A rare find, the newly opened Urban Valley Resort and Spa is really in a class of its own
For decades, the harbour towns of Valletta, Sliema and St Julian’s have been the centre of Malta’s tourism sector, with boutique hotels blooming in the capital, throwing their heavy doors open in a frenetic fashion, while taller incarnations stand jagged against the skyline across the water. It’s hard to find a spot far from the maddening crowd. So, imagine my surprise when I rolled into the private road leading up to the four-star superior Urban Valley Resort & Spa, five minutes’ away from the islands’ main centres, to find just that. Peace.
A warm welcome
Walking into the sleek resort, with its white-washed exterior, immaculate aspect and marble flooring, feels like you’re walking into a hermetically-sealed cocoon. I could tell a lot of attention had been given to the welcoming design of the lobby. Plush (and blush) pink chairs are tucked into corners; mirrors line the walls, reflecting light off each surface and giving the interiors a sense of wide-open space; while deep sofas create semi-private areas, a step away from prying eyes.
Indeed, as soon as you walk in, the resort promises some R&R, some time away from the head-spinning activity of twenty-first century life, but without the inconvenience of having to starve yourself from your creature comforts. I was given all I needed to know as I checked in: WiFi access is complimentary throughout the resort; there’s a free shuttle bus to and from Sliema twice a day; and a standard safe box in each room. The hotel has only been officially open for the past eight weeks – with more blocks due to be completed over the coming months – but it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into ensuring serenity for its guests.
Urban Valley Resort & Spa
And it’s impossible to miss much of the source of that serenity. Trees. And, lots of them. On a small island where green land is constantly being encroached upon, the valley which plunges in front of the resort is part of the experience. Known in Maltese as Wied Ghollieqa, this is a nature reserve which separates the resort in Kappara from the University of Malta. It is home to prickly pears, carob trees and features the traditional hajt tas-sejjieh (rubble wall) which is fast disappearing, but which takes every visitor to this resort back to salt-of-the-earth basics.
As my husband and I were accompanied to our room, we were told about the seamless symbiosis between the resort and the valley; about plans to encourage the public to enjoy walks through the land; and about the fresh camomile and artichokes being grown and nurtured by Urban Valley’s Executive Chef, Matthew Azzopardi. It was clear the focus is on sustainability – an increasingly urgent cause and a baton proudly taken up by the resort’s management. An electric car is even available to transport guests from one side of the resort to the other, evidence of a commitment to safeguarding the resort's natural assets. Its grounds thrive on this philosophy: focus has been placed on planting even more trees. These line the perimeter of the outside area, standing upright, stars to the outdoor show, so that a sea of green stretches out before the three-storey retreat.
The result is a sense of quiet and shade which descends on the Urban Valley, like a fine mist, sealing it off from the tense tumult of traffic and tired daily tones. The Kappara junction can be seen in the distance, but it cannot be heard, so that it becomes nothing more than a distant reminder of what we need to go back to at the end of the stay.
If we decided to go back, that is. It was tempting to simply extend the booking! My husband and I were only there for one night, but one look at the room – a penthouse suite overlooking the pool and the valley – was enough to convince us that this would not be the last. The room was exceptional: a large living area - complete with a well-equipped kitchen - greeted us as we walked in, together with a selection of macaroons, prosecco and artisanal ham and local gbejna (soft cheeselet). It led out onto a wide, long terrace, complete with table and chairs (breakfast with a view?) as well as sunbeds and umbrella (sunbathing with a good book?)
Two well-sized bedrooms could be found in the back of the apartment – for that is what this really was – together with a large main bathroom and a smaller guest toilet. The clutter-free décor enhanced the impression of lush comfort. The use of maroon velvet cushions, soft bedding and sharp detailing were straight off an interiors magazine. We could have moved in. Permanently.
