By John O’Ceallaigh
There’s never been a more challenging time in which to open a hotel. Still, the developers and backers behind the long-awaited Iniala Harbour House & Residences (previously known as Iniala Malta) must be particularly irked that its soft launch was finally held in November 2020. Stretched across four traditional townhouses in Malta’s golden-stone capital Valletta, its debut was years behind schedule. That it is so delayed is a reflection of the complexity of the renovation project and the ambition of the Iniala team to painstakingly create a venue that surpasses everything else in the country in terms of luxury and exclusivity. In normal times a project like this could expect to attract international attention, but of course its unveiling was far more subdued as we all continue to endure the chaos of the global pandemic.
Still, better times will come again, we’re told, and when I toured the property shortly before its opening it was clear that the team will have something special in store for when travellers can visit Malta more easily.
Its terraced buildings dating back to the 1600s, the property is set on St Barbara Bastions, prime Valletta real estate that faces the superyachts that are invariably perched in the Grand Harbour. Those vessels’ ubiquity partly explains the assumed viability of an ultra-lux hotel in the city: the superyachting fraternity has long patronised Malta, but their on-land accommodation options are few. Up until now, capital city Valletta’s only five-star hotel has been the recently opened Rosselli – AX Privilege, while five-star The Phoenicia is just beyond the city’s walls. Malta’s dire culinary reputation hasn’t helped its pursuit of big spenders either…
A sister property to Iniala Beach House in Phuket, Iniala Harbour House & Residences is the brainchild of Manchester-born Malta resident Mark Weingard. It will house just 23 bedrooms and suites (the residences referred to in the hotel’s full name), each provided with butler service. Those rooms and suites are spread across 16 different categories (a reflection of the different internal configurations the team were obliged to maintain when converting these historic buildings), varying in size from 21sq metres to a 162sq-metre suite. Some will have their own plunge pools; many have beautiful views of the harbour; huge bathrooms are common; one suite has what is referred to as an “infinity balcony”, a glass-framed adaptation of Malta’s traditional, enclosed balconies that is finished in glass instead of timber and wood and which can be opened fully. (A few doors down on the same terrace, The Hideaway will be a five-storey, four-key guesthouse that will easily facilitate exclusive-use bookings. It is also run by the Iniala team but won’t be as fancy as the main property.)
Internal decorative features at Iniala Harbour Hotel are often very impressive too. Weingard enlisted Istanbul-based design studio Autoban to take primary responsibility for the interiors after admiring the group’s work on the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul Atatürk Airport. With additional design details provided by Spain’s A-Cero and Malta’s DAAA HAUS, the property is decorated throughout with custom-made furniture and handmade wallpaper. One suite’s ceiling is covered in slabs of hand-carved Maltese sandstone that took a full 18 months to install, and has as a centrepiece a raised dining table made of aged oak; a personal favourite was the suite decorated in upbeat jungle-print wallpaper (a feature which reminded me of the Kipling Suite in Rocco Forte Hotel’s Brown’s Hotel in London). Artworks are displayed everywhere and original period features remain visible in places, the most notable among them being an ornately decorated ceiling above the main stairwell.
Limited though the hotel’s footprint is, it also packs in a fair amount of amenities. There is a small communal pool, gym and spa treatment area on site, and the team also plans to open The 100 Club, a members’ club which for an estimated €2,000 a year will provide its community with in-house privileges including preferential room rates and discounted dining. Also under development, The Lifestyle Club will distribute luxury brands shown at the hotel to consumers throughout Malta. It will, for example, see Iniala Harbour House become the nation’s official supplier of Kettal furniture.
That’s a creative way of bolstering a Maltese luxury ecosystem that is fledging (at least in terms of its visibility), and indicates the progressive approach to hospitality taken by Weingard, who started off his career as a trader and also serves as a philanthropist through his charity Inspirasia Foundation.
Still, of most interest to guests will probably be rooftop restaurant and bar Ion, which will serve what I was told will be a “commonsense” menu that pays particular attention to local produce and which will be influenced by microseasons (i.e. there’ll be an especially strong emphasis placed on what produce is at its prime on a week-by-week basis, with menus changed rapidly to accommodate the best ingredients; one of the most interesting proponents of this approach is California’s SingleThread restaurant). The seats on the terrace, again overlooking the harbour, look to me to be the best in the house, and would make an ideal place to sample what I was told will apparently be “Malta’s most expensive English breakfast.” At €16, it’s hardly up there with New York or Paris hotel prices, but should an oligarch amble in from his superyacht that superlative might prove a selling point all the same. Alongside homemade sausages, the team expects to serve the country’s best bacon. It’s the way they cure it, apparently.
Beyond the borders of the hotel itself, the Iniala concierge team will be happy to facilitate tours of tiny, pretty Valletta. Privileged access can be arranged to the surprisingly numerous bomb shelters found under the city, as can entry to its palazzos. Beyond that there’s the option of helicopter rides over the island, historic art tours and visits to old fishing villages, plus exclusive use of the Spirit of Iniala Riva boat for laid-back jaunts across the bay and along the coast.
B&B Ratest at Iniala Harbour House & Residences start at €350 per night.