Filled with ecclesiastical treasures and opulent antiques, the Xara Palace is the only hotel located in Malta’s medieval fortified city of Mdina. Jack Southan reports
Hidden behind the towering red stone of the majestic Maltese walled city of Mdina, lies the five-star Xara Palace – a member of Relais and Chateaux. An ode to antiquity and the glory of bygone times, it is opulence, grandeur and history all wrapped into one.
The city of Mdina dates back to the 8th century BC. It is magnificent in its dominance as you approach – standing tall and impenetrable atop the steep hill is was constructed on. The red sandstone glows in the sunlight and you can immediately see why it is one of Malta’s top tourist destinations.
Although the city itself is home to just 300 people (the town of Rabat, which translates roughly to “the suburbs” in Maltese, spreads out around it has a lot more at around 11,000), it is bustling with tourists year round and the narrow streets are busy and crowded. However it houses just one hotel – the Xara Palace.Elegant and unobtrusive, the entrance is nestled in a corner of the ramparts on a cobbled backstreet in the heart of the ancient city. Plants and trees with giant leaves contrast beautifully to the stonework around the tall doorway.
Head inside and you are greeted by a high vaulted approach of pastel blue adorned with moody oil paintings and plush upholstered sofas. Flourishes of ornate furniture and table adornments, reminiscent of Versailles or the baroque palaces of Florence, give the space a luxurious impression of times past.
Central to the entrance area is the atrium, which floods the space with refracted light. The 17th-century palazzo walls are blanketed with huge creepers and drooping tropical plants.Colourful artworks and sculptures fill the gaps and an inviting looking cocktail bar to one side or the room stays locked behind a wrought iron gates (until it opens during the winter months and for special events).
Featuring 17 luxury rooms and suites, each designed differently and exclusively to suit the unique spaces, it is not exactly cramped. Every room is generous, whether in size, quality or adornment.Some rooms are vast and open plan, with spiral staircases and cleverly designed mezzanine levels to maximise the living space, while others are smaller but come with terraces and spa baths overlooking the picturesque countryside. Each has its own special something and each seems to have a story to tell.
The Presidential suite (costing from €500 per night) is probably the best example in the hotel of how clever use of space and luxury can create many different levels of comfort. The ultra-high ceilings, which are typical of all rooms on the first floor, could easily make for a cold and rather exposed feeling, however, each one has a mezzanine level that breaks up the space perfectly.
The Presidential suite has a large dining table at one end, with an adjoining room for a chef or staff should you want them, plus high windows and ceiling adorned by a fabulous chandelier. It is decadent and beautiful. At the other end is lounge area with a very modern faux fireplace, high-backed armchairs and a sofa under the lower ceiling below the bedroom.
The bedroom and main bathroom sit high above with a balcony overlooking the dining area. It’s such a great use of these grand old rooms and essentially makes three very different spaces from one.
There are nine different room types, each with their own unique styling and design. Ecclesiastical artwork, sculpture and relics play a large role in the decoration throughout the Xara Palace – the family that owns the hotel are, in fact, the largest art collectors in the country. It further accentuates this feeling of church-like grandeur that the Xara Palace has at every turn. There is an obvious love and appreciation of Malta’s amazing history throughout the hotel, with quirks and candid nods to moments and people. You could spend as much time wandering the corridors as enjoying the plush rooms if that was your interest. Once you’re done exploring, you may have worked up an appetite. Thankfully, the Xara Palace has two excellent restaurants. The first, and most accessible, is Trattoria AD 1530. A modern Italian/Maltese bistro open to all guests and public alike.
Decorated in classic style, warm whites and wood, it is elegant and welcoming. The food is hearty and well presented, not ground-breaking but everything you need after a day walking around the city. Bookings and walk-ins are welcome (€30-50 per person.)
The second is the De Mondion, the Michelin-starred restaurant headed up by chef Kevin Bonello. Located on the top floor of the hotel, the restaurant is quiet and exclusive. More like a lounge than a bustling eatery. Carpeted and warm, not exactly opulent, but neutrally styled and comfortable. The food is classical haute cuisine, beautifully created dishes executed perfectly. Chef Bonello says of Mondion: “I enjoy bringing out unexpected flavours from local ingredients. Flavours that become a unique experience and leave a lasting memory for my friends, my guests.” It’s a popular spot and bookings are a must. (A six-course tasting menu is €90).
This is a hotel for those looking to experience a glimpse of Malta’s bygone golden age, it has everything a five-star hotel should be expected to have, but with some added treasures to make it really quite special. The combination of art, Maltese culture and palace decadence make for a wonderful stay in a beautiful, historic city.