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The Xara Palace impresses in Mdina

Return to Malta

VOLANTE Stanley Moss returns to Malta after a decade to find much has changed, but there’s still a tranquil safe haven in Mdina’s Xara Palace
Photographed by Paula Sweet

 

 

From top: The Cathedral in Valletta. Mdina, as seen from the air. Comfort at the Xara Palace.
 


Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.

Ten years since our last visit, and Malta has transformed into a bustling metropolis. Prosperity, a building boom, the Euro, gambling, 2018 European Capital of Culture, a reputation as a banking haven, and suddenly a nervous globalized energy pervades. There’s one oasis of tranquillity left that makes for a perfect base of operations: the Baroque city of Mdina. But we’ll talk about that later.

 

Malta at a glance


Old city of Valletta

 


Neolithic sites


Gozo

 

Top: Ġgantija. Above: Comino.

 

Next let’s discuss Mdina, population 200, a Baroque city, the highest point on the island, with its panoramic views from sandstone parapets, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Few places on earth compare with this architectural and historic gem of a city.

In May 1565, a vast Ottoman fleet, 40,000 men strong, lay siege to the archipelago. Heavily outnumbered, the Knights of Malta successfully defended three harbours, so the thwarted Turks marched inland on the old capital city of Mdina, where the islanders had taken refuge after destroying crops and poisoning wells as they fled. The legend goes that the residents of the city dressed all the women and children in armour, stood them at the parapets, and deceived the Ottoman invaders, who retreated. Mdina has a long memory.

Today Mdina must look a lot like it did 450 years ago. You’ll find the city in perfect repair, with no traffic, completely safe 24–7–365, and virtually nobody around but tourists on short stays. Fifteen years ago, Mdina moved all wires underground, preserving its classical beauty. Tradition endures. A yearly procession the third week of July celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Carmelite Church. It’s both a solemn affair and a celebration, where a statue is carried in procession, accompanied by bishops, people in formal attire, showers of confetti and fireworks at night.

Few hotels in the world can equal the Xara Palace, set in a converted palazzo in this walled Baroque city on a hilltop, family-owned and offering the standard of luxury Relais & Châteaux loyalists demand. Maltese hospitality is renowned and this noble residence has real heritage values, the heart and soul of the brand. A very comfortable, happy, cooperative team ably welcomes guests and colleagues, creating enduring friendships. At only 17 rooms and suites—fully renovated in 2015—you get all the discretion, comfort and amenities you could ask for, including fine dining with world-class service. Highly recommended as a base of operations during your visit to Malta, or for an outstanding honeymoon, anniversary, wedding, reunion, or company meeting. Your masterful breakfast on the sunny terrace may be seasoned by the famous wind, but you won’t catch sight of Ottomon Turks massing on the horizon—only the six skyscrapers rising on the coast miles away in the area of St Julian’s.

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For a casual outdoor lunch before your excellent driver picks you up for your daily adventure, consider an al fresco pizza at the Trattoria Restaurant, which Xara operates just outside the entry to the hotel. Safe for families, always crowded, it’s best to reserve.

A constellation of offerings coincided with recent expansion of the brand to ‘Infinitely Xara’. Palazzo de Piro, a 17th-century palace that once housed a lycée, can be found a two-minute walk from the property. Transformed into a cultural centre with art galleries, event spaces and an excellent bistro for casual dining, it’s a monument reinvented in the modernist style, steel and glass. Spectacular views from the ramparts can be seen from three alcove tables, and supper on the terrace is recommended. Xara’s Medina Restaurant, a four-minute walk away, occupies a cluster of connected houses, and specializes in local fare. Be warned that Maltese portions are huge. Try the grilled shrimp and scallops as a starter, the local tomato salad, and any duck preparation. You can count on outstanding service from maître d’ Paul and his AAA-grade team, even in an establishment that has over 200 seats. Reserve the courtyard. The Xara Lodge, an event facility outside the city walls, a five-minute ride by car from hotel, has banquet rooms which can accommodate up to 200 persons, a spa and a private pool for the use of guests.

No visit to Malta is complete without a seafood meal taken at Tartarun, in the little fishing village of Marsaxlokk, in the southeast corner of the island. Family-run since 1988 by the Schiavone family, you are advised to avail yourself of fresh grilled bazut (in the local slang), an untranslatable fish of incomparable delicacy and flavour. •

 

 

 

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From issue 35 of Lucire