Discovering the story of the abandoned Festaval Hotel in Mellieha has been an incredible journey. It caught our eye in a blog that named it the White Sands Holiday Complex, but there was nothing to be found about such a place ever existing in Malta. A call to the Mellieha Local Council quickly revealed its true name as the Festaval Hotel and from there, the story just unravelled, getting more and more interesting.
Let's begin by pointing out that we are speaking of an abandoned building almost entirely hidden among the trees of Foresta 2000 just beneath the Red Tower of Mellieha. I had been there on a walk and wondered what this place was when I stumbled upon it. Inside, there seems to be endless corridors and staircases, much of it covered in rather cool graffiti. And the view is amazing, overlooking Mellieha Bay and Ghadira Nature Reserve.
The ruins indicated that there had been life as an aparthotel, but the most amazing thing about the place now is how it is being swallowed up by nature. It is surrounded by mature trees, there are roots bursting through the tiles, and walls are being shifted over by the same force of nature, as if demanding to reclaim its property.
As I researched about the place, I discovered that its online presence largely named it 'Festival Hotel, including articles from local newspapers about plans for a demolition order that its owners were fighting. The demolition order is based on that the ruins are located within a buffer zone for an Area of Ecological Importance, with the derelict building said to be 'causing injury to amenity' while owners Mizzi Group are of the idea to turn the site into a new development that includes 23 villas within the protected nature site. However, the North West Local Plan is rather strict regarding such redevelopment.
The misnomer 'Festival Hotel' is accompanied by yet another - Festa Vale Hotel. It would seem that this place is going through a rather heavy identity crisis. Who best to refer to about the true origins and identity of this derelict building than the architect himself, Richard England, when the Mizzis choose to ignore your email? Well, not Richard England himself exactly, but books about his work.
I gained fortunate access to these thanks to Patrick van Schaik, who now lives in Amsterdam after a stint in Malta, where he fell in love with England's work. The internet is a fascinating place for making the right connections. Patrick runs @Limestonejungle on Instagram and has visited almost of all of Richard England's creations on the island.
In the book 'Connections – The Architecture of Richard England 1964 –1984' from 1985 by Charles Knevitt, there are clear descriptions of the site as well as several drawings and photos from its construction straight from the architect himself. Therein, the building is described as 'Festaval Tourist Village, Mellieha Bay, Malta 1980.'
Richard England as published in 'Connections – The Architecture of Richard England 1964 –1984' from 1985 by Charles Knevitt
"... Six floors of apratments are terraced into the landscape between sloping spine walls, so that at no point does the structure intrude more than one level above the contours of the existing site. At the top is a clubhouse with an outside pool and terrace, offering panoramic views down onto the thin gash of sandy beach below and the Baroque outline of the church of Mellieha on the horizon.
"'Modern architecture has spent too much time studying the joints in buildings, most of the time forgettin the most important joint of all - that of the building itself to its site,' says England. Here, the triangular patern of a total of 31 one-two- and three-bedroom self-catering apartments, dictated by the topography, consciously echose the grid of drystone walling of rural Malta...'
"The roof of one level of apartments forms the balcony of the one above, stepping up the hillside until at the highest point, the portico captures the sky and makes it part of the architectural composition."
Today, the Festaval Hotel is far from the magnificent aparthotel complex it was set out to be. I learned that, before it was completed, the hillside began to give way so construction was stopped, leaving this ruin behind. As nature ran its course and decided to reclaim it, partially demolishing it by its own vigour, couple that with some artistic intervention from humans, this is what you might expect to see today.
And best of all, this.
To see the Festaval Hotel, simply venture through Foresta 2000, perhaps while on a walk around the area, where you can also enjoy the Red Tower, underground caves, mysterious steps and amazing views around Cirkewwa. The road to the hotel is a left on the way to the Red Tower. Do thread carefully as the building is truly derelict and certainly unsafe in many ways.