Ian Murray from Hampshire in England spent a fabulous long weekend staying at Malta’s luxurious Grand Hotel Excelsior. Find out what he has to say about Malta and the Grand Hotel Excelsior!
The great bastion walls that surrounded us were no strangers to loud explosions. Five hundred years ago it had been the invading Turkish army that had sought to batter the walls of the city into submission during The Great Siege of Malta.
The arsenal that was rattling the windows of our balcony hotel room was, mercifully, less lethal, but none the less spectacular. Malta was hosting an International Fireworks Festival, and night after night the skies above Valletta, its Grand Harbour and surrounding sister walled cities, were ablaze with tremendous displays of fire, colour and noise. However, safe as we were, it was still comforting that our hotel, the aptly named Grand Hotel Excelsior, was built into the very bastions created by the Knights of St John to ensure the fleets of their great enemy never captured this outpost of Christianity.
Today The Grand Hotel Excelsior ‘sails’ majestically out from the bastion walls itself. Designed to look like a cruise ship, it skillfully blends the ancient walls with a very modern, yet stylish link to the surrounding sea. And this was more than just a nod to the glamour and comfort of the cruise industry, as we were to discover.
Malta has become extremely easy to reach thanks to new flights with Ryanair from Bournemouth Airport. Thursday morning departures with returns early on Monday morning create the ideal long-weekend break. With flights just under three hours and a 9.45am lift off we were by the hotel pool basking in the warm Maltese sunshine by mid-afternoon. Bliss. The Grand Hotel Excelsior sits on the waterfront facing onto Valletta’s second harbour.
Until four years ago it stood abandoned and run-down – almost impossible to understand for such a beautiful spot.
Bought by Hampshire hotel entrepreneurs the Elliot family, the hotel was restored, re-opened and today stands as one of Malta’s most exclusive venues. With its own yacht marina, spa and indoor pool and fitness complex, the five-star hotel is already world-renowned. The cruise-ship design is not restricted to the exterior of this beautiful building. Throughout the hotel there is a feel of grandeur afloat, from the lobby’s grand staircase modelled on that of the Titanic, to the wide corridors and impressive public rooms where guests mingle with locals and large panoramic windows open onto spectacular waterside views.
The cruise-theme features again with the hotel’s dining experience. Guests to the beautiful dining room experience a different world buffet each evening. And it is to the poolside, of course that the guests gather during the hours of the warm Malta sun. Set against the ancient walls created to defend the city, the pool is also the site of the Tiki bar where attentive staff ensure guests don’t have to lift themselves too far from their recliners to enjoy a drink or snack.
The pool has views of Marsamxett Harbour overlooking Sliema and there is a steady flow of water traffic ambling past.
Indeed, the hotel is one of the points of interest for visitors using the numerous sight-seeing boats that ferry tourists around Valetta’s waterfront. And a waterborne trip is probably the best way to first experience Valletta and its surrounding cities. Staff at the Grand Hotel Excelsior are happy to arrange all manner of excursions and will also provide directions for the short, ten minute walk along the harbour front to where water taxis will speed you across to Sliema where the larger ferries leave. The tour we experienced cost £10 each and over two hours weaved its way close to the city walls of not just Valletta but of its surrounding fortress cities. Valletta may be some 500 years old, but it is a virtual youngster compared with some of its neighbours. A water tour is, we decided, the best way to gather bearings and decide which places of interest to return to at a later date.
For Valetta itself the hotel is based just five minutes stroll from the ancient city gate itself. Once inside, past the striking new Parliament building still under construction, and Valletta tumbles away on all sides. Always down to the water. The city was created by the Knights on a huge outcrop of rock and for five centuries waves of residents bringing their culture and architectural styles have swept through and sometimes stayed. The French and we
British were the last conquerors. The Germans tried during the last World War but failed, the battle bringing Malta its cherished award of a George Cross for bravery for all of its citizens.
Today Britain’s legacy remains in the form of language – just about everyone speaks English – a red pillarbox here, and old British phone box there. The most popular flags you see flying today, however, belong to the island’s many football clubs. Valletta is a marvellous clutter: a gorgeous mixture of old and new, high culture and everyday folk, exclusive shops jostling for position with trendy bars and street cafes. Yet authentic Malta with its lively, friendly people, is everywhere.
At the Grand Hotel Excelsior tired feet and sun-kissed skin can find its rest from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The balcony to our harbour-view room proved just that added oasis of luxury that enabled us to find even more quiet and comfort. And as the evening sun set before us, the lights from across the harbour turning the seafront into a shimmering spectacle, we gave thanks to the Knights of St John for saving the island for us – and Ryanair for making getting there so easy. Bless them all.