San Anton Gardens are the most beautiful of the few public parks in Malta. They surround an ornate palazzo built by Grand Master of the Knights of St John, Antoine de Paule, as his summer residence in 1636 – it’s now the official residence of the Maltese President – and were bequeathed to the public in 1882.
A sweet-smelling citrus orchard lies at the heart of the walled gardens, a tranquil haven in the middle of busy Attard. They are landscaped in a formal Italianate fashion, dotted with elaborate follies, sculptures and fountains, dissected by shady paved walkways giving shelter from the mid-summer sun. Some of the trees here are more than 300 years old and the twisted trunks of ancient jacarandas, cypresses and Norfolk pines line the paths, palm trees soar upwards and flowerbeds blaze with color all year around.
A small aviary and a petting farm enchant children, while bubbling ponds are full of flashing koi and turtles; ducks, geese and peacocks wander the grounds at will and lizards dart through the undergrowth. The gardens are a summer venue for open-air theater, including a Shakespeare season every July, and host Malta’s biggest horticultural show in May.
Attard is in central Malta, a 30-minute bus ride from Valletta on – among others – routes nos. 52 and 53. The main entrance is on Triq Birkirkara. San Anton Gardens are open daily all year around and are free to enter. If visiting in summer, take insect repellent.