As far as travel styles go, I'm the compulsive and meticulous planner who likes to pack in as many --usually off-the-beaten-track or, at least, less touristy -- experiences as possible into each and every day of my trip. And finding a bespoke tour operator who listens to the needs of the client and has an insider knowledge of the destination makes the planning all the easier.
I don't always seek out this help, but, for a number of logistic reasons, I did in the case of Malta, where I wanted to go beyond the many historic monuments that occupy so much tourist attention. I was lucky when Jessica Colley contacted me on twitter and gave me a heads up on Trevor Zahar and Natasha Borg, co-owners of Culture3Sixty. No matter your interest, whether it’s focused on diving, sailing or other sports; luxury oriented with visits to spas; or more nature based, they can dig up the perfect locales, as they did for me.
This is a micro sampling of what Culture3Sixty arranged for me:
• tours of wineries for tastings and tours, such as the Meridiana Wine Estate, which is planted on the original British military airfield. In fact the original control tower still stands, but now it houses a laboratory. Designed as an old Malta country residence, the winery allowed me to taste a crisp 2009 Chardonnay, and a bright berry Cabernet and Merlot blend with just a hint of oak.
• visits to gardens, such as the San Anton Gardens that were originally laid out by Grand Master Antoine de Paule of the Knights of Malta as his private residence. (As I mentioned in a previous post, so much for the vows of poverty.) These gardens are so lavish and they were such the talk of the town at that time that they’re said to have inspired Versailles. With tinkling fountains, elegant statuary, foliage from around the world and peacocks strutting about, San Anton is a must-see for garden lovers.
• restaurant reservations, such as Fra Giuseppe in the town of Balzan. Housed in an 18th century building, the restaurant stocks some 200 bottles of wine from all over the world. Sitting in a wee stone room where the walls are hung with contemporary paintings, I sampled ftira, a ring-shaped Maltese bread that’s somewhat crunchy with a soft interior and filled with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and capers.
Whether venturing down narrow cobbled lanes in the capital city of Valletta or wandering around the less visited locales in the central part of the country, you'll find Malta restaurants that radiate authenticity.