Winter weather can be schizophrenic in Malta. But on the whole, clouds over this small outcrop of an archipelago at the heart of the Mediterranean do have their silver linings as we can experience four seasons in one week.
Another peculiarity of a Maltese winter is the temperature difference between inside and out; while northern Europeans retreat indoors for warmth, and get little sunlight-induced Vitamin-D in the winter months, in Malta folk do the opposite. We tend to get outdoors to escape the chill inside our houses, as we rarely have adequate heating. However, outside is the place to be as the Islands’ wonderful Mediterranean light, stormy days or not, can make us feel more energised now than during summer’s brain-numbing heat.
With the weather set generally fair in Malta in winter, there’s every reason to head here to escape the big freeze up North. Malta in winter is the very best time to be out and about and most activities can be enjoyed year round. As you can see, this list of suggestions includes a lot of time well spent outside.
1. Walking: Try Malta’s North for the swathes of countryside you thought these somewhat urban islands lacked. Walk the old British fortified ‘Victoria Lines’, or do the nature trail near Red Fort, Mellieha. The newly designated Il-Majjistral Nature & History Park which covers most of Malta’s North has plenty to offer walkers and do take a camera to capture its unique flora. Cities make for good walking excursions too with a huge dose of cultural heritage thrown in. There are organised cultural tours you can join too – ask at the Tourism Offices. Cities like Valletta, Birgu and Mdina are a lot less crowded in winter and cafe life is still buzzing at this time of year.
2. Winter sun: Malta won’t offer quite the same ‘winter sun’ experience as the Caribbean, but the islands’ stone takes on a deep, honey-yellow hue in the winter sun, which itself still packs power even in January, if you choose a sheltered spot.
3. Cycling: ever more popular here, despite the islands’ urban sprawl. But Malta and Gozo offer challenging cycling to satisfy the keen cyclist. Head north if you like hills. Gozo, Malta’s sister island is all steep ups and downs. For more on the flat, try southern Malta.
3. Sailing: pretty much an all-year round sport in Malta. The ancient mariners among us sail almost whatever the weather – competitive sailing months are autumn to early summer. While sail schools and hotels tend to teach and hire out boats only in summer, you can ask around, find a friendly skipper and get out on the water in winter too. If you don’t know the waters, even if you are an experienced sailor, get advice.
4. Heritage trails: these aren’t really officially defined as such, but you could, for example, do a combination of walking, driving and cycling to take in Malta’s South (the Three Cities on Grand Harbour); the south-west coast & temples (Blue Grotto, Wied-iz-Zurrieq, Hagar Qim, Mnajdra); the fishing villages (Marascala, Marsaxlokk); Victoria Lines walk (start at Fort Mosta); Dingli Cliffs & Buskett; walks in Bahrija and Bidnija area for ancient olives, views and countryside. And all of Gozo of course.
5. Rock Climbing: Nothing beats this for a new sport to take up this winter. It relies as much on skill and strategy as strength and Malta offers some exhilarating scenery to challenge you or as a backdrop. Meet the enthusiasts, meet new friends, or just join up with them for a day’s climb if you’re on holiday here. Search online to find the clubs who will welcome you on a climb as a visitor.
6. Painting: You might have to gather brushes up and make a dash for it in a shower, but it’s not too cold to sit still outside in winter, and you’ll get great colours and light to work in.
7.Photography: as with painting, this is a good hobby for winter which gives great conditions for the natural light photographers among us. No heat haze, amazing hues and depth of perspective. Some deep shadows, but nothing that the pros can’t sort out either naturally, or in Photoshop later!
8. Short courses: Malta has a wealth of adult evening classes and clubs and societies – take your pick from everything from tango classes and fencing to your regular institute courses. Many groups and clubs, like the tango one for instance, are happy to welcome casual visitors and not just regulars.
9. Conferences:Spring and summer are more for incentive trips, but winter is for conferences. Almost all Malta’s four- and five-star hotels offer conference venues in house. The islands are the ideal short-hop from northern European cities, and are a beacon of warmth to those in northerly climes. No wonder Malta is a key conference destination.
10. Love-bird getaways: most of the more upscale hotels offer very attractive discounts for winter weekend breaks. A lot have spa facilities these days too. Malta is near enough with just two to three hours flying time from most European capitals to hop to for a winter weekend break.
11. Gozo farmhouse breaks: Rentals abound, at good prices, as tourists are fewer this time of year. Snap up a weekend with friends in a larger place, even if you aren’t going to be using the pool in winter. Unlike some Greek island resorts, Gozo doesn’t really shutdown in a melancholy way out of peak season.
12. Cultural events: last but not least, Malta and Gozo have an immense amount going on in winter in the arts. Most weekends, there are two or three good things that clash, so packed is the calendar. It’s theatre season big time. So, don’t think it’s a July, summer arts festival thing. Bother to get out, and you’ll be spoiled for choice from opera to stand-up comedy.
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