Dripping With History: Valletta's Stunning Hotel Domus Zamittello

Vanessa Conneely - 13th May 2019

Celebrating its first year in business, General Manager Fabien Vella gives a tour of the Domus Zamittello boutique hotel, that’s been transformed from a post-war partly derelict building to something of an elegant beauty.

Domus Zamittello has only been a hotel for just over a year, but the building on Valletta’s Republic Street has a 400-year-old story to tell.

Records show the palazzo, then known as Casa Pensa, was used as far back as 1633, when it was the residence of various knights of the Langue d’Italie. A few years after the Order of the Knights of St John left Malta in 1798, Casa Pensa and its dependencies were transferred by the British Government in 1805 to Auditor Giuseppe Nicolo Zamitt (Zamittello) in exchange for land know as Tax-Xemx u l-Qamar and Ta’ Blat il-Kbir. The building then became known as Palazzo Zamittello. Zamitt was a superior judge of the Law Courts, as well as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Knighted in 1818, a large monument to his honour remains in the Upper Barakka Gardens today. Sir Zammit had one daughter, Maria Theresa, who married the third Baron of Buleben and whose lineage was later merged through marriage in 1889 with the Count of Mont’Alto family.

He died in 1833 and was interred in St John’s Co Cathedral, one of the very few Maltese to be found here amongst the Knights of St John. In this house, in 1833, Baron Azopardi, who married Sir Giuseppe Zamitt’s daughter, wrote his well-known Presa do Malta e Gozo. The home has remained in the family for seven generations, and is now called Domus Zamittello in honour of its previous owner.

Domus Zammitello lobby

This fascinating history can be experienced even before walking through the giant front doors. “The huge replica door knockers represent the two coats of arms of the Buleben and Mont’Alto families,” says General Manager Fabien Vella, who’s been working at the hotel since before it opened in February last year. “The story of the building really seems to be attracting people, as well as the high standard of service of course!”

“We’re extremely satisfied with our first year of operation, considering we are a new brand that is still building our reputation. We’re attracting an interesting mix of guests, many of whom are in Malta for business, but also including cultural travellers who want to know more about the history of Valletta, our hotel, the Three Cities and Mdina,” he explains, musing that Valletta has transformed in the past 10 years, and the type of tourist coming to Malta has expanded.

“Until recently, Malta was only seen as a sunny destination, which people still appreciate, but now I think tourists visit for more reasons. I’ve been working in hospitality for more than 20 years and it used to be the case that January and February were always the slower months, but now that’s when a lot of corporate and business travellers come to stay, and the cultural tourist who actually seeks to avoid the summer months. Medical tourism has also become a thing, with many people coming both from Europe and beyond,” he continues.

 Domus Zamittello

Sala Nobile, where breakfast is also served.

The beautiful lobby of Domus Zamittello is painted a cool, calming shade of pale grey. It’s where the old courtyard used to be, and has a retractable skylight which allows guests to enjoy natural fresh air with their morning coffee or afternoon aperitif. While the streets outside are bustling with tourists, none of that noise can be heard inside – which is exactly what Fabien and his team of 15 staff are going for.

“We want people to feel relaxed and at ease here, be it if they are here for business or for pleasure. We have 21 rooms, six of which are suites. Five of those are duplex suites that span over two floors. This split level has a sitting room and separate bathroom which allows our corporate guests to hold private meetings if needed.”

Some of what are now the hotel’s guest rooms were damaged during World War II. Now, they are luxurious and include large, cosy beds with soft embroidered linen and underfloor heating throughout. The owner has thought of every minute detail, and this is evident in the finished product, anything from the hand-painted custom-made furniture to the USB charging points. The traditional Maltese balconies have been replicated, and guests can view some beautiful sights, including the red church domes, the Triton Fountain and Pjazza Teatru Rjal. “In the evening people can sit on our private terrace on the third floor with an aperitif and even listen to the shows and music being played in the theatre,” says Fabien. “But don’t worry,” he adds, “we also have double-glazed windows if you just want some peace and quiet.”

 Domus Zamittello

Sala del Conte, which is also available for private events.

That attention to detail is everywhere, especially in the service, he continues. “We always get to know our clients and focus on the little details which will make the difference between a regular stay and memorable one. It can be the simple dietary requirements or whether they prefer a bath over a shower for example, right up to booking of taxis for the next leg of one’s trip in another country. We address our guests by name and give them as much helpful information about Malta and what there is to do here as possible. A guest experience is not only determined by their stay in a hotel, so the assistance in planning a guest’s trip is always appreciated.

“It’s very important to us that we invest in our customers and we take our reviews very seriously. Our guests have already ranked as one of the top-rated hotels in Valletta after only one year in business, and this success is the driver for us to keep improving. We’ve also had the same core team since opening. It took us a while to select the right people with the right positive approach and today we are very proud of our team, as they and their personality are the driving force behind this success. It’s a special feeling when a customer comes back and sees the same people serving them, and anticipating their requests since we already know them,” he maintains.

And those guests include some famous faces. Ever the professional, Fabien won’t disclose who one of them was, but would tell me that it was a member of the British Royal Family.

 Domus Zamittello

The terrace

One area of the Domus which is even more special is the Piano Nobile, where apart from the suites there are the two original halls, the authentic Sala Nobile and warm and cosy Sala del Conte. Guests are served breakfast in the Sala Nobile. “The feeling of having breakfast in such a historical place which has hosted nobility throughout the past centuries, complemented with restored wall frescos, original flooring and natural light coming in from the high windows and balconies overlooking Republic Street is something special for all guests.” Fabien tells me that the Sala Nobile can be used for private events, both corporate as well as social, in the afternoon and evening, whereas the adjoining Sala del Conte can be used throughout.

In the past few weeks, Domus Zamittello has added another string to its very elegant bow, in the form of Mezzodì Bistro run by Chris and Michael Diacono, along with Chef Ryan Vella. “Mezzodi has already become one of the top culinary addresses in Valletta, offering a stylish but casual ambience, with professional service and a good homely feel. We want people to know they can pop in for a quick plate of pasta at lunch, as well as go for the traditional extended three-course meal, which undoubtedly Valletta has become renowned for,” says Fabien.

And even Fabien himself has a history with Domus Zamittello. “It’s a very special place for me. Growing up in Malta, I’ve been walking past this building on Republic Street since I was a little boy, so seeing what it has become and actually being here on a daily basis means a lot to me. ”

Just one more story to be woven into the fabric of a 400-year-old piece of history.

This feature originally appeared in The Commercial Courier

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Dripping With History: Valletta's Stunning Hotel Domus Zamittello