Sardinia ’16

Ah, our first proper trip in years – last one was Ireland way back in 2012 (will post that too eventually, once I remember all the details). Sardinia has long been on our bucket list and we eventually opted for 10 days in late August/early September. A short drive to Venice Airport and we were soon underway.

Day 1

We landed in Olbia, picked up our car (Hertz kindly offered a choice between two Fiats – the Panda and the 500. The desk clerk and Anja were in the 500 camp, so naturally I chose the Panda :)) and drove into the city centre towards our first Airbnb host. It was quite a drive – Sardinians are not exacty patient drivers, and our route took us straight through the very centre, with narrow cobbled streets and crowds of pedestrians.

Once we got through the tightest driveway entrance ever (had we booked anything bigger than a Panda, it wouldn’t have fit), we found ourselves at our home for the next few days – il Giardino dei Foletti or the Garden of the Elves. Laura, Ale and their heterochromatic doggie Faith were amazing hosts, doing their best to give us the best stay possible.

We spent our first night in Olbia discovering the city centre and its main boulevard Via Umberto I. – checked the street vendors, passed by the 11th century Basilica of San Simplicio and ultimately found a nice, cozy place to enjoy a glass of Vermentino wine (which would become a regular companion in the following nights).

Day 2

The next morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast, packed the car and got on the road. We turned northeast, past Pittulongu (which also has its own decent beach) towards Golfo Aranci (Orange Gulf). With nothing to see there except some palm trees, we went back a bit and turned on a steep dirt road towards Spiaggia Bianca, a somewhat crowded piece of heaven. We even found some shade under some bushes, otherwise I would have spontaneously combusted – it was exactly noon when we arrived there and went for a swim – very wise, we know.

 

A few hours in the sun was all we needed, so we got back on the road and drove to the famed Costa Smeralda. First stop – Porto Rotondo.

As we weren’t impressed by lush marinas full of fancy boats, we quickly got back in the car and went on towards Porto Cervo. We stopped at the Spiaggia del Principe – parking is just up by the main road, so it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach. It was nice for a quick dip, we weren’t overly amused – big crowds, shallow water and no shade. Onwards, then. Porto Cervo was a carbon copy of the first town – fancy houses, fancy people, fancy cars, fancy yachts. Pass.

 

We soon found ourselves back in Olbia and got ready for a dinner in town. Laura recommended a restaurant called Terra Nostra, with great outdoor seating at the edge of a town square. Great choice! I opted for ravioli, Anja had some fish and seafood (both were fresh and delicious), washed down by some more Vermentino. We went for another walk around the town and soon called it a night.

 

Day 3 – epic road trip

Early breakfast and a quick drive north to Palau. We were naive enough to think we could get to La Maddalena archipelago without booking in advance if we arrived early enough – well, it turned out that September is still quite busier than expected and all we could do was to book a cruise two days from then (which was to be our last day in Olbia). With all plans down the drain and a whole day ahead of us, we went a few kilometres east and visited the Roccia dell’Orso – a rock formation resembling a bear with a great view over Palau and its surroundings. A great place to shoot some panoramas!

 

Next stop, Santa Teresa Gallura and its Rena Bianca beach. We got lost while driving through the town centre (never, ever trust Here Maps and its navigation), so we abandoned the car in a nearby street and crossed the town on foot to reach the shore. The beach itself is amazing (probably the most beautiful we’ve seen during our stay), with white sand and bright blue water, clear as it could be. However, crazy crowds (it was quite a challenge to even get to the water through all those people) soon drove us out of there and back on the road. Since it was early September and thus considered low season, I really can’t imagine what the place must look like in August. Probably like locusts descending on a field or something.

 

Continuing our way along the coastline, past Costa Paradiso and Isola Rossa, where we stopped at the La Marinedda beach to take a dip. A great place to take a swim with an excellent beach bar, but time was ticking and we had to move on.

The route from Paduledda down to Badesi is one of the finest roads I’ve ever driven – excellent flow, amazing views and very little traffic. Pure driving heaven! Little Panda was eager to burn through the kilometres and we soon turned off towards Castelsardo, only to stop at the Roccia dell’Elefante – a wind-eroded rock that looks like an elephant. A few snaps in the golden light and on we went.

 

We arrived in Castelsardo a few minutes before sunset, enough to cause a small traffic jam (Castelsardo is a nightmare to drive through, lots of narrow one-way streets and a plethora of traffic signs in Italian for which there is no time to translate). We quickly parked the car, watched the sunset from the town walls and found a small pizzeria for a quick dinner (pizza and calamari, excellent as usual).

 

 

It was already quite dark when we got back on the road, and we decided it was best to continue southwest to Sassari and merge on the main road back towards Olbia. Unfortunately, the road to Sassari and Sassari’s own ring roads are a mess of unfinished detours and construction sites, which, combined with Here Maps’ less than stellar navigational assistance, soon meant we had no idea where we were. In the end, we followed the road signs through Sassari’s centre towards the main road and began our 100 km journey back to our beds – exhausted and quite sleepy. The Sassari-Olbia artery was conveniently in the middle of expanding to a dual-carriageway, which again meant endless detours and even short sections of completed 4-lane highway. Eventually, the kilometres went by and it was around midnight when we finally arrived back to Olbia, went straight to bed and fell asleep immediately.

