This article was written by Hugo Slimbrouck, our Director of Strategic Partners.
The Maltese Islands are tiny, yet amazing and unique. Set at the heart of the southern Mediterranean and packed with history and architectural gems, Malta is cosmopolitan and trendy, beautifully combining old and new, making this a truly surprising destination to discover. Add amazing Mediterranean food, 300 days of sunshine, great flight connections, state-of-the-art meeting facilities, extensive world-class hotel selection, island hopping activities & unique, trendy and historical venues and you’ll easily see that Malta is an ideal meeting spot to consider for your next event.
Do you remember the stories about the building cranes over Dubai and Shanghai in the last decade? Well, although to a lesser extent, I have counted douzaines of building cranes over the city of St Julian this week, always a good sign of a booming economy. My first visit to Malta dates to 2002 when we organised our first SITE – ESNEP programme here. Since then, almost everything has changed.
Thanks to major events happening in Malta such as being the European Capital of Culture, the Maltese presidency of the EU and plenty of other international and socio-cultural events, Malta is now playing in the top league of European destinations for meetings, congresses, events and incentive programmes. Historic buildings have been renovated. Hotels have been entirely upgraded or were newly built. A multitude of event venues have seen the light and are competing in terms of originality and views over the city.
Easily accessible and a country in a nutshell
Malta enjoys excellent connections from all major European hubs with an average flight time of 2-3 hrs. Average distances on the island are 20 to 30 minutes. It is an enjoyable destination with 300 days of sunshine, allowing delegates and guests a touch of the soft Southern Mediterranean climate. Communication is easy because English is widely spoken, and most Maltese are fluent in a third or fourth international language. And as a member of the European Union conversion, prices in euro are easy and practical.
Most hotels are in the vibrant seaside city of St. Julian’s with 2000 a capacity of 5* quality rooms and 2 conference centres for 1,600 guests in walking distance.
The rich heritage of the islands, that have a history of 7000 years, offers extensive possibilities for all types of events in stately homes, castles, forts, village squares, palaces and gardens.
I had an early morning commute when I was picked up at the Hilton marina by our partner. We descended to the dock and climbed on board of a speed boat for a half-hour voyage across the sea. Gozo, the small charming sister island offers beautiful nature with deep valleys, rugged cliffs, crystal clear seas, beaches & coves. Life on the island is authentic and revolves primarily around agriculture & fishing, offering unique experiences, from high-adrenaline activities in unspoiled nature to very local cultural experiences, tradition and fine Mediterranean cuisine.
Once arrived in Gozo, we had a Jeep waiting for us for a self-drive around the island. Armed by a roadbook this allowed us to discover amazing gems & beauty of Gozo. For groups, a whole fleet of these trendy 4×4 Jeeps are available. Alternatively, one can also use tuk-tuks but those are not as fast to get around. The fortified old town offers beautiful views and houses several museums, including the old prisons.
This city has its origins as the centre of island activity since the Neolithic. Three thousand years later, Gozitans were required by law to spend the night in the walled city to protect them from intruders, and then began to settle in the city to their present form. Later the island was ruled by the knights of the Order of Saint John, Napoleon, and finally the British, who gave the city the name Victoria, though Gozitans still refer to its old Arabian name Rabat.
Gozo is a playing ground. At Dwejra Point you will find a small enclosed bay which is connected to the open sea through a large tunnel stretching approximately 80m. The walls on both sides are deep, vertical and overhanging for most of the way. This tunnel is only 6m deep at the start of the dive, immediately dropping down to 15m, and halfway through, the seabed is at 25m. The view as you look out into the deep indigo blue of the open sea is spectacular. Around the corner to both left and right, there are further vertical fissures and caves in the cliff face to be explored, while the marine life in this area is prolific.
On the north coast of Gozo, just past Qbajjar Bay west of Marsalforn, the coast is characterised by a chequerboard of rock-cut saltpans protruding into the sea. These 350-year-old salt pans, which stretch about 3km along the coast, are more than just scenic. They are part of the centuries-old Gozitan tradition of sea-salt production that has been passed down within certain families for many generations.
Calypso’s Cave overlooks the glorious red sands of Gozo’s finest beach, Ramla l-Ħamra and is alleged to be the cave referred to by Homer in The Odyssey. The story goes that Gozo is Homer’s Island of Ogygia and the cave is the one where the beautiful nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years. Links with Homer are intriguing, and the views of the picturesque Ramla Bay are breath-taking. On the shore below Calypso’s Cave are the ruins of a fortification built by the Knights of Malta in the mid-18th century to serve as a defence against invading forces.
The major hotel property for conferences and incentives, should you wish to stay for one or two nights on the island of Gozo are the Kempinski and the Ta Cenc.
The salty sea breeze had made us hungry, so we looked up a unique spot on the island for a lunch break-with-a-view. Located in the rocky fjord inlet of Mgarr ix-Xini the restaurant & rocky beach club is set in a one-of-a-kind location with breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea & the other islands. The Il-Kantra Restaurant offers the very best of Sicilian & local cuisine, with the finest of fresh fish! We had freshly caught seabass for lunch whilst looking down to the cove where divers were training and discovering the undersea world.
Back to Malta
We were picked up by one of our expert drivers to take us a bit out of town to an exclusive dinner venue. Palazzo Parisio was acquired in the 19th Century by a noble family who set about embellishing it into a stately home and gardens holding various Italian and Maltese treasures.
When you are coming here with a group, dinner would be served in the Ballroom and/or the adjacent Sala Lombarda or alternatively in the ground floor gardens or the underground cellars.
