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Where to Stay in Malta, the Beloved Filming Location for Movies Like ‘Gladiator 2’ and ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’

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Even those who’ve never visited Malta in real life will recognize it in dozens of films — Assassin’s CreedTroyCaptain Phillips, Last Voyage of the Demeter, Gladiator and pretty soon Gladiator 2, to name a few. There are reasons filmmakers flock there. Not only is it a versatile location that provides a contemporary or period backdrop but also the facilities and crew are unrivaled, tax incentives are generous and accommodations are among the best in Europe with the island nation boasting a whopping six Michelin-starred restaurants.

Renowned for its special effects water facility, Malta offers one indoor tank and two large exterior water tanks situated along the coast, affording filmmakers an authentic horizon line for scenes set on the water. The studio offers a range of water SFX equipment including wave machines, wind machines, rain towers, tip tanks, water shooters and smoke machines. 

Malta’s first sound-stage is currently under construction on an area of 4,000 square meters adjacent to the deep water tank facility. It will be the first of its kind, boasting an interior 2,000-square-meter water tank overlooking the sea. In time, they aim to add additional stages along with workshops, production facilities and warehouses. Queries are best addressed to the Malta Film Commission, though response times vary.

Incentives include a 30 percent rebate that requires a minimum spend in Malta of $111,489 on films budgeted over $222,979, not exceeding 80 percent of the overall production budget. The rebate is given once filming is complete and can cover items like EU below-the-line labor, accommodation, transportation equipment and hire, location fees, catering services, per diem, leasing of offices, computer equipment, vehicles and boats, wardrobe rentals, courtesy payments, props, property, animals, equipment, telecommunications, craft service, laundry and cleaning services and professional services.

Aerial view of Valletta, the capital of Malta

Visit Malta

Yachts on the island of Comino in Malta.

Visit Malta

The city itself can stand in for Middle Eastern or Southern European locations, as it did for the opening section of Napoleon set in Toulon, France. The Jerusalem sequence in World War Z was shot there, and so was most of Steven Spielberg’s Munich. A velociraptor chased Bryce Dallas Howard over the rooftops of the capital, Valletta, in Jurassic World: Dominion, and the city also served as the site of an illegal dino market. The medieval old capital, Mdina, doubled for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, and its Mesquita Square is where Jaime Lannister and his men took on Ned Stark’s guard at the climactic end of episode five, season one.

Mdina is also home to The Xara Palace Relais & Châteaux, a 17th-century palazzo that is now an exclusive hotel where Pedro Pascal stayed while shooting Gladiator 2. Rooms start at a very reasonable $300. Not just a scenic backdrop and luxurious accommodation, it’s the home of deMondion, a Michelin-star restaurant overseen by executive chef Clint Grech, who excels at modern Mediterranean cuisine using organically grown ingredients from Xara’s nearby farm. Try his Mediterranean red bream made with kabocha pumpkin and mussels marinières, with a Sturia (Osetra caviar) supplement for an additional €15.

The Gallarija grand residence at Iniala Harbour House in Malta

Iniala Harbour House

If staying closer to the city, try Iniala Harbour House, a boutique bayside hotel spread over four townhouses combining modern and Baroque decor. Rooms start at $400 with suites available for $750, which includes in-room dining and private use of the hotel’s boat, Spirit of Iniala. The smart tummy eats at the rooftop restaurant ION, another Michelin star recipient for the conjurings of farm-to-table pioneer, Chef Simon Rogan, whose truffle pudding glazed in carob honey, black garlic and aged Berkswell cheese is a palate paradise. 

A short walk through the old town, past Renzo Piano’s Parliament House and semi-restored opera house, is The Phoenicia Malta. It was a favorite of Philip and Princess Elizabeth II who learned to dance in the ballroom there during their years on the island before she was crowned Queen in 1952. The limestone walls, ironwork, teak, terrazzo, marble and heavy coffered ceiling in the main entrance pay tribute to Malta’s architectural past. Rooms start at $330, not bad considering it’s where royalty slept, not to mention legends like Alec Guinness, Oliver Reed, Joaquin Phoenix and most of the cast of Gladiator

A superior room at The Phoenicia, Malta

The Phoenicia Malta

The Triton Fountain near The Phoenicia Malta hotel in Valletta.

The Phoenicia Malta

A century-old restored country villa in an upscale residential neighborhood, The Corinthia Palace offers luxurious accommodations and yet another Michelin-starred eatery, BAHIA overseen by Chef Tyrone Mizzi. His Villages Journey menu provides samples from Malta’s various regions like the town of Marsaxlokk, which is feted with local dorado (mahi mahi), leek and cucumber tart, labneh (yogurt), mint aioli and caper shoots from nearby Xemxija with quinoa salad. Also at the Corinthia Villa, legendary chef Stefan Hogan’s farm-to-table menus are available, serving up a culinary melange of the best locally sourced goods. The Corinthia sits adjacent to the President’s San Anton Palace, which doubled as part of the Red Keep exterior in Game of Thrones season one. Rooms are a steal at $140.

St John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta

Jordan Riefe

If scheduling permits, take an excursion to neighboring Gozo Island and visit picturesque Baroque churches and charming villages, or stop outside Mdina at Ta’ Betta Wine Estates for a tasting.

Or stay put in Valletta on a hilltop overlooking the bay and check out St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the official retreat of the famed Knights of Malta. It houses treasures like two paintings by noted Renaissance artist Carravagio, who spent a little over a year there while running from the police after killing a man in Rome. His The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, a large-scale chiaroscuro masterpiece, decorates the Oratory, for which it was painted, alongside his smaller but also impressive Saint Jerome Writing.

On the return flight, board Turkish Airlines to Istanbul for a complimentary Istanbul Stopover Program in partner hotels. It’s the perfect way to unwind after a long arduous shoot, visiting treasures like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque by day, sipping raki and sampling kebob by night.

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