You’re spoilt for choice in Valletta. Almost every other door is a café and every square is bristling with café parasols. Some are considered city institutions, especially those which spill out on to the larger of Valletta’s squares. Fine weather generally sees two sets of patrons vying for tables: local businessmen are keen to sit outside so they can catch the eye of someone useful – usually a politician en route to parliament nearby; tourists, meanwhile, just want to enjoy the sun and watch the ebb and flow of Valletta life.
Often, the real cafe experience awaits you inside. There are still those that exude a rarified, antiquated fin de siècle feel that transports you to a Vienna or Paris of a century ago. In these establishments, the decor is all swirling wrought iron, frescoed ceilings, mirrors and chandeliers in hues of pink and green. Only a few still have long sweeps of bar where you can take part in that Italian-style ritual of downing a nip of espresso while standing at the counter. Uniformed waiters turn out cappuccinos and espressos for lawyers, judges, businesspeople and inquisitive tourists. The pace is quick at the counter.
Not far from your line of sight are counter displays tempting you with delectable arrays of sweets and pastries, many with Sicilian and Moorish roots and using almond paste and glacéd fruit. Your only dilemma is whether to eat in or to get a selection boxed and wrapped to take away.
The more venerable cafés are the favoured haunts of ladies of a certain age. They take morning coffees and afternoon teas and tend to sit in the farthest reaches of the café, as it part of the background decor. Sunday mornings are a favoured time to linger in the larger and older cafés. You can sit quite undisturbed reading a tome of newspaper even though your table could have housed six more groups in the time it’s taken you to down one cappuccino.
Café life is a charming way to experience Valletta’s living history.