While you’re out exploring the Maltese Islands’ best attractions, take a break by venturing into the wonderland of these Malta gardens. Trees several centuries old and grandiose baroque architecture feature in those that date from the period of the Knights of Malta. Indeed, the majority of gardens in Malta are historic gardens, while others might have a unique theme. In any case, their fairy tale beauty certainly makes up for the lack of woodland in the Maltese countryside. From beautiful gems tucked away in the grounds of private palaces to popular public spaces, here’s a list of some of the most noteworthy gardens in Malta.
1. Feast your eyes at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta
Stand in awe at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Past the colourful flowerbeds in a beautifully laid-out garden and beyond the arches lie the true marvels. The panoramic view of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities will take your breath away. Massive cruise liners and superyachts contrast the walled cities of Vittoriosa (Birgu), Cospicua (Bormla) and Senglea (Isla). You can see Valletta’s own fortifications, including the elite St Barabara Bastions and the Lower Barrakka gardens. The Saluting battery, situated on the location of the Ottoman siege against Fort St Angelo, lies below. The Barrakka Lift, built in 2012, which connects the harbour and the city, lies on the original site of its historic predecessor that operated from 1905. This is a place where history marries the contemporary with striking beauty. Of all the Malta gardens to visit, this one’s an absolute must.
TIP: Time your visit to witness the midday gun re-enactment. Then take the Barrakka Lift down to the waterfront and hail a dghajsa water taxi to Birgu or Isla.
2. See rare plants at the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Floriana
Marvel at a vast variety of amazing trees and flowers just a stroll away from the Valletta bus terminus. At the Argotti Botanical Garden in Floriana, you may meet botanists from the University of Malta managing their conservation projects and propagating rare plant species. Admire the €2.4 million facelift given to this mid-18th century garden – check out the restored fountain and surrounding bastions. Gaze at the view of Marsamxett Harbour and see the Msida yacht marina and Sliema high-rises contrast with the fortifications on Manuel Island. Here’s another garden that offers an interesting combination of old and new.
TIP: Get the curator to be your guide on a tour of the gardens − he will happily oblige. Take a picture by the 250-year old Dragon Blood tree.
3. Find peace at the Msida Bastion Historic Garden of Floriana
Behind the public library in Floriana, discover this unique and evocative public garden. Experience the peaceful charm of the ‘Garden of Rest’, as the Msida Bastion Historic Garden is also known. Past the crosses around the chapel, you might completely overlook the fact that this is actually a Protestant cemetery. Surprisingly, for a place of rest, it breathes life. The marvellous views and garden offer a place of quiet contemplation and renewed inspiration. No wonder National Geographic named it among Europe’s five loveliest cemeteries.
TIP: Find the tomb of Mikiel Anton Vassalli, widely accepted as the ‘father’ of the Maltese language. He was a scholar and an idealist who had been exiled for twenty years and buried here when he died in 1829, having been refused burial by the Catholic Church.
4. Discover hidden gems at Sa Maison Garden in Floriana
Indulge in one of Floriana’s best kept secrets. You may well find yourself alone in this enchanting, multi-levelled, historic garden. Explore each nook and cranny to find its hidden secrets: potted plants, mature trees, little pathways meandering into more hidden nooks. Steady on your feet as you head down the weathered steps to the lower levels. Explore some more. Rest easy and soak up the sunshine on the bastion walls. Relish the silence as you look upon Pieta and the marina in Marsamxett Harbour. This is one of the most picturesque Malta gardens – take pictures!
TIP: Look out for the regimental crests carved into the bastion walls and the miniature model of a castle. Enjoy a panoramic view from the traditional Maltese lookout post known as il-Gardjola.
5. Lose yourself in the wonderland of San Anton Gardens in Attard
These most famous of Malta gardens deserves a purposeful visit. Enter the gate of San Anton Gardens and you’re immediately immersed in a wonderful Alice in Wonderland world. Follow the maze of pathways to gurgling fountains. A cat may suddenly appear from behind a tree; this is indeed the home of a thriving colony of fattened lazy cats. Don’t ignore the peacock who’s keen to sing his song and dance by the aviary. Join the ducks, swans and turtles in their idle mood as they glide along their mossy pond. Salute the centuries-old giants as they guard the side path and join the shafts of light that escape through the canopy as they play on the ground. This wonderful place even has its own 17th century palace, today the residence of the Maltese President.
TIP: Past these historic gardens, step through an arched walkway into the President’s Kitchen Garden for a few culinary delights. Grab an ice cream, go to the animal park and join the kids delighting in goats, donkeys, ponies, cranes, emus and other animals.
