Malta is perfect destination for a perfect twin-centre stay, taking in relaxation, cultural riches and delightful food
Words: Sandy Cadiz-Smith
The culturally rich island of Malta has proved a magnet for curious travellers throughout its history, in part thanks to its stellar location in the Mediterranean between Europe and North Africa. It’s also been invaded or colonised innumerable times over thousands of years and, as a result displays a fascinating mix of influences – Roman, Italian, Arab, French and British.
This amalgam creates an undeniable and somewhat unexpected feast for all the senses which, matched with unique hotels, gourmet food, diversely beautiful views and the warmest of island welcomes makes any first visit here something of a revelation. Old hands know all of this, which is why it remains a favoured year-round destination from the UK (the gentle climate and excellent direct flights are also a draw), as well as an increasingly popular location for weddings and honeymoons.
Our two-centre Maltese adventure starts in the ancient city of Mdina. Also known as Malta’s Silent City, this fortified town perches on high overlooking the island’s landscapes and towns. The mix of medieval and baroque architecture in shades of beautiful butterscotch lines the narrow streets, offering an opportunity to step back in history. Which is exactly what we felt like we were doing on arrival at The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux. It’s the only hotel in this amazing town and about as unique as it gets.
“Food plays a starring role at The Xara Palace – with sumptuous breakfasts, delicious lunches in the trattoria at the front of the hotel and innovative Michelin-starred cuisine at de Mondion”
Illustrating the best of an exceptional combination of ancient and modern, this imposing 17th-century palace has been beautifully and sympathetically renovated and boasts 17 luxury rooms and suites. We loved the opulence of our suite with its king-size bed, stylish living area and enormous modern bathroom with stand alone bath, giant walk-in shower and abundant l’Occitane toiletries.
From one side we looked out over the breathtaking countryside towards Valletta while our giant living room windows opened out to the elegant courtyard – it makes a perfect wedding ceremony venue. The hotel also has great facilities for functions and weddings at The Xara Lodge just down the road with its stylish selection of interconnecting indoor and outdoor locations.
Food plays a starring role at The Xara Place with sumptuous breakfasts (we loved the traditional Maltese platter) and delicious lunches in the Trattoria AD 1530 at the front of the hotel overlooking the ancient architecture. Upstairs, de Mondion has recently been awarded a Michelin Star and serves innovative modern Mediterranean cuisine atop the bastions, showcasing the island’s fabulous fresh ingredients. The majesty and warmth of The Xara Palace creates an atmosphere that wraps you snugly up in its elegance and makes you feel like royalty.
“Spread across four Maltese townhouses and their ancient vaults, Iniala Harbour House is the sort of place where you very quickly run out of superlatives”
From the tranquility of this characterful town, it’s only a short drive to the island’s capital. Valletta is also built on a hill (always keeping an eye out for those potential invaders you see) above the Grand Harbour, which is the deepest natural harbour in the Mediterranean. This cleverly constructed 16th-century city unusually designed, considering the times, on a grid pattern, has an understated beauty and buzz to it and a view of the sea awaits you at the end of almost every cobbled street.
While the views while wandering the streets are magnificent, nothing could come close to the vista from our glorious suite at Iniala Harbour House & Residences – surely the ultimate in seascape panoramas over Iniala harbour. This recently opened and beautifully remodelled boutique hotel is spread across four Maltese townhouses and their ancient vaults dating back to the 1600s and it’s the sort of place where you very quickly run out of superlatives. We did that instantly when we walked into our beautiful suite overlooking the harbour (again they are all individually designed).
Our luxe space in shades of blue and green encompassed three balconies (yes three) with sparkling sea and city views, the comfiest of beds, a stylish living area and a fabulous bathroom with enormous double shower. So many little touches made our stay that little bit more special – fabulous Diptyque toiletries, a Nespresso machine and funky state-of-the-art kettle that matched the decor perfectly with its flashing blue lights (nice touch, too, for any UK guest – we do so appreciate a room with a kettle!).
Iniala also have their own Michelin-starred restaurant on the hotel’s top floor with more of the grandest harbour views. ION offers a fabulous tasting menu which includes one of the most delightful chicken masterpieces we’ve ever sampled. There’s also a luxury spa and indoor jacuzzi pool on site in the vaults downstairs, where we indulged in rejuvenating massages and early morning heated swims and bubbles. And just across the road is their state-of-the-art gym, so beautifully designed it’s guaranteed to turn anyone into a gym bunny.
Iniala’s position a short walk from the epicentre of Valletta meant we could easily explore the pretty streets with their ornate architecture on foot. The city is compact and easy to navigate, plus there’s so much to see, like the magnificent St George’s Co-Cathedral and myriad monuments and with a generous sprinkling of bars and restaurants around every corner – many with stunning vistas where you can watch the world go by. Malta is an island that punches well above its weight, seriously well above its weight. We were delighted by the journey, the accommodation and the ease of getting around – all in all, a luxury dream destination.
The Xara Palace is located in Mdina xarapalace.com.mt
Iniala Harbour House is located in Valletta inialamalta.com
We flew direct from London, an approximate four-hour flight, with Air Malta airmalta.com
- Sandy Cadiz-Smith is a food and travel writer eatingcoventgarden.com
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