MALTA

An­cient catacombs and me­dieval citadels pro­vide a the­atri­cal back­drop for gath­er­ings with grav­i­tas, says Juliet Rix

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS -

The sun-baked Mediter­ranean is­lands of Malta and Gozo prom­ise fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal set­tings for cor­po­rate gath­er­ings

In the past few years, the Mediter­ranean is­land­na­tion of Malta has leapt into the 21st cen­tury. A Smart City busi­ness park is un­der de­vel­op­ment in Kalkara, for ex­am­ple, and Renzo Pi­ano, ar­chi­tect of Lon­don’s the Shard, has re­designed the main gate­way into the walled UNESCO World Her­itage cap­i­tal city, Val­letta.

But at the same time, Malta has not aban­doned its re­mark­able his­tory – in fact there has been a frenzy of restora­tion and ren­o­va­tion, pro­tect­ing and en­hanc­ing its range of his­toric build­ings and for­ti­fi­ca­tions, spurred on by Val­letta’s up­com­ing des­ig­na­tion as Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture in 2018.

Ly­ing in the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean Sea, 97km south of Si­cily, Malta, with its su­perb nat­u­ral har­bours, has been vis­ited, owned or be­sieged by ev­ery power with de­signs on the Mediter­ranean – and each cul­ture has left its mark.

From ex­tra­or­di­nary Stone Age tem­ples (older than Stone­henge and a lot more so­phis­ti­cated) to Ro­man vil­las and me­dieval citadels, Malta has it all. But it was 1530 when the is­land was given to the Knights of St John Hospi­taller, who soon be­came known as the Knights of Malta, and their unique ar­chi­tec­tural and artis­tic legacy still char­ac­terises the is­lands to­day.

Th­ese war­rior monks ran Malta, and its lit­tle sis­ter is­land of Gozo, un­til Napoleon kicked them out in 1798, only to find him­self ejected in turn by the Mal­tese to­gether with the Bri­tish. The re­sult of all this fas­ci­nat­ingly che­quered his­tory is that Malta has the great­est den­sity of his­toric sites of any na­tion. And more are now open to the public – and for pri­vate events – than ever be­fore.

There has been a frenzy of restora­tion and ren­o­va­tion, pro­tect­ing and en­hanc­ing Malta’s unique range of build­ings and for­ti­fi­ca­tions, spurred on by the cap­i­tal’s up­com­ing des­ig­na­tion as Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture

Within the tow­er­ing bas­tion walls of Val­letta, his­toric houses and palazzi are be­ing ren­o­vated and turned into bou­tique ho­tels as tourist num­bers keep ris­ing, ac­cel­er­ated fur­ther by peo­ple choos­ing to stay away from the Mid­dle East. Malta, with a pop­u­la­tion of just 435,000, is ex­pected to wel­come more than two mil­lion vis­i­tors this year, some 140,000 of them for meet­ings and events.

An English-speaking na­tion just a three-hour flight from the UK, sur­rounded by azure seas and blessed with 300 days a year of sun­shine, Malta will con­tinue to at­tract vis­i­tors of all kinds. Its USP, how­ever, is un­doubt­edly its his­tory, so here is a se­lec­tion of his­toric venues you can hire for your next event…

MEDITER­RANEAN CON­FER­ENCE CEN­TRE

Malta’s flag­ship con­fer­ence fa­cil­ity, and a mem­ber of the ex­clu­sive group of His­toric Con­fer­ence Cen­tres of Europe (HCCE), this venue be­gan its life in the 1570s as the Sacra In­fer­me­ria, the hospi­tal of the Knights of Malta. Here, al­most at the tip of the Val­letta penin­sula, the Hospi­tallers min­is­tered to the sick. Even their leader and ruler of Malta, the Grand Mas­ter, was ex­pected to take his turn work­ing on the wards.

The 155-me­tre Great Ward was, at the time of its con­struc­tion, fa­mously the long­est room in Europe. It can now be used for meet­ings, pre­sen­ta­tions and din­ners for up to 1,500 peo­ple. The cen­tral court­yard of the Knights’ build­ing has been en­closed to cre­ate a mod­ern con­fer­ence hall seat­ing up to 1,400 del­e­gates in theatre for­ma­tion. There are mul­ti­ple other rooms of var­i­ous sizes, as well as a busi­ness cen­tre and cater­ing for up to 4,000 peo­ple a day. Val­letta; mcc.com.mt

FORTS ST ELMO AND ST ANGELO

Malta’s two most iconic forts, their honey-coloured lime­stone bas­tions glow­ing af­ter re­cent clean­ing and re­pairs, have re­newed vigour and pur­pose.

Once the key de­fend­ers of the Grand Har­bour, they now wel­come the public to mu­se­ums, tours and re-en­act­ments – as well as host­ing mid-sized con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars, meet­ings and events. Each fort has his­toric rooms for hire, and dra­matic can­non-stud­ded ter­races with space for up to 2,000 peo­ple amid stun­ning views over the Grand Har­bour.

St Elmo sits op­po­site the MCC on the Val­letta penin­sula, while St Angelo, Malta’s old­est cas­tle, is on the op­po­site bank look­ing back at Val­letta (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.

