The Bear’s Stone, near Palau, Sardinia
Sardinia is an increasingly popular holiday destination these days as it’s a short flight for Europeans, reasonably priced thanks to the limp Italian economy (though a strong euro doesn’t help), is home to a dramatic, mountainous interior and endless dazzling beaches (not just on the Costa Smerelda) lurking in tiny, protected coves and washed by calm, azur waters, great local cuisine (especially sea food or wild boar) and even the wine is acceptable.
The local Alghero cuisine has a strong Spanish influence since a colonisation in the 14th century. Even the street signs are Catalan as well as Italian.
Resort hotels in Sardinia are appearing around the two main towns of Cágliari and Alghero, both still quaint, interesting and cultured, but many tourists prefer to bring or hire a car and get off the beaten track, into the interior for hikes or mountain biking or cruise the coast in search of the perfect beach.
Sardinia’s coast is 1, 250 miles long (2, 000 kms) which is equal to about one quarter of mainland Italy’s total coastline. Sicily is the Mediterranean’s biggest island, Sardinia is second.
It’s halfway between Italy and North Africa, and has been occupied by many nations so has a unique, polychromatic character that is only vaguely related to Italy.
The Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) is spectacular, but so is much of the remaining island. In fact you could argue that herding the rich into their own corner of the island keeps prices down in the rest of the island – Sardinia hotels elsewhere are much better value!
Classic Sardinia beaches: crystal clear water with occasional limestone rocks and minimal waves
The coastline of Sardinia, not unlike neighbouring French Corsica, is pocked with gorgeous little white sand bays lapped by crystal turquoise waters, not only the pricey bit of the island, north-east Costa Smeralda.
Recently the Sardinian President prohibited any further building within two kms (1. 25m) of the sea, so hopefully this glorious coastline will continue unspoilt for a long time (or at least until a more corrupt politician gets into power).
Scuba is a well-established activity here, especially around the Maddalena Islands off the town of Palau in north. Waters are crystal clear, the sun shines a lot, the coast is almost 2, 000kms of fish-friendly rocks and the island has a lot of dive centres.
Sardinia is an island surrounded by clear, azur water and welcoming white-sand bays separated by spectacularly jagged rock formations and reliable winds. Sail boat charter, lessons, crewed tours and more are popular so book ahead.
Kayaking off Cala Luna, Gulf of Orosei
It is possible to go trekking, climbing, mountain biking or simply on walks in the woods and beside streams.
On Gennargentu tourists can go trekking, or skiing in winter on the slopes of Bruncu Spina and Monte Spada, equipped with ski lifts and restaurant areas.
Monte Albo is good for hikes, horseback or mountain bike rides.
Monte Arcosu contains a World Wildlife Fund nature reserve with visitors’ centres and a guesthouse, from which tourists can follow various nature itineraries while other routes are designed for trekking or horse riding.
Supramonte offers various opportunities for travel on foot, horseback, off road vehicles or even quad bikes and traditional lunches in farms can also be organised, the famous pinnette. The tall, steep rocky walls are popular with climbers while speleologists enjoy the huge number of gorges and caves that are found throughout the Supramonte area.
A north-east coastal track apparently leading to Tavalora Island peak
Sardinia does tempting, wildflower walks all over the island but some of the most favoured walking areas are in the woods of Aritzo in Barbagia, around the panoramic tops of Monte Albo or Monte Novo in Supramonte, through the forests of Goceano to see nuraghic villages; climbing the Torre della Pegna in the area of Nurra and hikes on the Iglesiente mountain range.
More serious treks include Ogliastra, one of Italy’s toughest but taking in the falls of Su Murru Mannu, the isolated bays around the Gulf of Orosei, the rock formations of the Sette Fratelli (the Seven Brothers) mountain range.
Riding is in the Sardinian blood, with wild ponies still roaming the island, particularly around the plateau of the Giara or the woods of Aritzo, while some of the world’s best jockeys are Sardinian – Frankie Dettori for one, as well many winners of the insane Palio of Siena on Italy’s mainland.
Some of Sardinia’s equine festivals include: The Sartiglia di Oristano, a medieval joust every Carnival time, the Aria of Seedily, break-neck races in July, and numerous races in honour of Our Lady of Assumption in different villages.
Riding tourism is widely available and gallops from courses for beginners up to enthusiast levels, in all possible environments – in the middle of lush countryside, up the mountains or on the sea-shore.
