Positioned at the center of the Mediterranean, the Maltese archipelago includes the main islands of Malta (246 square miles), Gozo and Comino, all connected by ferry. The independent state of Malta, 60 miles south of Sicily and 180 miles from Tunisia, has a unique charm. It’s a republic within the British Commonwealth but has Afro-centric and Arabic influences and Sicilian inspired cuisine.

With 7,000 years of history, the destination is described as an open air museum, with its medieval walled citadels, baroque churches, palaces, megalithic temples and forts. Europe’s smallest capital, Valletta, was built by the Knights of St. John, who planned the city as a refuge to care for wounded soldiers during the Crusades. It’s surrounded by forts and bastion walls. In the oratory of the Co-Cathedral of St. John is Caravaggio’s painting of the beheading of St. John.

The Manoel Theater, the second oldest in Europe, holds opera, theater, music and ballet performances. This dynamic city also has cafes, wine bars, palaces, old world shops, nightclubs and casinos.

The fortified medieval city of Mdina, towering over the island, is entered by a stone drawbridge that leads to a labyrinth of narrow streets and tiny piazzas. Its cathedral, museum and dungeons should not be missed. Rabat has Baroque churches and St. Paul’s and St. Agatha’s Catacombs. At the Blue Grotto, sail through an underground cave swirling with bright blue waters.

Typical fishing hamlets dot the coves at the southernmost tip of Malta. These scenic waterfronts are packed with colorfully painted boats strewn with fishing nets; the catch of the day can be enjoyed at family run tavernas. Sunworshippers should head to the northern beach resort areas of Mellieha Bay, Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay.