Newbies to Malta, known for package deals offering sun and sea, have recently discovered what those in-the-know were already well aware of: that this is an extraordinary cultural destination with a unique history (and pre-history), as well as 300 days of sunshine a year and sparkling azure seas.
Accommodation options on this central Mediterranean island have flourished in recent years, alongside its self-image. Boutique hotels and designer B&Bs, which are mostly historic on the outside and contemporary within, have been opening across the country. This is nowhere more true than in Malta’s charming little fortified capital, built by the Knights of St John (The Knights of Malta) overlooking the famous Grand Harbour.
Valletta, already a Unesco World Heritage City, has been revitalised beyond recognition in the last few years, evolving into a thriving, buzzing bastion of cultural and culinary pleasure, with plenty of characterful places to reside in comfort.
The island’s diminutive size also makes it ripe for exploration; it takes little more than an hour to drive the length of the island, meaning nowhere is far from anywhere.
These are the best hotels in Malta.
Best for colonial-era comfort: Phoenicia
Malta’s first five-star hotel, this 1930s grande dame is still the home-from-home for British royals visiting the former colony. Ideally located abutting Valletta’s bastion walls just outside City Gate, it’s walking distance to all the sights, bars and restaurants of the capital, as well as ferries, buses and taxis. Being outside the walls, it has vehicle access right to the door and space for a long garden and infinity pool overlooking Marsamxett Harbour; a brand-new spa and fitness centre are also coming soon. Staying at the Phoenicia enables you to tick off a sight while sleeping.
Doubles from €180
Best boutique with bonuses: Palazzo Consiglia
Tucked tardis-like into a 400-year-old Valletta townhouse, this charming boutique hotel tops its 13 rooms with a roof terrace and plunge pool, and tails them with a small cellar spa complete with historic cistern-turned-whirlpool tub. Its restaurant (serving a plentiful, quality breakfast) occupies the old chapel, while the original limestone courtyard has been covered with a retractable roof providing all-weather sitting space, bar, foyer and breakfast extension. Friendly staff are happy to assist with reservations and navigation – plus everything in Malta’s lovely little capital is on your doorstep.
Doubles from €190
Best for a touch of contemporary cool: SU29
At SU29, each of the suite-sized double rooms are completely different: from the Classic, complete with its own traditional Maltese gallarija (closed wooden balcony); to Fitness, adorned with a working punch bag and gloves to match for a bit of high-intensity fun before dinner. There are touches of humour throughout, such as a gnome table bearing your towel, for example, as well as a changing display of contemporary art, which is available for purchase. Outside, you step back into history on a typical narrow Valletta street of limestone steps just metres from the Upper Barrakka Gardens with their panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. Everything in the capital is in walking distance and on a clement Friday night, live jazz spills out onto SU29’s street from a neighbouring bar, along with a relaxed small crowd of Vallettans.
Doubles from €165
Best for peace: Corinthia Palace
In a quiet, classy residential district opposite the president’s summer palace (in the public San Anton Gardens), the five-star Corinthia Palace offers a get-away-from-it-all option just 20 minutes’ drive from Valletta. Laze in the generous double pool in the peaceful garden, or sample the services of the spa – reopening after a full refurb by the beginning of 2020 – complete with substantial (and warm) indoor pool, sauna and an extensive menu of treatments. Your culinary needs are equally well catered for with the fine-dining Villa Corinthia flanked by the original villa around which the hotel was built, as well as the eastern Rickshaw restaurant, foyer bar-brasserie, and a contemporary Mediterranean Summer Kitchen for seasonal al fresco eating.
Double rooms from €130
Best for living like a Maltese aristocrat: Xara Palace
The only hotel inside the walls of Malta’s first capital, Mdina, this is the place to stay to fully appreciate “The Silent City”. With the day-trippers gone, the medieval labyrinth of tiny limestone streets belongs to you and the old Maltese titled families who still have their palazzi inside Mdina’s bastions. The Xara Palace is itself a converted seventeenth-century palazzo – and still furnished like one too. Each room and suite is individual and art and objets d’art are dotted throughout. The covered central courtyard acts as bar and foyer while the excellent (if pricey) fine dining de Mondian French and Mediterranean restaurant occupies the top floor and long narrow bastion-top terrace with panoramic views over the island.
