Thursday, 14 May 2009

Beyond the beach: best Med city breaks

10 Mediterranean cities combining history, culture and a sea view

Antalya, Turkey

Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast was founded in the 1st century BC and has always been an important port - and it's now easier to access thanks to new direct BA flights from London Gatwick. Shady, palm-lined boulevards lead down to the marina, while in the pretty old quarter, Kaleici, wooden houses about the ancient city walls.

Alicante, Spain

One of Europe's oldest cities, Alicante has been transformed in recent years from rough-around-the-edges port to lively, arty hang-out - and it's a real town that doesn't just live for the tourist. Spend days on the beach and nights in the plentiful bars, but make time to check out its great museums and the medieval fortress, and to take the cable car into the mountains behind the city for a bird's-eye view.

Bastia, Corsica

The commercial centre of Corsica, the northern city of Bastia has Mediterranean charm by the bucket load: crumbling houses in soft pastel shades on a web of cobbled streets, baroque churches dotted around, and a pretty old port that bustles with life. The dramatic surrounding landscape makes it all the more lovely.

Chania, Crete

Chania is one of the prettiest towns in Greece, with its charming Venetian harbour and old town crammed with historic buildings and museums, colourful, narrow shopping streets and lovely beaches nearby. Dine on meze at one of the many traditional restaurants that sparkle on the waterfront by night.

Tunis, Tunisia

More Côte d'Azur than Africa, Tunis is all leafy boulevards, sleek restaurants and stylish street side cafes, but beneath the modern outer shell lies a city that hasn't changed for centuries. Wander the maze of souks and the ninth-century medina, and bargain for silver and pottery, then head to the beach.

Valletta, Malta

Architecture fans will love Valletta: the baroque streets and houses create the feel of a living museum, leading down to the Grand Harbour - often described as the most beautiful in the Med. The elegant streets are crammed with pavement cafes and bars. Try Republic Street for shopping before stopping for an alfresco plate of pastizzi - Maltese pastry snacks - at one of the cafes on Queen's Square.

Palermo, Sicily

Slightly chaotic and more than a little down-at-heel, Palermo delivers authentic Sicilian atmosphere in spades, against a backdrop of Moorish churches and alleyways. Piazzas seethe with crowded cafe tables and a morning's stroll can take you from the lush palm-lined gardens surrounding Piazza Vittoria to the beautiful mosaics in the Cappella Palatina. Markets such as Ballaro and Vucciria offer a glimpse of Sicilian life - and don't miss Corso Vittorio Emanuele for the evening passeggiata

Zadar, Croatia

Currently Croatia's hippest city, Zadar's streets of polished cobbles are reminiscent of Dubrovnik's Stradun, only without the hordes of visitors. Elegant boutiques mix international designers with local talent, and the numbers of beautiful people in oversized sunglasses make this feel more like Italy than Croatia. Eat ice-cream as you stroll along the harbour and drink cocktails at the Garden Club, perched high in the city walls.

Ciutadella, Menorca

The former Menorcan capital is a fascinating destination. The long, boat-lined harbour lies below the old town, an atmospheric maze of narrow streets surrounded by the Contramurada, the old city walls. The arcaded main street, Ses Voltes, is good for shopping before a stop-off at Plaza del Borne for a plate of pa amb oli, bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil.

Tangier, Morocco

One of Morocco's oldest cities, Tangier has a colourful history. Its tax-free status in the early 20th century made it a haven for writers and artists, and it developed something of a louche reputation. Right now it's a city on the up, shaking off its slightly seedy image and using its unique mix of Mediterranean and Arabic influences to offer a city break with a difference. Barter for ceramics and leather in the medina, before heading out to a gorgeous nearby beach to soak up the North African sun.

For more information about other interesting cities, go to!

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