Features

Meet in Malta

30 Jun 2021 by Tom Otley
Fort Saint Angelo in Birgu, Malta (istock.com/laranik)

The historic island in the middle of the Mediterranean is ready for gatherings – here is some inspiration for your next get together.

For those who appreciate history, Malta has all you could wish for in a destination, and probably much more than the Maltese wanted for themselves. Sieges, wars, ancient orders of Knights and attacking Ottomans, it has a maritime history stretching back into the mists of time with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians and would always have been a natural stopping-off point between Italy and North Africa.

During the Second World War, Malta was the most bombed place on earth, enduring a near-continuous attack in 1942 lasting 154 days. Its museums have lasting tributes to the heroism of the Maltese, and the whole island was given the George Cross for valour by King George VI, which can be viewed in the National War Museum in Valletta, its capital.

Today, Malta is a tourist destination – still, there’s a lot of competition in Europe for tourists, and Malta’s beaches aren’t its strongest point when compared with, say, Sardinia or Ibiza. Instead what you get is a unique mix of history, language and identity, the result of its geographical position in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea.

This also makes it perfectly placed as a meeting point, with flights landing at Malta International airport from major hubs across Europe and the Gulf. On arrival, the fabulously scenic destinations of Valletta, Mdina, Rabat and the Three Cities on the other side of the Grand Harbour will seduce first-time visitors and remind regulars of the distinctive appeal of this destination.

There’s more to explore than just the main island – sister islands Gozo and Comino also have a wealth of attractions. At a time when travel is starting to resume, Malta is open and hoping that leisure and business visitors, and then meeting and incentive groups, will arrive in numbers. No one knows what the future will hold for the rest of the year, but one thing can be certain – if anyone will get through 2021, it will be the Maltese.

MALTA

Casa Rocca Piccola

This 16th-century palace was home to the ninth Marquis de Piro – still a family home, it is now open to the public for tours as well as offering some spaces for private hire. Guides are on hand to highlight the history of the house and point out the tunnels that were cut into rock to create bomb shelters during the Second World War. Located close to the Grandmaster’s Palace on Republic Street, Valletta’s main road, Casa Rocca Piccola’s event spaces include La Giara, the summer dining room, which seats up to 22 guests, and a 100 sqm garden for drinks on balmy evenings.

Forts St Elmo and St Angelo

Malta’s two most iconic forts have honey-coloured limestone bastions that glow in the evening light in every tourist’s photographs. Once defenders of the Grand Harbour, they are now tourist attractions both inside and out, offering museums, tours and re-enactments as well as hosting mid-sized conferences, meetings and events. Each fort has historic rooms available for hire, along with dramatic cannon-studded terraces for memorable gatherings under the stars – St Elmo’s can accommodate up to 2,000 guests for a drinks reception and provides stunning views across Marsamxett harbour.

Fort St Elmo sits opposite the Mediterranean Conference Centre on the Valletta peninsula, while Fort St Angelo is on the opposite bank looking back at Valletta, which is beautifully lit at night. Both were central to the Great Siege in 1565 when the Knights defeated the invading Turks. St Angelo was the Knights’ first base in Malta and the Royal Navy’s last. The creek where the Knights moored their galleys and the British their warships is now a yacht marina and pleasant waterfront area.

Indoors, both castles have halls suitable for conferences – St Elmo’s seating 90 delegates and St Angelo’s 160 – as well as more intimate rooms for smaller meetings.

Gianpula village: Club House, Vault and penthouse

Gianpula Village is Malta’s nightclub destination with several venues that can be used for private events. These include the Club House, a converted 16th-century hunting lodge that can hold 150 people seated or 500 standing. This is connected to the Vault, a subterranean former stables capable of hosting 300 delegates for a reception or 70 seated. Above the Club House is the open-air Penthouse, which offers panoramic views and accommodates 500 guests standing or 100 for a sit-down event.

