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Your experience of Malta’s rich culture, history and legacy should begin in the fortified city of Valletta. One of Europe’s first planned cities, ignited by the visions of the Knights of St John, you will soon feel the air of nobleness and aristocratic grandeur seeping from the balconies, palaces, palazzos and decadent buildings.
Aside from the key sites including St John’s Co-Cathedral, The Grandmaster’s Palace, Teatru Manoel (Europe’s third oldest theatre) and the partly ‘restored’ Royal Opera House are doors to an aristocratic lineage that defines Malta. The Maltese nobility has historically ruled over Malta for over 400 years – titles which were still accepted even when parts of the island when under foreign rule.
Occupying important administrative rules and duties, these titles have been passed down through generations and were even recognised and accepted by the United Kingdom when they occupied Malta. Their presence dons Malta with name plaques on owned buildings and discrete historical buildings you would easily walk past.
However, with nobility in Malta slowly fading out, its history is no longer the supremacy of locals. Noble Malta is closer to hand than you may think and you can experience the legacy without spending like an aristocrat.
Stay in a Palazzo in Malta
A Palazzo is the closest thing you will get to living the high life in Malta. Many restored baroque buildings have been lovingly restored and turned into beautiful living spaces.
At the start of my Malta trip, I stayed in the restored 17th century Palazzo Prince D’Orange, right in the heart of Valletta and only minutes walk from the main hub of activity including the bustling Merchant’s Street and the main historical sites.
It was indulgent and you are probably thinking it’s out of budget. However, it’s five luxury suites of varying size, character and décor start from €120 per night (a bargain for this exquisite stay if you are sharing with someone!). It oozes history and classicism while being furnished with modern sophistication – the perfect introduction to Malta’s charming UNESCO World Heritage capital city. I resided in the Alexander Suite, which for me was like a mini apartment, complete with a kitchen and lounge area and a harbour view balcony to boot.
READ MORE: Travel to Malta – Road Trip Guide to 20 Cultural Hotspots and Magnificent Viewpoints
Stay With a Noble Family
When my friend Alex invited me to stay at his home in the tucked-away village of Zebbug, I had no idea I would be in such a stunning hideaway. While the house itself is not noble, his family is – descendants of the Noble family of Testaferrata. Generations of Maltese history and closely loved family antiques blanket the 700-year-old property, which even includes a chapel!
Visit the Only Noble Home Open to the Public
Further down Valletta’s main Republic Street, is Casa Rocca Piccola. I was first drawn to it after seeing a sign for a tour of the house that included a visit to its ‘World War II Air Raid Shelters’ (Malta being the most bombed place during the war).
While privately owned and still an occupied family home, Casa Rocca Piccola’s owner, Nicholas de Piro (9th Baron of Budach and 9th Marquis de Piro), was the first member of Maltese aristocracy to open the doors of his 50 roomed home to the public, after returning to Malta from the United Kingdom in 1990. He’s also related to my friend’s family.
From dining rooms, a four-poster bedroom, the ‘Chinese Room’ and a chapel, this house is a window into the customs, traditions and aesthetic riches of typical Maltese nobility. Unfortunately, you don’t get to meet Nicholas de Piro (unless you are being hosted on a Champagne Tour!)
At the end of the tour, you visit the air raid shelters – a well-constructed maze of underground living space. It was the largest in the area, said to host around 30 people, although which could fit 100 when busy. Interestingly, you’ll soon spot more than one entry/exit point in the shelter as it used to connect to the underground city of tunnels, halls and walls of Valletta, which are still waiting to be opened to the public. A perfect excuse to head back and explore another layer of the country.
In Malta, centuries-old history is still alive in today’s generation. Soak up its grandeur, richness and long family lineage while you still can, before it ends completely. Would you like to live noble while in Malta? Which option would you choose?