Barbie Nadeau has lived in Italy since 1996, enjoying la dolce vita and reporting on politics, culture and travel for NEWSWEEK and a variety of travel publications and guidebooks. Having thoroughly explored the southern coast of Italy and Sicily, the tiny islands of Malta and Gozo seemed like the natural place to go for a beach holiday. Here's what she found over the summer:
Malta is tiny—just 316 square kilometers—so traversing the island on the labyrinth of narrow stone-walled roads is simple. Base yourself on the waterfront near Mellieha Bay or St. Paul's Bay or better yet, sleep on Gozo nearby to get the full feel of Maltese life. Consider renting a private villa or old farmhouse (a great selection at www.holiday-malta.com) since the hotels tend to be buffet-food havens with little character.
Best Vertigo Experience
Park safely out of the way of the quarry trucks and walk (very slowly) down the narrow headroad along the Dingli cliffs midway between the towns of Siggiewi and Dingli. Buy a peeled prickly pear from the roadside stand and gaze out at the perfect view.
Nightlife and Waterside Dining
The capital city of Valletta may seem like the obvious choice for nightlife, but the food and the views are better looking at Valletta from across the bay in Sliema. For authentic Maltese cuisine, head straight to Ta'Kolina (+356 335106) at 151 Tower Road. Skip dessert and after dinner cross over to the boardwalk for an ice cream to take down to the limestone rocks on the beach.
While the Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino is easily the best place to swim, the beaches are too crowded and rocky to spend any time out of the water. For serious sunbathing, head over to the red sands of Ramla Bay (Ir-Ramla on the map) on Gozo and bask in the true Mediterranean glory of sand and turquoise sea--not to mention Gozo's famous statue of the Virgin Mary.
It's not often that you get to ramble around prehistoric ruins, but Malta has been settled since 5200 B.C. The Hagar Qim Temple and the ruins of Mnajdra on the clifftops near Qrendi top the list.
Feel like James Bond
Both Sean Connery in "Never Say Never Again" and Roger Moore in "The Spy Who Loved Me" filmed nuke submarine scenes off the rock cliffs of Gozo. Take your snorkel or whatever Bond-like gadget you may have and explore the clear waters off Xlendi and the Azure Window, Blue Hole and Fungus Rock along the coast of Dwejra.