Where to stay The ceramics, soaps and food are all Portuguese at the charming AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado, just off the main Praca do Comercio, a five-minute walk from the Cais do Sodre station (doubles from £143, B&B; almalusahotels.com). Or try the LX Boutique Hotel (doubles from £80; lxboutiquehotel.com).
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The beach There are 1,150 miles of coastline in Sardinia — and five of the best of those miles are a 10-minute bus ride from Cagliari’s darkly exotic heart. This is Poetto, the locals’ beach of choice, a wide horseshoe of silvery sand sloping down into the blue waters of the Golfo di Quartu.
Summer’s all about the beach in Casteddu — the Sardinian name for the capital — but sitting around is low on the agenda. From first light, the locals are up and at it, rollerblading and circuit-training on the free waterside tracks, or heading down to Marina Piccola for windsurfing and paddleboarding (group lessons from £16pp; windsurfingclubcagliari.org).
For the liveliest lunch on the strip, try Beer Beach, which is so much better than it sounds. The seafood is wrigglingly fresh in this airy glass box populated by the city’s cool kids. Then kick back on its private beach with an Aperol spritz, and wait — there’s dancing here when the sun goes down (mains from £10; Viale Golfo di Quartu).
The city Cagliari is a splendid muddle of Roman ruins, neoclassical churches, Renaissance palazzi, palm-fringed boulevards, big-bucks marinas and fine museums — plus, a medieval hilltop citadel, Il Castello, from which you can look down upon them all. Avoid the crowds — and the heat — up here in the pretty public gardens, where the city’s modern-art museum, the Galleria Comunale, has a wonderful collection of 19th- and 20th-century Sardinian greats, such as Francesco Ciusa, Felice Melis Marini and Giuseppe Biasi (£5; galleriacomunalecagliari.it). Or explore the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, home to the mysterious giants of Mont’e Prama, sculpted Bronze Age warriors that stand 8ft high (£4.50; museoarcheocagliari.beniculturali.it).
The locals are a greedy bunch, and rightly so. Drop into the chic Dulcis Pasticceria for seadas — the sticky pecorino-and-honey pastry (from £1; dulcispasticceria.it). Or try the sublime gelato from Stefino: the pistachio-and- yoghurt combo is divine (from £1.50; Via Dettori 30).
Have a sundowner at Caffe Libarium Nostrum
Don’t miss aperitivo time at Caffe Libarium Nostrum, a cool Castello bar with the best sunset in town (Via Santa Croce 33; 00 39 346 522 0212). Then it’s on to dinner at Luigi Pomata, the Sard superchef giving the island’s old-school seafood dishes a delicious twist (mains from £11; luigipomata.com).
Round off the evening at Caffe degli Spiriti: this al fresco institution on the ramparts has just reopened after a vast overhaul. You can drink and dance until dawn (Bastione San Remy; 00 39 347 767 4305).
Where to stay Hotel Nautilus is a 1920s villa bang on the beach, with a handful of blue-and-white-striped rooms (doubles from £80, B&B; hotelnautiluspoetto. com). Or for a night on the ocean wave, try Boat and Breakfast, at the port, where you’ll find a snug bunk for two on a 32ft Comet 1050 (doubles from £76, B&B; boatandbreakfastcagliari.it).
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Mia Aimaro Ogden
The beach The beaches feel like an extension of city life here, and there are good ones within walking distance of the seductive old town. The sand’s coarser and browner than you might find down the coast in Marbella, but nobody seems too bothered. Malagueta, with its playgrounds and selfie-friendly sculpted sign, is nearest the city, but push further east to the secret little beach at Baños del Carmen, by the 19th-century bathing house. Carry on to La Caleta for its chilled-out chiringuito beach bars (Picasso, Mediterraneo, Oasis) serving tinto de verano, lemonade-diluted red wine. For a slap-up seafood feast, follow the woodsmoke to Pedregalejo. Barbecue-grilled sardines are a Sunday-lunch seaside institution, so book ahead at El Cabra (£4; restauranteelcabra.es). Make pudding an ice cream from Heladeria Lauri. Try the almond-and-honey turronflavour (£2.50; Calle Bolivia 117).
The city There’s a buzz about resurgent Malaga, and with temperatures still in the 20s in October, it’s a city geared up for warm-weather unwinding. Get your bearings from the two Moorish hilltop forts, the Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro, or take the lazy option with a ride on the harbourfront Ferris wheel (£9). From here, it’s a shady stroll beneath Parque de Malaga’s parakeet-filled palm trees to the Pompidou, an offshoot of the Paris gallery, which opened two years ago. It’s well stocked with Magrittes, Warhols and Kahlos (£8; centrepompidou-malaga.eu). At the Museo Picasso, you can see 155 works by the city’s most famous son. Buy edible souvenirs at the Atarazanas market or choose from a rainbow of handmade espadrilles at the Calzados Hinojosa shoe shop. Early evening, Malagueños love a G&T at a rooftop bar: for local atmos, you want the tucked-away Oasis hostel; for citywide views, the 15th-floor bar of the AC Palacio, next to the cathedral. Then tapas-crawl the night away; try sleek KGB, retro Wendy Gamba or elbow-to-elbow Los Gatos (from £2; Plaza de Uncibay 9); or fast-track to the finest on a WeLoveTapas. com tour with ebullient local Victor Garrido (£43; welovetapas.com).
Where to stay On the edge of the street-art-filled Soho district, the design-cool Room Mate Valeria has a rooftop bar and a plunge pool (doubles from £106; room-matehotels.com). Or, next to the cathedral, try Molina Lario (doubles from £117; hotelmolinalario.com).
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