What do we look for in a vacation? Some pampering – that probably isn’t like home. Sun is good – that’s different from home. Food – you won’t be doing the cooking as it’s not home. Language – mostly the same as home would be nice. That adds up to the Phoenicia Hotel in Malta. Luxury, weather, ease of communication, and then there are memorable meals.
You can learn more about the delightful food at this 5-star hotel here. Suffice it to say – the choice of food is wide, the quality is unbeatable and the quantity is striking.
The Phoenicia Hotel towers over the old town of Valetta. It’s imposing, confident and solid. It was commissioned by Lord and Lady Strickland and designed by architect A.M.B. Binnie. They wanted to build a hotel of distinction as would befit its location just outside Valletta’s Porta Reale. Building started in 1939 – just in time for the Second World War!
During those long years of conflict the construction was halted and the part-finished hotel was used by RAF personnel for R and R. The left wing of the hotel near what is now the Pegasus Brasserie was hit by bombs, as was so much of this island – it was actually awarded its own medal for bravery. Alec Guinness, eventually Sir Alec Guinness, and Jeffrey Hunter were here when they were filming “The Malta Story” in October 1952. It’s a record of the hardships of the war years, the heroism of the islanders and servicemen, and the reasons the island deserved its George Cross medal.
An icon of hospitality
The Phoenicia Hotel was finally opened for regular guests in 1947 by Lady Margaret Strickland and Lord Francis Campbell, then Sir Francis, Governor of Malta. This was destined to become an icon of hospitality and provide facilities and services equal to that found in any mainland-European city.
In November 1949, Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip stayed in Malta. They visited the hotel on several occasions and danced in the Grand Ballroom. The royal association continued, as in November 2005, during HM Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to the island, the hotel was chosen as the venue for an official reception hosted by the Queen. The Phoenicia has welcomed many other distinguished guests over the last decades. The hotel also played important roles in historical events on the island. Celebrations marking the independence in September 1964 were held mainly at the Phoenicia.
In August 1966 Charles Forte, chairman of Trust House Forte, purchased the Phoenicia. It was he who undertook a major programme of refurbishment at the hotel which was now a couple of decades old. These works took two years between 1968 and 1970. One of the major changes was roofing over the internal courtyard, which is now the beautiful Palm Court Lounge. In 1990 another refurbishment was initiated and that lasted three years. This upgraded public areas and bedrooms and added another floor. The hotel now offers 136 rooms and suites.
The air of the 1930s
A well-intentioned refurbishment programme has been the kiss of death to many a good hotel, but the Phoenicia has balanced modern convenience with tradition. The public spaces still have the air of the 1930s but are light and luxurious. The bedrooms offer Art Deco furnishings along with flat-screen TVs. The hotel exudes a mellow charm that is impossible to find in new builds.
The Phoenicia remains a classic grand hotel but it boasts such conveniences as Wi-Fi, and it also has its popular pool – the Phoenicia was the first hotel in Malta to have a swimming pool. One doesn’t have to venture far to find culture: the hotel owns and displays the largest private collection of Edward Caruana Dingli paintings. One can view the permanent exhibition on the ground floor; he is considered to be one of Malta’s most significant portrait painters.
The hotel sits in 7.5 acres of mature gardens. There are corners for tranquil contemplation, for some comforting shade and for watching vegetables grow. The Phoenicia has a celebrated Kitchen Garden that will likely provide dinner later. Malta throngs with activity but these grounds provide an oasis away from the buzz of modern life, and just a step away from historic city gates. The Phoenicia Hotel is timeless.
Floriana – FRN1478
Tel: (+356) 21 225 241
Fax: (+356) 21 235 254
UK freephone number: 0800 8620025
Tel: (+356) 2291 1023
Fax: (+356) 2125 0461
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018