Malta may not be considered a Mediterranean hot spot, but its rich tapestry of historical importance has left shipwrecks, culinary delicacies and a diverse culture that shouldn’t be overlooked. BOAT heads under surface to find out more…
As the submarine hatch clicks shut above me, apprehension floods by mind. Will I feel claustrophobic? Do I want to explore the depths of Malta? Will I ever see sunlight again? I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I am awash with anxiety as I sit in a bright yellow Triton submarine in the cove of Taht il Mazz, off Comino Island, waiting to descend to the wreck that lies beneath. I’m here to discover why a submarine is the ultimate superyacht accessory, yet I’m wholly focused on trying not to let my face show how apprehensive I am feeling.
Clear waters lap against the perfectly spherical hull gently rising as the submarine begins its decent to the ocean floor. I look up towards the cerulean surface, and realise my apprehension has miraculously disappeared. We are weightless and not in an uncontrollable kind of way; it feels steady and comforting as the surface lifts away. The gentle sound of whirring thrusters is all there is to hear as I glide through water so bright that it reflects onto my skin. From here, there is seemingly nothing separating us from the water as the dome is now virtually invisible; my claustrophobic angsts now feel like a foolish misapprehension of what it’s like to dive in a submarine as I look through the crystal clear abyss and see a wreck coming into focus.
Few places on earth could provide such a perfect environment to explore under the surface than the gin-clear Maltese archipelago. The stream of foreign influence due to the succession of powers that have ruled the islands has imprinted and intertwined with the country's ancient culture, leaving not just a beguiling cocktail of historic sites on land, but a thrilling agglomerate of wrecks. From the Middle Ages, Malta has had periods of Arabic leadership, Sicilian rule from the Norman conquest, Hospitaller rule, French occupation until finally becoming part of the British Empire in the early 19th century, where Malta had an integral role in both world wars. Hints of British heritage can still be seen on land in the form of red post boxes, old Morris Miners and even the full English breakfast, despite Malta becoming independent in 1964.
The rusting hull of the Maltese minesweeper P31 that I find myself hovering alongside also has a multicultural background. Built in Germany she was sold to the Maltese Government in 1992 and was involved in border operations – including rescuing 251 immigrants – before being deliberately scuttled in 2009. A throng of divers’ clamber over the wreck, entangled in their pipes while trying to communicate to one another from the depths. Our situation is entirely opposite as I take in the wreck from the comfort of the custom Triton submarine’s cushioned chairs, while chatting to Dmitry Tomashov, my pilot for the trip. He’s also an integral part of the U-Boat Navigator – one of the world’s most sophisticated diving support vessels which bobs 35 meters above us.
“Exploring the world in a private submersible is as close as possible to travelling to another planet,” says Henry Cookson, founder of Cookson Adventures back on-board U-Boat Navigator. “Today’s technologies allow guests of all ages to spend unique moments under the ocean’s surface and have a real opportunity to discover what no human has ever seen before.”
With the sun beating down and piecing through the shimmering surface of the sea. conditions are ideal, but this isn’t a necessity when it comes to submersibles of this calibre. Cookson Adventures was the first private travel company to launch a submersible in the Antarctic in 2012 to explore the megafauna beneath the waves in sites that have never been dived before. “There is a surprising amount of wildlife thriving in its icy depths, from otherworldly jellyfish and rarely seen invertebrates to penguins and seals,” recalls Cookson, as he confirms that the Antarctic is his all-time favourite diving expedition.
From the U-Boat Navigator, we take a tender back to 41-metre Lady in Blue, part of the CarBlu Malta fleet, as the crew begin placing an array of colourful lemony salads, peppered cured meats and fresh fish scattered with capers on the table. This is a satisfying, yet strategically light lunch, as in the evening we have reservations at Malta’s newest Michelin Starred restaurant, ION – The Harbour.
Making my way up to the rooftop of the Iniala hotel, the lift doors open to revel a stylish, yet informal affair, overlooking the Grand Harbour. Valletta’s Baroque limestone architecture is painted in a flaming shade of orange as the sun sets over the 16th century skyline. Negroni in hand, it’s easy to see why Mark Weingard, the owner of Iniala and ION – The Harbour, selected such a mesmerising location for his newly completed property and as we sit down, is also clear why British chef, Alex Dilling was selected to pioneer its restaurant.
