Tiny but beautiful, the villages of Attard, Balzan and Lija hold many secrets within their landscaped gardens, narrow roads and majestic houses.
It’s hard to tell where one village ends and another begins, but that doesn’t mean that Malta’s famous Three Villages are insignificant. Their lush gardens – notably Villa Bologna’s – are the fruitful remnants of the basketsful of oranges that used to be shipped to Buckingham Palace for decades. Many Grand Masters of the Order of the Knights of St John chose to build their summer residences here.
Today, the villages are no longer solely populated by stately homes and never ending gardens, but their beauty and history make them a site that is definitely worth going out of your way for.
San Anton Palace is located in Attard, and is today the official residence of the President of the Republic. Its botanical gardens, known as San Anton Gardens, are home to a variety of flora and fauna, including a number of 300-year old trees, ducks and peacocks. They were first opened to the public in 1882, and remain one of the most beautiful and visited gardens on the island. When visiting, make sure you wander through the many pathways before stopping at The President’s Kitchen Garden for a snack. Also, if you’re visiting the gardens in July, you might bump into a troupe of actors rehearsing for their annual San Anton Shakespeare production – a 74-year old tradition.
Built in 1745 and located a stone’s throw away from San Anton Palace is Villa Bologna, one of the island’s best examples of stately homes and European gardens. The house is now a Grade I listed building, and its gardens are definitely worth venturing into. The current owners of the house still live on the grounds, but they’re incredibly welcoming. In fact, they’ve recently created an app to help guide you through the estate, which is full of interesting trivia about the previous owners and the house’s role in history. They’ve even revived the adjoining pottery house called Ceramika, which is the word for ‘ceramic’ in Maltese.
Attard, Lija and Balzan are home to an impressive amount of cafés and restaurants, some of which have splendid views of parish churches or gardens. So, if parking in Sliema is giving you heart palpitations or if everywhere’s choc-a-bloc in Valletta, why not give one of the many lovely eateries here a try?
The Lija Belvedere Tower is a folly – no, not the crazy kind of folly, but the architectural kind; it was built primarily for decoration. It was designed by Giuseppe Bonavia, and used to be part of the Villa Gourigon Estate. Today it stands proudly just a few metres away from the main square in Lija, and while visitors cannot really enter it, it’s still worth a view.
With a motto that reads hortibus undique septa – surrounded by gardens – you know that a walk through Balzan is going to be a horticultural one. Dotted with statues of saints, niches, tasteful homes, churches, chapels, and even aqueducts, the best way to see the Mayfair of Malta (just my humble opinion, of course) is by letting yourself get lost within it.
That’s it for my top picks, but do feel free to mention any other hot spots in the Three Villages in the comments section below!