pool The sun worshipper who flees winter's cold and damp weather will find the perfect refuge in Malta. For Malta guarantees warmth and sunshine in winter-time with temperatures averaging 57deg.F and a minimum average of six hours of sunshine per day.

Winter in Malta is brief and mild. Snow, fog or mist are practically unknown and annual rainfall averages only about 20 inches. Many would argue, with justification, that winter is one of the best times to appreciate the Maltese countryside after the very hot, dry summer. Exploring the Maltese countryside in winter can be very rewarding as Malta, like many other countries, has a number of scenic spots which are only accessible on foot. Hikers who take the trouble to get to them will not be disappointed. Indeed, both Malta and Gozo are highly recommended for walking vacations in winter time.

Malta's mild climate makes it possible to participate in many outdoor sports. Soccer is the most popular game and the Ta'Qali stadium is the venue for the more important local and international competitions. Malta offers facilities for practically every sport and the Marsa Sports Club boasts an 18-hole golf course, 18 tennis courts, a race track and several badminton. squash courts and soccer fields. Many of the leading hotels in Malta have recently added health and fitness facilities so that visitors do not have to go far to keep in shape. Table-tennis, billiards and darts are very popular indoor games and facilities are available at every town and village in Malta.

Valletta After a day's hectic touring, what better way to restore oneself than a good meal at a Maltese restaurant. Malta will not disappoint you - the standard food served in Maltese hotels and restaurants today is comparable to the best you can get anywhere else in the world. Ask for the local dishes and you will be pleasantly surprised. The soups are delicious and quite filling, while the fish is fresh and tasty.

Lampuka is a fish unique to Malta and appreciated by all visitors, but there is a wide range of seafood to choose from. Stewed rabbit is the national dish and is usually preceded by spaghetti in a delightful wine sauce. Pasta plays an important role in the Maltese menu so be sure to try one of the Maltese pasta dishes. The Maltese also have a sweet tooth and you'll be delighted by the range of excellent desserts that are offered.

The theater comes to life in winter and Malta is fortunate to have a gem of a theater, the Manoel Theater. Various operas, celebrity concerts and plays (some in English) are staged during the season. Some hotels offer their own classical nlusice festivaIs. Large productions are invariably held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. For those who enjoy the night life, Malta offers a number of exciting and fashionable discos, equipped with the latest audio technology where visitors can dance into the early hours of the morning.

If you like the occasional game of chance, try your luck at the tables of the palatial Casino in St. Julians.

Christmas is of course the biggest event in winter and the Maltese celebrate in quite a big ay. In addition to the street lights and Christmas trees, the Maltese specialize in the construction of nativity scenes - some mechanized - and these are usually open to public viewing. Christmas dining fare is traditional, with turkey, pudding and pies. Midnight Mass fills the churches, while carol singing and a short sermon delivered by one of the young village boys are aIways looked forward to by the locaI viIlagers.

The month of February is enlivened by the three days of merrymaking of Carnival. Yes, winter can be dull in some places - but not in Malta.