There are no four star hotels in Valletta. This is somewhat surprising, given that the city is Malta’s capital, and it’s due to be dubbed the Capital of Culture in 2018. Instead, visitors to Valletta can choose between two, three or five star properties, which range from tiny guesthouses to sprawling complexes with dramatic views.
All I knew when I planned a recent family holiday to Malta were our rough requirements for accommodation: close to the city centre, with good reviews, free Wi-Fi, and a secure place to leave luggage before or after our stay.
Whilst the two and three star hotels were full of compromises (great reviews but right next to a church with enthusiastic early morning bell ringers; free Wi-Fi but often patchy coverage, and an unsecure luggage room), the five star Hotel Phoenicia passed the test. We wouldn’t normally push the boat out to stay in a luxury property, but it seemed like the only way to keep the whole family (my parents, sister and me) happy. But would it live up to its luxurious reputation and star rating?
Location and First Impressions
Firstly, this 1930s hotel is a lot bigger than I’d imagined – I could even see it on the skyline during a harbour cruise later in the trip. Getting to the Phoenicia was straightforward, as the X5 bus from the airport took us to the bus station in Valletta, which happens to be a stone’s throw from the front entrance of the hotel. We arrived early and were encouraged to have a late lunch in the Palm Court Brasserie whilst we waited for the rooms to be made up.
My sister tried the ftira, which was a bit stronger than anticipated (Maltese bread topped with tuna, olives and tomatoes), and I went for scones and coffee, as I’d heard good things about the hotel’s afternoon tea. The scones were very thick and filling, if a little grey in the middle, and the cream was delicious. I don’t think the jam had touched a real strawberry, but it blended well overall.
The paintings by Maltese artist Edward Caruana Dingli, dotted around the brasserie and its surrounding corridor, really suited the surroundings. After checking them out, I slipped into the souvenir shop and gallery. Although some jewellery was pricey, there were cheaper alternatives for anyone on a budget, including glass earrings for €2 and glass necklaces for €6 (the island is famous for its glass, especially in Mdina).
I shared a comfy ‘Classic’ twin room with my sister, and we didn’t waste any time making ourselves at home. Perks included slippers and bathrobes to use, a substantial minibar, tea and coffee facilities, a safe, a complimentary daily bottle of mineral water, and satellite TV.
According to the website, the furniture was Lloyd Loom (not that I’d have complained if it wasn’t – I’m quite happy with pieces from IKEA). The decor was in keeping with the hotel’s heritage, and it included copies of old Maltese prints.
The bathroom had a bath/shower combination and the practically obligatory bidet that European hotels seem to love. It was a fuss-free place, with no colour scheme or patterned tiles, but this made a nice minimalist contrast from the rest of the hotel. Nobody needs a jazzy bathroom upstaging things. We also got a printed reminder of the Phoenicia’s ‘Eco Certified’ status and what that means for guests; initiatives include recycling waste, collecting rain water and using biodegradable cleaning products.
There’s a heated outdoor pool in the hotel but, as we didn’t visit during the height of summer, it closed at 3pm each day, which meant no swimming after a day’s sightseeing. There are also vast gardens surrounding the complex, which would be great to explore in warmer weather.
When it came to booking day trips, the staff were brilliant. I’d already done my research but they went one step further, offering taxi transfers to pick-up points, and explaining which tours could be easily combined, as some companies operated under several different brand names.
My ultimate recommendation is the Club Bar – a bit of a time travelling experience. Low lighting and walls lined with black and white photos of Malta create a backdrop to comfy sofas and wicker chairs, where you can sip cocktails to the sounds of a live jazz pianist. We enjoyed Saturday night drinks here as it was a low key way to spend the evening. Local liqueurs on offer included prickly pear, carob, fig and honey.
Breakfast and Room Service
If, like us, you book through Expedia, bear in mind that breakfast will need to be added to your booking when you check in. It costs €15 per person, per day, but you do get a lot for your money, including a mixture of hot and cold food, unlimited tea and coffee, and even sparkling wine.
You can go for typical staples like yoghurt, fruit, cereal and a fried breakfast, or you can try some Maltese delicacies. I sampled the ricotta-filled pastizzi, which was an unusual choice for breakfast, and I loved trying the different types of Maltese bread.
On the last night we all tried out room service, and the prices weren’t radically different from those in the restaurants downstairs. There was plenty of comfort food to choose from, including pasta and various triple-decker sandwich combinations, along with a selection of Maltese or international wine. I don’t make a habit of ordering room service, but it was worth doing so here.
Our only real problem came when it was time to check out, and my dad discovered we’d been wrongly charged twice, for meals we’d never had, and those extra charges came to nearly €100. To be fair to the staff, they didn’t quibble the corrections once he’d explained the error, but it really does pay to scrutinise your bill and not just blithely hand over your credit card.
Aside from that little blip, I’d recommend the Phoenicia, as it gives you a great introduction to all things Maltese, but with some home comforts too. The staff were helpful throughout and genuinely attentive.
Whilst I haven’t got another five star experience in Malta to compare it with, this did feel like a cut above normal accommodation, and the eco credentials were impressive. If you’ve ever stayed here too, I’d love to know what your visit was like.
Visiting Notes: The Hotel Phoenicia is close to the main gate of Valletta, along the Mall; check-in starts at 2pm.
You can book your stay directly through the official website, or through booking sites like Expedia or Trivago. Room options range from Classic (double or twin) or Single to an Executive Harbour View Suite. Official rates start at €190 but comparison websites often have cheaper deals.
From the airport, catch the X4, X5 or X7 bus to the bus station, at €1.30 per person – buy tickets from the airport booth, the machines or on the bus itself, which arrives at the farthest right hand stop from the terminal exit. For your return journey, leave from stop 16 at Valletta bus station – again, €1.30 for a one way ticket.