'll catch the sun as it hits the globigerina limestone, turning the buildings golden. Mdina offers superb views of the island so it's an area to savour, especially considering the bustling area of Rabat waits anxiously outside.
The capital city Valetta is equally busy and it's most precious building is St John's Co-Cathedral. Inside the church has been decorated with an extravagance which brings the soul to an abrupt halt. Art lovers will also be taken aback by the painting by Caravaggio which thrusts the preceding extravagance into submission. The Beheading of St John the Baptist is the only signed painting by Caravaggio. His delicate strokes have created an image that leaps out of the frame like a 3D image. It left an impression, long after exiting the Cathedral.
As you wonder along the parallel streets of Valetta, a tour of the Casa Rocca Picolla gives an intimate context to Malta's history. It's a lived in museum which continues to be the primary residence of the De Piro family. Honeymooners may want to pay special attention to an ancestral bed, which is thought to bless those who touch it.
The Manoel Theatre in Valetta is Malta's national theatre. The building itself dates back to 1731 and was commissioned by Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena . It stands proud as one of the oldest theatres in Europe and the interiors are lavish and ornate. Although panto is a firm favourite amongst the Maltese, concerts, plays and operas are all performed at the Manoel. Anyone looking to be exposed to opera for the first time will not be disappointed. The performances are subtitled and if you're lucky enough to get tickets for the opening night, you may be in the company of the President and Prime Minister.
Theatre-lovers should also visit the neighbouring island of Gozo in October, where opera forms the central event at a cultural festival. The opera and festival are produced solely by the community, and take a full year to prepare. The Astra Theatre and the Aurora Theatre are the two main theatres on the island.
Valetta has a lot to offer but Malta's cultural landscape is not limited to the densely populated city. A defining characteristic of the island is the fact that Malta is home to temples which pre-date Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids by 1,000 years. Even if you're not necessarily keen on archaeology, it's fascinating to step into a time before technology. The Ggantija Temples are located on the island of Gozo, a short ferry ride away from Malta. But the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples are the most impressive. They sit on a cliff top in southern Malta, facing the isle of Fifla. Surrounded by a heritage park, the area is serenity personified. When walking between the two temples, the air is light and silent -the perfect escape from city life.
For honeymooners, the waterfront in St. Julians is the perfect spot for an evening stroll. The pretty gardens and contemporary lounge at Palazzo Naxxar are also worth a visit.