Malta, a three-island Mediterranean nation between Sicily and Morocco, has long been a melting pot of cultural influences. Since roughly 5900 B.C., the beautiful archipelago has been inhabited by many foreign forces, including the Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Moors, Order of St. John (also known as the Knights Hospitaller), French and British.
Architecturally, the Order of St. John imparted some of the most lasting influence during its 250-year rule, during which knights built the striking Baroque city of Valletta, Malta’s UNESCO-listed capital city, and countless churches and palaces. In addition, the islands also showcase many examples of Renaissance, Neoclassical, Gothic Revival and art deco, not to mention Norman and Arab influences.
Thanks to thoughtful heritage redevelopment projects, many striking buildings have been transformed into luxurious boutique hotels where you can experience a taste of the nation’s eclectic past. From former palaces to mighty fortresses, here are a few of our top picks.
For more than 75 years, The Phoenicia has served as one of Valletta’s most iconic hotels, thanks to its easily recognizable art-deco façade, terraced gardens and Old World opulence. Scottish architect William Binnie designed the hotel in the art-deco style that dominated the time but incorporated many traditional elements of Maltese architecture in the construction, such as the honey-colored Maltese limestone and the building’s chevron shape.
In 2017, The Phoenicia completed extensive renovations, resulting in a hotel every bit as magnificent as it was when it first opened its doors in 1948. With help from interior designer Peter Young, the hotel’s 132 rooms maintained many of their original features, including the intricate tiled floors, but now feel refreshed with locally sourced furniture and amenities capable of exceeding the expectations of the modern-day guest.
The property-wide improvements — including the addition of an outdoor infinity pool, an impressive eight-room spa and refurbished common spaces — ensure the Four-Star hotel will remain an icon in the years to come.
Built in the 1600s for the elite Rosselli-Massa family, this gorgeous palazzo embodies the elegance of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Following exquisite restorations, the property is now the Rosselli AX Privilege, a Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel, exuding the same grandeur it did 400 years ago.
Located in the heart of Valletta, the property welcomes you with a glass of prosecco in the light-filled marble lobby, where a 400-year-old fountain and a pop of contemporary wallpaper set the tone for an old-meets-new atmosphere envisioned by award-winning Maltese studio Forward Architects.
Across the hotel’s 25 unique suites, swoon over gorgeous details like rare marble, warm woods, mirrored glass and traditional wooden Maltese balconies overlooking the city and the sea. The 3 Heron Suites — a nod to the Rosselli family crest — are particularly beautiful, featuring double-height ceilings, kaleidoscopic marble underfoot and duplex configurations connected by a private spiral staircase.
Once you’ve unpacked, explore Valletta’s alluring landmarks within easy walking distance, then relax with a sundowner by the rooftop plunge pool or enjoy a contemporary Mediterranean dinner at one of the hotel’s illustrious restaurants.
Helmed by acclaimed Maltese chef Victor Borg, Grain Street offers a low-key convivial environment and casual sharing plates. For a refined night out, book ahead to enjoy dinner at Under Grain in the hotel’s elegant cellar, where vaulted stone ceilings, vibrant Mediterranean dishes and expertly chosen wine pairings await.
Iniala Harbour House
As you approach this stylish boutique hotel along St. Barbara Bastion on the southern coast of Valletta, the royal blue Maltese window boxes and elaborate stonework will surely catch your eye.
Home to just 23 rooms and suites, Iniala Harbour House comprises four meticulously restored 17th-century townhouses: The Harbour House, The Grand Residences, The Hideaway House, and Iniala Modern.
While each offers a one-of-a-kind experience — ranging from the sleek Iniala Modern suites to the palatial Harbour House’s private plunge pools — it’s safe to expect a glamorous balance of heritage and modernity, as well as sweeping views of Valletta’s UNESCO-listed Grand Harbour.
The Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star address also spoils you with round-the-clock butler services, radiant floor heating, custom furnishings and fantastic local artwork collected by Iniala Group founder Mark Weingard.
Better yet, the signature restaurant, ION Harbour by Simon Rogan, welcomes gourmet enthusiasts on the rooftop, where chef Rogan’s ever-changing tasting menus showcase farm-to-table ingredients foraged by the kitchen team and local growers from across the archipelago. The restaurant also hosts some of the most spectacular views across the tiny island nation.
Hidden in the townhouses’ underground vaults, the tranquil Essensi Spa feels a world away from Valletta’s bustling streets. In the enchanting stone cellars, relax in the heated pool or sauna, or embark on a wellness journey in one of the luxurious treatment rooms.
Cugó Gran Macina
If you’re keen to stay in one of the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour, try Cugó Gran Macina. Overlooking the dazzling waterway from Senglea (also known as Isla), the hotel sits within a limestone fortress built by the Order of St. John in 1554 to protect Malta from attackers.
Respected Maltese architect Edwin Mintoff and international design and architecture studio Daaa Haus are behind the head-to-toe transformation of the fortress-turned-boutique-hotel. Opened in 2018, Cugó Gran Macina balances Mediterranean warmth and a sense of Scandinavian simplicity, featuring original stonework, Carrara marble, vaulted ceilings and bespoke Italian furniture in its 21 suites.
After exploring the neighborhood’s many historic sites — like the Gardjola Gardens, the Malta at War Museum and Fort St Angelo — soak up views of the impressive yacht marina below and Valletta beyond from the rooftop pool.
When dining, check out the hotel’s Little Bastion Restaurant for contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, as well as local wines, beers and creative cocktails on the charming terrace.
History lines the walls of this former 17th-century townhouse in the form of black-and-white photographs showing the Valletta of yore, making it even easier to step back in time at this 21-room boutique hotel.
With architectural details like the golden limestone and blue shutters kept intact and the townhouse’s location on pedestrian-only Merchants Street, this hotel gives you a glimpse of another era. Guests staying in the Superior Room can even walk onto their wooden balcony with Merchants Street at their feet to imagine the activity of Valletta’s former commercial center.
The Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel still offers a great location — it’s two minutes from the city’s main square and within walking distance of many of the museums. And touches like the complimentary breakfast, flexible room configurations and a private courtyard will make you feel right at home.