Anchored between the Italian peninsula and North Africa’s coastline, Sardinia has been home to a succession of civilizations, many of which have left their mark on the second largest island in Italy. From stone structures built by the people known as nuraghi 3,000 years ago to medieval castles and churches, visitors interested in history, architecture and culture won’t be disappointed. Most travelers, however, come to Sardinia for its sunny and clean beaches, the most popular of which are in Costa Smeralda in the northeast region. Hiking, climbing and camping are favorite activities for visitors who want to escape crowded beaches and explore the island’s hilly inlands. Big-booted Italy and its volcanic little brother Sicily are firmly in the spotlight for travelling Europhiles, but what about the other island? Sardinia, as close to Tunisia as to mainland Italy and nearly grazing the French island of Corsica, is fiercely distinct and wildly colourful. This region of Italy is moored in the bluest waters of the Mediterranean. It boasts superb diving spots and a host of Roman ruins, as well as some of the most memorable cuisine in southern Europe.
‘Sardegna no est Italia!’, screams the graffiti, and you shouldn’t underestimate how distinct Sardinia is from the mainland. With African-tinged flavours, a language all its own and a very peculiar take on cheese, Sardinia may be part of Italy, but ignore its independent spirit at your peril.
Well-heeled visitors will make a beeline for the glassy waters of the Costa Smeralda, but this unique island has more to offer than its achingly beautiful seas. These three enchanting coastal towns form a worthy roadtrip from the island’s northwest to its southern coast.
Cagliari has a far more cosmopolitan feel than its northerly neighbours. Shady shopping arcades and trendy dining enclaves are the norm along Via Roma and Largo Carlo Felice, yet the Castello district remains unspoiled and Roman ruins (including an amphitheatre) are dotted throughout the city. If shopping doesn’t sap your strength, test your thigh muscles by ascending to Cagliari’s crowning glory, the Bastione Saint Remy. After situating yourself with soaring views of the city, head down into the Castello district – a maze of medieval alleys – to admire the imposing facade of the 13th-century Cagliari cathedral. Clutch your neck thoughtfully as you learn about the beheaded martyr St Ephisius when you stroll to the nearby Chiesa di Sant’Efisio.
OristanoA couple of hours’ drive south of Alghero and you’ll discover the historic gem of Oristano. It may look serene, but time has bestowed a bloody heritage of vicious Saracen attacks on this coastal town. And that quiet confidence is born of centuries vying for power against other Sardinian kingdoms.The town today is all understated loveliness, with azure waters and pastel-coloured waterfront houses. Wander to the remains of the old city at the Torre di Mariano II in Piazza Roma, and stroll through quiet streets to a statue of the island’s heroine, Eleanora d’Arborea, on the piazza named after her. This formidable noblewoman composed a heavyweight body of laws that held fast for hundreds of years after her death in the early 15th century.Uncovering the history behind this feisty city works up a serious appetite, and you can’t leave town without trying Oristano palate-pleasers like bottarga antipasti (cured fish roe) and gnocchi served with spinach, eggs and cream. And treat your tastebuds by washing it down with the famous local wine, Vernaccia di Oristano.But one Sardinian delicacy is such an acquired taste that you’ll be relieved to know it’s hard to find outside the black market. Whiffy Sardinian sheep’s cheese casu marzu is so ripe it’s crawling with maggots. The squirmy vermin are eaten along with the cheese, and connoisseurs swear the maggots can leap six inches towards your face. We can’t be sure whether it’s the chewy addition of maggots or the eye-watering odour of the cheese that enhances its reputed aphrodisiac properties. Oh, amore is a mysterious thing…
Cala Mariolu Spectacularly scenic beach is an inlet of the Gulf of Orosei. It is located immediately north of Punta Ispuligi, which separates it from the neighboring Spiaggia dei Gabbiani. In the summer, the small beach and the clear natural pool in front of Cala Mariolu fill up with touristsCala Mariolu is easily accessible from the sea, but to find it on land, you will need to be accompanied by a local guide, especially if it is your first time.
