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Good things really do come in small packages and Malta is one of them. Malta, including neighboring islands Gozo and Comino, are a welcome oasis in the Mediterranean, a break from the tourist crowds of Italy and Greece and an alternate place to explore the best of European history. The Maltese trace their origin and ancestry back some 7,000 years and relics of its ancient past are evident in the megalithic stone temples that predate the Egyptian pyramids. It also has a distinctly medieval flavor with walled cities, fortressed towns and impressive architecture, making it an ideal place to retrace history and soak up contemporary Mediterranean culture at the same time.

Elite World Tours (tel. 888/723-0208; www.eliteworldtours.com) offers four different tours of Malta. Its "Discover Malta" package is priced from $1,259 for departures from November 11 to 15, 2006. It includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston, and Washington  DC, airport transfers, five nights' accommodations at  the five-star seafront Le Méridien St Julian's Hotel, overlooking Balluta Bay, breakfast daily and a choice of a half-day land tour or harbor cruise. Departures from November 1 to 10, 2006 are priced from $1,399 and from now until the end of October, 2006, the package is priced from $1,599. Add $79 for additional nights and $239 for single supplement. From Miami or Orlando, the trip is $80 more and $100 from Los Angeles or San Francisco.

The "Malta History, Romance and Drama of the Mediterranean" is priced from $1,199 (again November 1 to 10, 2006 departures) and includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston, and Washington  DC, airport transfers, five nights' accommodations at the Golden Tulip Vivaldi Hotel in St. Julian's, breakfast daily and a choice of two full-day tours or four half-day tours, or a combination. Add $70 for other November departures and $300 for October trips. Extra nights are $69 and single supplement is $99.

And lastly for a touch of Italy thrown into the mix, its "Sicily and Malta Combo" is priced from $1,499 (November 1 to 10, 2006) and round-trip airfare from New York (add $75 from Miami, $100 from Boston or Washington DC and $200 from Los Angeles or San Francisco, airport transfers, flight from Palermo to Malta, three nights' accommodations at the Baglio Conco D'Oro Hotel in Monreale Sicily and four nights at the Golden Tulip Vivaldi, St. Julian's with breakfast daily and a half-day tour. Add $100 for other November dates, $230 for October 17 to 31, 2006 and $500 for October 1 to 16, 2006.

Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; www.fittours.com) has a "Malta a La Carte" trip priced from $999 (for travel from December 1 to 16, 2006). It includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston or Washington DC, airport transfers and five nights' accommodations at the Victoria Hotel in Sliema. Add $50 for departures from November 1 to 12, 2006, and $60 for departures from November 13 to 30, 2006. October trips are priced at $1,389 or $1,399. A single supplement of $299 applies. Airport taxes and fees of approximately $115 are additional.

Who said you can't enjoy luxury on a budget? Its "Elegance and Antiquity of Malta" package is priced from $1,399 and includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston, and Washington DC, airport transfers, five nights' accommodations at the stunning 17th century Relais & Chateaux property, Xara Palace in Medina with breakfast daily. This price is valid for departures from December 1 to 14, 2006 and January 3 to 11, 2007, $100 more for November 1 to 10, 2006 and $600 more for September and October dates. Extra nights are $199 and single supplement is $559. Having priced this hotel separately, the cheapest room rates started at $340 per night, making this package a great deal.

Go Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has a "Malta Special" starting at $879 per person for travel from November 1 to December 15, 2006 or January 4 to February 22, 2007. The package includes round-trip airfare from Newark, airport transfers, six nights' accommodations at the Sliema Chalet Hotel in Sliema (or for $10 more the Alexandra Palace Hotel in St Julian's), daily breakfast, hotel taxes and airline fuel surcharges. Add $20 from Boston, $120 from Atlanta or Philadelphia, $130 from Chicago or Miami $260 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. The price goes up to $909 from February 23 to March 25, 2007 and $1,289 during the month of October, 2006. Purchase deadline for this trip is September 21, 2006.

The lowest price package to Malta that we I could find was through Academic Tours (tel. 800/875 9171; www.academictours.com). Its "Malta in Your Hand" trip is priced from a rock bottom $675 and that includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston or Washington DC, airport transfers, six nights' accommodations at the three-star Rafael Spinola Hotel, breakfast daily and local taxes. This price is valid for departures in November, 2006, December 1 to 14, 2006 and January to March, 2007. For $24 more, stay at the four-star Hotel Diplomat during the same travel periods.

Unfortunately you cannot fly direct from the U.S. to Malta and their national carrier Air Malta (www.airmalta.com) only services cities in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Italy and Sicily in particular is Malta's closest neighbor so the most frequent flights are from there -- Rome, Palermo, Catania and Naples. Several low cost and discount carriers fly to Malta, including RyanAir (www.ryanair.com) out of the U.K. Alternatively you can also take a ferry (www.virtuferries.com and www.viamare.com) across from Sicily (Catania) and other ports in Italy including Genoa, Reggio di Calabria, Salerno and Pozzallo. One-way fares from Catania to Valletta, Malta are priced from $83.

For more information about Malta, visit its tourism website at www.visitmalta.com and for specific details about the abundance of archaeological sites on the islands, visit www.art-and-archaeology.com/malta/malta.html.

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