But this is not the only room made to the same standards. The property – spread over seven blocks – will eventually boast a total of 121 rooms of various sizes, ranging from superior rooms to corner suites, two-bedroomed suites, junior penthouses and penthouses, with valley or street views. Work is still going strong on some of the other blocks (though you wouldn’t even realise it!), but the main areas threw their doors open last June. The same sense of aesthetic permeates throughout the property and the same level of service and care is imprinted on every facility, with the novelty of the resort allowing the management a lot of freedom in truly deciding how and what they wanted to create.
A daring approach to food and drink
I was also told the team at the Urban Valley was a young one, coming together with a combined wealth of experience in hospitality. A lot of new ideas and new modes of working were established from the get-go, and this is clearly evident from the cuisine on offer.
There are two dining options currently up and running. The Thistle Lounge Bar, with its velvet armchairs and rose gold highlights, is a stylish introduction to the resort’s range. Here, you can sip on gin and tonic, or order a cup of tea. Or you can do both – at the same time. Yes, there is such a thing as a Woozy G&Tea (what a discovery!). This event-highlight – available for groups looking to celebrate something special - consists of a freshly brewed cup of tea and coffee (ok, the usual, I hear you say), served together with gin infused earl grey iced-tea, as well as a gin and tonic goblet, with lemon slices and cucumber ribbons. And that’s just the drinks!
These come with mouth-watering savouries such as gin-smoked salmon and cucumber on brown bread, grilled chicken and pesto wrap, goat’s cheese and broccoli tart as well as in-house pastrami in a bun. This is topped off with the sweets: chocolate and raspberry mousse, pecan tart, spiced apple cake and – my personal favourite – freshly baked scones served with cream and homemade loquat jam. I, shamelessly, had two. With all the cream. The resort also offers a ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’, a selection of food with a focus on colour, such as rainbow cake and red velvet cake, as well as a set aimed at the younger generation, consisting of mini-doughnuts and cupcakes, aiming to cater for children’s parties. Meeting rooms, in which to enjoy these treats, can also be made available.
Meanwhile, the Silver Heron, serving upscale breakfast and dinner by the pool, is the second dining option currently open. The dinner menu features a range of antipasti including parmesan crusted bone marrow and seafood arancini; meat dishes, such as in-house smoked beef short-rib with creamy cornmeal; as well as vegetarian options such as flat bread with mozzarella fior di latte, broccoli rabe, runny egg and rosemary.
My husband and I both had the pan-fried sea bass, with cauliflower couscous and a herb-based lemon sauce. Later on, above the Silver Heron with views of the valley, the resort’s a la carte restaurant, Mea, will be opening.
Executive Chef Matthew Azzopardi, together with his sous-chef Chris Tonna, have made principled sourcing and self-sufficiency in curing and smoking the mainstay of their creations across each outlet. The pastrami has been made in-house, using brisket which is first cured, covered in a spice rub and then smoked. So has the gin-smoked salmon: filleted, cured with a balance of salt, sugar and herbs, including juniper berries, then smoked. The breakfast sausages are also made from scratch by the imaginative kitchen and are more-ish (you have been warned!) Breakfast is a grand affair, featuring items I’ve never had at other hotel or resort breakfasts (and I’ve had a few), such as the already-mentioned goat’s cheese and broccoli tart and zucchini cake.
Luxury by the pool
But the pièce de résistance could actually be the outdoor pool area. Two pools are cupped in the grounds of the resort, basking in the shade cast by those trees. Lines of sunbeds frame the crystal-blue waters, which are not very deep but enough to have a very good stretch. You can hear crickets buzz and birds (yes, birds) chirp as you sit back and take a deep breath.
This is the ideal place to really get away from it all, a good read in hand and a loved one by your side. In October, the resort will launch its spa, which will include an indoor pool and fitness centre, giving guests more options in their quest for relaxation.
On our end, it was tough to peel ourselves off our sunbeds and head back into the real world. Before we left, we were given a jar of homemade orange marmalade – made from the fruit of the valley. As I opened it the next morning – back in the humdrum normality of home – I could almost taste the serenity we left behind.
Interested in checking it out for yourself? The Urban Valley Resort & Spa (from €90 B&B offseason; €150 B&B peak season), Triq Wied Ghollieqa, San Ġwann