When to choose Malta for a Mediterranean getaway
If your idea of a dream vacation includes glorious beaches, a warm Mediterranean climate and a dose of historical interest for non-beach days, Malta might just be your bucket-list destination. The tiny island country is located just south of Italy in the heart of the Mediterranean, with sunshine to spare and more beaches and historic sites than you could possibly fit into one vacation. Having formerly been a British colony, everyone even speaks English. The only real question is when you should start packing.
Exercise those shoulders
The peak season in Malta runs from late June through July and August, but it's not necessarily the best time to visit. That's when the crowds are heaviest and when the bright Mediterranean sun might start to feel like too much of a good thing. It's better to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when the heat is less oppressive and the weather is still sunny and warm enough for whatever you want to do. You'll find it easier to get a room or a restaurant reservation, much less crowded wherever you want to go, but still altogether delightful.
The delights of the season
Which half of the shoulder season you opt for depends very much on what you want to do. If you're visiting for the history and culture, or to get away from cold and sodden springtime weather where you live, spring might be your best option. The major historic sites are open all year, the Easter season is celebrated with enthusiasm ‒ the apostle Paul was shipwrecked here, according to the book of Acts ‒ and there's a massive fireworks festival in April. If beach-going is more your style, the Mediterranean in September and October still feels like a heated pool, and you can enjoy the water all the more if you aren't rubbing elbows with hordes of others.
What to expect from the weather
Malta and its sister islands, Gozo and Comina, are already warm by April and May, with daytime highs averaging a pleasant 23 degrees C ‒ about 73 degrees F ‒ in May. September and October are much the same, though September is a few degrees warmer. Malta has a dry climate and gets most of its rain in the winter months, so you should mostly see sunshine. The only real variable is the scirocco, a chokingly hot and muggy wind that begins over the deserts of nearby North Africa. It can happen at any time of the year, but you're most likely to see a strong one in the spring. They're unpleasant when they happen, with powerful winds and sweltering heat, but they usually blow over in a day or so.
A few other things to know
One important thing visiting Americans need to know about Malta is that its cultural history provides a double whammy on the traffic front. As a former British colony located just south of Italy, you get the worst of both worlds: Cars drive on the left, as they do in the U.K., but the Maltese drive with the kind of reckless aggression Italy's notorious for. The island's speed limits are low, only 60 km/h on the open highway ‒ under 40 mph ‒ but many roads in the countryside are bad enough you'll be happy to drive slowly. Outside of Valletta, the capital city, traffic isn't ordinarily a problem during the shoulder seasons. That can change in a hurry if there's a festival or other major event going on in your vicinity, so check local tourism sites for guidance before planning your days.