Suncrest: Putting Qawra firmly back on the map

The multi-million-euro transformation of the AX Group’s Suncrest Hotel is well underway, with a clear vision to re-establish both the hotel and its locality as a highly sought-after destination.

Qawra has certainly been on a wild journey since its early development in the 1980s. Once a seaside town that didn’t quite make the list of must-visit places on the island, it quickly evolved into a mecca of sunshine and smiles as the 1980s boom turned it into a holiday hotspot.

Decades later, its popularity waned as overdevelopment muddied the Qawra experience for locals and foreigners. Now, another new chapter has begun.

Few people have observed Qawra’s evolution quite as closely as hotelier and veteran entrepreneur Angelo Xuereb. As the force behind much of the town’s original expansion, he provided the vision for what would become a landmark on its seafront promenade and burgeoning skyline: the Suncrest Hotel.

“I always knew Qawra was special and that it deserved to be centre stage,” says Xuereb, Chairman of the AX Group. “So, when I wanted to build a hotel in the 1980s, I chose it as the most up-and-coming location of the moment. Even then I could foresee how much people would love its coastline and incredible sea views.”

Qawra was derelict back then, the chairman recalls, and the Suncrest was its catalyst for change. Xuereb knew he was taking a risk but chose to take the bold decision of developing a high-end property that wouldn’t just stand-alone, but which would help to transform the entire area. “It was a four-star that behaved more like a five-star,” he smiles. “We created the ‘wow factor’ for our guests and exceeded expectations. As my first foray into the hotel world, it set the standard for everything we would go on to achieve as a Group.”


Claire Zammit Xuereb, AX Group’s Hospitality Director, is equally attached to Suncrest and its place within the company’s impressive portfolio of successes. She remembers the Suncrest as an iconic destination in its heyday and is currently driving its exciting redevelopment.

“I can vividly remember my father taking me to the Suncrest site and explaining he was going to build a hotel there,” smiles Zammit Xuereb, who also heads up the Group’s other hospitality projects, including The Palace in Sliema and Rosselli in Valletta among others.

“I remember Suncrest being built. My earliest memories of it feel strikingly similar to today, as we are now living through a reconstruction phase. Whether by sheer coincidence or destiny, I was about 10 years old at the time; the same age my oldest children are today. As a result, Suncrest’s rebirth is being witnessed and relived by the next generation of our family, which of course makes it even more special to us.”

Denise Micallef Xuereb, Director of Construction and Development who is leading various teams behind the Suncrest redevelopment says: “Our family has been naturally predisposed to taking on roles that not only are ideal for the organisational set up but that also reflect each of our strengths and skills. And the Suncrest project is yet another opportunity to work closely together to achieve common goals and aspirations.”

In the 1980s, the Suncrest helped spearhead the development of Malta’s mass-market tourist product. Thanks to its vast number of rooms and array of amenities, the hotel began to attract large groups of travellers for conferences and incentives, as well as droves of tour operator travellers who loved the family-friendly facilities. “Suncrest completely changed the whole dynamics of Qawra and Buġibba,” continues Zammit Xuereb. “It was a vacation haven, and both visitors and locals loved everything about it.”

However, as times changed and new five-star developments opened in St Julian’s and further afield, Qawra and the Suncrest faded a little into the background. “The whole area lost its soul, as well as its scope, and was left scraping the bottom of the barrel as tourists went elsewhere. As investors, this was painful to see, and we tried many things over the years to keep improving the Suncrest and its nearby sister hotel the Sunny Coast. There were highs and lows in that time, and they were all leading to this next important milestone: the Suncrest’s complete redevelopment as a hospitality destination of the future.”


The hotel’s general manager Joseph Vella has also been instrumental in conceptualising this new vision, having been equally influential in the 13 years since he took the helm of the property.

“I joined at a difficult time for the Suncrest, when occupancy was low and profits were spiralling down. However, we successfully turned things around. In the years since then, we took it from a loss-making endeavour to one that has immense potential – so much so that the AX Group directors are ready to invest €52 million to, once again, make it the best on the market.

“This new phase is likely to be the most exciting yet, with a ground-breaking development that will deliver quality and value to a vast range of travellers, and help to put Qawra firmly back on the map.”

The new Suncrest development will raise the bar in numerous ways. The hotel will have 618 rooms (up from 450), most with glorious sea views. Facilities will be segmented, to provide options to both families and those after something unique, with pools and restaurants in both categories, as well as dedicated play areas and drinks venues to match.


“One of our goals was to create a resort that is attractive throughout the year, and that’s what the Suncrest plans to achieve. Qawra is already very popular in the summer, but we wanted to craft a vision that would be exciting to visitors in the winter and shoulder seasons too. The sheer variety of restaurants and facilities will do exactly that, with plenty to attract conference and business travellers. Plus, locals will be catered for in the vast range of food and beverage options – from the 11th floor Skybar with stunning views to the grab-and-go coffee shop on the ground floor. Every element is being carefully thought through and implemented,” continues Vella.



