Originally published on March 27th, 2015.
When asked to go to Malta to not only discover the beautiful island, but also the land from which my great grandmother hailed, I said yes without hesitation. It’s Malta! A beautiful jewel of an island dotted in the Mediterranean between Sicily, Tunisia, and Libya. A dream for one who relishes culture and history set against a backdrop of the ever-so beautiful sea. Beyond being rich in history, the food & wine scene of Malta is one to write home about. While I wasn’t there in the summer, I’m told the beaches are absolutely spectacular as well — which means I will have to go back…you know, for very important research purposes. ;) Please enjoy my 3-day guide to the most breathtaking trip in the most remarkable place. It felt like home.
Check into the absolutely perfect boutique hotel, Casa Ellul - a converted home, which has eight bespoke rooms each of perfect modernized tradition. Think Calvin Klein meets Game of Thrones – chic interiors and styling within a castle-like exterior. Three-story suites with their own private rooftop deck and hot tub make this property one of my favorite worldwide. Plus, there’s an incredible wine bar downstairs only a stones throw to town center, making it the perfect pied-à-terre for your stay. Explore the town of Valletta, with its hilly cobblestone streets. Have a drink on Strait Street – with original bars and signing in tact, and make a stop at St. John’s Co-Cathedral – where the walls are gilded in 24 karat gold and Caravaggio’s only signed painting hangs. It took my breath away. Truly, madly, deeply. A Tig moment of understanding the power of art.
Just a twenty-minute ferry ride from Malta, this tiny Maltese island off the coast didn’t even get traffic lights until 1990. The population is under 50k and it’s such a tight knit community that residents leave their keys in the doors. Head here for the fresh goats milk Gozo cheese, prickly pear jam and wild thyme honey, as well as the local wines. The Vermintino was standout. Make sure you visit the working public launderette – where local women wash the laundry in fresh water and lay it on the stones to dry. Swing by the Azure Window, a breathtaking scenic landmark – where the sea and cliffs create the most jaw dropping picture op.
Mosey on over to Il Kartell for a lunch of whole sea bream and traditional Gozoan starters, coupled with the best hospitality from owner Phillip. His family owns an agriturismo on the island and the quality and freshness of his food reflect it. Bring back a jar of sun-dried tomato paste as a souvenir.
Stop here for sweeping views of the city and an epic farm-to-table lunch with traditional Maltese fare (such as spaghetti with rabbit and a stunning mezze plate) at Diar-Il Bniet. Part larder, part restaurant, it’s Malta’s Joan’s on Third (this could be the ultimate compliment from this California girl foodie). Plus, Diar-Il Bniet has its own backyard garden used for foraging the ingredients, thank you very much. Or as the Maltese would say, “Grazzi-hafna!” – an ode to the Italian and Arabic influence in their language.
Before heading to this walled city, make it a point to stop at Meridiana Winery, a former air field turned winery, owned by the Antinori family (the makers of my namesake Tignanello). Have a beautiful tasting with Karl who oversees the property, and bring a couple bottles home, as they are hard to find outside of Malta…and worth it. Continue to Mdina, a precious town with less than 300 inhabitants. Walk through museums and cute shops, and end your day with dinner at Relais & Chateaux’s de Mondion - think white tablecloths, a view of the full moon, and perfectly plated fine dining with a nod to local flavors.
Make sure you explore the island by car, taking in all the carob trees, the 365+ churches, the beaches, the fresh sea urchin, the view from the harbor, and reserved but welcoming hospitality of the Maltese. Eat pastizzi for breakfast (flakey pastry stuffed with peas or ricotta), take a nap in the beautiful countryside, indulge in art and culture, have a cooking class with Pippa Mattei at her home, drink limoncello, and eat yourself silly with Cucina Povera. My kinda food, my kinda eating, and definitely my kind of trip.
Images via: MM, Kurt Arrigo (PS: Hello to Livia & Kate! Sad I didn't get to meet you...your dad is the best! xo MM)