Although land in Malta was not conducive to this kind of activity, a few kilometres away from Mdina there was a small wooded area, which became a favourite hunting place.Grand Master La Valette build his small hunting lodge in the area. Later on, another Grand Master, namely Verdalle decided to build a proper countryside fortified palace next to this hunting lodge. The palace was built to the designs of Glormu Cassar, the Maltese architect. The palace is surrounded by a deep and wide ditch, and although it was never meant to be a fortification, the architect planned it to resemble a fortified place.
There are four turrets at each corner, and it gives the impression of a very strong fort. The rooms inside the palace are richly decorated. There are frescoes depicting the most important events in the life history of Grand Master Verdalle, which were painted by the Florentine artist Filippo Paladini. There are other interesting pieces of furniture which enhance the large rooms of this palace. During the 18th century the palace was restored by Grand Master Vilhena who mostly concentrated on the upper floor.
Here we find paintings depicting the various buildings that were built by this grand master in Malta. The Palace has had a varied history. It was also used by the British administration to hold French officers as prisoners at the beginning of the 19th century. The palace was then used by the Governors as their summer residence and today, following restoration works it is being used as the President’s summer residence.
On the same grounds of the palace there is a small but highly interesting church, dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot.
The Buskett Gardens are located in a fertile valley located to the south of Rabat and just east of Dingli. The gardens are at their best in the spring but they offer shade from the harsh mid-summer sun and offer a quite place for a walk in the winter months. Verdala Palace is located on the edge of the Gardens.
Many different trees and shrubs grow in the gardens but there are also many fruit-bearing trees there as well. This is one of the greenest areas in Malta. Indigenous forests once covered Malta, but trees were cut down for shipbuilding in the era when galleons plied the Mediterranean waters and for agricultural purposes. Perhaps the Buskett Gardens offer a glimpse of what Malta looked like in those days. The gardens are very popular with Maltese people. People often visit the gardens to go for walks in the peaceful settings of the garden and to enjoy a picnic in the shade of the trees, or to work in woodland area. The gardens are also the site of the popular feast of Imnarja (the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul) which is celebrated on June 29th. Hundreds of people flock to the gardens the night before the 29th to eat the traditional Maltese dish of Rabbit Stew cooked in wine and to listen to traditional folk music and singing and than in the morning there is the annual agricultural show.
Buskett Garden is Malta's only large area of woodland. It was planted by the Knights as a hunting ground. It lies next to Verdala Palace, in a valley, just inland from Dingli Cliffs. Buskett has vineyards, oranges, olive and lemon groves, and is heavily wooded with native, hardy species such as Mediterranean pines. You can stick to the pathways lined with ivy-clad stone walls or venture off into the woodland. From autumn to spring you are bound to find plenty of interest, from wild flowers, natural springs, and woodland creatures. The wood leads up hill to the more formal gardens of Verdala Palace.
Panoplies of foliage spread their shade over the valley floor, providing a welcome respite against the heat of summer. There are orange and cypress trees, irregular cactuses, leguminous carobs, aromatic firs and the Judas tree, which foretells Easter with its pink blossom.
The Verdala Palace is perched on a hilltop overlooking Buskett Garden. It was built by Grand Master Hughes de Verdalle in 1588 as a summer residence. It is now used as a summer residence by the President. Following restoration, this elegant building now serves as the presidents summer residence. The palace is not open to the public, but it does offer a notable landmark visible clearly from Dingli Cliffs, towering as it does over Buskett woodland.