Mdina © iStock/Babakin
Passing from the kings of Aragon to the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John, Napoleon to the British Empire, Malta has never had any shortage of opulent palaces and stately homes to house its rulers. But it’s the President of Malta, currently Dr George Vella, who now lays claim to the best of them. From his residence and office to a summer villa that’s certainly worthy of the island’s most important official, here are Malta’s most impressive presidential palaces.
San Anton Palace
San Anton Palace serves as the President’s official residence. And so it should. It’s situated right in the heart of Malta, in the well-heeled village of Attard, within half an hour’s drive of every village and town on the island. It’s also just a few steps away from Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa. The foundations of San Anton Palace date back to the early 1600s, when it was constructed as a villa for a knight of the Order of St John. Since then, it’s had numerous renovations and extensions, including the extravagant gilded Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar, but, really, it’s the surrounding gardens – a section of which is open to the public – that make this a must-visit. Immaculately tended, they’re planted with a kaleidoscope of blooms and exotic trees from around the world.
Looking out across the verdant, leafy stretch of Buskett Gardens, Verdala Palace is the official summer residence of the President. Its chequered past is marked by chessboards carved into the interior stone by bored French officers kept here during a Royal Navy blockade, as well as macabre torture chambers in the bastioned towers. Outside, it’s obvious that the palace’s milestone has been lopped off. Allies mutilated it during WWII in the hope that the Germans would get hopelessly lost when trying to conquer the island. Visit for the gardens: open to the public and bathed in dappled shade, it’s the most popular place among locals for a weekend summer picnic.
No visit to Valletta would be complete without a trip to Malta’s presidential Grandmaster’s Palace, the previous home of the Grand Masters that ruled the island between the 16th and 18th centuries. It’s here that the Office of the President of Malta is based. However, despite operating as Malta’s political centre, there are certain sections of the elaborate building that are open to the public, namely the opulent State Rooms and the armoury. This is now essentially a museum of morbidly fascinating medieval weapons and battle armour that offers a vivid glance at Malta’s rich military history.
While not technically a presidential pad, Palazzo Parisio was once the residence of Napoleon and is now home to Malta’s Foreign Office. Its history hasn’t always been so noble, however. Once tenanted by almost a hundred people, before its promotion to a post office, it’s incredible that so much of its Neoclassical beauty survives. Highlights include the flamboyant Ball Room, solid marble staircase, the Cippi of Melqart (a Phoenician god), the gilt opulence of the Music Room, and oil paintings by the Maltese master Mattia Preti, which are older than the palace itself.