MOON OVER MALTA…
MAGICAL, MYTHICAL AND MEMORABLE
The islands of Malta and Gozo are windswept with history, medieval villages, baroque old churches and 500 year old restored stone farmhouses.; they produce some pretty decent wines; rabbit is their traditional dish; and each restaurant takes pride in preparing a family recipe, handed down from generation to generation.
The crumbling temples on sun-drenched Malta and Gozo predate the pyramids. Washed by the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean, these sister islands are American friendly, safe, and exceptionally clean . . . and unlike nearby Italy and Sicily, here, everyone speaks English. There is no hustle or bustle in Malta; the sea is calm, as are its people.
The Maltese people have a right to be proud of their rich and diversified heritage. Often invaded, frequently ravaged and enslaved, the indelible imprint of Malta’s past is everywhere, from the abundance of Moorish gardens to the palaces and piazzas built by the noble and rich Knights of Malta. Architectural and cultural influences date back to Phoenician, Arabian, Greek, French and British dominance. This is a country that has worked hard to maintain its dignity and build an independent future.
Ayurveda Graces Gozo
At the center of the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily, sits Gozo, Malta's little sister… an unspoiled island with green hills, dramatic cliffs, secluded bays, quaint villages and crumbling but proud churches. Gozo, is the perfect mythical, mystical and spiritual setting for the ancient Ayurvedic diagnostic and healing program recently introduced at the Kempinski San Lawrentz Hotel and Spa. Here against the backdrop of a picturesque valley, olive groves, and oversized prickly pear cactus, my body and mind are nurtured, recharged and realigned at one of the largest and best Ayurvedic and Marine Cure Centers in the Mediterranean.
A car meets me at the Malta airport and drives me to the Gozo ferry. It is pleasant and refreshing to be on the water after a long journey. Before I know it, we are docking and on our way to the Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort and Spa.
This sprawling resort recently introduced an Ayurvedic diagnostic and healing program into their expansive spa menu. I am eager to meet the Indian doctor who will analyze my body type and constitution, prescribe a diet based on his findings, and schedule my Ayurvedic wellness treatments.
The doctor takes my blood pressure, asks dozens of questions, recommends a vegetarian diet, and then a sari clad therapist, with a red dot on her forehead, leads me to a treatment room. I lie on a thick plastic sheet that covers the heavy wood massage table. Pratima gently brushes my body; then lightly rubs it with cardamom powder. Cardamom has the capacity to reduce excess water and break down fatty tissue; brewed into tea, it’s a great diet supplement.
It is here I journey to “nirvana” and a higher understanding of my own personal powers and potential as an Indian therapist massages and whacks my body from head to toe, front and back, with two poultices she dips in hot sesame oil. She climbs up on the table for more leverage; then has me sit up on the edge. This lasts about one and half-hours. She then drips the oil on my third eye and throughout my hair. When she finishes kneading my scalp, neck and back, I am helpless and barely able to find my way back to reality . . . all I want to do is restore a farmhouse and move to Gozo. , transported me on a spiritual journey to a higher understanding of my own powers and potential.
Lunch at the Citadel in Ta Rikardu Taverna, where the motto is “eat simple, healthy and traditional”, is a special treat. I devour plates of fresh crusty bread, local cheeses, large Greek olives, and home made red wine from owner Rikardu’s vineyards.
The blue grotto beckons. Friends invite me to join them for an afternoon on the water; we pile into a small speedboat. I will have time to swim off the boat, but my hosts’ recommend we wait until we get back to the dock; it is early in the season, and the water is quite cold. Disregarding this advice, I dive into the freezing grotto; thrilled I made the plunge.
At night I am treated to a buffet of traditional Maltese fare at the L-Imgarr Hotel, overlooking Gozo’s harbor. In my quest to taste as many rabbit dishes as possible, I sample this local delicacy: honey glazed and barbecued at the It-Tmun Restaurant in Xlendi, baked at the 5 star Ta’Cenc Hotel in Sannat, and fried with onions at Rubino’s in Valletta.