The Xara Palace 

Housed in a converted 17th-century palazzo, the Xara Palace is the only hotel inside Mdina’s ancient city walls. A five-star member of Relais and Chateaux, it has 17 rooms and suites. Its fine dining restaurant, De Mondion, and the more casual Trattoria AD 1530 can be used for gatherings, while receptions for 120 guests can be held in the property’s atrium, which is inspired by a Moroccan riad.

Verdala Palace

Verdala Palace 

Built in the 16th century, Verdala Palace is located in Buskett Gardens in Siggiewi, on the western side of Malta. A former residence to both Grandmasters and British governors, it is now the summer palace of the president of Malta, who has to grant approval for events to take place there – still, if you’re after a truly special venue then it is worth the effort.

Xara Lodge

A contemporary reimagining of a traditional Maltese countryside hunting estate, the flexible purpose-built Xara Lodge offers interconnecting indoor and outdoor spaces of varying sizes that make it popular for corporate events. Spaces include the 450-capacity Minstrel’s Hall and the 100-capacity Drawing Room, plus the pool area, which can accommodate 120 guests. While the location feels secluded, it is situated just south of Mdina and is only 20 minutes from the airport.

Oracle Conference Centre

Located in St Paul’s Bay in the north of the island, the Dolmen hotel has 488 rooms and suites and is also home to the Oracle Conference Centre. This self-contained meeting, entertainment and training venue can host events for up to 1,200 delegates and is kitted out with state-of-the-art audio-video equipment. It has both indoor and outdoor spaces, including a main hall, syndicate rooms, breakout spaces and terraces.

Malta Maritime Museum

Housed in the Old Naval bakery, the Malta Maritime Museum documents the island’s seafaring history and its impact on society. Available for hire is St Angelo Hall, a flexible space that can host 150 delegates for a banquet or 250 for a reception. An adjoining terrace overlooks picturesque Birgu marina and can be used for smaller drinks parties.

Mediterranean Conference Centre

The Mediterranean Conference Centre is located in Valletta in the converted 16th-century Sacra Infermeria, the hospital of the Knights of Malta. Stretching 155 metres and covering 1,700 sqm, the former Long Ward (now the Sacra Infermeria Hall) is one of the longest halls in Europe, holding 1,500 diners or 2,500 standing. Another former ward, La Vallette, has wonderful vaulted ceilings and accommodates 900 guests for a banquet or 1,500 for a reception. These venues are complemented by a 1,400-capacity auditorium in the former central courtyard of the hospital, and the Grand Terrace roof terrace, offering splendid views and hosting 600 guests. The MCC can cater for up to 4,000 delegates per day so is ideal for a major event with breakout sessions or teambuilding activities but is also superb for a gala dinner – the long halls are impressive even before they are dressed for the occasion.

Palazzo Parisio

Situated in Naxxar in the north of the island, and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens that are perfect for cocktail receptions (for 1,000 people) or dinner (for 400), the opulent Palazzo Parisio has been owned by the same family since 1898. Some of its spaces are available for private events, such as the grand rococo ballroom, which can hold glamorous gala dinners for 120 people. Drinks for 400 guests can be held on the palace’s first floor. Other options include the Sala Lombarda, accommodating 60 delegates for banqueting or 100 for a reception, and the Pompeian dining room, which seats 24 guests at a long, elegant table. Tours of the palace and gardens can also be arranged.

GOZO

Citadel

Yes, it’s another fortified city, this time on Gozo. The Citadel of Rabat, also known as Victoria, rises steeply above the surrounding countryside. It is the standout visitor attraction on the island, with fascinating sights concealed within including the Baroque Cathedral of the Assumption, a military battery, several museums, an old prison and a Second World War shelter. Events for 100 can be held in the moat and for 80 in the Cultural Centre.

Ta’ Frenc

This centuries-old farmhouse was converted into a high-end restaurant more than 30 years ago and is special not only for its fine dining but also its characterful spaces. There are a series of venues to choose from, ranging from the main dining room for 60 guests, with a canopied terrace, to a private room and a wine cellar, both seating 20 (the former’s long table is also suitable for a board meeting), a tree-lined, stone-flagged garden, and an all-weather marquee for parties of up to 200 people.

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