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February 2022 / Travel / by Penny Clements

Review: Iniala Harbour House, Malta

Offering culture, adventure and a rich history, Malta has much to offer, and the Iniala Harbour House is the perfect base for exploring.

Photography by Christian Marot

The warm salty air is the first thing that hits me as I step off the plane: the sensation brings back happy memories of holidays past and makes me all the more excited for this one. Blue skies stretch far over the horizon with just a few fluffy clouds overhead. 

Iniala Harbour House exterior

Located in the shimmering, azure waters of the Mediterranean sea, this ancient archipelago is home to some of Europe’s oldest buildings in an eclectic mix of architectural styles influenced by its rich history. From sampling gourmet culinary delights and relaxing on the pristine sandy beaches, to exploring its well preserved medieval fortresses and contemporary art museums, Malta promises a truly unforgettable trip (not least because the country enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine every year). 

Iniala Harbour House bar and junior suite balcony view

My hotel, the Iniala Harbour House, is just a 15-minute drive from the airport. It is set in an exquisite Maltese townhouse that was once a bank, and overlooks Valletta’s famous Grand Harbour; an idyllic location between the city’s waterfront and the higgledy-piggledy historic streets of St. Barbara Bastion. The hotel is the latest offering from British entrepreneur Mark Weingard and it is an intriguing design mix of heritage and contemporary style. With its golden stone façade and royal blue balconies (known locally as gallarijas), the exterior blends seamlessly with its neighbours in Valletta’s historic walled city. It is inside where the designers, Autoban – a design studio in Istanbul – have made their mark, creating a cool, contemporary space that subtly references the city’s heritage with bespoke artwork and tailor-made lighting and furniture. Facilities include a cave-like, guest-only bar, 23 beautiful boutique rooms, a holistic spa, an ultra-contemporary gym and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Junior Suite

When it comes to somewhere to rest your head, each room at Iniala has been exquisitely designed. My suite offers a huge and inviting bed, a walk-in wardrobe, a cosy lounge area and a view onto the quiet, pretty streets below. In the bathroom there is a double rainfall shower and divine-smelling Diptyque amenities. Every detail is luxurious and considered, with comfort key to the design. For an even more special stay, I’m told that the 156 sq m presidential suite offers the ultimate in accommodation – the exclusive space comes complete with kitchen area, plunge pools and private terraces with expansive views over the azure waters to the ancient city of Birgu. 

Presidential Suite

You don’t have to be in the penthouse to make the most of the views, though – on the hotel’s rooftop perches ION The Harbour. One of the most talked about restaurants in Malta, it is also one of only five here to be awarded a Michelin star. With low lighting and widely spaced tables, the vibe is cosy and intimate. At night-time the sweeping views of the twinkling harbour lights create a truly magical backdrop. A menu of fresh and luxurious flavours has been designed by executive chef Alex Dilling and the kitchen is overseen by Seumas Smith, who joined as head chef last year from Iniala Beach House in Thailand. The visually exquisite and utterly delicious dishes include the freshest Bavarois oysters from Normandy; sea bass in brown butter sabayon; a very special Hunter chicken that is lovingly prepared over three days; and a to-die-for Taïnori chocolate dessert with Gozo sea salt and caramel. A wide selection of wines, Champagne, and cocktails accompanies the menu. 

The restaurant also provides a truly spectacular spot for breakfast. On the menu is the standard fare (although there is nothing standard about the quality), including a fry up that is playfully named the Full Brexit, along with more unusual offerings such as shakshuka eggs and nasi goreng. 

Iniala Harbour House Michelin star restaurant, ION

Much love has clearly been poured into Iniala Harbour House, and nowhere more than at the subterranean Essensi Spa, where I seek some well-earned time-out. Small and discreet, it is housed in the former bank’s vault. A luxurious and calm oasis, here, as in the rest of the hotel, detail is everything. The lighting in this herbal-smelling hideaway has been carefully considered; warm, glowing lanterns lead guests peacefully from room to room, and the calming yellow lighting around the sleek vitality pool and stone walls is reminiscent of pure gold. An impressive array of treatments are on offer, with everything from facials to grounding reflexology sessions, but it is the bespoke body massages that really stand out. The aromatic treatments use home-blended oils that are only available here in the spa, and are laced with local, botanical ingredients. In combination with the signature massage techniques, which concentrate on using pressure to gently ease tense muscles, they appear to have utterly transformative properties, calming my mind and boosting my mood. While the massage leaves me feeling both relaxed and energised, the oils soften and hydrate my winter skin. The approach is tailored and individual, and feels beautifully intuitive – giving me a real sense that someone is responding to my body’s unique needs. Not wanting to rush out afterwards, I enjoy a signature spa tea in the relaxation room and enjoy a dip in the pool before strolling back to my room in the exceptionally cosy, cocoon-like robe and slippers. I have never felt quite so relaxed. 

Iniala Harbour House holistic spa

For such a small and compact island, Malta’s offering is rich and I spend a few happy days exploring. I quickly discover that Malta is a great place to de-stress and that one of the best places to to do this is over in the golden-stone Arabic walled city of Mdina where I’m booked into the The Xara Palace Relais & Châteaux for dinner. Located in a 17th-century palace on the ramparts of the Unesco-protected ‘Silent City’ of Mdina it is renowned for luxury and this exclusive hotel – the only hotel in Mdina – is home to Michelin Star restaurant, de Mondion. Crowning a hilltop position with sweeping views of the island it makes for the most romantic dinner spot that is worlds away from modern Malta. The impeccable tasting menu has been designed and is overseen by Head Chef Kevin Bonello, who has spent two decades at de Mondion focusing on the art of simple, innovative and elegant cuisine. Prepared using carefully selected ingredients the experience is completed by personalised wine pairing to match the menu from the local vineyards. Full of charm and character, the de Mondion checks all of the boxes.

Macaroons at de Mondion

With sightseeing complemented with deliciously prepared food, luxurious pampering and warm hospitality, I feel I could stay for life. With homeworking now a thing, perhaps I should… 

Rooms at Iniala Harbour House start from €350 per night and Residences from €2,000. Iniala experiences vary depending on the season. (inialamalta.com). To plan your trip, see visitmalta.com