Being the eternal optimist, I always enter competitions and draws in fervent hope of winning, so I am regularly disappointed! But not this time. There it was in black and white: an e-mail congratulating me on winning a three week stay for two at The Victoria Hotel in Silver Travel Advisor’s July 2013 prize draw!
I couldn’t believe it! Malta has been on my wish list since my best friend holidayed there in the 1960’s and came back with a golden tan and sun-bleached hair. Family holidays abroad were virtually unheard of in those days so Malta seemed very exotic.
The prize, arranged in conjunction with tour company Malta Direct had to be taken from 1 December to 28 February and excluded Christmas and the New Year, so I opted for the first three weeks of December hoping the warmth of the Mediterranean autumn would still be lingering. We tend to book holidays at the last minute so it was unusual for me to have months of planning and research. My interactions with MaltaDirect and The Victoria Hotel were helpful and informative. The elegant 4 star Victoria Hotel is situated in a residential area in Sliema, adjoining and sharing facilities with the 5 star Palace hotel where celebrities stay when visiting the island. (Susan Boyle had stayed there recently in their fascinating music suite which comes equipped with drum kit and other musical instruments – and full soundproofing!). We were delighted to find we had been allocated a suite on the seventh floor with a separate living room area and large balcony with sea views. It was situated next to the door leading to The Palace, close to The Palace’s lifts, just down the corridor from the excellent, well-equipped and newly refurbished fitness suite and indoor pool area with its two small saunas, steam room and small sunbathing terrace. Our suite contained everything we needed, including fridge, coffee and tea making facilities, reasonably powerful hair dryer, and good quality coconut shower gel, vegetable soap and shampoo in addition to the liquid soap available from the rather unattractive wall-mounted plastic dispensers. There was a TV that we rarely watched and free wi fi was a bonus.
There were a few negative points but these did not detract from our enjoyment of the holiday. Bath robes, that I’d expect to be standard in a suite and were given to some guests at The Palace, were available to us at a charge of 2.50 euros a day. The bed, comprising two singles pushed together at our request, would have benefitted from a mattress topper to soften the hard edges that formed a ridge down the middle. Although there was plenty of storage and hanging space, the plastic hangers were a little dilapidated with rough edges that could catch the threads of fine clothing; and the drawers in the dark wood chest were heavy, dropping down when opened making them slightly difficult to operate. We experienced a fairly loud humming noise in the room during the day which we believe came from the swimming pool pump but we declined the kind offer of a move to another room as this noise stopped at night time, after which we enjoyed peaceful nights of sleep hearing no noise from surrounding rooms and being high above street traffic.
Breakfast, taken in Copperfields restaurant, was buffet style comprising delicious Maltese Imqaret (pastries filled with spicy dates) and pastizzi (pasties filled with cheese or peas) alongside typical "full English", cold cuts, cereal and fresh fruit. I’m not a big breakfast eater, preferring muesli and a banana but in the interests of research tried the bacon one morning and found it to be delicious, meaty back rashers with hardly any fat. It would have been helpful to have lactose free milk available for my cereal, but I was happy to buy my own supply from the nearby supermarket, and use it in our tea in our room.
The hotel’s Penny Black bar provided a pleasant environment for an evening drink with Alfred (renowned for his wacky sense of humour) and the team providing a warm welcome and excellent service. We enjoyed a 3 course meal on Monday’s "all you can eat" pasta night for 9.95 each, which we felt to be very good value. However, the rest of the food was a little stodgy for our liking – the portions were huge – and we mostly ate out at the excellent restaurants within relatively easy walking distance of the hotel (Il-Merril, La Cuggagna, Ta Kris) or in the TemptAsian restaurant on the roof of The Palace Hotel which adjoins The Victoria. The huge advantage of eating at TemptAsian – apart from the delicious range of food, attentive service, and it being just two lift stops away from our suite – was being able to charge the meal to our room. This meant fewer trips to the BOV cash machine just round the corner.
From the moment we arrived, nothing was too much trouble for charming Front of House Manager Charles Portelli and his team who consistently went the extra mile to provide for our needs: booking taxis and restaurants; providing advice, maps and timetables for buses and ferries; booking transfers* to the walled city of Mdina and the Sunday morning fish market at Marsaxlokk with the hotel’s Prestige cabs at very reasonable prices; booking the Malta Sightseeing Open Top Bus tours* and harbour cruises at discount prices and arranging for us to be collected from the hotel by the bus company. (* These costs can be charged to the room. However, the hotel requires charges to the room to be settled every time they exceed 250 euros)
The hotel is in a convenient location for exploring Sliema, Valletta and the rest of island. It sits on a hilltop with roads leading down to Sliema’s two sea fronts: The Strand, where the Sliema/Valletta ferry; harbour cruises and Open Top Bus Tours are based, and the promenade on the opposite side of Sliema, which faces the open sea and provides a good starting point for a walk or run into St Julian’s. There are numerous shopping centres within walking distance, the largest being The Point shopping mall which includes British chains such as Debenhams and New Look. I spied a Next and an Oasis in nearby streets and there is a wonderfully stylish, sea front Marks and Spencers on The Strand. However, I might add that I am lucky enough to be extremely fit, coping easily with 20 mile hikes through the Peak District. My partner has walking difficulties and found the narrow, uneven pavements difficult to navigate and the steep hills impossible to climb. This resulted in us having to book taxis to reach places that were, for me, a five to ten minute stroll, adding 20 euros to each of our trips out together. The Victoria does have an underground car park but I would not hire a car in Malta despite years of developing eyes in the back of my head from driving in and around UK major cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester! In Malta it seems to me that nobody signals, speeding out of junctions honking wildly, rather than slowing and proceeding with caution, is the norm and roundabouts are a total free for all. I was nearly run over three times whilst out on foot – once by someone suddenly reversing at speed up a one way street to get to a distant, rare parking space! However, drivers always stop at pedestrian crossings!
During our stay, a shop opened inside the hotel just off the lobby area, full of mostly tasteful souvenirs, Phoenician glassware, filigree silver jewellery and Maltese delicacies – all at very reasonable prices.
The hotel lobby also has a little side room full of leaflets and brochures for museums and tours but make sure you use information appropriate to the season. I somehow picked up the summer open top bus time table which threw out our planning for hopping on and off somewhat, as buses are fewer and less frequent in winter . I also had a long and chilly wait for the last ferry from Valletta: having missed the 5.00 pm departure, I found the next one was not until 5.45 whereas in summer they operate every 15 minutes.
All in all, The Victoria is a lovely hotel which has many repeat guests – always a good sign – and where good old fashioned service with a smile is readily offered. The management and staff genuinely want you to "have a nice day" each and every day and will do their utmost to ensure this happens.