Grotte di Alghero,Sardinia’s famous caves.The largest and most popular of all the caves known as Grotte di Alghero, Grotte di Nettuno (Coves de Neptú) was discovered by a local fisherman in the eighteenth century, and has been one of the top tourist attractions in Sardinia ever since.Grotte di Nettuno is managed by the Autonomous Tourist Board of Alghero.Inside you will find, among others:Lago Lamarmora, a subterranean salt lake, with a central stalagmite column called Acquasantiera, and a stalagmite formation at the bottom, called Albero di Natale;Sala delle Rovine (Hall of Ruins);Sala Smith o Sala Dell’Organo – with a the Grande Organo column at the center, with flows resembling organ pipes;Grotte di Nettuno is easily accessible, both by land (via a 656 staircase known as Escala del Cabirol at Capo Caccia) and by sea. There is a guided tour operating all year round, in different This is a spectacular cave just outside of Alghero. Discovered in the 18th century by fishermen, it has since turned into a tourist mecca. Guided tours are provided in Italian and English.
Montevecchio UNESCO-listed mining and geological park Montevecchio is a mining complex in Guspini and Arbus. It features several monuments of archeology and industrial mining, and it is part of Parco Geominerario Storico ed Ambientale della Sardegna (Historical and Environmental Geological and Mining Park of Sardinia).The Montevecchio mining complex consists of several yards of extraction and processing of minerals, a small town, also known as Gennas Serapis, and some workers’ villages.The extraction of minerals in the area of Montevecchio dates back to the Phoenician and Roman times.
Isola di San Pietro, or Isula ‘e Sàntu Pèdru in Sardinian, (Island of San Pietro) is one of the main islands of the Sulcis archipelago, located off the Sulcis peninsula, in the south-western part of Sardinia. It covers an area of 51 km², being the sixth largest island in Italy. The only town on the island is Carloforte, a picturesque fishing village, where you will find most of the population. This is the place to try out authentic local cuisine and hunt for souvenirs. To reach Isola di San Pietro you can take the ferry from Portovesme or Calasetta.The island was frequented by humans since ancient times. Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans left their mark here and there, especially tombs, similar to those of the adjacent Isola di Sant’Antioco and the Sardinian coast. There’s a lot to explore, if you enjoy nature and history. The beautiful town of Isola di San Pietro Considered among the most beautiful destinations in Sardinia, Carloforte is a peaceful retreat on the Isola di San Pietro, and the only town on the island. The town was founded during the rule of Carlo Emanuele III by a colony of Ligurian fishermen from Tabarka. Carloforte’s Ligurian influence is still present in the local dialect, traditions, customs, and architecture. The old town, Carloforte’s center, is a living museum, with buildings from the XVIII and XIX centuries, well preserved. Do not miss the Museum of Carloforte, which illustrates in depth the city’s history
Porto Conte A beautiful nature reserve is a natural inlet of the Riviera del Corallo, nestled among the karst cliffs of Capo Caccia and Punta Giglio, and overlooking the Bay of Alghero. The coastal part is formed by small coves, cliffs and the long, sandy beach Pineta Mugoni.Since 1999 Porto Conte is a protected area, part of the regional park Parco regionale di Porto Conte. The park is of great ecological importance, and it is also one of the main tourist attractions in the area. Activities include scuba diving, caving, hiking, climbing, botany, bird watching, archeology, research and nature photography.
Arbatassa (or Arbatax) is the main urban settlement on Capo Bellavista, Arbatax opens with a beautiful harbor, at the foot of a colorful seafaring village. The picturesque Red Rocks (Rocce rosse) are one of the main attractions of the coastal hamlet.Arbatassa’s shoreline is partly made up of pebbles flanked by majestic cliffs, which are always a main attraction for the local children. Not far from the fishing village, you find a lovely Moorish beach resort, Cala, considered by the locals their personal unspoiled paradise.
The Museum of Mediterranean Masks Mamoiada
in Nuoro evolved with the intention of creating a cultural link between the cultural universe of the small town of Mamoiada, which is known throughout the world for its traditional masks, the “Mamuthones” and “Issohadores”, and other Mediterranean areas, which display a similar history and culture through their masks and Carnival Celebration.
