With many sandy Mediterranean beaches and cultural and historical sites. Malta and North Africa, are ideal for an amazing holiday
Malta and its smaller neighbour Gozo were ruled by Britain from 1800 until 1964, and just before independence there was even a proposal to make it a part of the UK. It’s not surprising, then, that the British connection is even more obvious than in Cyprus – although the relationship hasn’t always been smooth. The traffic drives on the left, English is widely spoken and there are plenty of pubs. Helped by a lovely sunny climate and plenty of well-priced charter flights, tourism has become the main industry since the run-down of British bases.
Most first time visitors are surprised by what a bustling city the capital, Valletta, is. The population of the city itself is tiny, but its suburbs and surrounding towns are home to more than half Malta’s population. Its architecturally diverse old houses show the effect of Malta’s position at the crossroads of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Most visitors head for nearby Sliema, or to alternative resorts such as Bugibba, St Julian’s, St Paul’s Bay or Melliaha (which has one of the island’s few sandy beaches). There are some purpose-built villa developments, and also tasteful conversions of traditional houses.
Getting to Gozo
While Malta has a strong hotel-based tourist industry, Gozo – reached by a short ferry ride – is where most villas and converted houses are to be found. It doesn’t have the wealth of historical sites of its larger neighbour, but it is greener, more fertile and less heavily populated and has some good beaches. It’s much quieter and less developed, which has made it a firm favourite with many visitors.
The best beaches are at Ramla and San Blas, but the busiest resorts are Marsalforn and Xlendi. Diving, snorkelling and sailing are popular – Gozo has some of the Mediterranean's best dive sites, with plenty of reefs, wrecks and sea caves. In summer, the water temperature averages a very pleasant 25C (77F) and visibility is excellent. For an idyllic day out take a boat to the tiny island of Comino and relax in the turqoise waters of its Blue Lagoon.
Gozo is steeped in myth. It is thought to be the legendary isle of Calypso from Homer's Odyssey, and among the cliffs at Ramla is the Calypso Cave where Ulysses was bewitched by the golden-haired nymph for seven years.
The island has one of the archipelago's best-preserved prehistoric temples – Ggantija, at Xaghra, dates from 3600BC. Pilgrims from all over Malta pray at the shrine at Ta Pinu.
Night life on Gozo amounts to a few clubs in Victoria, Marsalforn and Xlendi.
Egypt has all the ingredients for an amazing holiday – sandy Mediterranean and Red Sea beaches, the incomparable Nile, deserts where you can visit oases, ride buggies or go sand boarding, and an incredible mix of cultural sites. Plus, the sun shines pretty much all year.
The coastal city of Alexandria has museums, markets, a Roman theatre, and restaurants serving international cuisine. There are beaches nearby at Agami, Aida and El Alamein – where there’s a museum and war memorial. The pyramids and sphinx at Giza are two hours’ drive away by car, near Cairo, where you can take cruises on the Nile, or you can head further upriver to Luxor. The Red Sea is a paradise for divers, with its coral reefs, abundant marine life, and clear, warm water. There are direct flights to Sharm-el-Sheikh, which, along with neighbouring Red Sea developments, offers an increasingly good selection of high quality villas and apartments to rent.
Morocco also has miles of sandy beaches, stunning mountain and desert scenery, and exciting cities. Budget airlines have begun direct services to Marrakech in southern Morocco, and the nearby coastal town of Essaouira makes a perfect base if you want to relax on beaches after bartering in the souks. Many restaurants and bars serve alcohol, as they’re owned by Westerners.
Tunisia is a superb holiday destination, with more than 750 miles of sunny Mediterranean coastline and a host of fascinating relics to explore. You’ll find the best (less crowded) beaches in the north around Ghar el-Melh, Tabarka and Bizerte, and in the south at Aghir and on the island of Jerba. Sunbathe, dive, sail, windsurf and fish to your heart’s content.
Fascinating Roman archaeological sites such as Carthage and El-Jem should not be missed.
Tunisia is a generally well-run country with an efficient tourist industry, so it makes a good choice if you’re looking for a change from the more mainstream destinations.