People rarely ask me where I’m going on holiday. Instead they ask, ‘When are you going to Malta this year?’
I’m a Maltaphile (or Malta-fool, perhaps) and regard the Mediterranean island as a second home because, as an army kid, I spent nearly five years of my childhood there. When the time comes for the plane to swoop low over the golden flat-topped buildings basking in the sunshine, my eyes swim with tears.
One of my first ports of call (forgive the pun) is the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta, where I can gaze out at everything from rowing boats to cruise ships in the splendour that’s Grand Harbour.
I stay in Sliema, a busy tourist area now. A peninsular, it’s almost surrounded by the sea, and I love snorkelling in the turquoise waters at Ghar id Dud. No holiday’s complete until I’ve pulled on my fins and mask and dropped into the salty waves.
On the point of the peninsular used to stand Tigne Barracks, where I went to school. Though overbuilt with posh apartments and shops, parts of the barracks were preserved and incorporated into the new buildings, somehow blending in the same way that, in my mind, the Malta of my childhood blends with the Malta of today.
I love relaxing away the Mediterranean dusk in the pavement cafés that line Sliema Creek or grace the piazzas of Valletta. I buy a weekly ticket for the ferry between Sliema and Valletta, crossing Marsamxett Harbour in a matter of minutes and cutting out a bus journey of about four miles. Or, if I’m in the mood, I walk the land route, pausing here and there for ice cream; to sample the cheese-filled pastries, pastizzi; or the local beer, Cisk.
Malta has a rich history and I usually squeeze in one cultural tour. Last year it was the NATO tunnels, part of the network riven from the stone beneath the city of Valletta in the days of the Knights and extended by NATO forces. When we emerged into the daylight between two tunnels I chimed in on something the guide said and soon several of the party were listening to me instead of him as I added local colour from the perspective of an Army kid, pointing out my dad’s office in The Auberge de Castile. This wonderful building is the prime minister’s residence now, but it used to be British Army GHQ and I would perch on the cannons outside the main entrance when we met Dad from work.
The guide was good humoured and contributed a few anecdotes of his own. The Maltese people are generally warm and welcoming and I like nothing more than falling into conversation with someone who remembers the Malta of my childhood.
So, when am I going to Malta this year? September. And then again in October. And June looks quite appealing …