FOR A FOODIE WEEKEND:
Flight time from London: 2 hours 25 minutes
Spain’s third largest city has a thriving cultural scene and is home to some of the country’s best restaurants. You can take in all the highlights over a long weekend or venture deeper into the city’s outskirts on a week-long trip. With an eclectic mix of modern and gothic architecture, must-see spots include Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias – a cultural hub which houses an opera house, museum, cinema and aquarium – as well as the beautiful La Seu de València cathedral, the recently reopened Iglesia de San Nicolás church, and La Lonja, a Unesco World Heritage site and incredible example of the city’s gothic architecture. You could easily spend a whole afternoon at Bombas Gens, an art centre with an extensive range of modern art set in a former factory, but leave time to visit the Ceramics Museum or the Museum of Fine Arts.
Valencia is a real foodie city, as well as being the birthplace of paella. Visit the Benimaclet district for authentic tapas dishes and towering pans of paella topped with seafood. Restaurante Levante on the outskirts of the city is a local’s favourite thanks to its Valencian-style paella with chicken, rabbit and green beans. For something smarter, Lia València in central Valencia has beautiful interiors and serves modern Spanish dishes alongside jugs of white sangria. Be sure to visit one of Ricard Camarena’s restaurants, Canalla Bistro and the Michelin-starred Calle Doctor Sumsi 4, and stop for lunch and souvenirs at Ruzafa, the city’s famous food market.
Where To Stay
Affordable: SH Hotel Boutique Inglés Valencia
Opposite the Ceramics Museum and surrounded by designer shops and boutiques, this hotel oozes quiet luxury. Away from the ornately decorated lobby, rooms are light and bright, with views of the museum, elegant parquet flooring and modern en-suites. Guests can enjoy long dinners at restaurant Le Marquis with its dining room and pretty terrace – expect Mediterranean dishes and local cuisine like paella and market-fresh fish.
From £105 per night.
Luxe: Caro Hotel
Set on a pretty street in Valencia’s historic old town, Caro Hotel offers excellent value for money with rooms and facilities you’d expect somewhere far more expensive. Just a short walk from some of the city’s main sites, including the cathedral, the building itself incorporates some of the old city walls, which have been restored and now sit alongside the hotel’s boutique interiors. There’s an outdoor pool with sun beds, a bar for sundowners and the Michelin-starred restaurant Sucede.
From £150 per night.
FOR BEAUTIFUL ARCHITECTURE:
Flight time from London: 3 hours 10 minutes
Malta’s capital is small (Europe’s smallest to be exact) but there’s plenty to do in a weekend. Built by the Knights of St John, the city is a Unesco heritage site described as 'one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world'. When Malta’s festival scene took off a decade ago, many locals moved back to the city, but its charms remain. There are plenty of contemporary restaurants and cool bars, including Legligin, a cellar bar which serves local wine and tapas, and Tal-Kaptan along Valletta’s Baroque wharf. During a weekend, St John’s Co-Cathedral is a must-visit (not least because of its two Caravaggio paintings), as is the National Museum of Archaeology, filled with rare, ancient objects. Then there’s the stunning St John’s Co-Cathedral with its palatial baroque interiors. Other highlights include the Parliament Building, City Gate and Opera House – all of which are strikingly modern in contrast to the historic architecture.
Foodies should make a beeline for the Victorian market on Merchants Street which has a food hall serving traditional Maltese cuisine, as well as a butcher, fishmonger, delicatessen counter and bakery. For new and trendy bars and restaurants, visit Tiny Strait Street where locals spill out onto the streets in the evenings. For fine dining, we recommend Michelin-starred Noni which serves modern Maltese and Mediterranean cuisine alongside an excellent wine list.
UNSPLASH/SHANA VAN ROOSBROEK
Where to Stay
Affordable: 115 The Strand Hotel by NEU Collective
Offering superb value for money, this hidden gem is located a short taxi ride from the city centre, in the small town Gzira (also well worth a visit). The hotel is comprised of self-catering apartments and hotel rooms on the Sliema waterfront at Marsamxett harbour. The main draw is the rooftop terrace which has panoramic city views and a pool. A regular bus to the city centre stops just outside.
From £75 per night.
Luxe: Phoenicia Hotel
Phoenicia is a grand art-deco hotel in the centre of Valletta. It has everything you need for a luxury break, including private gardens, a spa and a pool. Rooms are simple but thoughtfully decorated, and guests can even choose from a pillow menu. Elsewhere, there’s an all-day dining restaurant with excellent seafood choices, and an impressive-looking outdoor pool which runs alongside the city’s Knights-period wall.
From £160 per night.
FOR PICTURESQUE VIEWS:
Flight time from London: 3 hours 10 minutes
A top destination for any kind of city break, Lisbon has it all. Portugal’s coastal capital is spread across seven hillsides with breath-taking views overlooking the Rio Tejo cradle. Visitors can discover ancient architecture and explore the cobbled alleyways and white-topped cathedrals – not to mention enjoy the city’s fantastic restaurants and bars. Wander down the hills or catch the famous Tram 28 to explore Alfama, Lisbon’s traditional side, then visit the beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery and Castelo de São Jorge, an impressive castle which dates back to the 11th century. In term of museums, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and Museu Calouste Gulbenkian are worth a visit, as is Fronteira Palace, a former hunting pavilion filled with 17th-century antiques.
But it’s not only all about beautiful views and historic sites – Lisbon is now renowned for its food scene. For authentic Portuguese dishes and pasteis de nata, visit three food-centric neighbourhoods, Alfama, Baixa and Bairro Alto. The latter is particularly buzzy thanks to excellent wine bars like Artis and Solar do Vinho do Porto.
Where To Stay
Micasaenlisboa is a small guesthouse perched high on Calcada do Monte in the Graca neighbourhood. The property has nine rooms with whitewashed walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and some of the best interiors on this list. Doubles have everything you need for a comfortable stay, while attic rooms have a private terrace and freestanding baths in the room. Fresh bread and eggs, coffee, homemade jams and pastries are served for breakfast in guests’ rooms, the dining room or the pretty pebbled courtyard. The best part? Micasaenlisboa arranges weekly in-house dinners with some of Lisbon’s top chefs where you’ll learn about Portuguese cuisine and wines.
From £65 per night.
Luxe: 1908 Lisboa Hotel
The 1908 in the title is a clue to when this hotel was built, but today it comes complete with a top restaurant and stylish bar. Mixing art-nouveau heritage with modern style, the property is in downtown Lisbon next to the Tagus river – the perfect location for exploring the city. Rooms range from comfortable doubles and spacious family rooms to The Attic on the top floor with a freestanding bath. Infame restaurant is a destination in its own right, where you can enjoy modern dishes made with local ingredients, while the bar along the front of the hotel serves well-made cocktails.
From £180 per night.