6. Contemplate the past and future at Villa Bologna in Attard
Contemplate the evidence of past and future weaved together in the present as you wander through Villa Bologna. This 18th century palace comes complete with stories of Anglo-Maltese journalist, Mabel Strickland, who was a founder of a newspaper group in Malta. Step inside history at the war-time shelter, buy pottery produced on the grounds and take a tour of the palace interior. Then sit by the dolphin fountain where dreams are made: this is a popular garden for weddings.
TIP: Apply for a private tour of the gardens and house. This includes a visit to the hand-hewn World War II bomb shelters.
7. Come alive in the enchanting landscape of Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar
Take a delightful break from modern reality within the lush gardens of this charming palace. The grounds of Palazzo Parisio certainly rank among the most enchanting Malta gardens. Meander through the pathways winding around exotic trees, shrubs and herbs. Visit the Orangery, which dates back to the Order of the Knights of St John, when it was used by Grand Master Don Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, who ruled the Order between 1722 and 1736. The privately-owned palazzo’s history is fascinating and the rooms, especially the gilded ballroom, are worth stepping inside.
TIP: Treat yourself to lunch or traditional afternoon tea at the Luna restaurant terrace and tea garden.
8. Take a walk on the wild side at Buskett Gardens in the limits of Rabat
Venture into the wilderness of Buskett Gardens on the outskirts of Rabat and Siggiewi. This is the closest you’ll get to getting lost in the woods in Malta. Wander away from the citrus groves and beaten path to the terraced levels alongside Luq Valley. The higher you go, the better the view of these hunting grounds of the Knights. See if you can catch a glimpse of the Blue Lady that, legend has it, haunts Verdala Castle. Grand Master de Rohan’s niece fell to her death from a balcony when escaping an unwanted suitor after he locked her inside. Follow the stream that runs along the bottom of the valley. Walk, relax or play a game among the trees and make use of the picnic area.
TIP: Take a short walk to nearby L-Ghar il-Kbir – the Great Cave – that was at one time inhabited by a troglodyte . Marvel at the nearby ‘cart ruts’ known as Clapham Junction – deep parallel ridges in the rock with unknown origins. Walk 35-45 minutes to the 250-metres drop of Dingli Cliffs on the western coast.
9. Get transported to a world of wonders at St Dominic’s Priory in Rabat
Explore the limits of fantasy and reality at the gardens of St Dominic’s Priory. Mdina and Rabat, a must on your itinerary, host various Game of Thrones locations. Fans will be interested in knowing that the gardens of St Dominic’s Priory are where Ned Stark confronted Cersei Lannister about the true lineage of her children. But this place has incredible stories of its own. This is where a local farmer saw the Virgin Mary in a nearby grotto in 1400. And see the marble statue of the Virgin Mary that shed ‘tears’ of blood from 1999. The church is free to enter and you can see the statue, now kept behind glass.
TIP: While in Rabat and Mdina, visit these other famous locations in the filming of Game of Thrones season 1: Verdala Palace was Illrio’s masion when Daenerys and Viserys meet Khal Drogo out front; Mdina Gate was the entrance to King’s Landing when Catelyn rode in with Ser Rodrik; and Piazza Mesquita in Mdina was the scene of Littlefinger’s Brothel.
10. Find the meaning of life at the Chinese Garden of Serenity in Santa Lucija
Venture beyond the Mediterranean or even yourself. Enter this Chinese Garden in Santa Lucija in the south of Malta and begin a journey through your life. Walk through the four carefully laid-out gardens that symbolise the journey from birth to death. Explore the unity of light and shadow in the Yin-Yang philosophy expressed through the striking architecture, water features and colours. Allow yourself to find stillness as you become immersed in serene contemplation.
TIP: Stop here on the way to or from the airport or when travelling between the north and south of the island. Nothing will prepare you for the peace and beauty held within a garden located within such a busy urban sprawl.
11. Get exclusive insight into the magical Villa Frere gardens in Pieta
Discover a place where few have been before. Here is perhaps the most secret of all Malta gardens. Hidden behind the houses lining a busy main road in Pieta, even most locals don’t know this extensive garden exists. Architect Edward Said with ‘Friends of Villa Frere’ is painstakingly restoring the surviving one-third of the original gardens created by diplomat Charles Hookham Frere. Admire what remains of the garden’s original features: the fountain, belvedere, a grotto and a Doric-style ‘temple’ at the highest point. At the height of its fame, it attracted no less than three Queens: Queen Adelaide who commissioned the building of the Anglican cathedral in Valletta, Queen Mary in 1912 and Queen Marie of Romania, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Now it lies in disrepair, but a visit will show you the conservation made possible through the passion of public volunteering.
TIP: Combine the date of your Malta visit with the first Saturday of the month to gain access to this amazing place! Join the community of volunteers on the Friends of Villa Frere Facebook page.
All of these Malta gardens, whether well-known or lesser known, are an excellent location to find refuge in a green environment.