For a long time Malta has been known as a sun and sea destination. This is reflected by the flocks of students and tourists visiting the island during the summer months in an attempt to sit back, relax and become as red as a lobster!
However, there are surely a lot of activities that one can take part in during the mild winter months. A visit to the Maltese islands during winter may prove to be a quieter, calmer and perhaps a more rewarding holiday that allows one to enjoy and appreciate Malta’s vast culture.
<u>Historical Places in Malta</u>
Luckily enough Malta’s winter is rather mild, allowing for the option of walking around the old villages and spectacular monuments. The oldest and most impressive structures are the prehistoric temples; the largest of which are located in Qrendi (Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples), Tarxien (Tarxien Temple) and Gozo (Ggantija Temple). Dating from c.5000 -2500BC, which makes them older than the Egyptian pyramids, the Maltese temples consist of a series of apses and altars, encircled by a huge megalithic wall and filled with careful artistic decoration and ritualistic features that display the fascinating prehistoric religion of Malta, dedicated to the famous so-called ‘Fat Lady’ mother goddess. A definite must-see!
<u>What’s On In Malta – Island Attractions</u>
Valletta, Mdina and Rabat are three spectacular localities that merit a visit. By simply walking around, one can appreciate the historic buildings and distinct character of each city.
Having been built by the Knights of St. John, the capital city of Malta, Valletta, is bustling with life and activity and contains within its walls the Grandmaster’s Palace, Auberge de Castille, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the National Museum of Archaeology, the Fine Arts Museum, Malta’s National Theatre (The Manoel Theatre) and a host of other historical buildings, not to mention one of Malta’s shopping high-streets. The co-Cathedral of St. John is located in the heart of Valletta and is an exceptional building that dates to 1578. The Knights donated many gifts of high artistic value as well as employed artists such as Mattia Preti for its embellishment. But perhaps the most incredible feature within the building is the large altarpiece of the ‘The Beheading of St. John’ by Caravaggio, located past the oratory.
A visit to the old Capital City of Malta, Mdina, is a must. It is known as the ‘silent city’ and contains series of winding narrow roads through which cars are not allowed to pass. Walking through the former capital allows for the appreciation of historical buildings, the possibility of dining in some of the most up-town restaurants and cafés, as well as spectacular views of the island off the bastions. Both Mdina and Valletta are surrounded by bastions built by the Knights to protect the cities during the siege, and these have survived and remain intact till today. The Mdina experience and the Mdina dungeons are also fun and interesting stops designed especially for tourists to understand the history of the city and its makers.
Just outside Mdina is Rabat, which is full of archaeological remains. In fact within five minutes walking distance from the historical entrance gate to Mdina is the Domus Roman. This includes the remains of an original Roman townhouse that has been roofed over by a neo-classical building and transformed into a spectacular museum. Close by, within the heart of Rabat, is Malta’s largest group of catacombs, known as St. Paul’s Catacombs, which shed light on the island’s slightly later early Christian period.
<u>Wine and Dine in Malta</u>
With regards to dining, restaurants in Malta range from Oriental to European. However, a cosy, romantic winter night calls for a visit to one of the many wine bars, also popular amongst the Maltese population itself. Set within old buildings and wine cellars with dim lighting and exceptional displays of art, these bars present an extremely welcoming, warm and cosy atmosphere. Apart from the endless arrays of wine from all around the globe, most wine bars in Malta provide exciting menus of Maltese food and platters, cheeses and cold cuts.
<u>Theatre and Entertainment in Malta</u>
Malta’s theatre season is incredibly active, particularly from October to May, and varies from contemporary plays to operas. Any theatre lover (or not!) will find something exciting to see. For instance every two weeks, one can watch a short one hour lunchtime concert when visiting Valletta, which occasionally involves the work of new, upcoming musicians or singers. This provides a perfect opportunity to listen to great classical music and visiting the theatre once being in Valletta. The Christmas season brings about Malta’s most popular show of the year, staged for over 20 nights – the Christmas Panto.
Being Mediterranean, the celebrative attitude of the Maltese lends itself to the island’s nightlife entertainment which includes local jazz nights and frequent performances by popular local bands, which are usually coupled with wine festivals or local music awards. These local gigs also serve as weekend entertainment at popular restaurants and bars in Malta. Clubbing is also popular, due to the several clubs and parties that are frequently organized by popular foreign DJs. Nightlife also includes fine dining, casinos and cinemas.
Children can also be entertained. The Popeye Village in Mellieha is an exciting and fun place for all children to play and enjoy the Popeye-style set which was built purposely in 1980 for the filming of the film ‘Popeye’. Kids can also watch animators, play games, or get their faces painted and much more. Finally, a relatively new museum, appropriate for children and adults alike is the Limestone Heritage that explains, in a very visual manner, the importance of limestone in the islands history and heritage.