The Suncrest and Sunny Coast will form the bedrock of this project and create a fabulous, welcoming and ultra-stylish place to stay. “But this is about so much more than accommodation,” continues Zammit Xuereb. “From the convenient parking to the many options for wining, dining, dancing, swimming, shopping, and spending time together as a family, the Suncrest has been modelled on a Dubai-style resort that can delight and entertain across the generations. Highlights include the fabulous lagoons, adults-only rooftop pool, and signature restaurants featuring high-end Mediterranean cuisine. Every ounce of the development will be packed with personality. I truly believe the Suncrest will become Malta’s futuristic village by the sea and a hotel for all seasons.”

Futuristic as it may be, this exciting vision is very much coming into sight, with the construction phase of the project racing along and ahead of schedule. In fact, plans are in place for the first major phase to be completed in 2023.



“Back in the 1980s it was the chairman’s vision to make Suncrest the best four-star hotel on the island,” says Vella. “Today, as a team, we are pulling out all the stops to honour that legacy and take it one step further, to make it the best in its category and set it apart year-round. Like every other one of AX’s projects, it will make a statement and stand testament to everything that Mr Xuereb, his family and the Group have created.”

As for Xuereb himself, he is pleased that the Suncrest and Qawra will once again find themselves at the top of their game, just as he envisaged all those years ago. “Everything about this project will do things differently, with quality and genuine character infused in every step. We’re excited to share it with the public, and to create another landmark for our team to be proud of.

“After all, we couldn’t do it without them and are very grateful to the team for their loyalty, including the many people who have been part of the Suncrest story over the decades. We hope this new phase will give the Suncrest back to them and many others long into the future, as we breathe new life into Qawra once again,” the chairman concludes.


Spearheading new standards of quality and community

With Verdala greenlit for redevelopment and two other significant projects in the pipeline, the AX Group is once setting the standard by which others follow.

While it’s true many of life’s best things take time to come to fruition, few could argue that 27 years is a long time for anything.

But 27 years is exactly how long AX Group Chairman Angelo Xuereb has been working to secure the permit to reimagine and rebuild the derelict Grand Hotel Verdala in Rabat. It’s a property that he purchased in 1994, and which he, his family, and his team have toiled on tirelessly ever since.

“I am absolutely thrilled to have, finally, received full Planning Authority (PA) approval for this iconic site,” said Xuereb. “It is going to be a fantastic project, and one that will set another high benchmark for the island. Yes, it took a very long time to get here, with over 50 iterations of our plans for the site, but it has been worth it. Verdala will now be restored to its former glory, as an icon within the Rabat community and a beacon of Malta’s touristic hospitality and quality residences.”

AX Group CEO Michael Warrington is equally enthusiastic that the long wait to pave Verdala’s future has come to an end. “We’ve had some disappointments over the years and some very good ideas were turned down in that time, but we are elated that the next steps are finally clear.”

And what steps they are – as the Group has unveiled its plans for Verdala to be among its most ambitious and standard-setting yet. “Our vision for this important site will be a game-changer for the Group, and for Maltese architecture in general,” the CEO continued.

“I study progress and development in Malta closely and, while some aspects of what I see are encouraging, others are very negative and upsetting. As we proceed as a nation, quality development is critical. We need buildings that will serve us in the same way the Knights’ palaces have served us for hundreds of years – and we at AX intend to deliver. Our team is united in our vision, and this is going to be an extremely exciting phase indeed.”

It’s evident that the Verdala project is a true milestone for AX Group. It will see the contentious 1971 Rabat landmark, the Grand Hotel Verdala, transformed into a state-of-the-art property that isn’t just befitting of its critical location, but instrumental in breathing new life into both the economy and the community.

The project itself will see the ramshackle 70s building seen today sensitively redeveloped into a five-star boutique hotel and luxurious residential complex. After careful in-depth consultation with all stakeholders, the Group has chosen to reduce the overall height of the existing hotel by almost two storeys, and the development will now blend more harmoniously with its setting. In fact, a system of terraces and voids on the ridge side of the building will mimic the natural forms of the rock strata, while the back elevations will have greater solidity to tie into the traditional façade typology found on the surrounding streets. The stunning views, meanwhile, will be opened up, giving the public the opportunity to enjoy them from the hotel, public spaces, and even the street itself. More importantly, the building mass is being separated by three distinct blocks.

“I remember the Grand Hotel Verdala from my childhood and it’s been part of my life ever since,” says one of the project’s key drivers, AX Group Director of Construction, Development and Real Estate, Denise Micallef Xuereb. “There have been so many important moments on my journey with this site – from dining here as a little girl, to observing my father’s disappointment and determination during the delays over the years, to finally being entrusted to handle its development and planning process.”

