Though Malta appears as just a speck on the map between Tunis and Sicily, Maltese identity has always been unique, writes Suzanne Sharp in the NEW issue of Cabana. The designer, who grew up on the island, revisited Malta for Cabana Issue 20, exploring its complicated history, spectacular architecture and vast, empty palaces. Now, Suzanne shares her insider travel tips, and why she believes Malta is unlike anywhere else in the world.
BY SUZANNE SHARP | 11 OCTOBER 2023
A rare tapestry in Malta, photographed in Cabana Issue 20 © Miguel Flores-Vianna
People often say ‘well, you have to know the right places’ when discussing a travel destination, and in no place is this more true than with Malta.
I spent my childhood on the island and still maintain a strong love and connection for it, but visiting really does require an insider’s guide - as well as a certain love of faded grandeur and rocky beaches. If one looks behind its closed doors, Malta has splendid architecture, beaches, and art. Valletta, the capital, is a place one should see before one dies, it is truly extraordinary and unlike anywhere else in the world. Suzanne Sharp
Where to Stay
The Phoenicia: The Grande Dame of Malta Hotels, The Phoenicia is the kind of place you run along carpeted corridors in as a child and get excited about the buffet breakfast. There is a spa and a few restaurants as well as a beautiful swimming pool which is built into the city wall. It's a proper old fashioned grand hotel! It is notably faded, which is fine so long as one doesn't mind.
Senglea House: A set of four flats that I designed and now rent out. They are in an area called Senglea, which is an ancient town on the water’s edge looking directly at Valletta. When I was a child, it was where the British sailors lived, but it's evolved into a lovely waterfront with watercolor sunsets and delicious seafood restaurants. I filled the flats with wicker furniture and classic tiled floors so they keep cool in summer.
The Xara Palace: The only hotel in Malta’s ancient city, Mdina, with breathtaking views from its rooftop terrace and a good pizza restaurant that spills onto the street.
Coming Soon: Casa Bonavita: A new hotel project that I am working on with my husband, Christopher. We have been renovating an old palazzo for the past five years to create a boutique hotel, which opens next year, 2024.
The Villa Bologna Restaurant, Malta © Suzanne Sharp
Where to Eat
The Villa Bologna Restaurant: On the grounds of Villa Bologna, this restaurant serves delicious classic Italian food with romantic lighting and a great ambience. It also has a great bar with the best cocktails in Malta. You can be sure to have a delicious and simple meal here, while the restaurant has a really beautiful garden where you can eat under orange trees and fairy lights in summer.
Trabuxu: One of the best meals you can eat in Valletta. They have a clever young chef and the menu is always changing, so the food is very good indeed. You can sit outside on a table in the street, which is very atmospheric and fun.
Palazzo Parisio: Set in the gardens of a beautiful rococo palazzo, this restaurant is for fine dining. The atmosphere is always good and the setting is truly breathtaking. Make sure you take a look at the ballroom and state rooms upstairs.
Rogantino: A very rustic and chic restaurant in the countryside, perfect for a Sunday lunch (they do a delicious pork roast). The surrounding area is very rural, and the restaurant is set on a farm. Make sure you book well in advance.
Pottery in progress at Villa Bologna's workshop © Suzanne Sharp
Where to Shop
Villa Bologna Pottery: One of Malta’s great secrets, and now run by my daughter and son-in-law. The pottery has been manufactured since the 1920s and every Maltese house has something from Villa Bologna; it’s now part of the culture. The pottery is housed in the Villa Bologna, one of the island’s most beautiful baroque homes, and the designs are sunny and mediterranean with a retro-chic feeling.
The Valletta Gold Shops - Frank Zampa: Malta is known for its gold and filigree work. In Valletta’s gold shops you can find extraordinarily beautiful gold jewellery. They continue to make it exceptionally well today, and all the gold shops also have brilliant vintage selections with unusual and rare pieces.
Coming Soon: Casa Bonavita, Suzanne’s new hotel project
What to See & Do
St John’s Cathedral: The home of the famous Knights of Malta, this cathedral was built by knights from across Europe in high baroque style. Most extraordinary is Caravaggio’s ‘Beheading of St. John the Baptist’, which was painted while the artist was exiled on the island. The painting is show-stopping, a must see when on the island.
The Grand Master’s Palace: The former home of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, this palace houses many treasures, including the world’s only complete set of Gobelins Tapestries.
Mdina: A walled city, perfectly preserved in the centre of Malta. Fortified by massive bastions, it's home to a cathedral, ancient monasteries, and many noble palaces.
Cafe Cordina in Valletta: When you visit Malta's capital city, Valetta, make sure to go and sit in the square at Cafe Cordina in front of the beautiful public library. Have a traditional Maltese breakfast and make sure you go and look inside. The Cafe has been running since 1837 and is a real institution on the island.
Gozo: The neighbouring island, accessible by ferry in 30 minutes from Valletta. It is very rural, with beautiful rocky beaches. Its capital, Victoria, feels like travelling to old world Europe. A day trip to Gozo with lunch at Il-Kantra is a must. You can walk down from the restaurant and swim in some of the bluest sea you'll ever see.
- - - - - - - - - -
THE NEW ISSUE
Discover more of Suzanne's Malta in the NEW issue of Cabana, with photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna. The designer and photographer explored the island of Suzanne's childhood, opening doors to its unique history.
- - - - - - - - - - -
MORE IN THIS SERIES