When was the last time you spent a night at a hotel that truly gave you a creative experience that stimulated your tastes for originality and creativity? Or, simply plunged you into the wonderland of someone else’s mind?
I believe that Hugo, who sadly passed away in 2018, would have been disappointed if I had written a review on his hotel which focussed on just the rooms and just the style. Oh, I am sure he would have been incredibly supportive of it and treated the review with the appreciation and gratitude of a man who managed to shape his portion of his world around his creativity, personality and spirit. But still, I think he would have expected something different.
You see, Hugo was an artist. Yes, he was a businessman, a hotelier, restaurateur, club owner and an icon of hospitality in St Julians. But first and foremost, he was an artist.
I was very grateful for the two nights I was able to stay at Hugo’s Boutique Hotel for it gave me an insight into the inspiring mind of a man who wanted to create a special kind of world. A world where the unashamed devotion to creativity and style was embraced. I feel that in just those two nights I was able to glimpse an idea of his ultimate masterpiece.
Hugo’s Boutique Hotel is positioned perfectly in St Julians and is a point of reference for anyone in the city. Locals know it by sight, and everyone has heard talk about the marvellous rooms with their black and gold decorations and those glorious mirrors above the bed. People talk about the hotel’s adult-only rule and comment on how Hugo not only ran hotels, but also owned restaurants and nightclubs in St Julians along what is known as Hugo’s Strip. Everyone has an opinion of how the party-centre of Malta was shaped around his business and personalities.
Interestingly, while some people consider him a monopolist, others a hotelier and others still a tireless business man with a case of chronic entrepreneurialism, everyone will speak about him the same way. As if they knew Hugo personally.
“Hugo and I knew each other,” they all say.
And that is his masterpiece. It is not just the hotel, or Hugo’s Burger Bar (which are mouth-watering, treat yourself next time you’re in St Julians), or his restaurants or the H Hotel. Currently the hotels bear the trademark design and décor which he had a personal hand in selecting and creating, but these designs and colours will change over time, it is inevitable. What will remain is his masterpiece, which is the fact that of all the hotels in the area, some of which are larger and bigger and even one of two have better views, none of them have left the same footprint he did.
His masterpiece is that people will remember him, and most of them, irrespective of their opinion, liked and admired him.
He was a colourful, creative man who treated every guest irrespective or wealth, position or title as his first guest. As an example, while speaking with the general manager Firas Aboulezz who was kind enough to meet me and show me some of the exciting new developments for 2020, he told me a story about how one day Hugo was in a business meeting and saw a pair of guests arrive at the check in desk. It was a hot day and clearly they had been travelling for most of it, sweating and lugging luggage around with difficulty. Immediately he excused himself and went and made sure these newcomers were looked after, arranging water for them and checking them in so they could get to their rooms as fast as possible. They probably had no idea they were being serviced by the hotel owner.
“It’s just the kind of man he was,” Firas said with a polite shrug, “He just wanted his guests to be happy. You could be a millionaire or a gardener, if you were staying in his hotel you were practically royalty to him. That is the spirit that we’re keeping alive.”
There is a reason why this is important to explain before reviewing the hotel. Hugo’s Boutique Hotel is a representation of the man. Staying there was being welcomed into his home, into his world, you are a guest not just to a hotel but to a man’s palace. His kingdom.
So, onto the hotel.
There are several styles of rooms at Hugo’s Boutique Hotel. I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Elegant suites. Modern design with 25 to 28 square meters of luxury living with charming town views and an extremely relaxing atmosphere. Suitable for those travelling for pleasure or on business who want to ensure they have the height of comfort and functionality.
Of course, this is a 5 star hotel at a 4 star price, so there is no need to tell you how wonderful the waterfall shower is or how comfortable the bed is, or how the WIFI was stronger than I have in my office, nor how cool it was that all the lighting and curtains could be controlled from the beds.
What I absolutely loved about the room is simple. There is a huge mirror above the bed. But I loved this not for the reason you might be thinking. I liked it because it was kind of trippy!
Before you think I’m into drug fuelled hotel reviews, let me explain. Upon walking into the check in area at the front of the building, you’re greeted first with a life sized giraffe and then an endless display of small intricate details expanded to a vast scale. It’s like wandering into the middle of someone else’s daydream. Then, after check in, you catch an elevator to your floor and step out into a corridor of black with gold trimmings. It’s secretive and private, mysterious and quite wonderful. You feel a little bit like Alice stepping out of the elevator and looking for your room. Or oddly enough, being backstage at a stage production. As if it’s a secret you’re there.
The room had a few tasteful decorations that I found particularly beguiling, a shoe on the inside of the door, chainmail on the wall and of course the mirror above the bed.
In the context of the hotel, the addition of a mirror which is one of the characteristics of Hugo’s Hotels creates a heightened feeling of additional space. It heightens the perspective of the room and in no small way really connects the guest with themselves. It’s a detail that is so unlike what you find in other hotels that follow a template of efficiency over style.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS AND OTHER ROOMS
“Hugo was a massive part of this business,” Firas says, “A huge part who brought everyone together but lead very much from the front. After his passing there was a definite sense of loss which required everyone in the company to step up to fill.”
After a cup of coffee together Firas showed me some of the newest suites at the hotel, including two brand new apartments which were built over where the rooftop and more importantly the infinity pool had previously been.
“Several years ago, the roof was extended by two floors,” he explains, “So, we were left with an indoor pool area. There were a few options available and then we decided to go with the Hugo style.”
Firas’s idea was to create two large penthouse suites on either side of the pool, producing spacious rooms which will have proper swimming pools inside including the most stunning views of St Julians sea front. Innovations like this are keeping with Hugo’s approach as his was the first hotel offering 5 star quality at a 4 star price.
Additional plans also include increasing the portfolio of hotels by 2023, expanding Hugo’s Burger Bar brand locally across Malta and then internationally, possibly with franchisees and a host of investors. There is also the strategy that Firas is currently planning for the introduction and roll out of a loyalty programme for local and internationals. Where all restaurants and hotels are connected and a guest can travel within the Hugo Group, carrying credit wherever they go which can be put onto their room. Potentially as an App.
“Most importantly, a common element of any successful business boils down to people,” Firas explains, “Without people you cannot be successful and especially in hospitality how you look after your people, as your staff and suppliers directly influences the guest’s experience.”
He goes on to explain that what one of the most enduring legacies that the founder left behind was his belief in people investment.
“If staff communicate with guests, are helpful, supporting and friendly,” Firas says, “And above all treats the guest with the respect they deserve, their stay will be a good one. You can offer golden rooms but if the people aspect isn’t there, they won’t enjoy it. You need to be people orientated to be good in this industry. Especially in Malta where reputation counts for so much.”
Address: St.George’s Court, St.Augustine Street, St.Julian’s, Malta