Watercolor painted sandy beaches bathed in turquoise water, an Italian language sounding somehow not Italian at all, food brought up from the sea between the coasts of Africa and Italy, and the distinct smell of orange blossoms wafting throughout the air. This is only a smattering of what awaited me on the Italian island of Sardegna (Sardinia), the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, not your typical Italian island. From the food to the language, the atmosphere is peculiar and completely captivating. There is a soft hum, like a low vibration throughout the air, giving the island life as if I could hear it breathing. The strangeness of the land only makes it more magnetic and alluring and the longer I spent time there, the harder it became to leave.
Although the coast is unparalleled with its multicolored quartz beach of Arutas, to its archipelagic island, Budelli, known for its pink sands and wild nature, Sardinia is also home to lush green rolling hills as well as to a range of sandstone and blue-grey dolomite limestone mountains. Crossing the island only takes roughly three and a half hours to traverse the five subdivisions: Nuoro, Oristano, Sassari, South Sardinia, and Cagliari. Within this short trip, time also seems to travel, where remnants of Sardinia’s ancient Nuragic culture, to Carthaginian and Roman ruins, and to Spanish Baroque pass by in the most quixotic and extraordinary way.
As for activities, it’s the most unique and diverse place for adventure. Whether it’s hiking to obscure and remote beaches, sailing the national park of La Maddalena Archipelago, or to climbing some of the oldest rocks in Europe dating back to the Palaeozoic Era (as much as 500 million years old), Sardinia offers numerous and boundless escapades.
The island has almost 4,000 sport routes and 1,000 multi-pitches where the majority are bolted on limestone, reserving the granite for trad climbing. However, bouldering is relatively new to Sardinia but many places can be found for the adventurous. While exploring Arutas beach, I stumbled upon some lovely boulders hidden away in a tiny cove, which not only offered some fun climbing, but also a respite from any beach-going crowds. The east side of the island, Golfo di Orosei, is a national park as well as the home to the rugged mountainous beauty, Gennargentu. With it’s almost 2,000m high rocks, Gennargentu’s massif is comprised of schist, limestone, and granite which have been smoothed over the years by time dependent natural erosion. Not only is this area superb for sport climbing and wonderful multi-pitches, but also for hiking and caving. The Cala Goloritzè Trail, as the name implies, is a trail leading to the Goloritzè beach which is only accessible by either a boat or a 3.5km hike, beginning at Bar Su Porteddu, before proceeding for about 1 hour to the water’s edge. Although not an easy feat to accomplish, the magnificent view and seclusion will be well worth the hiking effort. Further inland is the incredible Grotta di Ispinigoli, which not only holds the tallest stalactite-stalagmite structure in Europe and one of the tallest in the world at an impressive 38m, but also the only known specimen of the extinct giant otter, Megalenhydris, which was uncovered in the cave’s 60m abyss, Abisso delle Vergini. Even beneath Sardinia, it doesn’t cease to please.
Natural wildlife is easy to view on this island as coastal wetlands and lagoons become breeding grounds for magnificent colonies of pink flamingoes, when they migrate from Tunis and Camargue, or to vibrant green inland pastures where the roads are not only shared by cars, but by hordes of sheep. In the north, a tiny 52km2 island called Asinara, is the home to both an old WWI prison camp for 24,000 Austrian-Hungarian POWs, and also to roughly 100 adorable, miniature albino donkeys.
For those who prefer the more relaxing enjoyment, sailing is an incredible alternative. Although there are many amazing places to sail in Sardinia, from May to September, which is the best period to visit, NW winds are predominating around the La Maddalena archipelago, often blowing around a force of 5 or 6 Bf (16-22 knots). There are many companies in the port of Palau or Olbia which offer boat rentals as well as reasonably priced (~65 euro pp) guided trips around the 7 archipelagic islands. Evoking a Caribbean resemblance, the crystal-clear sea, dotted with small islands, has a likeness to Bisbee Turquoise stones where the intense sky blue color is interrupted by a purplish-chocolate brown matrix.
While Sardinia is a multi-sport destination, it’s also full of wonderful cites, culture, and cuisine. Beautiful towns speckle the island with my favorite being Alghero, which has a strong Catalan influence. Walking the edge of the town, I saw historic sites and met many local artists displaying their canvases by the sea. The culinary arts were also represented near the port, with my favorite restaurant being a tiny one called, La Cullera. La Cullera (The Fork) is family owned, where not only do they serve wonderfully flavorful traditional Sardinian cuisine with the chef’s creative twists, but the brothers also create an environment where a meal is more than just sustenance; it is a visual, leisurely, enduring experience. Like the island itself, La Cullera has a quirky vibe and a relaxing environment. Don’t leave without checking out the archeologically excavated cullera found on the property during restoration of the building now home to this restaurant that is its namesake. Alghero is also the home of the famous stalactite cave, Neptune’s Grotto, which is accessible by either a boat from Alghero’s port or by the 654-step escala del cabirol (goat’s steps), leading from the top of the impressive Capo Caccia, 169m steep, vertical cliffs.
Another wonderful food destination is Oristano where you can pop over after a day at the multicolored quartz beach of Arutas. Trattoria Portixedda was the highlight of my trip, immediately being greeted by Roberto, the animated and gregarious host. The characteristics I am so fond of in Sardinian natives, are their outgoing and humorous nature, living to joke with and entertain you. Here, like so many restaurants I love, there was no menu. Instead, Roberto asks the guests a few questions about likes and dislikes and whether they prefer land or sea cuisine. A few minutes later, platters start to arrive to the table leaving no room for even one more dish nor leaving me any choice other than to stuff myself silly. All the while, Roberto buzzes around the room joking with customers, waiters, and anyone who will give him a laugh. He explained each dish to me and made sure it was to may liking. My wine glass never seemed to diminish. To top off the night, as I was leaving, because I had commented on how good his house wine was, before I knew it, I was returning home carrying a two liter plastic soda bottle filled with his homemade very delicious wine.
With alluring activities, unique beaches, friendly people, and picture perfect seas, Sardinia is a seductive place, luring you in and never letting you go- not that you’d want to anyway.
- Spiaggia di Is Arutas
- Budelli-Pink Beach
- Cala Goloritzè
- Spiaggia della Pelosa
- Neptune’s Grotto
- Area Archeologica di Nora
- Grotta di Ispinigoli
- Capo Caccia
- Trattoria Portixedda- Oristano. I recommend letting Roberto choose your menu for you.
- La Cullera- Alghero. I recommend the salmon tartare accompanied by brown rice and an artichoke and red beet puree.
- Hertz- Opt for the full coverage insurance.
- Never rent from Firefly car rental. They were very unreliable and did not honor my prepaid reservation.