 

Day 4

Considering the events of previous day, we took it easy. Went shopping for next day’s supplies (with La Maddalena cruise and long drive to Alghero coming up), visited the Spiaggia Bianca and stopped at the Pittulongu beach on the way back. We made zero photos on this day. :)

 

Day 5 – La Maddalena cruise

Time to say goodbye to our hosts, we would be spending the next few nights in Alghero. Once again, early breakfast and quick drive to Palau, this time with cruise tickets already in hand. :) We booked our cruise with Elena Tour, which turned out to be a great choice – the guide was excellent and the boat even had its own mascot – a chubby black Frenchie named Tiger.

First off, we visited the Isola Spargi and disembarked for a swim break. We eventually continued north (while being served pasta with shrimp, yum!) past Spiaggia Rosa (a beautiful beach with white-pinkish sand, under environmental protection due to its fragility). A bit further on, we anchored in a sandy cove and enjoyed some swimming from the boat.

 

Cala Santa Maria was the second swim break and we opted for a chill-out session under some trees where it was comfortably cool (being on the top deck of a boat for a whole sunny day takes its toll, even religiously drenching ourselves in sunscreen didn’t help much). Our next stop awaited, the main island with its capital town, La Maddalena. Another break to explore the city and we immediately decided to take it easy, stroll around the souvenir shops and have some ice cream. The last leg of the journey was round the Isola Santo Stefano, past the remains of the U.S. Navy base, back to Palau (with the Roccia dell’Orso cleary visible on our left).

 

We had already explored the coastal drive towards Sassari, so we opted for the inland route via Tempio Pausania. We stopped on our way at Nuraghe Majori, an ancient dwelling more than 3000 years old. Half an hour later, we passed an amazing Romanesque church (Basilica di Saccargia), made of black basalt and white limestone. In the evening light, it made for a beautiful sight. Following the setting sun past Sassari again towards Alghero, our next destination. Once again, it was dark when we arrived, so we quickly checked in with our next hosts (Gigi was away, so we were greeted by his girlfriend Roberta and Dante the cat). Then a quick walk to a restaurant a few blocks away (La Lanterna, highly recommended!) and time for a good night’s sleep.

 

 

Day 6

Our first full day in Alghero! After some morning orientation, we went straight for the water and stopped at the Spiaggia del Lazzaretto. Unimpressed by the crowds, we went further northwest and reached the Porto Ferro beach just as the sun was setting. We liked that one much better and we quickly decided to return here in the following days. Fading light meant it was time to return to Alghero, take a short walk to the old town centre along the walls and then back to bed.

 

Day 7

An early start once again, this time to the very end of the phenomenal Capo Caccia (think 200-metre cliffs rising straight from the sea) to visit the Grotta di Nettuno. Going down what seemed like a billion stairs, we reached an extensive cave complex and took a guided tour. Since Slovenia is the mecca of caves, we weren’t that impressed by the cave itself, but it was a welcome change of pace compared to the endless sandy beaches of previous days. Especially the temperature inside was perfect, since we weren’t looking forward to climbing back that stairs in the afternoon sun. Safe to say, we were drenched in sweat once we got back to the car.

 

We then went back past Alghero and turned south, which meant driving on best stretch of road on the island – the Alghero-Bosa coastal route. Twisty road with hills on one side and the sea on other, with each corner revealing a more beautiful view of the western coast. We soon arrived in Bosa, an interesting town with a huge castle overlooking it. The town looks out of place, full of colourful houses and flags spanning the streets. What a great place!

 

It was getting late and we still hadn’t gone in the water that day, so we made a quick stop on our way back at the Spiaggia della Speranza. The late hour meant that most people already left, and the sun setting behind a nearby hill made for a tranquil scene.

 

Day 8

Our second-to-last full day in Alghero and we were determined to make it count. We followed Gigi’s advice and drove north towards Argentiera, a surreal abandoned mining town. We turned on a dirt road, continued north for about 10 minutes and found ourselves on a cliff above the most beautiful beach we’ve ever seen – La Frana. We followed a steep, narrow path down to the sea and – to our amazement – we had the whole beach to ourselves. Granted, it was a bit windy and some clouds were rolling by, but nothing was stopping us. Lots of rocky overhangs to find shade and no one to bother you – it really was the perfect afternoon.

 

Afterwards, Anja insisted we visit the famed La Pelosa in Stintino, so we ventured further north to the northwestern tip of Sardinia. This place must look like a giant anthill in August, but we managed to find a parking spot and checked out the water. The scenery is amazing – tiny white sand and bright blue waters, with a view of Isola Piana and Isola della Pelosa with its watch tower. I didn’t even bother with photos – just Google it :)

Day 9

Our last full day in Sardinia, so we left early straight for the La Frana. Improved weather certainly meant we wouldn’t be alone this time, but there were still never more than 10 people on the whole beach. Compared to previous days, it was a revelation!

 

We spent the whole day there and, as the sun slowly went down, relocated to Porto Ferro. We climbed the remains of a watch tower overlooking the beach, almost went too far and gone to a nude beach, and ultimately found a great spot in the middle of the beach, dug our feet deep in the sand and watched our final sunset in Sardinia – a perfect ending.

Final words

In 9 days, we barely scratched the Sardinian surface. The island is a lot bigger than it seems at first, and although the roads are excellent, they are winding and it takes a while to get across. Once the dual-carriageway between Olbia and Alghero is complete, the east-west crossing will be possible in under 90 minutes, which will be a big improvement.

Next time, we’ll be sure to wander even further south, Oristano and Cagliari are calling!

 

 

Next post, Scotland. :)