A whistle-stop stay in Malta
Although we have visited Malta several times, it is generally the case that visitors stay in one hotel and explore the islands from there. We thought it would be useful to visit more hotels to really get a picture of what Silver Travellers can expect to find, so we stayed at 7 hotels over 11 nights. Definitely a challenge where the suitcase is concerned, and for the one-night stays at three hotels in Gozo, limited time to sight-see. However, all the hotels were 5* and 4*, some not widely part of package tours, so it turned out to be a valuable way to see what is on offer.
Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa, Malta
First stop was the Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa in San Anton, right in the middle of the island and opposite President’s Palace. Originally a beautiful mansion, it was extended to become a hotel in 1960s and presents a splendid entrance hall with superb facilities for guests – a stunning spa, pool and jacuzzi, landscaped gardens and outdoor pools with restaurant and bar during the summer. Lunch is relaxing in the Orange Grove art cafe, and dinner in the main restaurant.
Dinner in the restaurant – well, what can I say? A real 5* experience, wonderful service with friendly, knowledgeable staff, and the special of salt-baked fish was extraordinary (well worth the €28 per person). This was fresh sea bass, baked with a salted crust, flambe at the table as head waiter filleted it to serve. Chef recommended the best choice and what to have as a starter – shiitake mushroom and prawn pasta – which wasn’t actually on the menu but he would make it for us!
We could see that other guests were treated as special, for example a regular diner who ate alone was brought her dessert with a sparkler in it as it was her birthday. It was a lovely atmosphere, friendly but efficient, with a young man playing piano in the background. Our hosts Lorraine and Jo were good company and we discussed some special trips they have planned for guests, offering Private Malta tours to visit private homes that would not otherwise be available to visitors.
They are the first hotel in Malta to offer “dog friendly” accommodation with designated rooms only and a special garden area for them to run.
Private Malta – arranged through Corinthia Hotel
We were taken by mini bus to the home of Jim & Arthur, just outside Valletta, bought as a shell 6 years ago. It has been restored to original stone walls, old plaster removed, and beautiful architectural features exposed. They have a huge dining table in the space of two rooms, where visitors can also have lunch or dinner, lots of beautiful artworks collected over many years travelling, and even a ‘birthing room’ which all larger houses had apparently. For visitors during the summer, the roof garden also has kitchen facilities and they provide lunch or dinner with spectacular views of the city. This is definitely the way to see unique private residences and learn more about the history of Malta.
San Anton Gardens
Near to the Corinthia Palace Hotel, the San Anton Gardens are open to the public and free. Interesting gardens, with lots of different birds (used to be a zoo at one time) and water features as well as unusual trees. Paths are well laid out, although they are made up of large cobbles which were very slippery due to the long wet winter they have had this year. Flowers were starting to come out so certainly worth a visit later in the year – we think April-May is the best time to visit Malta before it gets too hot.
Phoenicia Hotel, Valletta
They refer to Phoenicia Hotel as “A timeless classic: Five star luxury in Malta’s historic Art Deco hotel”, and it certainly is a beautiful hotel in a perfect location to explore the city of Valletta and beyond. The room was well-furnished and comfy (though we didn’t quite master the heating controls!), and the lounge area is warm and comfortable.
Guests all enjoyed a “Welcome” drink from the manager in the lounge on Thursday evening, followed by a traditional Maltese buffet which was good value at €39 each. There was lots of choice of cold starters, especially fat, squashy sun-dried tomatoes with real taste, stuffed aubergine and courgettes plus fishy stuffed mussels. Mains included fish, roast lamb and pork, braised rabbit and stuffed leek. With a constant flow of wine and water, you can’t go wrong really. Staff were excellent, fixed our wobbly table and went out of their way to serve a disabled couple. Chef Saul came out to talk to everyone and explain the traditional dishes. We finished with a lovely selection of very fattening desserts, but gave up by the time we got to the cheese and biscuits. A great evening was had by all.
The second evening we ate in the Pegasus Bistro, a smaller cosier restaurant which is part of the hotel but also used by outside visitors. Maître d’ very helpful, recommending appropriate dishes, especially when we chose two similar dishes as a starter and main course. He also suggested we stick with the starter and intermediate dishes as we are not big eaters, so this was perfect for us. Again, the chef Saul came to explain dishes so this all adds to the atmosphere of being taken care of. And apparently, the concierge can organise tickets for “anything” the guests want – not sure what that means but assume it includes theatre tickets!
After breakfast, we were shown around the hotel and the kitchen garden – do look at their website for some great photographs of the garden as we were there when it is yet to be planted for this year. Guests are welcome to walk around the garden, which was established over two years ago, where the intention is to grow as much as possible without having to source ingredients from outside. It is an interesting example of taking a positive approach to using natural rotation with crops and no chemicals – Saul is very passionate about his garden! Over the summer months, there is a chef stationed in the garden so that you can pick your own veg and he will cook it for you.
The hotel is situated right at the gates to Valletta and across the road from the main bus station that will take you anywhere on the island. A weekly bus ticket is an incredible €6.5 to get on and off whenever and wherever you like. We took the 81 (or 85) bus to Marsaxlokk, a fascinating harbour full of colourful Maltese fishing boats and lots of restaurants. There is a market along the harbour front on Thursday, selling crafts and food, and if you want the fish market that is on Sunday but it is always crowded then and a bit of a scrum to get on the bus.
Valletta was always at a strategic point, both for the island and the Mediterranean region. If you walk through the park above the ramparts, you can look down on a terrace bar that is lit up at night. It took a while for us to find the entrance, but persevere if you want to sample an exclusive menu at the Rampila restaurant. Cross the road above the terrace and enter via the tiny restaurant entrance on the corner, down some steps and along the tunnel lined with tables. Originally a vantage point known as the Cavalier of St John, it is open lunchtimes and evenings and a beautiful spot. We told them they need better signs!
Clearly we love visiting Malta, but this opportunity to stay at different hotels for 1 or 2 nights gives a much better picture of the variety of accommodation available, particularly outside the main tourist season. As an art historian, I would love to arrange a trip that just focuses on looking at art – there is so much to see in unusual locations – anyone else interested, let me know!