It’s impossible to summarise the coastal, culinary and rugged delights of Sardinia after just a few days but here are some bite-sized morsels that may provide some food for travel thought. Journeying from north to south on excellent roads, we stay coastal leaving its rugged interior for another time….
Parking in the atmospheric coastal village of Castelsardo, it’s clear from the sun-bleached wooden fishing craft beached along the waterfront that the fish for lunch will be snapping fresh. But first, some exercise. Castelsardo has some well preserved traces of Medieval times and none more impressive than the Doria family’s castle, Palazzo La Loggia, fortified by the family in 1108, that looms broodingly overhead. A brisk climb, spectacular panoramic views and many steps later, we breach the ramparts and discover artefacts, an impressive suit of armour and wonderfully preserved armaments including cross-bows and a battering ram.
Following the pristine coastline west, the town of Stintino features a natural port and a string of sandy beaches. Travelling a little further along, we follow the signs to La Pelosa beach, considered one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful. First glimpse of impossibly turquoise water confirms La Pelosa’s claim along with a coral white sandbank that runs its length – the perfect spot to stand in the sun and chat to locals. The only downside is the instant ice-cream headache from the chill water temperature which is soon offset with a toasted Panini at La Pelosetta ristorante-bar-pizzeria overlooking the beach.
A wild headland on the west coast, Capo Caccia’s 200m cliffs tumble into the Mediterranean where a legendary lighthouse blinks its nightly warnings. In the season, boats take visitors to the many grottos, particularly the sparkling emerald Neptune’s Grotto, but we visit in late May and the season has yet to commence. However, hiking Caccia’s heights and daring gravity staring into sea below is always an option in this place of wildly remote, rugged beauty.
The 12thcentury Doria family of Castelsardo obviously had a lot to protect as demonstrated by the impressively fortified city of Alghero sited on a strategic point on Sardinia’s west coast. Its majestic walls, towers and keeps are still all in excellent condition lending character to the maritime seafront while keeping the narrow streets of the old town safely fortified. The old town has all the action with local produce shops nudging designer brands and great accessory boutiques. We thread our way through laneways populated with cafes, bars and restaurants before eating excellent local gnocchi filled with ricotta and mint with a generous glass of crisp white local wine at Al Refettoria.
Continuing south along the west coast, the enchanting and colourful town of Bosa straddles the Temo river and overlooks the sea. Another hike, another castle, this time through Bosa’s terraced cobbled laneways where the aromas of home cooking seeps from the doorways of brightly coloured houses adorned with plants springing out of painted tin cans, all the way to the 12thcentury Castel Malaspina, a shadow of its former grandeur but nevertheless worth the effort. We check in to Palazzo Sa Pischedda, a charmingly restored palazzo turned boutique hotel before strolling the riverbank to capture sunset reflections of Bosa’s colourful waterfront. Dinner at Sa Pischedda restaurant offers wonderful local food and great value to hotel guests.
Around 30km south of Cagliari, from Santa Margherita di Pula to Chia, we find one of southern Sardinia’s most beautiful coastlines. But history is never far away and the archaeologically rich city of Nora is close-by where examples of ancient Nuraghic or circular stone towers can be found. There are about 7,000 such archaeological sites scattered throughout the island including a famous one at Barumini. Nora is also where a stele, dated around 3,000 years ago, shows the first example of the name Sardinia: ShRDN.
Sardinia’s capital and major entry/exit point, Cagliari’s cultural influences including Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans all bring a multi-cultural frisson to this port city. Rows of grand Renaissance buildings line the waterfront where luxurious mega-yachts moor and a steady stream of day trippers disembarking from cruise liners are soon swallowed up in the old city’s narrow laneways. Cagliari’s streets are picture-perfect by day and filled with great dining options by night. We search out Peccorino cheeses at San Benedetto market and enjoy the aperitivo hour at Viola on the corner of Via Giovanni Maria Dettori, a great people-watching spot. A large glass of excellent local wine or Aperol Spritz and generous cheese/charcuterie platter for just 5 Euros each makes it the best value in town.
We should have booked a table at the always packed Antica Ristorante but rocking up to local favourite Trattoria Ci Sensa Cannas was a great local experience before finishing the night with Sabadas, the traditional Sardinian hot pastry dessert filled with cheese and honey.
As to where to lay your head, we found at the classy 200-year old Palazzo Dessy in the heart of old town, everything was on the doorstep.
AND IF TIME PERMITS
If tuna’s your fish of choice put Carloforte on Sardinia’s far south-west tip on your itinerary and cruise the south-east coast’s beautiful beaches.