Basking in the Mediterranean between southern Italy and the north African coast, Malta enjoys a year-round temperate climate with mild winters, a rich historic heritage and, as an ex-British colony, has the added bonus of being an English-speaking country (besides its native Maltese language). Just a three hour flight from London via a range of budget and full service airlines, it’s no surprise that this small republic with a population of less than half a million is such a favourite with holiday-makers and culture-seeking weekenders alike.
Nestled in St. George’s Bay with its pristine beach whose waters have been awarded ‘Blue Flag’ status since 2009, the five-star Corinthia Hotel offer visitors the ideal base from which to enjoy the island’s many attractions. It’s a twenty-five minute (15km) drive from Luqa international airport and only 8km from the picturesque capital, Valletta, which the hotel offers free daily shuttle services to and from. Should you decide to hire a car to explore further afield at your own leisure, the good news is that they drive on the left over here too! If it’s entertainment and gastronomy you’re after though, you won’t need to look far as Malta’s nightlife is centred around St. Julian’s which is a very pleasant (especially at sunset) seven minute stroll along the coast. You don’t even need to walk that far as there are nine restaurants and bars in the Corinthia’s grounds alone. Sunbathers in need of lunchtime refreshment need hardly stir as they can summon a waiter from the poolside bar with the mere push of a button on the sun parasol next to their lounger. And if you need to assuage your conscience with a quick bit of sight-seeing after so much decadence, you can just nip into the hotel’s gardens and find a 16th century watchtower right on your doorstep. It was built by the Knights of St. John who ruled the island back then and was the first thing that Napoleon saw when he landed right where the Corinthia stands today.
Every one of the 249 spacious rooms and suites has an uninterrupted sea view from its own private balcony and is decorated in the classically elegant style which this premium chain is famous for. My own suite on the fifth (Executive Club) floor had two balconies offering spectacular dual-aspect views out across the sparkling Mediterranean and up along the rocky shoreline. Free high-speed Wi-Fi and cable TV compete for your attention on the rare occasions that you won’t be sunning yourself by one of the five swimming pools arranged in a flowing cascade that leads all the way down to the hotel’s own private beach. From this 500m long lido and its jetty, guests can choose from a range of water-sports activities, book a course at the in-house diving school or charter a private boat for the day. If you want to try a bit of scuba diving in the bay (the Guinness World Record for the longest warm water scuba dive was launched from this lido; 49 hours and 56 minutes is the time to beat!), then you can borrow an underwater GoPro camera entirely free of charge from reception to record your achievement.
Breakfast is a meal taken very seriously at Corinthia hotels and St. George’s Bay is no exception. Their Fra Martino restaurant offers a sumptuous buffet from 7am to 10:30am and the generous array of goodies will surely keep you going through a tough afternoon’s sunbathing. As well as all the usual continental and cooked items, there is plenty of healthy fresh fruit available and even some Maltese specialities in case you fancy trying some of the local delicacies (they’re famous for their breads and pastries). A chef is also on hand to scramble, fry or poach your eggs or to prepare an omelette exactly to your specification. It’s a particularly pleasant start to the day to eat at one of the tables outside by the water fountain on the terrace from which you can peer at the luxury yachts and speedboats criss-crossing the azure sea beyond.
Come evening, Fra Martino is transformed into a grand trattoria offering an a la carte Italian and international menu or a buffet option at €33 per head. On my visit, there were plenty of well-dressed locals to be seen dining in addition to regular guests – always a good sign for a hotel restaurant – and I could see why when my order arrived. The lobster spaghetti starter (also available as a main) was as good, if not better (and much less expensive!), as anything I’d had in Rome when I visited just a few weeks previously, and was followed by a delicately flavoured grouper fish served with tomato purée and a shellfish reduction. These were washed down with a local Caravaggio Chenin Blanc which was fruity and flavoursome yet not overly acidic, and astounding value at €14.50 for a bottle – try getting a decent bottle of wine for that price at another five-star hotel in Europe!
For a taste of the very best in fine dining that Malta has to offer, guests of the Corinthia are truly spoilt. The island’s most famous chef, Marvin Gauci, has two of his multi-award winning restaurants on the hotel’s grounds. Both are housed on the ground and first floors of a separate all-glass building down by the water, overlooking the bay. Caviar & Bull, as its name suggests, specialises in food from the ocean and from the pasture and is designed in a traditional style reminiscent of an upmarket member’s club with an outside terrace, perfect for sipping an aperitif whilst deliberating on what to eat. I allowed the decision making to be done for me and ordered the Cosmopolitan ten-course tasting menu at €65 per person. There were simply too many delights to list them all but highlights included the seared Wagyu beef carpaccio with Amaretto caviar, the langoustine shells nestled in filo and Gauci’s description-defying signature dish, ‘Lobster Popcorn’. Buddhamann, on the floor above, fuses contemporary Asian with European flavours to yield results that stand up to the best that even a city such as London has to offer. Once again, the tasting menu – in this case, the ‘Geisha’ at €60 per person – delivered excellent value and a good representation of the wide range of tastes available. Mother-of-pearl spoonfuls of the house ‘Platinum’ caviar set the tastebuds tingling for a salmon and tuna tartar with Korean kimchi. A beautifully tender boneless quail cooked in a tandoor was served with a fragrant pomegranate and ginger sauce. Many exquisite courses later, I was ready for the final dish (not counting dessert) of sea bass marinated in secret spices and wrapped in banana leaf, then cooked in a clay oven – a truly successful combination of Indian and Thai cuisines. Service was impeccable in both establishments and I recommend allowing the sommelier to select a wine flight to accompany your meal, to bring out the best in the dishes’ individual flavours.
After all that culinary indulgence, a trip to the hotel’s well-appointed fitness centre might be in order. Or, if that’s a touch too virtuous for your luxury break, do as I did and stop off instead at the Apollo Day Spa for some restorative pampering. There’s a wide range of treatments and relaxation therapies to choose from or you can just spend a very pleasant few hours idling in the sauna, jacuzzi or indoor swimming pool. I can personally recommend the ‘Easy Sunday Morning Spa Package’ which includes an hour-long couples massage (or manicure or pedicure) as well as a healthy breakfast and glass of bubbly; great value at €100 for two people. Throughout the week, the spa offers free yoga classes and even short courses for couples on how to massage each other. The hotel also arranges other activities for guests such as group walks along the historic coast, wine tastings and evenings where you can buy locally made arts and crafts and see them being made.
Malta offers a large slice of luxury at a very small price, in comparison to other European resorts, yet doesn’t suffer from the kind of over-development that has blighted some more well-known destinations. The ideal times to visit are on the ‘shoulders’ of the summer season when it’s not too hot but a stay at the Corinthia St. George’s Bay is a welcome treat at any time of year.
For more information about the Corinthia Hotel, please visit website.