Fred Van Eijk

Last year Travel Counsellors’ Managing Director, Fred van Eijk, flew to Malta to rediscover the ancient history, rich culture and intriguing blend of Arabic, Italian and British influences.

My experience with Malta has been unique to my travel repertoire. Everywhere I go I enjoy the adventures, local experiences, and environments that emerge from exploring new places.

Malta, however, has always been the exception.

Image: ViewingMalta.com

Image: ViewingMalta.com

The island hadn’t yet inspired me and I didn’t quite understand why people would choose it as a holiday destination. Then again, in all honesty, I had only visited Malta as a buyer for a large British travel business, and that was about 20 years ago.

My job, on previous visits, was to make contracts with two and three-star hotels and cheerless studio’s and apartments. The goal was always to do things as cheap as possible. Mass tourism was taking over, with my buying list for more than 5,000 passengers needing a place to sleep and more than 35 charter planes landing every week. They were mostly elderly English tourists, who escaped the winter chills by swapping islands and who didn’t always make it back home. Not exactly my idea of a dream holiday.

Time to give Malta another go.

Image: ViewingMalta.com

Image: ViewingMalta.com

Let the age-old history and melting pot of cultural influences refresh my opinion on the island. This time around no more zero-personality apartments and fish and chips. I’m heading straight to the picturesque old towns, modern boutique hotels, authentic restaurants and cultural festivals.

I couldn’t have started my trip better than with a magical night stroll around Mdina. As Malta’s first capital it was run by Malta’s knights and was once a settlement of the Roman Empire. Culinary delights challenge our taste buds at the award-winning restaurant De Mondion. This renowned hotspot can be found on the roof of the Relais & Chateaux hotel The Xara Palace. It is an ancient palace with seventeen rooms in the heart of Mdina, complete with beautiful antiques and art.

Image: VisitMalta.com

First stop, Malta’s old capita, Mdina. Image: VisitMalta.com

The Republic of Malta consists of the islands Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Often people will head to Gozo as a day trip – but why not stay a little longer! Spend a night at the Kempinski hotel or reside in one of the farmhouses. Give yourself some time to enjoy the island’s serenity. Treat yourself to a lunch at The Boathouse in Xlendi Bay, where you can take a seat at the shadow-filled terrace and watch the fishing boats sail in and out, the locals enjoying the quaint beachside and the vivid blue water.

The second evening was just as wonderful. We spend our night in the grand open-air theatre Pjazza Teatru Rjal in the Capital Valetta. Designed by the famed Renzo Piano, it was the perfect setting for two Ballet d’Europe shows. After being bombed in the Second World War, Renzo Piano redesigned the Opera House’s ruins into a remarkable venue. The stunning performance by the talented dancers of Ballet d’Europe fused elegantly with the softly lit streets and baroque buildings.

Gozo Malta

Malta consists of three islands, this is Gozo.

For an exuberant side to Malta, make sure you don’t miss one of the ‘festas’. With more than 60 Patron Saints who each get their own celebration during the summer months, the party seems never-ending. We landed in the merry celebrations of the St. Dominic festivity. A few resilient men carried the heavy statue of Dominic through the sweltering streets of Valetta. They were cheered on by uplifting music, loud bangs of fireworks, bursts of confetti and a roaring crowd that was, clapping, singing and dressed in their most festive clothing. You can experience this unique festivity as a welcomed spectator almost every weekend at one of the many villages from June until September.

The capital Valetta is a trail of lovely streets and quaint squares. A stroll through the city will quickly take you along hundreds of years of culture and architecture. Built in the 16th century by Maltese knights, the St. Johns co-cathedral is not to be missed. This ornamental church, rich in decorative motifs, houses the impressive painting “the beheading of John the Baptist” by Caravaggio.

Built in the 60s, St. Johns co-cathedral is not to be missed.

Built in the 60s, St. Johns co-cathedral is not to be missed.

Close to the main entrance of Valetta you’ll find the 5-star hotel Phoenicia. After renovation in the beginning of 2016, it is a great place to spend a couple of days in comfort. You’d rather stay in an apartment? Then I’d recommend the Palazzo Prince d’Orange; a 17th-century building revamped by its Dutch owner. More and more Maltese families are uniting with renowned architects and designers to refresh their age-old building into contemporary boutique hotels. Take Casa Ellul in Valetta; a Victorian 19th-century building and now an intimate boutique hotel with a tranquil balance of modern design and antique baroque influences.

The world-famous Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja presents summer’s biggest highlight with his yearly concert. Amongst thousands of locals and tourists, we soaked up a sultry evening of the most beautiful aria’s – the melodies of the Malta philharmonic orchestra and the many guests that Calleja welcomes on stage. Every year he brings a global star to his island and we were lucky enough to dance to the greatest hits of Anastacia.

Celebrations are held throughout the summer months to commemorate more than 60 Patron Saints.

Celebrations are held throughout the summer months to commemorate more than 60 Patron Saints.

After all the unique impressions and exploration of untouched culture, a day of laying around and taking a dip in the refreshing water is a welcomed change. The beach club Café del Mar will be ideal to set the right relaxed mood.

After all those years my opinion on Malta has changed entirely. The island is overflowing with history, culture, festivals, tasteful hotels, and impeccable cuisine. Its people are friendly, welcoming and proud of their islands, and I finally understand why.

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What do you love about Malta?