It’s been three years since Micallef Xuereb took Verdala on with a new approach to getting the green light. She first set her sights on acquiring the outline plan for the site and, once that was successful and the height and massing were set, moved on to the refined design. The full permit was achieved less than a year after the outline approval was signed off, bringing nearly three decades of design and redesign to a close.

“I am proud of many things about this project,” Micallef Xuereb continued, “including that there wasn’t even a single objection to our plan at the final PA hearing. After all, there is a critical requirement for high-quality, standard-setting development in Malta at the moment. We desperately need developments that get things right and encourage others to follow suit. The Verdala will do exactly that. It is visually appealing and sympathetic to its surroundings, will use the very latest and most-sustainable building practices possible, and will again make this site a much-loved destination in its community and for Malta as a whole.”

A new season for AX Group

The Verdala project is ambitious and exciting, certainly, but the core team also acknowledges what a huge challenge it is going to be. “It’s an absolutely mammoth undertaking,” continued Warrington. “There are huge costs of between €50-60 million to be considered, but we know what we are getting ourselves into. Even with the blow that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the Group, we are extremely positive about what the next few months and years will bring. Business is returning, the vaccination programme is working, and I am confident that it won’t be too long before the business levels we saw in 2019 return and grow.”

And while Verdala will doubtlessly provide key focus for the Group in the next few years, it won’t be its only focus. In fact, this period is set to be AX’s most ambitious yet, with two other major projects coming into view, and with a pathway to completion.

“I used to say that the Group would only undertake one mega project every five years, but we’re breaking with a tradition this time,” smiles Mr Warrington. “As works begin on Verdala, we will also make extensive headway on our plans for the Suncrest Hotel extension in Qawra – another mega project for the Group. Add to that 41, Merchant’s Street in Valletta – a palace that will be respectfully restored and transformed into a shared office space – and things are shaping up to be very busy indeed.”

In fact, much of Warrington’s own work over the past few months has ensured that the right financial structures are in place to sustain the substantial growth expected for AX in the next five years. “Yes, it’s ambitious. But I am convinced that, with the plan I set for the Group – and despite the consequences of the on-going pandemic – our vision of the AX Group as a half-a-billion-euro company by 2024/2025 will come to pass. This is the start of a major growth journey for us and one that we have worked very hard on already to successful edit the structures of the Group and make our goals achievable.”

Meanwhile, the company’s people – its colossal team across its many business sectors – remain top-of-mind for the Xuerebs and the Group CEO. “These changes will affect people’s lives,” said Warrington. “Our employees must rise to the challenge, and I know they will.

“Yes, we are working in a very difficult labour market and it can it be hard to find the right calibre of people, but those that are right are unabashedly excited about what is to come for the Group and the opportunities it presents.

“Our whole team – from marketing to architectural design and development, as well as our dedicated management team – know these kinds of experiences come around rarely in a career; they are moments to be treasured. Our people are proud to be associated with everything we have planned. They will look back and say, ‘I was part of the team that built that’ – in the same way that the original Verdala employees (some of whom are still with us!) are excited to see the building rise from the ashes again. The energy is palpable,” he says.

Going into further detail, the CEO admits it hasn’t been an easy time for many existing AX Group staff since the start of the pandemic. “It’s been a tough and distressing period for many reasons. But we know how to sail this ship into safe waters for the future. Our vision doesn’t just keep our people safe but offers them opportunities to grow with us. Yes, it’s going to be a busy time, but it’s going to be great and something they will be delighted to be part of.”

Strong values make solid business sense

As this new chapters begins, it’s clear that the AX Group expertly walks the line between being both a standard-setting company with world-class goals, and a family business that holds integrity and sensitivity at its very core.

“Values mean something here,” continued Warrington. “As a Group, we are dedicated to crafting projects that reflect our veracity and strong business culture. They are projects that we are proud to be associated with, built in a manner that ‘does things right’. It’s not all about money, about building a monument, or about how big a development is. It’s about quality and community. Our business is clean business.”

Xuereb, meanwhile, agrees and hopes that AX’s projects will continue to be emulated by other building contractors, so development in Malta will improve. “Our island product must be upgraded,” the Chairman stresses. “And we hope to be both the driving force and the inspiration behind that.

“As for our own advancement, the next few years will bring steady growth across our five sectors: construction, development, hospitality, healthcare and renewable energy. We also look forward to expanding our core activities in Europe, and to reaching more new milestones for the company.”

It’s clear to see that the next five years are going to be interesting and exciting for the AX Group, as its core team unites behind this vision of quality, community, and success.