The tour of the museum begins with a multivision scene which, through a sequence of projected images, various texts, recordings and background music, introduces the visitor to the festival of Carnival and the inhabitants of Mamoiada, whilst also giving an account of different interpretations, over the years, of the origins and function of the “Mamuthones “. You are then transported to another scene, which illustrates a series of Sardinian and Mediterranean masks. One wing of the room is made up of two large windows, which open out on to a view of the town, like the eyes of a mask,costumed figures of the “Mamuthones”, “Issohadore” “Boes”, “Merdules”, “Thurpu” are shown. In the other wing traditional Mediterranean area masks (Greek, Croatia, Slovenia) are kept.
The Wines of …
For lovers of seafood, Sardinia’s beaches are an ideal vacation spot. Sardinian cuisine offers rock lobsters, clams, crabs, squid, anchovies and sardines, among other delights. Mullet eggs are harvested and dried into solid blocks. This strongly flavored food, called bottarga, is shaved or thinly sliced to serve over pasta or salad. Cassòla, a flavorful seafood soup, can have as many as a dozen types of seafood cooked with spices and tomatoes. Shark meat is cooked into burrida, a chower with unique variations at each port. In Sardinian cooking, seafood can be found in other dishes as well. Aragosta arrosto splits the local rock lobsters in half, topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and roasted in the oven.
Sardinian recipes for soup are generally hearty. Fregula uses semolina to thicken this pork, pecorino and onion soup. Fava beans are cooked with cardoons, wild fennel, tomatoes, salt pork and sausage to create the thick stew known as favata. Farro, a local grain, is simmered slowly in beef broth with cheese and mint to make su farro.
The heart of Sardinian cooking is said to be the humble meals of the peasants, primarily roasted and preserved meats, aged cheese and wines. Spit roasted suckling pig, lamb or kid over wood fire is commonly enjoyed. Local herbs and woods are used in the flame to flavor the food. Sardinian cooks are masters of cooking over the open flame, able to keep from burning the meat and keeping the inside tender and juicy.
Chickens are marinated with myrtle leaves and berries, boiled and eaten chilled. Other Sardinian recipes for meat are agnello con finocchietti, a stew of baby lamb with wild fennel, tomatoes and onion. Not a people to waste food, Sardinians stew lamb or kid intestine with peas, onions and tomatoes.
This beautiful island’s growing conditions are ideal for growing fresh food. Sardinian cuisine is generously seasoned with tomato sauces and features local produce including zucchini, eggplant, peas, artichokes, fava beans and many varieties of fragrant herbs. The wild game dishes are especially savory, often scented with juniper, myrtle and wild fennel.
Sardinians love pasta in all forms. They eat the more familiar spaghetti and maccheroni, but Sardinian cuisine features specialties found nowhere else. The plump culingiones are shaped like ravioli and stuffed with chard and pecorino and served with tomato sauce, though there are sweet almond variations as well. The regional dish is known as malloreddus. These tiny semolina gnocchi are topped with a garlic, basil, pecorino and saffron flavored sausage and tomato sauce.
Every village has a unique shape of bread, either a round loaf, a long cylindrical loaf or a donut shaped loaf. Sardinian recipes also include the unique sebadas, a sweet focaccia flavored with pecorino cheese and a local bitter honey. The whole region universally loves flatbreads and crisp carta de musica. One popular way to serve this cracker in the summertime is to soften it in warm water, then spread it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and poached eggs.
Along with the local breads, Sardinian cooking offers a wide selection of cookies, pastries and cakes. These desserts often are flavored with spices, almonds, raisins and ricotta cheese. Pabassinas are pastries filled with raisin walnut paste. These sweet dishes are very similar to papassinus, which also contain cinnamon, cloves and aniseed in the filling.
Fresh & Cured Meats:
Agnello di Sardegna PGI
Fiore Sardo PDO, Pecorino Romano PDO, Pecorino Sardo PDO
Breads & Cereals:
Bottarga, Sea Salt
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