Malta – The Setting For The Rolex Middle Sea Race By Fiona Sanderson

The start of the 33rd edition of the Rolex Middle Sea Race. (Image courtesy of Rolex/Kurt Arrigo)

What better way to escape the wind and dark afternoons of London and Northern Europe when you can sit overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with beautiful sunshine and temperatures of around 60 degrees? Just off the coast of Sicily, Malta is a perfect haven to escape the winter blues, as well as being a sailing enthusiast’s dream.

The Luxury Channel was there to see the start of what many Brits and worldwide sailors say is one of Europe’s most popular and respected offshore races. The racecourse proves both exciting and challenging due to the currents in the Messina Strait and the difficulties posed by navigation and changing weather conditions. The Rolex Middle Sea Race first started in 1968, and 2012 marks the 33rd edition of the race. It is also the last race of the season, and the chance to see over 80 yachts leaving the Grand Harbour at Valletta – it was indeed a spectacular sight. Four classes of yacht compete (the race is open to monohull and multihull yachts between 30 and 100 feet). Covering a distance of some 606-nautical mile racecourse around Sicily, the active volcano of Stromboli serves as a marker, and if the weather if fine, Mount Etna can usually be seen as well.

Eddie De Villiers and his South African team on Hi Fidelity eventually won the race. Co-captain Michael Joubert remarked that the race “was a challenge beyond challenges,” referencing the conditions faced by the team. “We didn’t get a lot of sleep, and each new leg brought something new,” he added. This doesn’t stop the Rolex Middle Sea Race attracting record numbers of entrants each year!

The Hi Fidelity crew with the Rolex Middle Sea Race Trophy and Rolex timepiece. (Image courtesy of Rolex/Kurt Arrigo)

Whether you go in summer or winter, Malta offers a varied, rich history and cultural heritage stretching back over 7,000 years – it is certainly a fascinating melting pot of cultures and civilizations. Home to no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, our favorite place to wander around and soak up the history was in Malta’s ancient capital, Mdina. The atmosphere in Mdina is one of tranquility and understated splendor. Perched on a rocky plateau with a near 360 view of the island, Mdina is a great example of a Medieval fortress. We were very impressed with The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux Hotel (probably the best on the island) which has been restored with finite detail. Certainly worth a stay and visit.

www.xarapalace.com.mt
Tel: (+356) 21 450 560

Where to stay

If you want to be in the heart of Malta for shopping and nightlife, The Westin Dragonara Resort has all the facilities you need (www.starwoodhotels.com), plus a number of other boutique hotels scattered across Malta.

The recently opened Palazzo Vittoriosa (www.palazzovittoriosa.com) is a private boutique hotel in Birgu. Food comes courtesy of the well-known Belgian chef at the helm in the kitchen.

If you like walking and relish peace and relaxation, a trip to Malta’s island of Gozo is a must. It really is as if time has stood still. The Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz (www.kempinski.com) and Spa offers something really unique. The Oriental Hamman offers the largest area of authentic facilities in the Mediterranean.

For something completely different, Malta’s top architect, Chris Briffa, has completed a ‘one-off’ penthouse suite on top of his new studio in Republic Street, Valetta, available for short-term lets. The suite has extensive sea views over both harbours and is only a short walk from the beach. With all the luxury ‘mod cons,’ it even has an electric winch to haul your luggage up.

www.chrisbriffa.com
Tel: +356 2122 1407

The dining room in Chris Briffa’s penthouse apartment has views across the harbour

Where to eat

Malata restaurant in Palace Square, Valletta, offers French cuisine with live jazz twice a week. Best to book to get a table outside. Go to www.malatamalta.com.

Da Pippo’s Trattoria on Melita Street is a great lunch spot where you’re guaranteed to meet the best businessmen and lawyers. The menu consists of the freshest local produce. Cikku, the manager, also shows a selection of art from various contemporary artists. It only opens for lunch and booking is a must! Phone +35621248029.

For dining with a difference, go to Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar, for afternoon tea, lunch in the garden or inside their elegant and fun dining room. Owned and run by a baroness and her daughter, the palace also has a lovely gift shop and is available for hire for ‘magical’ events. Go to www.palazzoparisio.com.

Another recommendation is Mint in Sliema, mainly for their ready-made hearty fresh meals and mouth-watering deserts. Just opposite the sea, so you can go for a swim or stroll along their popular promenade, the restaurant is run by a young couple from New Zealand. Go to www.mintmalta.com.

Tico Tico on Strait Street is a little, quirky bar made quite unique with antique furniture, music and visuals. Plus, they serve good platters and offer seating outdoors.

Cultural sightseeing

Malta is not only a great place to relax, but is also full of history. It is the home of the Knights of Malta and capital Valletta (named as European Capital of Culture 2018).

But it is not only famous from a historical perspective, as Malta sees many young artists emerging. If you’re an art lover, the Lily Agius Gallery curates some wonderful pieces. Since opening the gallery, Lily has represented both local and international artists. Today, the gallery organises 13 exhibitions a year and a festival with art installations in the streets of Valletta representing scientific research. For more information, you can log on to www.lilyagiusgallery.com or email info@lilyagiusgallery.com.

Inside the Lily Agius Gallery

Music-wise, January is the month to come if you’re a fan of Baroque music as the first edition of the Valletta International Baroque Festival has been officially launched, to be held between 9th and 26th of January 2013. Various artists will be taking to stages across Malta to perform, from the Manoel Theatre to the President’s Palace.

The Manoel Theatre also hosts Teatru Unplugged at the start of December, showcasing the best local musical artists in an evening of modern music with a classical backdrop.
www.choosemalta.com

If you didn’t get your boating fix from the Rolex Middle Sea Race, there is always the Trophee Bailli de Suffren Regatta, which begins in St. Tropez, and ends at the Grand Harbour Marina in Malta.
www.cnmarinas.com

RÁN 2 from Great Britain approaching the finish line in Marsamxett Harbour. (Image courtesy of Rolex/Kurt Arrigo)