7,000 years of history, 300 days of sunshine, 100 dive locations and 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites add up to a whole lot of reasons to make a low season trip to the stunning Maltese islands. Comprising Malta, Gozo, and Comino, this beautiful 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 against a breath-taking natural backdrop of impressive cliffs, grottos, bays and beaches.
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, trail running, touring and water sports. Although you may see a few showers, you’ll experience more lush greenery, fewer crowds, great deals on top accommodation and have access to the best restaurants and most popular guides, all while still enjoying plenty of sunshine.
A Quintessential Mediterranean Culture
Malta’s long history of invasion, occupation and trade has resulted in a wonderfully blended multi-layered culture that permeates every aspect of life. The careful observer will no doubt note that the shape of a Maltese fishing boat is little changed since the time of the Phoenicians or that the iconic overhanging balconies are of a distinctly Arabic design. Malta was one of the first European territories to adopt Christianity and you’ll find a people who remain fiercely religious with Holy Week involving a lot of churchgoing, prayers and parades of barefoot penitents. 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.
Europe’s Smallest Capital
Valletta may be compact, but it’s also among Europe’s most concentrated, crammed full of 320 historic monuments. It was granted UNESCO status in 1980 and named European City of Culture for 2018. Valletta also stakes a claim to be Europe’s sunniest capital, making it a rather hot and sticky centre during the summer months. Low season however, is an excellent time to tour the sites in ideal temperatures, on foot, by bike, by Segway or in a horse-drawn carriage. Take in the stunning interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral, home to the only signed Caravaggio painting in the world, and tour the Grandmaster’s Palace, once the seat of power for the Knights of St. John. After a break for coffee and maybe a crispy filo pastizzi head to the waterfront to explore the historic defences of Fort St Elmo, the Knights Hospitaller, and the tranquil Upper Barrakka Gardens.
It’s simply not possible to visit Malta without coming across dozens of monuments, caves and churches that bring the past to life in a way no history book could ever do. The impressive megalithic temples make it onto UNESCO’s World Heritage list as a single entry, but are actually 7 individual sites charting the developing of a unique Bronze Age architectural tradition and, at 3000 years old, outdate even Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. In fact, the 2 huge temples of Ggantija on Gozo make the grade as the oldest freestanding monuments in the world. When the seasons change with the Equinox, you’re in for an unforgettable experience at the mysterious UNESCO megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. A dawn start might seem early, but so worth it as, around 4am, the first light over the hill brightly illuminates the centre altar. UNESCO also recognises the well-preserved prehistoric site of Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a fascinating complex of underground temples and burial chambers. Don’t miss the chance to explore the silent city of Mdina, a fortified hilltop former capital made up of the ghostly medieval palaces and hidden corners; the fortified 3 Cities across the harbour from Valletta; and the glistening 350 year old Gozitan salt pans.
World-class Scuba Diving
Heated all summer long by the sun, the waters off Malta, Gozo and Comino come into their own during low season Autumn when they are at their warmest, remain tranquil and offer unrivalled visibility. The location is consistently voted the best dive destination in Europe by readers of Diver Magazine. With over 100 dive sites to choose from including wreck, cave and reef sites, there are options for beginners or master divers. There are many professional dive centres offering expert English-speaking dive instructors and PADI certification.