Valletta, Malta

Maltas capital city, called the City of Knights, dates from the 16th century. Valletta (pop. 109 000) was one of Europes first planned cities with building codes, a grid street pattern and garbage and sewage systems. Located on a peninsula, Valletta boasts two excellent harbors: Marsamxett Harbour and the Grand Harbour. The fairly compact city can easily be seen in one day although we suggest staying two nights. We like to start by visiting the Upper Barrakka Gardens for a great overview and then follow up by getting a closer view from the harbors (take the inexpensive two-hour cruise).

Valletta seems to host a museum in every block of the capital. Some of our favorites are the national museums of fine arts (in an 18th-century palace) and archaeology and the museum adjoining the elaborately decorated St. Johns Co-Cathedral (the churchs marble floors are unforgettable). To better understand the martial history of Valletta visit the 16th-century Grand Masters Palace and Armory and the National War Museum. Go on to the Lascaris War Rooms which were bomb-proof headquarters for the British air force during World War II. When you tire of museums spend time visiting shops strolling the citys ramparts or perusing the Malta Government Crafts Centre (where local handicrafts are on display and sale).

Just outside town near Floriana is the fascinating Argotti Botanic Gardensa good cacti collection. Across the Grand Harbour is the Cottonera the generic name for three suburbs of Valletta. The three cities Vittoriosa/Birgu Senglea Isle and Cospicua are notable for their medieval homes churches palaces and fortifications. Be sure to visit the Church of St. Lawrence the Maritime Museum Ft. St. Angelo (key defensive point during the Great Siege of Malta) and the Inquisitors Palace (tour its courtrooms and, to see some medieval graffiti, its dungeons).

The Knights of Malta were segregated by place of origin and assigned to neighborhoods called langues. A number of their auberges (the buildings in which they once lived) can still be seen. These structures are concentrated in an area known as the Collachio.