Malta is a highly apposite setting for the performance of Baroque music. During this period the island was ruled by the Knights of Malta or Knights Hospitaller, Valletta was completely rebuilt and the knights themselves were vigorous patrons of the arts, including music and architecture.
One of Europe’s oldest working theatres is the Teatru Manoel, built in 1731 at the behest of the Grand Master of the order, Fra António Manoel de Vilhena. With only 600 seats, the theatre is a masterpiece of carpentry, with three tiers of wooden boxes, gilded and painted, and a trompe-l’oeil ceiling. Opera companies visited Malta regularly, performing works by Hasse, Piccinni and Galuppi. Other buildings hosting concerts during the festival include the President’s (formerly Grandmaster’s) Palace; St John’s Co-Cathedral, begun in 1573 and gradually embellished to become a great ensemble of Baroque art; and the Church of St Catherine d’Italie (1713).
Valletta’s beautiful position on one of the world’s greatest natural harbours, and the fine buildings that still dominate the city, make it a splendid location in which to hear the music of Bach, Handel and their contemporaries.
Valletta. Fly at c. 11.30am (Air Malta) from London Heathrow to Malta. Drive to Valletta, a peninsula flanked by fine natural harbours and once the most strongly fortified city in Christendom.
Valletta. Survey the massive fortifications protecting the landward approach and view the Grand Harbour from the ramparts. Visit the National Museum of Archaeology, home of the unique ‘Fat Ladies of Malta’ and other carvings from the Neolithic Temples. A guided tour of the Manoel Theatre, followed by some free time, dinner and an evening concert: ‘Charlie’s Baroque Angels’ performed by Charlie Siem.
Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Marsaxlokk, Valletta. Drive through attractive countryside to the prehistoric temples overlooking the sea, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. Return to Valletta after lunch in the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. An evening concert: ‘Bach – St Matthew Passion BWV 244’ performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Paola, Tarxien. In Paola, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is a unesco World Heritage Site and the only prehistoric underground temple in the world. The Tarxien Temples site is the most complex in Malta and would have been the most decorative. It was rediscovered by farmers in 1913-14 and is the source of outstanding carved reliefs and statues. An evening concert: ‘Niccolò Jommelli, Dixit Dominus; Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Mass in D major’ performed by Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri and Giulio Prandi.
Mdina, Rabat. Mdina, Malta’s ancient capital and centre of the indigenous aristocracy, is an unspoilt citadel of great beauty, with mediaeval walls, grand palazzos and Baroque cathedral. Visit Palazzo Falson, a 13th-century private residence and the second oldest building in Mdina. Spreading below is the town of Rabat, with Early Christian catacombs. An evening concert: ‘Handel’s ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’ HWV 46’ performed by Armonia Atenea and George Petrou.
Gozo. A 30-minute ferry crossing to the island of Gozo which is more rural and less populated than Malta. See the temple of Ggantija, among the oldest of Malta’s prehistoric monuments. The chief town is Victoria, which has a citadel, cathedral and Sicilo-Norman houses. Stop for lunch in the citadel to try homemade Gozitan food.
Valletta. Guided tours of the Grand Master’s Palace & Armoury and the Co-Cathedral of St John, which has lavish carved wall decoration, ceiling paintings, magnificent tombs and two paintings by Caravaggio. A private tour of the Casa Rocca Piccola, a 16th-century palazzo owned by the Marquis de Piro. An evening concert: ‘The Six Brandenburg Concertos’ performed by Les Passions de l’Ame and Meret Lüthi.
Vittoriosa. Cross the Grand Harbour by boat (weather permitting) to see churches, forts, and the Second World War museum in Vittoriosa. Fly to London Heathrow, arriving c. 7.30pm.
Award–winning journalist, writer and broadcaster with a particular interest in the history of Malta. She studied History of Art at Cambridge and is the author of the Bradt Guide: Malta and Gozo. Her career in journalism has involved working for the BBC and writing for British national newspapers, magazines and online media.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £3,020 or £2,830 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,360 or £3,170 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with Air Malta (aircraft: Airbus 320–200); private coach; accommodation as below; breakfasts, 4 dinners and 3 lunches with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips and taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guide.
first category concert tickets costing c.£300.
Grand Hotel Excelsior, Valletta: 5-star just outside the city gates of Valletta. It is surrounded by 16th-century fortifications and the interior is a balance of modern and traditional decor. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour, some of it over the rough ground of sites. Valletta is relatively hilly so you will need to be comfortable with everyday walking and stair climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 12 miles.
Between 10 and 20 participants.
Combine this tour with Mozart in Salzburg, 28 January–3 February.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'Our lecturer was a star. She was a mine of local knowledge, an excellent guide.'
'The lecturer and tour manager made the tour with their enthusiasm, knowledge and thoughtfulness. I can’t praise them enough.'
'A fascinating glimpse of Malta’s history, from Neolithic to modern times. A varied and always interesting week.'