Like a meticulously rehearsed play, the first morsel of the seven-course tasting menu arrives at the table. Discs of local baby pink shrimp topped with aged schrenkii caviar and crème cru set the tone for the rest of the meal. Two domes of foie gras with black truffle vinaigrette arrive next, followed by the chef’s signature creation, the intricate hunter chicken. Each course is more impressive than the last and it’s no surprise that the restaurant was awarded its Michelin star soon after opening.
Superyachts stopping off in Malta will find a wealth of culinarily delicacies sprinkled around the island. We head to the west coast and drop anchor off Ghajn Tuffieha beach for a more rustic but no less decadent experience in Mgarr. After heading up into the hills I am lead through a jungle of flowery shrubs, overhanging pomegranates and half buried hydrangeas. I eventually arrive at a single table on a quarry-tilled terrace overlooking the converging ridges of the Tan-Nixxiegħa olive grove.
The grove is part of Merill, an initiative that brings together farmers and artisans from around the Maltese Islands. Golden Tan-Nixxiegħa extra virgin olive oil is brought to the table, along with crusty homemade bread, and a series of local Maltese delicacies, which includes Zalzett Malti – a pork sausage that is eaten raw. Hours are lost while we enjoy a crisp local Girgentina wine, while taking in the charming view, triggering an overwhelming sense of full immersion into Maltese culture, which is how the Cookson Adventures team design their expeditions.
“From pirates to the Knights of Malta, the island has long attracted people with a sense of adventure and that spirit lives on in the local people you meet,” says Cookson. “Meeting local winemakers, chefs and farmers like this who are passionate about working in harmony with the land to create world-class produce is a great way to exemplify Malta’s culture.”
Cookson Adventures might be well-known within the superyacht world, but they don’t just arrange water-based activities. As this trip shows, each of the excursion can be blended with a series of exciting land-based escapades, which is how I find myself sitting on a quad bike, racing over the neighbouring island of Gozo. Our route takes us through a series of sandy limestone settlements on the Maltese archipelago, past the exquisite, Iglesia de Gharb, to the site of the Azure Window, a 28-metre natural arch which featured in Game of Thrones, before its spectacular collapse in 2017.
We take regular breaks, leaving our quadbikes to take in the commanding view over the jagged cliff face; mollified by ice cold water and Maltese pastries. Eventually we arrive at Zebbug, a town on the northernmost point of Gozo famous for its salt pans. Across a three-kilometre stretch, partially submerged rectangular basins have been etched into the rocks, waiting for the water to evaporate and Gozo’s famous sea salt to form. Prized across the world for its flavour and texture, the salt is an important source of income for the island and the local families that have been harvesting it for centuries.
Maltese heritage is literally is etched into the land across the archipelago, and it’s as we sit down on the terrace of The Malta Maritime Museum for a private dinner with Liam Gauci, the museum’s director and historian, that we discover how these cultures have amalgamated. We try a host of antique flavours inspired by 18th century Malta, from pan-fried pigeon in a rich red wine jus to roasted oysters, in the same setting where the Inquisitors, Corsairs and Knights themselves once dined overlooking the Grand Harbour. With his seemingly boundless library of historical knowledge, Gauci even links my own ancestry to Malta and highlights its major role in various Mediterranean battles and importance to Britain in the First and Second World Wars.
In the past year, a number of well-known superyachts have paid a visit to Maltese waters and data suggests traffic is on the rise. I now find myself seeking out opportunities to return to this beacon of historical provenance and to my considerable surprise, keeping an eye out for opportunities to return to the depths in my yellow submarine. It’s clear that Malta is home to some of the Mediterranean’s most thrilling waters, but with culinary marvels and rich culture above the surface as well, Malta certainly shouldn’t be overlooked as a thriving superyacht destination.
Ship to shore: Iniala Harbour House
Hidden among Valetta’s Baroque architecture on the prestigious street of Barbara Bastion, Iniala Harbour House combines the traditional Maltese architecture and historical details with contemporary design and eclectic art collection. Spread across four townhouses, each of the 22 rooms have their own striking design concept, such as the two storey “Incognito Suite” tucked away on the ground floor with original limestone walls, contemporary furniture and high arched ceilings sit in the hotel’s historic vault. With moody lighting and polished dark wood floors, the vibe at the hotel is opulence without ostentation and a home away from home designed to cater for those longer stays in the city. A wide range of Diptyque products line each of the bathrooms, and the crisp sheets that dress the king-sized beds are of an incalculable thread count.Read More/The best luxury hotels in the Mediterranean to visit by superyacht