Two coasts, two islands, two experiences: That's the promise offered by Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; for its 8-day special to Malta, priced from $1,599, plus about $200 in taxes and fees. Malta is admittedly a destination that you don't often hear much chatter about when compared to other Mediterranean destinations (read: ltaly), but that's a shame. We have very well traveled friends whose dedication results in regular pilgrimages to Malta. This former British colony comprised of three islands, is replete with beautiful beaches, diving opportunities, stone fortresses, museums, and historic churches. Additionally, English is widely spoken.

There are several specials running to Malta, but the one we've selected offers independence and flexibility. It includes round-trip airfare from New York-JFK, Boston, or Washington, D.C.-Dulles airport, the fuel surcharge, daily breakfast, transportation, and six nights of accommodations. The lowest advertised price reflects travel November 1-12 and includes the airfare; land-only price is $999. Travel a little bit earlier than November and your price starts from $1,899 for September 21-30 and departures during the entire month of October. Travel a little bit later, heading toward the holidays, and prices start from $1,799 for November 13-30 and December 1-24. Prices drop again in 2009 for travel January 7-12, to $1,599. We're told by FIT that space for round-trip departures for the lowest-priced trips may be tight, which is no surprise, so keep that in mind. As of now, however, no land-only departures are sold out.

The trip includes three nights at the Golden Tulip Vivaldi in St. Julians, right near the water, the Dragonara Casino, and in the midst of restaurants and shopping. The Golden Tulip is a four-star property; many of its rooms have great water views, too. The other part of the trip is in Gozo, located northwest of the larger island, at the Hotel Calypso in a fishing village. The trip does not include a stop on the tiniest Maltese island, Comino, known for its Blue Lagoon. Avid divers might want to know that Malta has excellent opportunities to do just that. From its website, FIT offers a link to Malta Tourism's useful interactive map ( showing caves, reefs and other cool underwater spots to explore.