Weather can be schizophrenic in Malta in winter. But clouds over Malta 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 Malta do the opposite. We tend to get outdoors (to escape the chill inside our houses) and the constant light, stormy days or not, can make us feel more energised now than during summer’s brain-numbing heat.
So 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, our list includes a lot of time well spent outside.
1. Walking: try Malta’s North for swathes of countryside you thought the islands lacked. Walk the Victoria Lines, or do a trail near Red Fort, Mellieha. For walk ideas with panoramas click here. And try this for a woodland walk that isn’t Buskett Gardens. Cities make for good walking excursions too with cultural heritage thrown in. There are organised cultural tours you can join too. Now you can enjoy the midday sun, and get out along the coastline for some invigorating seascapes, or inland among the greenery. Cities like Valletta, Birgu and Mdina are a lot less crowded and cafe life is still outdoors.
2. Winter sun: no, we’re not going to offer quite the same ‘winter sun’ experience as the Caribbean, but Malta 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, and if you’re not a very early riser then you’ll be cycling more in winter than summer when it’s too hot from 9am to even dream of a hill on a bike! If you’re really fit, then choose Gozo for a day’s cycling. It’s all steep ups and downs. Central to northern Malta are also challenging. For more on the flat, try southern Malta. Do see our tips on safe cycling though.
3. Sailing: pretty much an all-year round sport, with few off-weekends. 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 to do it. Meet the enthusiasts, meet new friends, or just join up with them for a day’s climb if you’re on holiday here.
6. Painting: OK, so 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: Winter evenings, when we do retreat fireside, can be great for genning up on something. 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.
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. So locals, don’t just hop on the ferry to Sicily! Try Gozo or even up the road in Malta to ‘get-away’. It is possible, I’ve heard tell, to see a different Malta even if your hotel stay is 20 mins drive from your own home!
11. Gozo farmhouse breaks: I haven’t done this for a few years now, but every winter mean to. I had a perfect, hot, February weekend there once, spent walking the coastline. Rentals abound, at good prices, as tourists are fewer. Snap up a weekend with friends in a larger place, even if you aren’t going to be using the pool this time of year. 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! Our What’s On event listing has the latest.
And when all the above fail to entice, then we in Malta are in the unique position of being able to do what our counterparts in Northern Europe do – retreat indoors, bemoan the cold and light a fire (we don’t have central heating so it’s wood, electric, paraffin, gas). In Malta though, perhaps we do get the best of winters! But do see our lessons learnt on heating a house in Malta in winter!
Photo: Jason Mallia