MALACCA is living up to its place in history and is providing visitors to Malaysia with a variety of choice in what to do. Many people visit the city on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia to find out more about its rich and varied past and its importance to the Portuguese spice trade. But Malacca is also within an hour's travel by bus or boat from beaches and an island paradise. The beaches of Klebang, Tanjung Kling and Tanjung Bidara, north of Malacca, have fine, white sand, and clear, blue water. Besar island, which is about 10 kilometres south of Malacca city, is the home of sacred graves, shrines and many legends. As yet it is undeveloped, but there are plans to build a chalet resort on Besar that would cater to those seeking to enjoy yachting and sea-based sports activities. At present, the island is ideal for swimming, snorkelling, fishing, camping and picnicking. It is a 45-minute boat trip from Malacca. Tanjung Bidara is 35 km from the city - a quick bus ride away. Locals boast that the beach commands a sweeping view of the coastline, and that the blue waters of the cove are ideal for swimming, water skiing and canoeing. Only 10 km from Malacca, Tanjung Kling is set within a coconut palm grove. It is a favourite spot for picnicking and swimming. Food stalls at Pernu and Serkam beaches at Klebang dot the waterline. They offer the local favourite - fish - freshly grilled over a charcoal fire. There are other dishes to tempt the taste buds - satay, rojak, sugar-cane juice and coconut milk. Malacca was first settled by Malays between 1390 and 1400. The Sumatran prince, Parameswara, founded and named the city. During the 1400s, it developed into one of the most important commercial ports in Southeast Asia and its reputation grew among traders who stopped there to replenish their supplies. Malacca's attraction was spice and it drew Alfonso d'Albuquerque, the vice-viceroy of the Portuguese Indies, who captured the port city on the mouth of the Sungai River in 1511. The Portuguese built Malacca into the nerve centre for the Indonesian spice-producing islands and an entrepot for exchange with the Far East. The city has changed hands three times since - in 1641 the Dutch took Malacca, in 1824 it was ceded to the British, and, on independence in 1957, it returned to the Malays. The city is now a montage of historical sites and ethnic mixes: part of Albuquerque's Great Fort remains on the hill dominating the southern bank of the Sungai; and St Paul's Church, which was built in 1521, is one of the oldest European buildings in the East. It housed the body of St Francis Xavier until 1553, when the holy relic was moved to Goa, the Portuguese trade capital of the East. Malacca's Town Hall is a fine example of 17th-century Dutch architecture, and the Chinese cemetery has graves that date back to the Ming Dynasty. Over the centuries, members of Malacca's mainly Chinese population - Baba Chinese - have married Malays and adopted their dress and speech.