Over eighty days of skiing under my belt, it was time for Andrea and I to head to warmer climates. We had spent some time in the French island of Corsica a couple of years ago and now it was time for the Italian island of Sardinia. We had zero plans; just the desire to discover snowless mountains, beaches, good local food, and wine!
There were no expectations on crazy temperatures, nor being able to float in the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Please, just no rain! Sardinia looked to be about twice the size of its northern neighbour so we planned on spending our 10 days in the north, a couple of days in Alghero, Bosa, Castelsardo, and Cala Gonone, before a night in the trendy Costa Smeralda and finally Olbia.
Initially there was to be no car rental, just winging it using public transportation. Yes, we’re very happy that we were talked out of that daft idea! We needed a car for sure. If we had longer and Andrea wasn’t still working then it could have been possible without; Sardinia does have what looked like a half decent bus and train network.
Just what we wanted to see, one of Sardinias countless stunning beaches
Deciding to stay in the north of Sardinia meant we had a couple of airport options – Olbia in the northeast and Alghero to the northwest. Being out of season made our decision straightforward; Easyjet only flying from Geneva to Olbia! After a brief eighty minute flight we arrived, whisked through the airport with only hand luggage and were standing at the rental counter in what seemed like no time. Just what we like! We had rented a car through Only Sardinia, a perfect little hybrid Panda with barely a handful of kilometres and untouched paintwork (more on this later). I really did my utmost to keep it this way!
The drive from east to west was 135kms and took us under two hours…. in the pouring rain! A perfect start – we knew we were leaving rain behind and actually were aware that it might rain in Sardinia too, just not this much. Oh well, we were by the sea and there was no snow in sight.
Encircled by ancient walls, the city was just the kind of place we like. A historical centre complete with quaint cobblestone streets, excellent restaurants, artisanal shops, and gelato, lots of gelato. We had some loose plans, the crap weather ensuring that they remained loose!
What we did hope to do was get out and hike on the Capo Caccia peninsula, conveniently located only a short drive away in Porto Conte park. Cliffs, grottos, and hopefully some excellent photo ops awaited us. The afternoon we arrived ended up a complete washout, probably not a bad thing considering work commitments – the highlight of our first day being a very tasty dinner at Trattoria Lo Romanì. Their traditional culurgiones, a fresh pasta filled with different ingredients, were amazing!
The improving weather gave us chance to enjoy some sunny spells and stroll along the city streets. We also had the chance to stock up on Sardinian fregula pasta, and whilst similar to Israeli couscous it’s slightly larger and toasted giving it a more nutty flavour. Typically we’d be filling the car with wine and olive oil – not so easy when we have to take a flight!
Following on from two dreary days we finally had reliable sun. An early start would allow plenty of time to tackle some of the local hiking trails, beginning with the vertical cliffs of the Capo Caccia. We toyed with a visit to the popular Neptunes Grotto but due to sea conditions the attraction remained closed – would have been cool to head down the 654 steps of the “Escala del Cabirol”. Still, the hiking trails were impressive; the rugged paths in typical Mediterranean scrub took us to some amazing panoramic viewpoints, including Grotta dei Vasi Rotti, Isola di Foradada, and Punta Giglio.
That was the morning hike done, so with plenty of hours left in the day we paid the €8 per person entry fee and headed into the Prigionette-Porto Conte state owned forest. The hike first took us to the highpoint of 346m Monte Timidone before a long meandering trail to Cala della Barca, its cliff location offering views of nearby Isola Piana – in the right lighting this area could have made for some excellent photos! In total the two hikes covered 21 kilometres; for us this definitely beats slobbing out by the pool.
We’ll stick with the Asinara heading for this section, mainly due to that being the highlight for us. We did attempt to stay on the island but with an overpriced hotel and no reply from the far cheaper hostel this scuppered us. Instead we picked up excellent accommodation in Castelsardo, a somewhat small town with a castle and an impressive location.
There are two ferries that take passengers over to Asinara, the main one from the port city of Porto Torres going to Cala Reale, and the other smaller ferry going from the town of Stintino to Fornelli in the south of the island. With what looked like next to no infrastructure in Fornelli we chose to take the Porto Torres ferry with the assumption that the bike rental company on the island would have bicycles available. It was clear from the number of bicycles on the ferry that everyone was taking them over to the island! We arrived to no transportation options, everyone either hopping onto a pre-arranged sightseeing tour or a bike – there was no way we were renting the overpriced golf cart that was sitting outside one of the crumbling port buildings, we would walk instead.
In hindsight the overpriced golf cart was the best decision we made! The island was hilly and took much longer to get around than anticipated. It took us to perfect places to hike; such as the amazing beaches of Cala Sabina, Cala Sant’Andrea and the old maximum security prisons the island was infamous for. Built in 1885 the prisons were scattered throughout the island, used during WWI, before housing big-time Mafia bosses in the late 20th century. The island became a national park in 2002.
We also got to see small pockets of the islands 120 or so indigenous feral donkey population. Most of the animals are either wholly or partly albino, almost entirely white with pinkish-blue eyes. A pretty cool sight. Whilst it would have been nice to stay over on the island the sandwiches we took for lunch at the hostel had a lot to be desired – we’re sure the rooms would have had the same minimalism!
…and whilst back in Castelsardo.