The San Saturnine hot springs in Bennett in the centre of Sardinia have been relaxing and curing folk for a thousand years or more; in Roman times they were known as Aquae Lesitanae. The sulphurous waters, bubble out at 40 degrees C and are used to treat of different ailments, as well as for beauty enhancement (apparently).
Head for: Hotel Terme Aurora – Località San Saturnino, 07010 Benetutti.
Another ancient Roman spa at Fordongianus sits around a big rectangular swimming area and is both visually and historically interesting, with water at 54°C spouting from a lion’s head, many Roman relics around and a sophisticated water delivery system.
Head for: Grand Hotel Terme Sardegna – Strada Provinciale 48, 1 – 09083 Fordongianu
The baths of Santa Maria Is Aquas, located a few kilometres from Sardara town, have two spa resorts equipped with large pools offering beauty and therapy programmes, even in winter.
The alkaline thermal waters that pour from five springs at a temperature ranging from 50 to 68C were visited even back in the Bronze Age, as well as by Phoenicians and Romans. The present baths were built in the 19th century.
Head for: Località Santa Maria, Sardara.
This sunny, green island loaded with vast lumps and peaks of finger-friendly limestone or granite and a warm climate is a natural magnet to climbers. It’s not possible to list all 300 Sardinia climbs but climbers certainly like to get high in mountainous areas such as Supramonte in Oliena and Dorgali and the tacchi in Ogliastra, as well as dramatic cliffs plunging into the sea or onto beaches, such as around the bays of the Gulf of Orosei.
Castelsardo town, Sardinia
Is Zuddas caves, 6km from Santadi on SP70 are open the whole year round.
Although actually 1650m long, the tourist route, made up of a number of impressive chambers, is limited to 500 metres. Each chamber is individual. Among the most attractive is The Organ, with stalagmites that looks like a pipe organ while the walls are covered in the white needle-shaped aragonites. Another, the Theatre Chamber, is imposing and very beautiful while the Room of the Eccentrics is covered with rare, eccentric aragonites, whose horizontal formations cannot be explained by experts.
From November to March two daily tours are provided: one at 12. 00 and one at 16. 00, but visits can be booked for other times too. From April to October tour times are 9. 30-12. 00 and 14. 30-17. Booking is always necessary for groups of at least 30 people.
Is Janas cave, near Sadali runs to about 350m and legend has it that the cave was the home of three janas, mythological beings – half fairies and half witches – and, being Italian, were lovers of good food. Once they cooked pancakes after Lent had started, attracting a fasting monk that was passing by. The monk reproached the three janas for breaking the Lent fast and was, in reply, hanged by them. Divine punishment then turned the three witches into stone, their kitchen utensils and the body of the monk; those forms are identifiable inside the cave today.
You can reach Sadali by road or rail with the Trenino Verde a tourist train that follows a picturesque track through the mountains, valleys, lakes and forests. A bus service then takes travellers from the train station to the cave of Is Janas.
The cave opens every day from 10. 00 to 12. 00 and from 15. 00 to 18. 00. From October to March it is only open on Sunday. The cost of entry is € 4. 00 and includes a guide for the cave and the transport by bus to and from the town’s train station.
Finally, San Giovanni cave, about 3km from Domusnovas, was used long ago as a chapel and now contains a road. What does that say about the current state of Italy, and the world?
With its warm, clean air and quiet surroundings, Sardinia is a great golfing destination. Here are a couple of examples:
The Pevero Golf Club in Porto Cervo is considered by landscape architect Robert Trent Jones as his masterpiece and is among the most splendid courses in the world.
Then there’s the tricky Golf club Is Molas, one of the few authentic championship courses existing in Italy.
Finally the Is Arenas Golf & Country Club in the province of Oristano, open year round and designed by Robert van Hagge, is considered among the most picturesque courses in Italy.
Otherwise Sardinia is mostly about good weather, superb beaches and a glance at Italian way of life – though a trip to the Buggeru museum might be memorable.
Getting to Sardinia
Some direct international flights are available as well as frequent domestic flights, or time-rich tourists have the cheaper option of ferries from many Italian ports – such as Genoa, Livorno, Naples and Palermo – as well as from France (Marseilles, Toulon, Nice) and (French) Corsica island.
An island double, Corsica and Sardinia in one trip is not difficult, though it’s best not to rush either one. A triple is also possible, touring Sicily as well. . .
Direct flights from the UK take about 2 hours, flying to one of Sardinia’s three airports at Alghero (NW), Olbia (NE) or Cágliari (south).