The 16th century fortified capital Valletta is the jewel in Malta’s crown of heritage locations and its prestige was recently honoured on an international level when it was selected as European Culture Capital for 2018. The city “built by gentlemen for gentlemen” is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Valletta is the island’s business hub and home to most government offices including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Office of the President, the Chamber of Commerce, the Central Bank of Malta, the Malta Stock Exchange and several other private corporate offices. It is also the seat of Parliament.
The capital is currently in the middle of a major regeneration project designed by internationally acclaimed Italian architect Renzo Piano. The project includes the construction of a new parliament building in Freedom Square at the entrance to Valletta, the restoration of the city’s gateway to its original 1633 design, re-building the former opera house as an outdoor theatre, re-furbishing the Valletta bus terminus and the construction of a new lift from City Gate down the multi-storey high bastions to the ditch which will be turned into public gardens. The project is expected to be completed in 2014.
Meanwhile Valletta remains open for business and its recently restored palazzos are even more dazzling as they show off their richly carved golden limestone facades. Grand piazzas, historic churches and jaw-dropping vistas across Grand Harbour never fail to impress even the most seasoned traveller.
St John’s Co-cathedral is a veritable gem home to two prestigious paintings by Caravaggio. Upper Barrakka Gardens with its sensational view of Grand Harbour is just one of several inimitable event locations in Valletta. Down by the harbour, the Valletta Waterfront offers a 275m long promenade of entertainment space framed by impeccably restored baroque buildings. Casa Rocca Piccola is perhaps one of the most charming of the capital’s palazzos. Still privately owned by a Maltese noble family, it can be hired for special events for up to 40 guests.
The capital is also a bustling food metropolis with myriad cafes and restaurants, many championing local cuisine. Nenu the Artisan Baker is a recent addition to Valletta’s gastronomic scene but housed as it is in an old bakery it aims to celebrate the proud art of Maltese bread making. This unique bakery/eatery concept restaurant offers dishes based on the Maltese ftira (unlevened bread) and other traditional Maltese dishes such as Ross il-Forn (baked rice). Even the coffee is served Maltese style. Groups can visit Nenu’s to learn how to bake their own bread.
Valletta has two luxury hotels, the recently built Grand Hotel Excelsior and the art deco Phoenicia Hotel Malta but the rest of the island’s five star hotels which are clustered around St Julians are only 20 minutes drive away.
The capital also features Malta’s flagship conference venue, the Mediterranean Conference Centre which is housed in the former hospital of the Knights of St John.