Doubles from €250
Best on a budget: Inhawi Boutique Hostel
Neighbourhood: St Julian’s
With its own pool, terrace and narrow strip of garden hung with a handful of hammocks, this remarkable-value hostel lies just off the buzzing waterfront of Balluta Bay. The hostel has a friendly boutique vibe and excellent facilities. Guests can self-cater in the large kitchen, complete with retractable roof, or head out into the eatery-encrusted streets of St Julian’s. Breakfast can also be inexpensively bought in-house on the terrace next to reception which by night becomes an independent (non-budget) gourmet restaurant. Each broad, comfortable bunk includes its own socket and bedside lamp and you can choose from a 12-bed dorm to a twin room.
Double (twin) rooms from €40, dorm bunk from €12
Best all-inclusive seaside stay: DB Seabank Resort and Spa
Across the road from Malta’s longest beach, the 1km golden-sand Mellieha Bay, the DB Seabank Resort and Spa features Malta’s largest hotel swimming pool, as well as an adults-only option and a substantial heated indoor pool. There’s a spa with sauna, steam room and treatments; a range of sports (on land and sea); an active kids club; and even its own bowling alley. Come evening, there may be dancing (kids get their own disco), a magician or floor show. There’s something for everyone on the food front too, with five restaurants falling within the all-inclusive tag and a sixth which can be sampled once during your stay: from a vast international buffet, to Brazilian meat-cut-at-your-table, and The Jungle, a rainforest-themed American diner with a kids’ play area at its centre.
Double rooms (all-inclusive) from €90 (min stay four nights in winter, five in summer)
Best for trendsetters and art lovers: Boco Boutique
Neighbourhood: Bormla/Cospicua, Three Cities
On a residential street in the still-traditional but increasingly trendy area of the Three Cities where Bormla (Cospicua) borders Birgu (Vittoriosa), this imaginative arty boutique spends a fair time with its tongue gently in its cheek. Rise from your comfortable bed, flanked by lightbox lamps, to take a shower and you’ll find someone has got there before you – a painted figure on the glass screen like a contemporary head-in-the-hole seaside photo op. Rooms are numbered with a pantone shade for the colour of the room. Frankly, the place is fun – and in a great spot too. All the sights of Birgu can be reached on foot and it’s less than five minutes to the ferry that takes 15 minutes to cross the famous Grand Harbour to Valletta.
Double rooms from €75
Best for living like a (luxurious) local: Loggia Mariposa
Naxxar was an entirely residential area until relatively recently, although a few B&Bs, several restaurants and a couple of little bar-coffee shops have now been introduced. It’s still a traditionally upmarket Maltese market town, however, and settling in here you can live like a (lucky) local. Loggia Mariposa is an elegant Aladdin’s Cave of the owner’s collections, with a sleek sunken plunge-pool out the back for cooling off, and a traditional limestone dining room where the owner serves a set-you-up breakfast including homemade cakes and jams. It’s a few minutes’ walk to the vast parish church, much admired by the Maltese, and the Versailles-inspired Palazzo Parisio with its fine-dining Luna restaurant.
Doubles from €100
Best for a scenic Gozitan getaway: Ta’ Cenc & Spa
Neighbourhood: Sannat, Gozo
Placed between the traditional Gozitan village of Sannat and the top of the towering Ta’ Cenc cliffs, this hotel is all about the location. The hotel also offers peaceful attractive terraces – on one of which a large buffet breakfast is served – two generous-sized outdoor pools, comfortable rooms and a spa with sauna, treatment rooms and a delightful inside-outside pool atmospherically lit as the sun goes down. Service has been a bit variable over the years but it’s a real treat to be able to wander out onto the rocky garigue, dotted with ancient dolmens, and watch the sun set into the sea 145m below. Wandering the other way takes you into a typical Gozitan village square complete with over-sized parish church, band club (with local bar), and – in this case – Beppe’s steakhouse which serves up some of the best steak in Malta.
Doubles from €140