Malta, is the only country in the world to be ruled by celibate monks, these born into nobility who were members of the order of St. John and the Knights of Malta ruled for 300 years. Their mission was to heal the sick; they became known as hospitaliers, the founders of the first hospital in the world. For centuries they treated the ill with therapeutic plants, herbs, roots, and flowers that grew, and continue to grow, wild on Malta and Gozo.
The famous fungus rock, the source of a special medicinal mushroom, was guarded night and day to prevent pilfering of this rare miracle plant. Even before the 15th century, the Phoenicians, Arabians and even the kings and queens of Egypt believed in the fungus’s amazing detoxifying, anti-aging and beautifying powers, even as an effective retardant for cancer.
I travel out to sea in a small fishing boat, passing through a narrow cliff to visit Fungus Rock, wondering if the rock’s anti-aging powers will add longevity to my life.
Modern Malta is as magical as Medieval Malta
I spend one night at the 5 star Malta Hilton in St Julians, a happening city and the main nightspot on the island. I stumble across cobblestone streets in our stiletto heels to reach Peppino’s, a restaurant with a spectacular view and delicious food, then dance till dawn at Fuego’s, an open air Spanish nightclub. From the balcony of my spacious room, I watch the sun rise over the sea. Fishing boats and a cruise ship dot the horizon. The sumptuous breakfast buffet stimulates my appetite, and I pile my plate with smoked fish, cheeses and other local delicacies.
After a day of sightseeing, I continue on to the seaside town of Sliema and check into the Victoria, a small business hotel with the welcome amenity of a swimming pool on the roof. It is late May, and the streets are bustling with early summer visitors. I am here for three nights so there is time to stroll along the sea front promenade, enjoy the outdoor cafes, and browse high fashion boutiques. One day I taxi over to the Hotel Fortina Resort to see their new spa, have lunch in their health conscious restaurant; and then take a harbor cruise on one of their fun party boats.
On Sunday I board a local bus to Valletta, Malta’s capitol, to shop for bargains at the outdoor flea market and to explore the streets and museums. Planned by the Grand Master of the order of St, John, the city was built with protective fortifying walls and underground escape tunnels Enhanced by baroque palaces and piazzas, Valletta is perched high on a hill overlooking the harbor. The Knights were very clever in designing buildings with very simple exteriors to hide the richness of the interiors.
Not a cloud in the sky, a friendly horse and buggy driver stops to inquire if I’d like a ride around the harbor. I am most impressed by the cleanliness of Valletta and the friendliness of its people. I wander the back streets of Rabat; descend dark stairs to gape at an abandoned air raid shelter, where as many as 500 would huddle during the night. I learn everyone in this tiny, once war torn, village had to be provided with an entrance to a shelter, and 841 were built during the war.
The Maltese Islands offers me more than sun, sea and history. The cultural calendar is pulsating with creativity, theatrical and musical performances, and full-scale opera productions. Artistically, the museums are a treasure trove of antique arms and armor from the crusades, inlaid marble dating back to the Romans, tarot playing cards from the 17th Century, and memorabilia from World War II. Paintings of Malta’s famous harbor were the highlight of a recent Sotheby auction in London. Ship graffiti, dating back to 1000 BC, that had been incised into exterior and interior stone walls is being uncovered in the restoration of Malta’s medieval villages.
On the way back from Malta, I spend my five-hour layover at Virgin Atlantic Airway’s Clubhouse in the Heathrow airport. Larger than the Revival Lounge, this full service spa offers Upper Class passengers complimentary brow shaping, leg waxing, hair cuts, manicures, pedicures, facials and massages in the comfort of whimsical rooms… where the ocean is painted on the ceiling and colorful fish swim upside down. A personal valet presses my clothes; shines my shoes;
I catch up on two weeks of e-mails in the business area; have my hair trimmed and my body polished.