Thursday, 23 June 2011

Great Knights off Libya's Thundery Shores

We were just 40 short miles from the busy shores and ports of Libya, where refugees queued with fear behind them and uncertainty ahead.

Inbound, arms and expertise to fuel and influence the war were being exchanged for shallow promises of loyalty and ongoing supplies of oil in whatever new Libya might eventually unfold.

A lone Bell UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter of the Armed Forces of Malta flew low along the shore line on one of its twice daily patrols.

The memorable phwhud phwhud phwhud of its rotors announced the presence of its authority
to ensure that any overloaded floating refugee camps continue north towards Italy.
The uproar would be enough to rock the poolside cocktails if, heaven forbid, one were to slip the net and dock alongside a sleek Manhattan 63 of the plentiful Sunseeker range docked in Portomaso’s Marina adjacent to the Hilton here on Malta’s steadfast rock.

It’s only because my mind was fuelled by a particularly good thriller (a lightweight Peter Robinson but a great post conference read) that I noticed even this much activity. Poolside, Hilton, Portomaso at St Julian, Malta was disturbed only by the gentle rustle of the palms overhead and the occasional gloup of a bubble easing through the sea of mint to break the surface of my Mojito.

It is so pleasing, to the point of shock and disbelief, to fly somewhere (in just under 3 hours) where the British are so welcome – rare indeed. Here still the post and phone boxes are red, the steering wheel is where you’d expect it to be and they drive on the left hand side of the road … mostly!

Laptop now resting in my Marina-view room and replete from a breakfast befitting the Knights themselves, today my breakout room was a quiet sun lounge with deck service from the bar and ‘Bad Boy’ – my book.

The Hilton Resort Hotels are a different breed to their standard native city series. You can’t compare the two even though they fly the same flag. Take the formulaic service levels of the resort hotels and add the kindness and culture of the Maltese people and you put icing on the Hilton cake in Portomaso.

The Hotel itself has several dining experiences. Poolside dining is an option, though fewer covers are available than requested. But note, for corporates and incentive groups, these guys are well versed in setting up a privatised al fresco function with choreography worthy of the Queen’s Birthday Celebration Parade.

The atmosphere of the Bottega del Vino is very pleasant and the food excellent. For an Asian interruption to Mediterranean cuisine the elegant Blue Elephant Thai repertoire can be savoured from its private deck overlooking the Marina. Dining beyond the hotel is an extensive must with something for every palate and pocket.

We enjoyed one of the best Indian meals ever – and we’re based in the Midlands so there was much to beat. Equally, squid, octopus, barracuda, shark, bass and bream are just part of the local catch to be enjoyed in any one of the dozens of water side restaurants in the old Spinola Bay. The flavours are Mediterranean, the influence Italian, the result wonderful, and great value.

For a pizza with attitude, you have to try Raffael’s Restaurant where fellow guests applaud the arrival of the truly enormous Calzone Bolognese – comparable in size only to Desperate Dan’s Cowpat Pie.


Chic this is not, so if you want to wear the sleeker threads you hauled all the way through Gatwick then the Marina Restaurants at Portomaso are a must, at least for one lunch or evening.

There are eight establishments set together and tiered overlooking the chandlers’ dream and boat voyeur’s steamy high below. The boats reflect a chic wealth in their gleaming chrome and the restaurants are priced accordingly.

That intimated, there is a good range and if you’re sensible with the wine selection (how does that work again!?) you may still get it through on expenses.

'Do Brazil' kills cows and grills them before your hungry eyes. Al Molo offers a fine Italian menu. The Spoon is Chinese, whilst Zen offers a delightfully refined Japanese alternative.

Nightlife is extensive in St Julian. From The Hilton, one of several Casinos on Malta is right on the doorstep adjacent to the Conference Centre. Next to this, 22 is a bar on the Tower’s 22nd floor but you’ll have to tell me what you think as it and its architecturally na├»ve home is way beyond my social comfort zone.

If you have to walk more than 4 minutes to find what you are looking for, then you’ve taken a wrong turn – or Portomaso is not for you.

Our thanks go once again to United Travel our Destination partners in Malts & Gozo - truly superb.


ASPIRUS
Incentive Travel
02476 609 104