“I hope to remain at the helm of the Group for the next few years,” the Chairman said. “Within that time, my daughters, our management and I will continue to look boldly into the future with eyes on the kinds of projects that befit both our company and the island as a whole. Our plans stretch forward confidently well into the decades to come, and our vision will not waiver as we hit every milestone on our path. That all begins with Verdala,” Xuereb concluded.

Retirement village: Reap what you sow, Angelo Xuereb urges retirees

As we grow older and enter different phases in our lives, we go through various challenges including in our long working careers. But there comes a time when we should reap what we sow since it would be useless working if we didn’t do that, business magnate Angelo Xuereb said.

Mr Xuereb said the concept of a retirement village, a first for Malta, gives the opportunity to people who want to really live life to the full and to get to socialise in a village which is much more than a neighbourhood.

“The complex will offer some 133 deluxe apartments and penthouses with extensive views in a 17,000sqm development a stone’s throw away from Naxxar’s village core. But not only that, if tenants end up immobile at some point in their lives, they can choose to move in to a state-of-the-art licensed residential care home next door that is entirely independent from the village,” he said.

Mr Xuereb said that the village gives you a feeling that you are in a luxurious resort and not in an ordinary elderly care home.

“We tried to avoid as much as possible having anything attributed to elderly care homes such as staircase lifts or bed lifts. I am not saying that elderly people who find it hard to navigate stairs safely won’t have assistance,” he said.

During the interview, Mr Xuereb came across as having the genuine desire to provide the perfect solution to people who may end up lonely, or couples who are seeking to live in a luxurious village but having the necessary assistance in place, the opportunity to do so in the safest of environments.

“When people grow old, they end up vulnerable and start to fear that one day they can end up victims of a burglary. This village is as safe as can be.

“Some may end up lonely but do not bother to seek company; the retirement village concept is their answer to their loneliness since they can socialise,” he said.

The village also hosts a lounge area, and outdoor pool and relaxation area, a crafts centre, a multipurpose hall and a busy activity schedule, a billiard and darts room, a clinical centre, a library a wellness centre and spa, hair salon, a restaurant and bar bistro, children’s indoor and outdoor play areas, a mini market, garden allotments – an opportunity to grow your own fruit and vegetables, a fitness centre a shuttle service, the list is endless.

Each apartment has its own terrace, a kitchen and the bedrooms are spacious.



A purposely designed chapel to offer a feeling of tranquillity is situated in the heart of the village. The design is based on Mr Xuereb’s ideas. The Cross, for instance, is positioned in a way that the sun’s beams light up the cross which reflect on the Onix flooring.

“There’s plenty of light and the chapel is surrounded by water. It gives you a feeling that the chapel is on the water. One can also admire the swans gliding over the chapel,” he said.

“If it were up to me, the word ta’ xjuh (a place for the elderly) should not exist. This place is a retirement village for those people who would have worked for some 40 years and who want to make the most of what they worked all those years for,” he said.

He continued: “Let’s say a person living in the five-star plus village suffers a stroke some five years after purchasing an apartment, he can be transferred to the residential care residence next door and the person will be assisted by a multidisciplinary team,” he explained.

The maximum the retirement home and village can take up to some 300 persons. The apartments can either be rented or purchased but up to a maximum of 50 years. In the event a person decides to continue living in the residential home next door to the village, he or she can utilise the funds he would have spent on the apartment for medical care and accommodation or choose to rent it out to third persons.

Mr Xuereb said that dementia patients will be allocated to a section of the home which is specially equipped for such patients.

Creativity for Energy

Federation of Building Contractors president Angelo Xuereb warns that Malta risks failings its energy objectives unless it acts fast. Whereas the EU is talking about 20 per cent clean energy by 2020, better insulation and zero energy building as well as a reduction in overall energy consumption, Malta lags sorely behind.

AX Holdings Unveil Verdala Mansions

One of Malta’s most outstanding residential projects, Verdala Mansions, was unveiled last week by its proprietors, AX Holdings. This luxurious block of residences was unveiled during a sunset cocktail party held on the grounds of this unique site.


“New era” in Private Health Care

St James Hospital has becomeMalta’s largest private health entity after months-long negotiations led to its takeover of Capua Hospital. The Hospital, in the heart of Sliema, will be called St James (Capua) Hospital and will operate as a separate entity from the 13-bed St James Hospital in Żabbar.

AX Holdings Presents ‘facts to date’ on Verdala Golf Course

In a bid to dispel misinformation and allegations on its controversial golf course project at Verdala in the Press, AX holdings last week circulated a 15-page document to the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities. AX holdings have been waiting for a 3000-page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)  of the project to be approved b the planning authority for two years.

New Verdala Refurbishment will cost Lm11.5m

Developers sign an agreement with Hong Kong-based group for the running of Golf Course. The world is moving fast rate and Malta has to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of travellers. A large number of these travellers are today carrying golf clubs.