Both cas­tles have halls suit­able for con­fer­ences – St Elmo for up to 90 peo­ple and St Angelo for 160 – as well as more in­ti­mate rooms for smaller gath­er­ings. Forts St Elmo and St Angelo; her­itage­malta.org

PHOENICIA HO­TEL

Malta’s most his­toric ho­tel, built un­der the Bri­tish in the 1930s, re­opened in April af­ter a ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment. The en­tire prop­erty has been re­freshed and up­dated, in­clud­ing all the rooms, the op­u­lent art deco ball­room, the Maryan­ski Porch (gar­den gallery) and four meet­ing spa­ces. The re­vamp has re­tained and en­hanced the 1930s foyer lounge and the cosy gen­tle­men’s club-style bar.

A favourite haunt of Princess El­iz­a­beth (the Queen), the Phoenicia has long wel­comed gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and VIPs. All six event spa­ces can be laid out in any way re­quired. The ball­room ac­com­mo­dates up to 800 peo­ple for drinks or 250 for a ban­quet, while the Porch can seat 70 to 80 guests and leads out on to the gar­dens, mak­ing it a pleas­ant (and ex­pand­able) place for a re­cep­tion.

The ho­tel stands just out­side the bas­tion walls of Val­letta, within walk­ing dis­tance of ev­ery­thing in Malta’s tiny cap­i­tal but out­side the con­fines of the ci­tadel, al­low­ing space for a cres­cent drive­way, park­ing and a long gar­den. A new in­fin­ity swim­ming pool over­looks Marsamx­ett Har­bour, and a spa and in­door pool and are due to open early next year.

Ded­i­cated check-in to the ho­tel’s 136 rooms and suites can be ar­ranged, along with sec­re­tar­ial sup­port, trans­la­tion ser­vices and cus­tomised cater­ing from the five-star kitchen team. Flo­ri­ana; phoeni­cia­malta.com

CASINO MAL­TESE

This is not a casino but, in­stead, Val­letta’s most pres­ti­gious mem­bers’ club (it has re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ments with six Lon­don clubs, in­clud­ing the

Malta has the great­est den­sity of his­toric sites of any na­tion. And more are now open to the public – and for pri­vate events – than ever be­fore

Re­form and Carl­ton). Founded in the 1850s un­der Bri­tish rule, it oc­cu­pies a Knights-pe­riod build­ing in the heart of the cap­i­tal. Well used to im­por­tant vis­i­tors, from Bri­tish roy­als to Em­peror Hiro­hito of Ja­pan, the club has a huge dou­ble stair­way, the el­e­gant land­ing of which can be used for cof­fee breaks. The ball­room, rimmed with cream and gold stucco, and lit by Mu­rano crys­tal chan­de­liers, ac­com­mo­dates up to 275 peo­ple theatre-style or 200 for a sit-down din­ner. There are three con­nect­ing rooms that can be hired in­di­vid­u­ally for small meet­ings or all to­gether. Val­letta; the­casi­no­ma­l­tese.com

ST PAUL’S CATACOMBS

It might seem eerie to hold an event in a place where peo­ple are buried, but the Ro­mans them­selves were happy to eat deep in th­ese catacombs. Nowa­days events are held above ground, in the re­cently con­structed Au­dio Visual Hall (set up as a cinema and seat­ing 60 guests) and out­side in a newly de­vel­oped paved area among en­trances to mul­ti­ple small catacombs. A few can be opened for your event, so be­tween drinks your guests can step down un­der­ground to dis­cover a fas­ci­nat­ing va­ri­ety of grave­stones cut into the rock, as well as un­usual agape ta­bles around which the Ro­mans sat for fu­ner­ary/me­mo­rial meals. Most are Ro­mano-Chris­tian dat­ing from the fourth to the ninth cen­tury (when the Arabs took Malta) but a few are Jewish. Ra­bat, Sant Agata Street; her­itage­malta.org

GGANTIJA NEOLITHIC TEM­PLES

For a truly re­mark­able set­ting for an al fresco din­ner for up to 200 peo­ple, hop over to the lovely ru­ral is­land of Gozo (30 min­utes by boat) and travel more than 5,000 years back in time to the UNESCO World Her­itage Ggantija Tem­ples. Older than Stone­henge and the Great Pyra­mids, th­ese two ad­join­ing tem­ples with con­cave façades, cen­tral aisles, paired apses and carved fur­ni­ture are con­structed from lime­stone blocks up to 50 tonnes in weight. Long thought to have been built by giants (who else?), they make an ex­tra­or­di­nary glow­ing back­drop to any event. Ta­bles can be laid out on the tem­ples’ ter­race, on a flat­topped hill over­look­ing fer­tile val­leys. By the vil­lage of Xaghra, the tem­ples are set away from habi­ta­tion, se­cure in their land­scaped com­pound, peace­ful and suit­able for mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment and danc­ing, as well as pre­sen­ta­tions and speeches. Xaghra, Gozo; her­itage­malta.org

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from International

© PressReader. All rights reserved.