I’ve just got back from a two-week holiday in the south of France. But why I am talking about France when this site is about Malta? Well, first up, there’s nothing like travel to put home into perspective. France, I love for its weekly town markets, the produce and the wine of course. I find its rigid dejeuner difficult to cope with in my tourist routine of late starts and my need for a simple caffeine fix at just the time cafes are serving the plat du jour. Malta’s far more relaxed about what you can eat and when. Malta is far easier for tourists eating out with kids in tow (not all French restaurants do a menu enfant, so the full set meal is a bit pricey if your child leaves most it).
France is at its best, I feel, not for dining out but for its stylish homes.
Old farmhouses as all-year-round homes
We stayed first week in an 18th century villa which belonged once to some minor royal of Louis ? fame. It had large louvre windows, faded grey paint, pencil-thin pines gracing its portals and inside it smelled of the fresh-laundered linens and lavender. An archetypal old French villa. Croissants and baguettes were delivered to the door in a hand-embroidered bag each day. Bliss.
So, after two weeks of pampering in faded elegance, I return to my old limestone farmhouse in a Maltese village. I open the door to a musty smell, crumbled stone, ants invading my kitchen and plumbing that’s seized up. A bulging linen basket greets me even before I’ve unpacked. The house is not happy. It’s my fault; I was working till getting on the plane and had no time to organise it for our return.
I’ve been back a week from holiday and it’s taken me this long to work out something about the place I live in that makes it, yes, wait for it, as good as that place in France (croissants delivery aside). My farmhouse is a person; a living thing and needs to be treated courteously. Go away without saying good bye (nicely) and it pays you back.
Old limestone houses in Malta are every bit as attractive as their Italian or French counterparts if you get to know them, treat them well, love them, cherish them even. They crumble and grumble, but if you spend time on them, and I don’t mean heavy expensive stuff here, they will respond. They are unique personalities and like us all, they have their off days. In summer, they love, for instance, to crumble gritty limestone all over (floors, computers, books, beds and more) as they dry out in the heat.
Old Maltese houses are not for those who dream of right-angled walls, plaster that stays put and penthouse apartments. They are for people who are happy to spend some time each weekend on tending, caring and loving their homes. These are not places that ‘look after themselves’. Like kids and pets, they need constant attention. More on that here.
An old farmhouse as holiday home?
Once you’ve got that into your head, then an old Maltese house can be in France, Italy or Spain in your mind’s eye. But, if you’re thinking of a holiday home in Malta, and thinking old stone house, then make sure you’ve reliable facilities management people or a local contact who can care for it while you’re away.
What of the perception of an old house in Malta as a holiday home? Well, it isn’t going to be mini version of Provence or Tuscany as Malta and its old houses have a unique allure all their own. Why pretend otherwise? Here’s what one UK friend said of my place after a visit: ” Whenever I describe your place to friends they’re always wistful. I think it is the concept of rooms opening out onto a courtyard, with your bedroom having its balcony and terrace and stone steps leading up to flat roofs with views, it seems a whole different world to UK and French cottages. There’s no pool, but really, it’s not an issue as people are always renting places in Italy and Provence without a pool. But you’ve the sea five minutes away, so who cares!”.
A stay-cation next year perhaps for me?!