With a timeline dating over 4,000 years, Mdina, known as “The Silent City”, has been an important spot on the Island of Malta for longer than most of us can comprehend. It was once home to the Apostle St Paul, it served as the island’s capital until the Medieval period; and throughout history, Maltese nobility has called the walled city home, building impressive and lofty palaces that line the city’s narrow, cobblestone streets.
Within its core is The Xara Palace, a 17th-century palazzo positioned on the bastioned walls, that once belonged to Malta’s aristocracy. It has now been converted into a luxurious 5-star hotel.
A plaque at the hotel’s entrance denotes this heritage: “The Maltese nobility assembles within the walls of this ancient palazzo to elect its committee of privileges.” While The Xara Palace’s antique-filled corridors, walls decorated with original artworks, and bedrooms equipped with palatial-esque furnishings further narrate a part of the palaces’ history.
The highly personal, attentive, and relaxed service, out-of-the-way reception, and check-in done over a welcome drink of your choosing, while sitting on a cosy sofa, add to make your stay here feel extraordinary.
If you don’t feel like the King or Queen of Mdina after this, then you certainly will after sampling its award-winning cuisine while dining in its Michelin Star restaurant.
The hotel is ideal for couples, travellers and small groups looking to explore the heart of Mdina without public transport. The hotel is not geared towards families; however, the staff are more than happy to accommodate children if requested.
In keeping with the palace’s elegant and grand design, the 17 bedrooms and suites reflect the building’s aristocratic origins. Each is individually furnished with king-sized beds, antique paintings, and luxurious Parisian fabrics; some overlook a stone-covered courtyard, while others look onto Mdina’s ancient alleyways.
We stayed in one of the Deluxe Suite rooms with Panoramic Views (we were in room eight). I was told by many staff members that this is their favourite room, and upon entering the easily nine-foot double door that opens to a lounge with a high ceiling and country-chic aesthetic, I can see why.
Marble floors and muted coloured walls complement the vibrant turquoise couch, bohemian-style rug and a gold framed mirror that probably measures the size of my entire bedroom at home. Through an archway, twin beds front a gold headboard and a blue and gold blanket, while three Turkish-looking rugs form a U-shape around the bed.
It looks plush, and jumping below the covers confirmed this is the comfiest bed I’ve ever tried. To the right of the beds, partitioned by a light curtain, is an in-room bathtub and two windows with uninterrupted views of the Maltese island. Through another door is an additional stylish bathroom with a rainfall shower and luxury bathroom products.
Food & drink
After the tourists have left, and Mdina’s streets are filled with only reflections of the numerous ancient buildings, head out to one of The Xara Palace’s exceptional restaurants. Situated within the hotel, and on the top of the old bastion, is The de Mondion Restaurant, with spellbinding views and a menu incorporating “soul nourishing cuisine”.
Those who don’t dine in this Michelin Star restaurant, will experience its elegant surroundings at breakfast, which is ordered the day before. With so much on offer, it’s easy to over-order breakfast, as we did. Of note are the muffins with ham and poached eggs, a fruit platter with passion fruit, apples, strawberries, grapes, oranges and peaches, and the freshly baked, light, and fluffy croissants. Wash these down with freshly squeezed orange juice and loose-leaf mint tea.
The hotel also boasts Trattoria AD1530, with seats under umbrellas opposite the entrance doors. This restaurant prides itself on serving traditional cuisine in pizzas, salads, pastas and more.
But my favourite was The Medina Restaurant, which quietly sits along a narrow street just off Cathedral Square. It was originally an 11th-century Norman residence, but now it features an exposed courtyard with honey-coloured stone walls, a patterned iron balcony, tiled flooring and a long, dark green bar, alongside Victorian-looking streetlamps, and indoor plants, which all harken to the romantic Grecian and Roman eras.
The menu is likewise outstanding, offering starters (which includes pasta and risottos), mains, casual bites ideal for sharing and decadent deserts like a ‘Helwa tat-Tork’ – an almond praline with local honey and Xwejni salt. But my favourite was the House Risotto made with bell peppers, brined lemon, and garnished with sautéed peppers. It’s so good, I was close to ordering seconds!
Being right in the middle of the city, The Xara Palace has no outdoor areas, as buildings and public squares surround it. However, guests can enjoy an outdoor swimming pool at The Xara Lodge during the summer. Inspired by a Moroccan riad, the hotel’s atrium is also ideal for private events or a quiet afternoon with a delicious cocktail or two.
Rooms at Xara Palace start from €236 per night per room.
The Xara hotel sits within the centre of Mdina, meaning there are many historic and cultural sites on your doorstep. A mere stone’s throw away is St Paul’s Cathedral which has some of the most exquisite painted ceilings I’ve ever seen. Adjacent is the Mdina Metropolitan Cathedral Museum, a Baroque building housing artefacts that trace back to the city’s medieval days. History is important to Mdina, and the Palazzo Falson is the best place to see how the wealthy once lived, along with 45 collections including jewellery, armoury, paintings, oriental rugs and more.
After all this exploring, pop to Don Mesquita, a quaint café serving fresh salads, sandwiches and more, and it sits within Mesquita Square – a Game of Thrones filming location. Those looking to explore beyond the city walls, walk around 20 minutes to St Paul’s Catacombs or grab a taxi to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Archaeological Park, which has several impressive megalithic buildings!
Overall, The Xara Palace in Mdina is probably the best hotel I’ve visited in Europe. Attention to detail is key here, from the thoughtful and mindful décor and furnishings that make the place feel palatial to the attentive nature and keen observation of the staf