Bright and Bustling Autumns and Winters
As the summer draws to a close, heralding September and the onset of cooler weather, northern countries begin to settle into “Winterfell mood”, to use George RR Martin’s now famous phrase from Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming”. But winter means different things in different places and the very place where a good number of the warmer climate scenes for Game of Thrones were filmed - Malta, is testimony to the fact that winters are not always harsh and unforgiving. With one of the best climates on the planet, the Maltese archipelago boasts mild winters and over 300 days of sunshine a year. Most locals will agree that nothing beats a beautiful winter’s day – of which there are many. There are of course, many things to do on these glorious winter days, for Malta is not simply one of the best summer holiday destinations in Europe, offering sun, sea and fun, but also happens to be the ideal destination for off-peak and mid-season trips not just because of its mild weather and climate but also because of its proximity by air to most major European airports.
While the heat of the summer sun is great for days at the beach, the more temperate, mild weather of the autumn and winter months provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to enjoy long walks and treks across the stunning Maltese garigue landscape – with the possibility of coastal settings transitioning to cliff-side ones, like the breathtaking cliffs at Dingli, to countryside treks across the Victoria Lines fault – exploring military architecture and natural formations at the same time. If ambling is more to your liking, then walking tours of village cores are a great way to mix with the locals and soak in the culture
There is, of course, another way to enjoy a country walk – planning a good picnic at your destination. With so many family-friendly locations to choose from, the choice is varied and one could even cycle there. In fact, Maltese autumns and winters are perfect for outdoor sports because visibility is great, temperatures mild and precipitation manageable. While the sea is still warm enough to keep swimming right through till mid-November, rock-climbing and abseiling are fast becoming a popular form of winter outdoor activity and these are skills you might well need if you decide to go for the more difficult routes offered by geocaching – GPS cache-hunting is well-established in Malta with over 200 sites where avid treasure-hunters can search for a container at specific coordinates. The varying levels of difficulty make it easy for the entire family to join in as some are only a walk or a bus-ride away, while others appeal to a more adventurous crowd: treasure-hunting in the 21st century has never been this easy.
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 which has been host to every single conqueror and superpower in both the ancient and the modern world to set forth in the Mediterranean basin. Valletta itself has been designation European Capital of Culture for 2018 and is in the throes of a major rehabilitation and restoration project, with the city gate project entrusted to world-renowned architect, Renzo Piano. With stately homes, palaces, cathedrals and towers, forts and castles, one is completely spoilt for choice with places to visit – with the old capital Mdina and the Three Cities in Cottonera able to transport you into a historical, fairytale setting instantly – no wonder these wonderful venues and more have featured in a great many films over the years. With re-enactments like In Guardia and Medieval Mdina, ghost walks, weekly markets and an incredibly vibrant and productive cultural scene; one is never caught having nothing to do.
Art exhibitions are held regularly, and a plethora of concerts and musical events spanning the cultural calendar from September till July, keeps audiences wanting more. Highlights of this include a well-regarded International Baroque Festival in Valletta, as well as Notte Bianca in Valletta and Birgu, which are all 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. Nicely scheduled after the joyous Christmas festivities, ushered in by the feast of the Immaculate Conception in Cospicua on the 8th December – a veritable off-season spectacle as it is one of the few feasts not held in summer. The other two important off-season feasts are of course, the Shipwreck of St Paul in Valletta 10th February, St Joseph in Rabat 19th March. St Paul’s feast is crucially important to our very Catholic island because he was the one to bring Christianity to our shores and its significance goes beyond the religious and into the cultural. Carnival and Holy Week also bring Winter to an end and ushers Spring in – with raucous festivities and religious solemnity unity by vibrant symbolic colours.
Colourful best describes Maltese 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; making it particularly delightful to photography, there is always something to make you marvel at the many facets of Malta – the jewel in the crown of the Mediterranean.