But for my introduction into ancient Maltese society, ECM had something different in mind. First, they made me change hotel, from the Hilton in St Julians to a lovely 18 room boutique hotel next to the prime minister’s residence in Valetta. From there we walked to the fortifications, took an elevator down to the dock and were picked up by a small boat that would take us across the harbour and through a forest of sailing boat masts to the fortifications of the 3 Cities. This area of Valetta was heavily bombed during the Second World War and was a run-down area of town when people had moved out from the rubble many years ago. But in the last twenty years, the whole area saw plenty of renovations and rehabilitation and is now a trendy place with many cafés, bars and art galleries.
Housed within the Old Naval bakery, the Malta Maritime Museum charts Malta’s maritime history and lore within a Mediterranean context. It also illustrates the global nature of seafaring and its impact on Malta’s society. The museum houses numerous artefacts highlighting the different epochs of Malta’s history that are inadvertently tied to the sea.
Expert curators & chefs came together to recreate the paupers’ frugal snacks, the corsair’s celebratory dinner, the Grand Master’s wine list, the inquisitor’s lent dinner and the merchant’s decadent dessert, bringing to life recipes found in 18th-century documents & manuscripts. The curators source the freshest, most genuine produce from local farmers, ensuring that the menus created were authentic & sustainable, supporting local farmers & their families. Upon arrival, the guests are met by the curator and taken on a short exclusive tour. A stand-up reception or a seated dinner can be served on the terrace or in the museum.
Valletta, a UNESCO heritage site and European Capital of Culture 2018, is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful baroque cities. Today the city combines its treasures with a trendy & vibrant city lifestyle. The inhabitants keep the city clean, uncluttered and security on the streets is high.
The cathedral was built as a monastery church for the Johanniter. The Grand Masters and several knights donated gifts of great artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich them with the finest works of art. This church is still an important shrine and a holy place of worship. It is also a place for cultural events.
Located towards the tip of Valletta peninsula, the MCC stands for distinction with magnificent views across the Grand Harbour. The Mediterranean Conference Centre is a rare example in the region of a heritage building functioning to the exacting demands of the 21st century. It is one of Europe’s largest conference centres within a historical setting.
Time for lunch! Capo Crudo is situated directly beneath the Capital city’s protective walls and perched a few meters away from the wonderful Mediterranean Sea. The decor is trendy with amazing views and excellent Mediterranean dishes.
Its concept is positively innovative and provides a few fully incorporated services. The property is an extension of the 17th-century palazzo – The Xara Palace – in Mdina and portrays a sense of elegance that is apparent there as well.
Mdina, the ‘The silent city’
A fortified & medieval city, Mdina is often referred to as one big open-air museum with its charming narrow, winding streets and its many beautiful palaces. Discover tucked away gems & beautiful locations for lunches, dinners & events. You could imagine yourself in an episode of Game of Thrones and indeed, this was the setting of much of the first season’s outdoor filming making it a new playground for team building or treasure hunting games.
Situated in one of the typical narrow alleyways of Mdina, the vine clustered courtyard is adorned with Oleander trees providing the perfect ambience during the summer months. While the restaurant itself consists of ancient alcoves and arches and a couple of fireplaces. The menu is typically Mediterranean with a combination of Maltese, Italian and French cuisine.
The Palazzo de Piro offers excellent views from the elegant rooms upstairs. The building has recently been meticulously and lovingly restored to serve as an exclusive, yet highly adaptable, multi-functional venue.
Located in one of the narrow alleys of the ancient capital of Mdina, the Bacchus Restaurant couples historical Roman and Arab walls with double vaulted chambers, originally used as gunpowder magazines retaining all original features. Bacchus specialises in Mediterranean cuisine.
Set atop Mdina’s centuries-old bastions, within the Xara Palace or Relais Chateaux, is the Mondion that offers a unique fine dining experience, enhanced by truly spectacular panoramic views of the island from the terraces and charming features served in elegant surroundings. Tonight again we could see which village had celebrations because if there is one thing Maltese people like to do is to play around with fireworks. They will love to create one for you during your evening event but when you are lucky, you can have a free one almost every night when you are doing an outdoor or rooftop event.
Why do you need to consider Malta for your next event?
Malta has become a serious new player in meetings and events space of the Mediterranean. They have access and capacity for corporate and association conferences up to 1000 participants.
Flights from most European airports are arriving daily. For the long haul, a combination with a neighbouring country can be beneficial for two city programmes. Towards the Latin American market one would look at a combination with Portugal or Spain. Or with Sicily which can be easily reached from Malta. Emirates and Qatar opened up the destination to all of their hubs as well in the Middle Eastern and Asian markets. For smaller corporate meetings, a whole range of international brands offer the usual suspect top-quality business hotels with a dash of local flavour. The smaller and medium sized incentive groups will find value in the multiple and high-quality boutique hotels that now pop up all over the place. The destination is clean and secure and embraces sustainable values very much. The cuisines is Mediterranean in general with a special touch of Italian.
But Malta is in the first place the home of the Maltese. A friendly and hospitable island population with many years of experience to deal with people from all over the world and different cultures. From the time of the Odyssey and the Phoenicians, to the Arabs of Northern Africa in the south and the Ottomans in the east. Islanders protected by the Knights and nobles of the 16th Century to the troops Sir Winston in more recent history. The British Empire left an imprint on the island, but it is certainly not a mono-cultural society.
Through its Strategic Partner Programme Ovation Global DMC is pleased to work with ECMeetings, a destination management company that is built on a solid foundation, led by a young, energetic and vibrant team. Professional, innovative, experienced and fresh: these are the vital ingredients for ECMeetings Malta to achieve their most important goal – the provision of quality client services on the islands of Malta and Gozo.
Find out more about what they can do for you from here