Gazing over the glistening 350 year old Gozitan salt pans, paint brush in hand, being coached by a professional local watercolour artist, you’ll know you made the right choice to take a low season trip to the stunning Maltese islands. Made up of Malta, Gozo, and Comino, the archipelago lies smack bang in the middle of the Mediterranean, between Sicily and the North African coast. Just about every invading force going has left their mark. The Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Spanish, French and British have all occupied the isles, leaving a space brimming with historic landmarks. And now it’s your turn to experience this beautiful country of impressive cliffs, grottos, harbours, and delicious cuisine.
During the long hot summers the islands are filled with sun-seeking tourists, but a low season visit during the cooler November to March period is an excellent way to escape the dreary winters of northern Europe. With highs ranging upwards from the mid-teens the weather is ideal for hiking, and although it might be on the chilly side for a dip in the sea, you’ll experience more lush greenery, fewer crowds, better deals for top accommodation and have access to the best restaurants and most popular guides. The inspiring painting workshop is just one unique low season experience waiting for you. You may also choose to try your hand at glass blowing, take a horse drawn carriage through the silent city of Mdina, or visit the daily fish market in Valletta. February and March especially are exciting times to explore and take part in the authenticity of Carnival and Holy Week.
Malta’s long history of invasion, occupation and trade has resulted in a wonderfully complex multi-layered culture that permeates every aspect of life. The careful observer will note that the shape of a Maltese fishing boat is quite distinct and little changed since the time of the Phoenicians. Wander the streets and look up to the iconic overhanging balconies which are of an Arabic design. Malta was one of the first European territories to adopt Christianity, and you’ll find a people who remain fiercely religious to this day. Maltese language closely resembles Arabic but with Romanised characters, although, 90% of the population speak English which is one of the country’s official languages. Not least, the food has a particular Italian influence with some of the best pasta outside of Naples.
It’s simply not possible to visit Malta without coming across an impressive range of monuments, caves and churches that brings the past to life in a way no history book could ever do. The prehistoric temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra on Malta and Il-Ggantija on Gozo, at 3000 years old, outdate even the pyramids of Egypt. The fortresses of St Elmo and St Angelo are possibly better known due to their starring roles in film and TV productions. Explore the silent city of Mdina, a fortified hilltop centre and former capital made up of the ghostly medieval palaces of noble families. It is well worth a wander to discover its hidden corners. At its heart stands St Paul’s Cathedral proudly boasting two clocks on its façade, apparently to confuse the devil as well, no doubt, as local parishioners. If it’s chilly out, spend an afternoon among the treasure troves that are the museums of Valletta and the Cathedral of St John.