Malta in December – Sun, sea and seasonal discounts

As autumn set in last year and it got colder and wetter, I decided to seek some sun, but wanted a destination that also was interesting and not too far away. Neither my wife nor I had been to Malta, so we thought we’d give it a try. It turned out to be an excellent choice!

Approaching Valetta from Sliema
Approaching Valetta from Sliema

We flew by Easyjet from Newcastle with the return flights costing less than £100 each – an advantage of avoiding the summer school holiday season. Easyjet flies to Malta from four other UK airports and Ryanair from nine airports.

Malta International Airport is small (as of course is Malta!), so no great delays, and I was soon driving my car, hired smoothly via Auto Europe, to the Intercontinental Hotel at St Julian’s Bay, a few miles north of the capital Valetta.

A Senior discount rate at the Intercontinental Hotel means we paid only about £60 per night for a double room, about half what we would have had to pay in the summer months. See Hotel Deals for details of how to get Senior discounts at IHG hotels.

The week’s holiday was divided between Malta itself, staying at the Intercontinental Hotel, and the smaller, quieter sister island of Gozo, staying at the Kempinski Hotel, with plenty of touring around the sights of both islands. The car ferry between the islands cost about €40 return – yes, Malta is an EU member and uses Euros as its currency.

Maltese Banquet for €17.50
Maltese Banquet for €17.50

The roads are often far from perfect and sometimes very narrow, but with relatively short distances between places to visit, what’s the hurry? From one end of Malta to the other is only about 20 miles.

In addition to enjoying the attractive coastline of both islands, including the famous azure window on Gozo, there are many historical places to visit, in addition of course to Valetta with its famous Grand Harbour. Heritage Malta lists the various heritage sites and museums; visitors aged 60 and above get around 30% discount on admission charges.

I found it difficult to select my top 5 places from the many I visited, but these are the ones which I found particularly memorable:

1. The capital Valetta. I took a water-taxi across from Sliema (an attractive place in its own right), then strolled around the narrow streets of Valetta along to the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens with great views over the Grand Harbour.

2. The twin towns of Mdina (the old capital) and Rabat in the middle of Malta island, with narrow winding streets and imposing buildings. Both have interesting churches dedicated to St Paul, who was supposedly shipwrecked nearby and then lived in a grotto now under the church in Rabat.

Sunset over the harbour at Xlendi
Sunset over the harbour at Xlendi

3. Victoria in the middle of Gozo. I visited the citadel, with great views over the island, and the Cathedral of Assumption inside the citadel; this has a flat roof, but appears inside to be domed – an interesting optical illusion. A warning: Don’t park your car in the central square in Victoria under the trees where hundreds of birds are nesting. I could hardly see through the windscreen afterwards!

4. The Ggantija Temples on Gozo, the oldest megalithic temples anywhere (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the nearby Ta’Kola windmill, which dates back to 1725.

5. The small town of Xlendi on Gozo, sitting at a harbour-side bar watching the sunset. Or, if you are an early-bird, maybe watching sunrise over the equally attractive harbour town of Marsaskala south of Valetta.

Maybe I was lucky with my early December holiday, as it was a sunny 20 degrees for most of the time, with the occasional sharp shower and one overcast day. Everyone we met proved friendly and helpful and restaurant prices were inexpensive (compared with say Cyprus), hence it proved a very pleasant, relaxing week with much of interest to see. This is one of the few holidays I would be happy to repeat!