Well, after a serious silence which was the result of a very busy May – tourguiding a travel group of 86 people for a week, sorting out various traumas to my constantly problematical knees, and moving house, here I am with another posting, which will focus on the area around our new home.
We left our Rabat apartment finally on 31st May, with some regretful backward glances to its marbled luxury, and moved into a rural retreat high in the hills of Wardija. It is one of four apartments set in the grounds of Palazzo Promontorio, which is used as a wedding venue at weekends for the months of June, July, and August, but is wonderfully tranquil the rest of the time. We overlook a fertile cultivated valley which runs down to St Paul’s Bay, with the Mediterranean beyond, and have two terraces which overlook this view. One is lower, narrow, colonnaded the length of the apartment, and in full sun till mid-afternoon. The other is on an upper level and gets the sun till around 7pm. The apartment is all on one level, but is entered from a marble staircase, which accesses only the front door and the top terrace. We have two bedrooms, but one of them is destined to be a dining room, and, delight, a small open fire in the living room which is in two sections divided by an archway. Much more Maltese in feel than our previous apartment which was very modern.
The apartment is partially furnished, which gives me scope to put my own stamp on it, if we decide to stay. If so, we would probably ship out our artwork, rugs etc. Our new landlady is Rita whose horses have won many trophies at the races here and she has two dogs, Bruce and George, who have adopted us. So we have the fun of pets but not the ultimate responsibility. One of Rita’s old champion trotters is stabled close-by too, and our apartment is surrounded by a small vineyard and orchard.
We have breakfast on the terrace each morning, watching the farmers tend their fields – they still clear them with mattocks – and gather their produce, before going off to their proper day job. They return in the evening to finish up. Most have dogs with them, and it is lovely to see the fields go from barrenness to a fulsome crop of courgettes and other produce in a matter of a few days. We have constant varied birdsong and enormous iridescent blue dragonflies flit past us as we down our coffee and eat the delicious croissants from the local bakery – situated in a very good, convenient supermarket at the base of our 2 mile long hill.
On the other side of St Paul’s Bay the ground rises to one of the highest points on the island and here is found the Selmun Palace, dominating the Mistra valley which leads down into Mistra Bay, a small offshoot of St Paul’s Bay. The palace looks like a fortified building, but although constructed to appear so, it was not.
Grand Master Wignacourt of the Knights of St John set up a foundation to ransom Christian slaves, each of whom could be redeemed for 70 scudi. While a worthy cause, there was not much in the coffers, but a wealthy local Lady, Caterina Vitale died in 1619 and left the land known as the Selmun region to the knights provided they ransomed 2 slaves, via their organisation known as the Monte de Redenzione degli Schiavi.
The palace was built on the land in the early 18th Century, by Wignacourt and was let out to individual knights for recreation and hunting the small wild animals such as rabbits that abounded there.
The building has 2 floors with 4 turrets and embrasures to simulate a fortress, hopefully to deter any lurking muslim corsairs from invading. The three doors in the facade serve different functions, one having been adapted as a window, the central one retaining its function as the main entrance, and the third giving access to the chapel found inside the building. The chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom, appropriately, and the coat of arms of the Monte de Redenzione is sited above the central door of the five that open onto the balcony which surrounds the entire first floor.
Adjacent to the Selmun Palace is the Selmun Palace Hotel, which was once a very fine hotel owned by Air Malta, but since that airline’s financial reconstruction, it has now been decommissioned and is awaiting a buyer.
So that is a little bit about the area in which we now live. More to come.