There is a pair of peacocks foraging amongst the perfect plantings of pansies. The colours of both bird and flower seem to complement each other. Nearby, a small group of gardeners are smoking and chatting idly as they watch the bird. It is probably searching for grubs and worms and the keepers of this superb garden seem indifferent to its behaviour.
I am in the San Anton Palace Gardens in Valletta Malta. This beautiful green space in the capital city of Malta is an oasis of flowers in a city dominated by its limestone mansions, fortresses and churches. Attached to the palace of the current president of the Republic of Malta, the gardens were declared a public space in 1882 when the British ruled Malta. The gardens are filled with exotic plantings, fountains and peaceful areas to sit and contemplate nature. They are also home to a wide variety of animals including wall lizards and butterflies to mute swans, ducks, turtles and a resident population of cats.
Leaving the pansies and peacocks, I pass through an old stone arch to a charming courtyard where a circular pond is home to a veritable nest of red-eared terrapins. Although the reptiles have more than enough space to swim they tend to pile together much to the delight of a local school group who are visiting the gardens. Perhaps this is the warmest place for a cold blooded animal to bask.
After consulting a little map that our tour guide provided, I stroll along another shaded pathway towards the most prominent feature in this walled garden. The beautiful fountain is surrounded by plantings and has an ornamental, curved stone backdrop. While I am sitting quietly on a bench my travelling companion, not known for her wildlife spotting prowess, points out a delicate dragonfly resting on a twig.
As I head for the ornate stone portals that direct one through the gardens I spot one of Malta's most prolific wild animals; a delicate little Maltese wall lizard or Filfola, half hidden in the stonework.
Malta certainly has its open spaces, rugged walks, rural landscapes as well as a spectacular coastline with all its marine wonders. But for the city dweller and the casual visitors, these beautiful gardens certainly add a natural dimension to an already stunning destination.