Recently, Corinthia Group issued a company announcement stating that Corinthia Hotels Limited, a fully owned subsidiary of IHI, “submitted plans to build a low-lying, highly landscaped resort on the site currently occupied by the disused Hal Ferh Holiday Complex.”
Insider Plus was eager to obtain more information about this project, so we contacted Mr Marcus Pisani, the project director and Chief Development Officer of IHI, who readily accepted to answer a few questions.
We understand plans for water-suites, wellness centres, specialty restaurants, a wide range of sports and fitness facilities, and many other services / features are included. Could you expand on what this outstanding new development would comprise?
A site such as this is a special opportunity for Corinthia as much as it is a responsibility to our country, our environment, and the values and standards we hold as a company. We have therefore given immense consideration and worked hard on how to realise our vision.
Our proposed project aims to regenerate this dilapidated and disused site into a world-class resort that balances sensitive, unobtrusive architecture and lush landscaping with top-tier accommodation and facilities.
We set out to create an environment similar to a country club, where guests and residents can immerse themselves in a rural sanctuary, far from the bustle of the urban routine.
The cornerstone of the project is the Corinthia Resort. This will offer a carefully curated mix of 162 large guestrooms and suites, all with private gardens or terraces, spread across a main two-storey hotel building and a canal.
The property will be anchored by authentic culinary experiences, serving produce grown locally alongside exotic flavours from distant countries.
Holistic wellness is very much at the heart of the development. We want to move away from just a standalone spa offering and instead diffuse the concept through guest experiences across the resort via principles of movement, nutrition, rest & relaxation and mindset & connection. This will extend well to families in that we will provide dedicated kids’ pools and play areas, a kids club, a child-minding facility and various educational opportunities through an assortment of experiences.
The other main pillar of this development is residential in nature. We are proposing 25 fully-detached hotel-serviced villas and bungalows that will continue the architectural language adopted by the resort and prioritise privacy, quality and outdoor living. This will be a unique set of highly desirable, state-of-the-art properties, set in a beautiful gated community that is managed, maintained and serviced by Corinthia; a true first for Malta.
Residents and guests will be able to enjoy all the amenities and facilities of the resort, be it room service at odd hours of the night, concierge support, cleaning, caretaking, security etc. They will also have access to the resort’s outdoor facilities, such as our tennis and padel courts, gym and fitness facilities, horse riding, golf putting range and so on.
What would ‘highly landscaped’ entail?
Our site covers an area of approximately 83,000m2 on which we are proposing a built-up footprint of some 16,700 m2 (or circa 20 % of the total site area). The landscaping opportunity that such a low-density development offers is therefore significant and the site will be primarily populated with trees and greenery rather than structures and buildings.
Prior to the commencement of the design phase, we undertook a comprehensive survey in order to identify, list and number every existing tree on site to incorporate them into our scheme wherever possible. The proposed hotel has in fact been designed around the existing mature trees and every villa’s courtyard or garden positioned to integrate these within the landscape design.
Existing invasive species will be removed and replaced with an even greater number of indigenous trees. We are sourcing saplings as early as possible so that we can plant them in the vicinity and then transplant them to site at the opportune time.
Have you decided on a name for this complex, or is it too early?
We’ve moved away from the original Hal Ferh nomenclature and will be looking at something more in line with Corinthia’s naming world-wide. Our current working title is The Corinthia Oasis Resort
Who designed the project? Would this be a completely novel architectural approach or is it in tune with traditional Maltese architecture?
We have engaged local architect Martin Xuereb who has in fact worked on some Corinthia projects in the past. We feel that Martin has a particular sensitivity to create a design language that balances originality with a sense of place, traditional elements with modern interpretations, and ultimately a philosophy of design that is in harmony with its immediate surroundings.
With the Oasis project there is no doubt that he and his team have absorbed and assimilated what we set out to do.
Would Corinthia-owned QP ltd be also involved?
Yes, absolutely. QP’s technical teams are intimately involved in all aspects of detailed design. We have a great team of people there and they will help us realise our vision to exacting standards.
Knowing Corinthia’s excellent track record in the field of eco-friendliness, are we correct to assume that this project would ensure the latest in this sphere?
This is certainly a project that aspires to green design standards, and we aim to achieve high grade certification from industry-leading accreditation institutions as we progress with our design – it is a philosophy we take very seriously, from conception and construction, right through to operation.
The resort will include a number of environmentally friendly features such as green-roofs, passive climatisation solutions that diminish consumption, heat recovery systems that benefit both the hotel and the residences, as well as the sitewide collection and re-use of both rain and grey-water which will allow us to efficiently irrigate the resort’s extensive gardens.
We are also planning a series of onsite green transportation options and intelligent, energy-efficient & low-impact lighting systems that will be spread throughout the complex, particularly within the open areas so as to mitigate light pollution issues in this sensitive locality.
This site and complex have experienced a varied history, correct?
Indeed, they have.
The earliest defence structures in the area actually date back to the bronze age but coastal towers erected by the Knights of Malta are still perched on the nearby cliffs and British period barracks and military structures can still be viewed in the immediate vicinity.
From the seventies onwards the site was reimagined once again, only this time to welcome visitors, not deter them. The Hal-Ferh Holiday Complex was a popular tourist destination for many years. Owned and run by a subsidiary company of the national airline at the time, this hotel ceased operations in the early 2000s and was subsequently sold to the private sector after a public call by Government of Malta in 2009.
Plans for a large-scale timeshare development, comprising over 730 beds, were approved by the authorities but construction never actually commenced on site.
Corinthia subsequently purchased the site and its existing permits from the previous owners in 2015 and immediately went back to the drawing board to create something completely new, which would be in keeping with the group’s vision and expansion plans.
This has resulted in the project that you see today.
We understand that the original Development Brief has been recently updated. What has changed and what will remain?
Frankly, we see the parameters in the development brief as safeguards rather than constraints. In terms of heights, buildable footprint and permissible built volumes, absolutely nothing has changed from the original brief issued in 2008. The only difference today is a partial change of use of 9,000m2 (or 36%) of our permitted development area from hospitality (formerly timeshare) to serviced residential use.
Does Corinthia view this project as a chance to introduce new benchmarks for Malta and even compete with the best abroad?
I think it’s only correct to acknowledge that standards in Malta have improved dramatically across the board in recent years. I believe it is crucial to maintain this trajectory if we wish to position the Island as an alternative option for the discerning traveller looking for a quality destination in the Mediterranean.
Our project will definitely compete with the best locally and I can’t see why it shouldn’t also hold its own against the best in the Med.
What is the next step in this exciting story?
We need to get through the planning process, finalise funding and then start the construction phase. It is a journey we relish as a group and one that I can’t wait to bring to fruition.
Insider Plus, who has seen the computer generated imagery of the project and is sharing a few of them in this article, has no doubt that this new venture will provide a fresh and exciting experience, which we too can’t wait to see finalised.