Travel

5 MINUTE READ

A cigar lover’s guide to Malta

Words by Gabriela Greess

13 February 2024

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Cigar lovers can indulge in this sunny Mediterranean isle, enjoying Habanos in an atmosphere of British tradition and Italian charm.

Cigar lovers are discovering a new travel destination in the small and sunny Mediterranean island of Malta. Located near Sicily and Tunisia, with a melting pot of cultures, aficionados can enjoy a top selection of rarely traded Habanos whilst absorbing an atmosphere of British tradition and Italian charm.

Along Sliema's kilometre-long waterfront, a cosmopolitan atmosphere vibrates in this hip nightlife district – more like one of a vast metropolis than a tiny island nation. It is late in the evening, and I let myself drift leisurely amongst the flow of people from all continents, enjoying the local Cisk beer and then celebrating with a welcome cigar.

Instead of enjoying it on the pub terrace (where smoking is allowed), I decided to walk along St Julian's illuminated party mile. The dazzling panorama and skyline of skyscrapers is a wild mix of styles and eras and a provocative contrast to the baroque church Stella-Maris' shining lights and the mysteriously looming peninsula of Manoel Island with the defiant fort of the Order of Malta.

The Still

What a difference there is between St Julian's and the quiet town of Hal Balzan. Featuring magnificent mansions replete with colourful verandas – in the style of Old Havana – I am welcomed with the scent of orange trees hanging in the air. Where noble knights once experienced the summer freshness near the capital Valletta, I enjoy a Cohiba Siglo III in a centuries-old tunnel, eight metres underground. James Dalli, a suave importer dressed in an Italian suit, is responsible for most of the cigars and tobacco in Malta. Along with the Maltese luxury specialist Charles Grech, they lead me to a special subterranean lounge called The Still, which is still a word-of-mouth favourite.

A local entrepreneur invested significant money to create a spectacular space for aficionados here. 'I wanted to enliven a flight of underground passages that belonged to five noble knights in 1702 with gourmet offerings for the here and now,' says Victor Galea. Voilà – welcome to the mysterious vault of the Hemingway Cigar & Whiskey Lounge. Its centrepiece is the bar counter, made from a four-century-old birch trunk and antique Malta tiles.

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Habanos such as Cohiba Siglo III, Partagás Serie P No. 2, and Montecristo Edmundo entice us from the climatised cabinet. Victor is showing a British colonial-era film while I puff on my spicy Havana cigar – and all of a sudden, we are right in the middle of Malta's historical kaleidoscope with a condensed cultural history spanning thousands of years: from the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Turks to the British, who sat in the same tunnel during the Second World War as we are now. Today, Malta, with many fortresses on offshore islands, is a sought-after location for historical films.

And no surprise: later, I found the Habanos classic Montecristo No. 4 on the neighbouring island of Gozo, where you should definitely plan a day trip. The best way to enjoy this Habano is onboard the ferry with a view of the rocky island of Comino: you can see the defiant dungeon from the boat where the legendary film The Count of Montecristo was made.

Charles Grech 1881

In Birkirkara, one of the oldest cities in Malta, two newly furnished luxury walk-in humidors are ready for aficionados – including Charles Grech's flagship store, housed in a modern glass palace. Founded in 1881, the family business imports the best selection of wines, spirits, and cigars from all over the world via the world's leading Habanos distributor, Phoenicia TAA. In all tobacco shops, you can find various Habanos tubos, but here, there are 25 Habanos brands on offer, with Nicaraguan premium brand Oliva having its own walk-in humidor. There are also attractive offers on the Cohiba Panatela Box, 25-piece Partagás Mille Fleurs box, and Partagás Serie P No. 2.

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Directly at the Ta'Xbiex marina, we found another top specialist shop from Charles Grech. Here, the great Habanos classics Cohiba Siglo III are exhibited in elegant wall display cases beside a vast selection of exquisite wines. Shop manager Matthew Muscat shows me the salon, furnished in British style that reflects the luxurious decor of the overall space. As Malta has relatively strict smoking laws, tastings here are by invitation only.

Fine smoke at The Phoenicia Hotel

If you want to enjoy your cigars with beautiful panoramic views of the Mediterranean and the capital, Valletta, the best place to stay is The Phoenicia in the Floriana district. Maltese hotel manager Silvan Camilleri guides me through the lush gardens with fountains and shows me the ballroom, where Queen Elizabeth II once danced as a princess in the early 1950s – very young and hardly bothered by cigar-smoking guests.

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The Club Bar at the venerable luxury hotel features hallmarks of British style. Neville Juan Cardona, the ambassador for guests of honour, says that he always thinks of the great statesman Winston Churchill when he enjoys a Habano Trinidad here. As an unforgettable entry in the hotel chronicle, it commemorates the visit during which he accompanied the former English royal couple for a visit in 1967.

It's only a few minutes from this historic property to the centre of Valletta, which enchants at first glance with its Mediterranean-style mix of time-honoured fortresses and bastions, baroque churches, and elegant city palaces. I feel reminded of Cuba in some places, with narrow colonial streets contrasting with spacious tree-lined boulevards. On Old Theatre Street, you will also find the quirky shop Pace's Model Centre, stocking a good selection of Habanos in tubos, such as Romeo y Julieta No. 2 – unpretentiously presented alongside collectable toy cars.

I decide to have an early lunchtime cigar in the charming courtyard of a boutique hotel called Elull, accompanied by the statue of a Greek god – whose nakedness is covered only with a fig leaf. My choice of a Partagás Mille Fleurs from the well-stocked hotel humidor was precisely right. And so, stimulated by the medium-strong, earthy Habano, I continued my discovery tour and explored the famous Anglican Pro-Cathedral.

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The old capital

The next day I head to the old capital of Medina, surrounded by an impressive fortress wall. Whilst strolling through the winding streets, I discover the historic Palazzo Falson hotel, which has a roof terrace and a fantastic panoramic view.

'Cigar smokers are very welcome here,' Rebecca Geres, manager of the hotel's Gustav Café, assures me. I take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy an Oliva Series V from the Charles Grech flagship store in this quiet and picturesque location. The intense Nicaraguan aromas give me just the energy boost I need to squeeze another beach trip into my itinerary.

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I choose Ghadira in the northeast of the island, the location of Malta's largest sandy beach. Just as the sun sets, I end up on the beachside terrace of Munchies Mellieha Bay. My gaze wanders over a calm turquoise blue sea, and I celebrate my evening smoking pleasure with complete satisfaction: a creamy H.Upmann Corona Mayor from the practical tubo, which you can get in well-stocked tobacco shops in all tourist resorts in Malta.

Travel guide



Tobacco specialist shops

Charles Grech Flagship Store

Palazzo Cà Brugnera
Valley Road, Birkirkara BKR 9024, Malta

Cigars and wines

World of Wines
Ta’ Xbiex

Blue Harbour Marina
Ta' Xbiex Seafront

Ta’ Wisto – wines, spirits, and more

Triq Antonio Mallia
Victoria Gozo, Malta VCT1752

Cigar lounges

The Still

Hemingway Lounge

Triq il-Kbira

Hal Balzan

Roof terraces for smokers

Gustav Café in Palazzo Falson
Historic House Museum
L, Triq IL Villegaignon, Mdina MDN 1191, Malta

Black Bull Old Bar & Terrace
Old Theatre Street, Il-Belt Valletta, Malta

The Embassy
173 Strait St, Valletta, VLT 1455, Malta

Top restaurant for aficionados

Vini e Capricci
Gozitano Agricultural Village, Mgarr Road, Xewkija XWK 9014, Malta

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