Views from the marble-floored lobby of the Hilton Malta are indeed impressive – a broad balcony above a spacious open breakfast room with the azure blue waters of outdoor swimming pools and the glistening Mediterranean Sea plain to see through tall wall-to-ceiling windows.
Such an image captures the grandiose nature of this 410-room, five-star hotel (294 classic, 110 contemporary and six apartments) located at the end of a cul-de-sac in Portomaso, a waterfront development in St. Julians, a five-minute walk from the town’s lively main street.
More delights were to come in my 9th-floor “relaxation suite” in the form of a oblong claw-foot tub plumb in the center of the bathroom from which I literally immersed myself in wonderful panoramic views through the window along a rocky peninsula, its limestone edges assailed by rolling lines of surf. Not to mention a generous strip of outdoor balcony.
Perhaps it was just such attractions that persuaded Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their entire entourage to take over an entire floor of the hotel last year while filming ‘By the Sea’ on nearby Gozo Island. The movie is due to be released later this year.
Though a public beach is a mere 5-minute walk away, the hotel offers four outdoor pools, including a sea-water one with a sandy area and two paddling ones for children, as well as an outdoor whirlpool. It also has a spacious, two-floor indoor sports center with a multi-room spa, a fully equipped gym, swimming and plunge pools and a sauna and a steam room. A series of daily classes are also hosted here in a large dance studio, ranging from yoga to Pilates, aerobics and spinning.
For racquet enthusiasts, there are two squash courts and a floodlit tennis court, with coaching classes available, while nearby Merkanti Beach Club provides additional activities such as scuba diving. Other leisure facilities in the area include a casino and bowling and cinema.
Meetings rooms in the hotel’s conference center, adjacent to the main building with internal access through the lobby, can accommodate between 80 and 1,330 delegates while a business center above Portomaso Yacht Marina offers eight rooms and a banquet hall offering flexible space for two to 480 delegates.
Diversity also characterizes dining at the Hilton Malta, with local Mediterranean dishes competing against Italian cuisine and Thai, with indoor and outdoor seating options at different venues.
The Oceania Restaurant, with seating for 184 inside and 46 outside on the terrace, offers a relaxed ambience with a comprehensive buffet, including fresh seafood; Bottega Del Vino, with seating for 62, is a rustic eatery overlooking the Yacht Marina featuring stylish dark wood furnishings; and Gazebo and the Merkanti Restaurant and Bar, both seasonal, the former being alfresco with sea views and barbecue grills and the latter the beach club with two swimming pools.
The sophisticated Blue Elephant Restaurant, lush with tropical foliage, flowers, exotic tapestries and a flowing waterfall and river feature, presents a variety of choices, both in food and beverage with the cocktail menu alone covering two full pages. Here, with seating for 220 people, both indoor and outdoor, I enjoyed a ‘Royal Thai Menu,’ a veritable feast of food.
When plates and bowls began to arrive one after another, each trumping the other for sheer delicacy of taste, I felt like Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I’ – strips of grilled marinated chicken served with a cucumber and peanut sauce; minced lamb stuffing with red sweet and sour sauce; crisp golden cakes with prawns and sweet corn; salad of crispy minced tuna fish and prawns with organic lemongrass and ginger; tom yam soup and stuffed egg pastry with Philadelphia cheese.
And these were just the starters.
Five mains followed including chicken, beef, vegetarian and seafood leaving me filled to bursting point. Fortunately, I had three companions to help share the delicious burden. The Ped Makarm, slices of marinated magret of duck, grilled and served on a layer of seaweed topped with exotic sweet and sour tamarind sauce, was a highlight, as was the southern Thailand dish of Massaman, a lamb curry dish marinated in spices cocooned in coconut milk, Thai sweet potatoes, roasted peanuts and cashew nuts. According to the restaurant’s menu, the latter dish was penned in a classic poem by Persian King Rama II. It certainly merited such literary immortality.
As if the starters and mains were not enough, along came desserts. Being treated with exquisite traditional Thai hospitality, it would have been impolite for me to desist. I didn’t even try. Suffice it to say, it was sumptuous. My advice: go try it.
In conclusion, aside from its diverse leisure and restaurant options, the Hilton Malta also provides an attractive base from which to discover some of the island’s traditions, cultural heritage and modern lifestyle. With Maltese history dating back to 4,000 BC as illustrated by its mysterious ancient temples and invaders as diverse as the Phoenicians and Crusader Knights, there is much to see and do, all within easy travel from St. Julians, either by boat or road.