Definitely a worthwhile place to stay, even more so if you plan on visiting Isola dell’Asinara. Set on a small jut of land, the town is built on the hillside, culminating in the impressive Castello dei Doria keeping a watchful eye. The cobbled narrow streets are awash with quaint restaurants, traditional basket sellers and all hues of colourful houses. It doesn’t take too long to see the entire town but makes for a great base on the islands north coast.
As we made our way to our next stop in Bosa it made sense to follow the scenic coast up and around past Porto Torres instead of taking the direct cross-country route. Apparently there are some pretty cool beaches in Capo Falcone in the north of Sassari province. We couldn’t have agreed more! Spiaggia La Pelosa was as empty as it probably ever gets considering its reputably one of the best beaches in Sardinia – the amazingly clear and turquoise waters a mecca for kayaking, swimming and diving.
Continuing south, we detoured away from our main route for the ghost town of Argentiera, once a large scale silver mine, now a gradually restored tourist attraction. It’s a little off the beaten track but worth a couple of hours for hiking, its history, and to see the newly ‘grafitti’d’ mine buildings. We now needed to pass back through Alghero, the first place we stayed, and discover Bosa – we didn’t anticipate the chaos of the never-ending beer festival!
It was definitely still in full swing, masses of people arriving mid Sunday afternoon to get in on the party atmosphere. Music blasted out of a river barge, tents galore sold drink and food, and a few stalls were attempting to sell items that people probably didn’t care too much about over this weekend. We checked into our dirt cheap airbnb with probably the best views of the action, its four balconies overlooking the Temo River allowing us some perfect people watching, disallowing us any sleep if this went on all night!
Away from the river action we came across Bacco Bistrot, the perfect place for a late lunch. Luckily we also found a very small local store where the stale loaf and some pasta would tie us over for dinner. Exploring anything much further away than the first block or two from the river wasn’t going to happen today, our idea being to enjoy the thud of the music, get whatever sleep we could, and head off on an adventure Monday morning.
As our watches struck 2am a more permanent quietness descended – would it last or were we going to be tricked as had happened a few times already! No, this time we were finally good to sleep.
Cane Malu was our first port of call. From the Bosa marina it was a short drive and walk along the base of a cliff to a pretty cool natural pool, its amazing turquoise colour a contrast to the sea feeding into it. Maybe on a hot summers day we would have leapt in! Other than that our time was spent exploring the old town and debating whether or not to take a boat trip up the Temo, the only navigable river in Sardinia. Overall we weren’t so impressed with Bosa and were glad to be heading east across the country.
Although this day was a work day for Andrea we had lots to keep us busy on the drive to our next destination, a farmstay in Oliena, the morning consisting of ruins, a waterfall, a Nuraghe (a what?), and a not so quaint town.
A direct drive would have been 90kms taking not much more than an hour. Ours was definitely a scenic tour, first heading south to the ancient village of Cuglieri – we were assuming that after reading a couple of positive blog reviews we would be enticed to stop for a while; nah, nothing really to shout home about, so we just headed to a nearby hilltop that we could see had some ruins. The steps lead us up to Casteddu Etzu, a once significant castle built prior to 1196 offering a 360° panorama between mountains, plateaus and valleys. We didn’t hang around long as the site really was just ruins – we were on our way to a dramatic waterfall!
A little further to the southwest we parked up on a narrow farm track and followed the directions provided by our Gaia GPS app. We knew it wasn’t far but didn’t know that some of the trails are so overgrown it’s nigh on impossible to fight through them – it was, however, easy to find the actual trail without a GPS app! A bit of research beforehand told us that often this waterfall can be as good as dry, albeit on this occasion, whilst not a trickle it certainly wasn’t a thundering torrent of water. Still pretty cool to see the flow of fresh water cascading over a cliff into the sea below.
The final brief stop before Oliena was to a Nuraghe! There are over 7000 of these huge cone-like towers discovered in Sardinia – made up of giant stones there is still very little known about their usage. The well preserved and easily accessible Nuraghe Losa was on our drive so made for an easy stop – as is pretty usual for us we didn’t bother with the entry, instead choosing to just see what we could from the patio of the sights cafe. For once we should have paid the €6 pp entry fee and learnt something about Sardinian history!
With plenty to occupy our next couple of days it felt great to pull into the parking area for Agriturismo Guthiddai. This was our first time staying in an Agriturismo property, something that we wouldn’t hesitate to do again – they can easily be searched for on their website, are located all over Italy and usually in the countryside. The beaches and cliff top hiking of the Gulf of Orosei and the mountains of the Supramonte were on our doorstep.
We were overlooked by the mountainous Supramonte, with other areas of interest being Gorroppu Canyon, a stunning marine area, and rustic towns and villages. We were first off to bag its highpoint of Monte Corrasi at 1463m in altitude – whilst its possible to drive further along the rocky trail we decided that our rental car was too new, instead beginning walking at the Cooperativa Enis parking.
April 21st – May 1st 2022
Alghero: Aigua B&B – €55 booking directly
Castelsardo: B&B Il Tramonto – €65 on booking.com
Bosa: Condominium Bosa – $57 on airbnb
Oliena: Agriturismo Guthiddai – €104.50 on booking.com
Porto Cervo: Dolce Vita Boutique Hotel – $106 on hotels.com
Olbia: Hotel Panorama – €98 booking directly