With one of the best climates on the planet, the Maltese archipelago enjoys sunny autumns and winters with well over 300 days of sunshine each year. Most Maltese and visitors will agree that nothing beats a beautiful winter’s day, and there are many in Malta. Of course, there’s lots to do on these sun-filled winter days, the mild weather encourages people to step outdoors and breathe the lovely sea-air. Malta has a rich backstory and a deep involvement with the arts, as well as possessing the archetypal Mediterranean personality; fun, welcoming and jovial. All sorts of events happen on a daily basis and being a relatively small country, all events are easy to get to and enjoy.
There are many pleasant winter walks, and a special feature of the Maltese Islands is that most routes explore the rich archaeological, historical and geological sites that dot our countryside and coastal zones. Choose off-the beaten track sites like Ta’ Mrejnu, Bajda Ridge or the Miger Ilma cliffs, or simply stroll along the remarkable Cottonera and Victoria lines of fortifications, exploring military architecture and natural formations at the same time.
Maltese autumns and winters are perfect for outdoor sports because visibility is great, temperatures mild and even Valletta itself has a zipline across the Grand Harbour for the truly adventurous. While the sea is still warm enough to keep swimming right through until Christmas, the locals swim for charity between Christmas and New Year’s Day. December is a time of helping people in need, and through this event, funds are raised in aid of the Malta Community Chest Fund. The location is traditionally off the pier in front of the Plough and Anchor Pub, Sliema. H.E. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, the President of Malta, is expected to launch the Christmas Charity swim herself.
Rock-climbing and abseiling are fast becoming a popular form of winter outdoor activity in Malta, blessed as it is with incredible stretches of Lower Coralline limestone cliffs, resulting from faults that occurred thousands of years ago. Its entire south coast is composed of cliffs that can either leave visitors awestruck, or inspire them to summit these rocks and overcome their intimidating majesty.
The Maltese islands are certainly brimming with treasure: of the archaeological, architectural, historical and cultural kind. From the oldest free-standing megalithic temples in the world, to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Baroque capital, Valletta, these three UNESCO World Heritage Sites are just the crowning glory of a proud and ancient maritime nation at the heart of the Mediterranean basin.
On February 10 every year to mark the shipwrecked arrival of St Paul in Malta in 60 AD, a spectacular one-day festival filled with marches and costumed parades, as well as colourful confetti throwing throughout the streets culminates in a spectacular firework display. A statue of St Paul himself is carefully carried through the streets in celebration, and hundreds of doves are released into the blue, Maltese sky; a very moving, atmospheric display.
Until the end of the year, the frequent In Guardia Parades showcase re-enactments from events that occurred in important military fortifications in Malta and Gozo. The inspection of the St John’s Cavalier is represented and the Knights of St John are a permanent fixture, played out in traditional uniforms amongst a life-like military drill demonstration.
Being a traditionally Catholic country, carnival celebrations in Malta are a big annual event. Perhaps not at the level of how it’s celebrated in Brazil, but it’s a great colourful extravaganza that marks the start of Lent with a bang nevertheless. Local float builders compete with each other in preparation for the big celebrations in Valletta with all sorts of large floats, some with satirical themes. The parade itself is one big party with music and performances, all centred on Valletta. Carnival and Holy Week also bring winter to an end and ushers spring in with raucous festivities paired to vibrant symbolic colours.
Valletta has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2018 and with stately homes, palaces, cathedrals and towers, forts and castles, as well as being home to “the world’s most beautiful floor” in St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The Cultural Programme is built around four themes: Generations, Routes, Cities and Islands. The recently restored Fort Saint Elmo shaped the fate of Valletta. During the Great Seige, even before Valletta came off the drawing board, Fort Saint Elmo stood to defend its people, their land and the European identity. Neither did the air attack of the Second World War humble this magnificent piece of military engineering. A visit is highly recommended. For more information visit: http://www.valletta2018.org/
Art exhibitions are held regularly, and a plethora of concerts and musical events spanning the cultural calendar from October to March, keeps audiences wanting more. Highlights of this include a well-regarded International Baroque Festival in Valletta, as well as other great crowd pullers. The Valletta Baroque Festival held in January, is fast becoming the place to be, drawing a colourful set of European Opera buffs and courting the international press. Malta Opera Festival in March includes a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and a private recital in Mdina Cathedral. Performed at Malta’s national theatre, Teatru Manoel, Philip Walsh is Musical Director and Jack Furness the Director accompanied by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.
Step back in time with a visit to the old capital Mdina dubbed ‘the silent city’ as no cars are allowed in except for the 300 or so residents of this historic gem. The Three Cities in Cottonera are able to transport you into a historical, fairy tale setting instantly; and a myriad of bars and restaurants on the seafront near the Maritime Museum look over at the medieval buildings like a mini-Venice.
With re-enactments like In Guardia and Medieval Mdina, ghost walks, weekly markets and an incredibly vibrant and productive cultural scene; the visitor is never caught having nothing to do.
Colourful best describes Maltese autumn and winter living as opposed to the bleak winters of northern Europe. From the events to the wonderful quality of light which the Mediterranean sun provides at this time of year; here is always something to make you marvel at the many facets of Malta – still very much the jewel in the crown of the Mediterranean.