It’s a cliche but Malta’s little sister island really is one of the Med’s best-kept secrets. Its ancient citadels, sun-baked terraces and Byzantine churches are a gift for location scouts (see Gladiator, Troy, Game of Thrones), but for the rest of us, the red-sand beaches and impossibly blue waters are the real stars of the show. At the end of February the low-key islanders go nuts for Carnival (28 February to 4 March).
What to do If you see only one sight ? Make it the Ggantija Temples at Xaghra – the oldest freestanding structures in the world, dating back to 3600BC. Swim in the “Inland Sea”, a lagoon surrounded by cliffs and connected to the sea by a narrow limestone archway. Relax on the gorgeous sandy beaches at Ramla Bay and San Blas. Gozo’s crystal-clear waters offer some of the best dive spots in the Med – you can book dive and snorkelling trips in the harbour town of Marsalforn.
Where to stay Thirtyseven Gozo is a boho B&B run by an Italian couple in the village of Munxar (from A140, i-escape.com/thirtysevengozo). For self-catering, tour operator Malta Direct features the Ta Frenc Farmhouses with prices from pounds 475 per person per week, including flights (maltadirect.com). Where to eat For an excellent introduction to Gozitan food and wine book one of the tasting tours at the Ta Mena Estate, a new agritourism enterprise in Xaghra (tamena-gozo.com). Stock up on wines, olive oil, homemade jams and sun-dried tomatoes in the shop afterwards.
Insider tip “Wandering through the narrow streets of the citadel is like walking through history,” says Martin Zahra of Malta Direct. For lunch, he suggests, Ta’ Rikardu, which serves food from the owner’s farm (Triq Il-fosos, +356 2155 5953).
Try before you buy: A holiday home showcasing local arts and crafts
When was the last time you stayed in a hotel room and thought: “I want my house to look just like this”? If you usually stay in a Travelodge, the answer is probably “Never.” But now even some budget digs are kitted out with Eames chairs and designer light fittings, so the chances are you’ll have had the odd moment of room envy.
In America, chains such as Marriott and W Hotels have launched online shops selling everything from bath towels to beds, and the trend has trickled across the Atlantic. In Stockholm guests keen on Scandi-chic can purchase any of the furnishings at the ber-cool Berns Hotel (berns.se). But perhaps the most interesting new twist is that owners of holiday homes are now waking up to the idea. Former Observer writer Kathryn Flett has transformed a beautiful Arts & Crafts house in St Leonards-on-Sea into a stylish holiday let (caplegardens.co.uk). Pretty much everything in the house, from the wallpaper to the artwork, has been provided by local artists, designers and craftspeople and is for sale.
“I get beautiful work to decorate the house for nothing and the artists get the chance to be seen by people who might not otherwise view their work in a domestic setting,” says Flett.
I think she’s on to something. In an age when we’re all obsessed with the provenance of our food, the logical next step is for holiday accommodation to reflect and showcase the local talent. And what better way to find out if we really do love that funky wallpaper than to live with it for a few days?
For glorious countryside, head for the. . . Yorkshire Dales
Bivouac, near Masham In the grounds of the sweeping Swinton estate, this rustic retreat has something for everyone: six off-grid woodland shacks, eight yurts and, for those on a tight budget, a cosy bunk barn above the reception area that can sleep 12. There’s an al fresco hot tub, a welcoming cafE and guests can use the spa at Swinton Park Hotel.
The Bunk Barn is pounds 22.50pp per night (thebivouac.co.uk) UNDER pounds 50 Wigglesworth House & Cottages, nr Settle These two stone-built self-catering cottages sit prettily on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a short hop from Settle and the Forest of Bowland. Tastefully furnished to a high spec, they are well-stocked with walking maps, board games and DVDs. From pounds 352 for a week at Cross cottage, sleeping four, and from pounds 454 for Gamekeepers which sleeps six. (wigglesworthhouseandcottages.co.uk)
UNDER pounds 100 The New Inn, Clapham The new owners of this 18th-century coaching inn are coming to the end of a year-long renovation which has seen the 20 guest rooms beautifully redecorated in fresh whites with original oak beams. Tucked beneath the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, it makes a great base for walking and there’s a new bunkroom if you’re looking for cheaper digs. Doubles from pounds 100 (newinn-clapham.co.uk)
UNDER pounds 150 Yorebridge House, Bainbridge You won’t get much change out of pounds 200 for a night at this classy country pile. But stay in the hotel’s cute cottage in the village, just a five-minute walk away, and you get the privacy of your own pad – complete with stone floors, mullion windows, huge fireplace and beamed ceilings – with all of the hotel’s amenities on tap.
pounds 150 per night in the cottage; doubles in the hotel from pounds 200 (yorebridgehouse.co.uk) UNDER pounds 200