Retired businessman Piero Vernacchia takes us through the ups and downs of refurbishing a derelict Valletta palazzo into one of the trendiest boutique hotels.
66 St Paul’s took Piero Vernacchia five years to complete from the time of purchasing. Now it’s a prime example of giving a 350-year-old run-down property a new lease of life as a luxurious, 18-bedroom boutique hotel.
“This was the first time I ever did anything of the sort,” says Piero, who moved to Malta around eight years ago following a career in telecommunications. “It was something I took up quite unexpectedly and it turned into a pastime with a purpose.”
The building, which had once served as a residential property and later as offices, had been abandoned some 30 years before. When Piero bought it, it still had numerous original features but it was also in a very dire state. This meant that the whole place had to be refurbished and restored, something that the location – just a stone’s throw away from the main attractions of Valletta – made much more difficult.
“It wasn’t always easy to get trucks and cranes into the road; and the width of the road also meant that noise and dust became a problem with the neighbours. But we persevered and, two-and-a-half years later, it’s now being run as a boutique hotel.”
Photos by Alan Carville
Piero’s brief to the workers was to preserve as many of the original features as possible and, today, the interiors are a mix of natural materials (parquet flooring, marble bathrooms, and bare stone walls), light colours (beige, white, and light grey), and traditional Maltese architectural and interior characteristics (including the much-coveted Maltese tiles).
“We also invested heavily in the comfort of our guests: the mattresses were bought from the same company the Savoy in London get theirs; the linen and towels were purchased from a top-quality retailer in Spain, and the furniture was brought to Malta from Italy,” he reveals.
Now that it’s complete, Piero says that the investment is more in the actual property than in the business, and admits that this is mostly down to the fact that 18 rooms are not enough to make a hotel financially viable. Even so, plans are already being laid to turn the cellar into a spa, which will add one more common area to the already impressive list for such a building, which includes a seasonal terrace with a bar and swimming pool.
“I’m very happy with the outcome and, if I hadn’t done it, I’d definitely want to do it. But I don’t think I would do it again, particularly now. The prices of property and labour have increased a lot over the past five years, so my advice is to wait and see what happens after 2018… Having said that, property in Valletta is not endless, so there are various factors you need to think of before you make your decision.”
With 1,350m2 of space to play with, Piero has made the most of a building that desperately needed some TLC before it could shine again. Yet, as working with such buildings go, it was not an easy journey. Whether it was worth it or not, depends on your aspirations for it.