Thursday 14 December 2017

Lights, Camera... Malta!

A movie guide to a magical island

Boats in Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta
Boats in Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta
Snorkelling in Malta.
Azure window, Malta, as featured in Game of Thrones
Malta's Grand Harbour. TROY was filmed at Fort Ricasoli, which overlooks the harbour
Golden Bay, Malta
BLUE GROTTO, close to QRENDI (where Brad and Angelina stayed) and a huge tourist attraction.

Tom Sweeney

Tom Sweeney isn’t alone in loving this little island in the middle of the Med – some of Hollywood’s hottest stars think Malta is marvellous too.

Who remembers the appalling 1969 movie Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?

The people of Malta do, because it was filmed there.

But they don’t talk about it.

Neither does Joan Collins. She starred in this celluloid stinker with her then husband Anthony Newley and said it contributed to the decline of their marriage.

If you run into her, don’t mention it – she’ll take the Humppe.

I’ve no idea if Heironymus Merkin found true happiness, but that’s what an increasing number of Irish visitors find when they choose Malta for a holiday, their curiosity aroused by Hollywood’s long-standing love affair with the place.

By the Sea

2. MALTA Snorkelling (compressed).jpg
Snorkelling in Malta.

Snorkelling in Malta

Only a few weeks ago, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were on Malta’s little sister island of Gozo on a working honeymoon – they brought their six children along while they shot their movie, the romantic drama By The Sea.

Much of it was filmed in Mgarr ix-Xini, an unpronounceable but unbelievably beautiful little bay with a pebbly beach that’s perfect for picnics. The crystal-clear water makes it hugely popular for snorkelling and scuba diving too.

Here are a handful of the big and small screen hits filmed in Malta and Gozo that have put bums on seats – not only in cinemas but on holiday flights – and the sights and attractions that await visitors.

Game of Thrones (Season 1)

4. MALTA Azure Window (Game of Thrones) (compressed).jpg
Azure window, Malta, as featured in Game of Thrones

The Azure Window, as featured in Game of Thrones

Malta’s medieval former capital, Mdina, substituted for King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros. This fortified city is home to 290 people – and to the Fontanella Tearoom, whose cakes are irresistible. For unique souvenirs, pop into the Mdina Glass shop.

Gozo’s most-photographed attraction, the Azure Window – a natural limestone arch jutting into the sea – was the backdrop for the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo. See it while you can, because erosion means it won’t be there for too much longer.

If you want to take home some really good but not expensive Gozo wine, the Ta’ Mena estate just outside the island’s capital, Victoria, is the place to go.

Book the best value packages to Malta with Independent Travel here.

5. MALTA Blue Grotto (compressed).jpg
BLUE GROTTO, close to QRENDI (where Brad and Angelina stayed) and a huge tourist attraction.

Malta's Blue Grotto

World War Z (2013)

The Maltese capital, Valletta, doubled as Jerusalem in this zombie Apocalypse thriller starring Brad Pitt, who stayed with Angelina and the children in a €9m mansion in Qrendi.

The top attraction in Valletta is St John’s Co Cathedral, which houses Caravaggio’s monumental painting, The Beheading of John the Baptist. In the War Museum you can see the George Cross awarded to the people of Malta for their heroism during the siege of World War Two from June 11, 1940 to November 20, 1942.

Qrendi is close to the Blue Grotto sea caves that offer boat-trippers one of nature’s most spectacular light shows. Every day from sunrise until noon, the phosphorescent colours of the underwater flora dance on the walls and ceilings of the caves, like reflections from a disco ball.

6.MALTA The Grand Harbour (compressed).png
Malta's Grand Harbour. TROY was filmed at Fort Ricasoli, which overlooks the harbour

Grand Harbour, Malta

Troy (2004)

Brad Pitt was the big name in this big-budget historical epic, for which a vast set was built at Fort Ricasoli. The 17th Century fort overlooks Valletta’s spectacular Grand Harbour, which is best viewed from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

Other scenes were filmed at Golden Bay, where you’ll find Malta’s most popular sandy beach, and Mellieha, a favourite family resort that curiously has a public lending library in a phone box.

Pitt and his then wife Jennifer Aniston stayed and ate in the Intercontinental and Westin Dragonara hotels in the resort of St Julian’s, close to Valletta. If they’d ventured out, they’d have found Sicilian restaurant I Monelli – it’s fantastic.

7. MALTA Golden Bay (compressed).JPG
Golden Bay, Malta

Golden Bay, Malta

Gladiator (2000)

Ridley Scott couldn’t film in the Colosseum in Rome, so he built a partial replica at Fort Ricasoli and filled in the gaps using CGI.

Russell Crowe got his regular fix of football on TV in the Tex-Mex Bar and Grill in the nearby resort of Sliema, which is full of great bars and restaurants (if you like Indian, the Garam Masalaa is superlative).

Basement restaurant Nenu, the Artisan Baker (St Dominic Street) is famed for its ftira, the must-try Maltese version of pizza.

8. MALTA Popeye Village (compressed).jpg
POPEYE VILLAGE, built specially for the Robin Williams movie POPEYE

Popeye Village, Malta

Popeye (1980)

Directed by Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Gosford Park), with a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson (Everybody’s Talkin’) and starring Robin Williams in his first movie, what’s not to love about this madcap musical comedy that has everything but a plot?

One of the quirkiest tourist attractions on Malta is the Popeye Village at Anchor Bay, just outside Mellieha. It began life as the fishing hamlet of Sweethaven, built for the film, and was left intact when the cast and crew packed up and went home.

Characters from the movie interact with visitors in the higgledy-piggledy streets and entertainment includes Popeye puppet shows, screenings of excerpts from the movie, rides, boat trips in the bay and children’s play areas. I’ve been to the Popeye Village several times and I’ll go again. Or as Popeye would say, ag-ag-ag-ag-gain.

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Malta - it's not all historic buildings, you know.

Girl lazing in pool - also allowed!

You don’t have to be a film star to enjoy the many delights of Malta and Gozo, but you’ll feel like one when you experience the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. Ask Brad and Angelina – they can’t stay away from these family-friendly and fun-filled islands.

And neither can I.

Book the best value packages to Malta with Independent Travel here.

Getting there

Ryanair flies five times a week from Dublin to Malta in the summer and twice a week in the winter (ryanair.com).

EasyJet flies twice a week from Belfast International (easyjet.com).

Package deals

Tour operators and travel agents offering package deals from Ireland to Malta include Concorde Travel (concordetravel.ie), Belleair (belleair.ie), Mercury Direct (mercurydirect.ie) and GoHop (gohop.ie).

Tom's top hotels

Phoenicia Hotel, Valletta (www.phoeniciamalta.com).

Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay, St Julian’s (www.corinthia.com).

Hotel Fortina (my favourite), Sliema (www.hotelfortina.com).

Palace Hotel, Sliema (www.thepalacemalta.com).

Westin Dragonara Resort, St Julian’s (www.westinmalta.com).

For more information, see visitmalta.com

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