The first thing to know if you’re planning to visit Southern Sardinia and see anything other than the nearest beach, (and maybe even if you’re not that fussed), is that you’re going to need a car. I can’t speak for the North but certainly in the South the pavements outside the towns have a nasty habit of disappearing, making walking anywhere a bit of a hairy experience.
Being more mobile also gives you chance to appreciate the fast changing landscape; to the North, the open farm land around Barumini; to the East, the mountains of the interior and, all around, the miles and miles of pristine coast line.
If seaside is what you are after, you won’t be disappointed. The best beaches rival the Carribean for breathtaking vistas and although the sea hasn’t had chance to warm up yet we still managed to get burnt in April.
Capo Carbonara is featured on many of Sardinia’s postcards. The sand is white, the sea clear blue and the low lying rocks are fun for a spot of clambering about. Sandstone, the local rock, has been blown by the coastal winds into weird sculptures which halo the bay.
Unfortunately in April there are no toilets open by the sea, as high season starts in May, so, if like us, you take advantage of the cheaper deals at Easter, you’ll have to make your peace with finding a spot for a wild wee in the surrounding bushes.
Another cool feature of both beaches and of the shallow waters heading West from the city is the large population of pale pink flamingos. Going about their business, these beautiful creatures are two-a-penny in the surrounding landscape.
Sardinia is home to the remains of an ancient and unique civilisation – the Nuraghe. Su Nuraxi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is definitely worth the trip. The Iron Age inhabitants of the island built a village complex in 1500 BC and, thanks to being buried under a hill for thousands of years, it’s still there. Using dry stone techniques the main tower initially stood at 22 metres, although these days it’s reduced to 15.
Still impressive and surrounded by four other smaller nuraghe, or beehive shaped towers, the homes were built at different stages of history up until 5 AD. The stone walls of the dwellings are often intact, (though the wooden rooves have naturally disappeared), there are also surviving fireplaces, cooking stones and home shrines for water worship. However, despite all this ancient wonder, my son’s favourite part was when the guide told us the surrounding countryside, covered in suspiciously unnatural looking but, (in actual fact), natural hillocks, was named, in Italian, ‘breast’ and quite literally, (as interpreted by the boy), ‘Boobyland’.
Once you’ve done that your ticket entitles you to visit any of the other ten sites in Barumini associated with the Nuraghe, including the Casa Zapasta where a Nuraghe village was found under the floor and which can now be visited via a series of glass floors and walk ways.
For history buffs there is also Nora, a site first settled by the Phonecians in 9 BC. The site was a perfect vantage and trading point was therefore settled by all sorts of other people too. The last lot and the ones to have left a lasting mark are those indefatigable Romans who built all the usual manner of mosaiced buildings, including baths, a teatro, a forum and various homes and shops. The English guide comes with the entry price and, if you time it right, once you’ve finished your tour group will be gathered up and taken up the Spanish look out tower next door.
All across the Southern coast towers were built to protect the Sardinians from raiding North African pirates who were wont to show up and steal their women and children. They appealed to the Spanish king, who initially meant to build 200 watchtowers but ran out of cash. In the end, 105 were built, of which only 65 remain – but 65 is still a lot. They appear on every horizon, finding their way into every picture.
In search of a boat ride around the caves on the coast of Capo Sperone we headed for the island of Sant A’ntioco. The winding mountain road was a bit slow and twisty but really worth it for the views. The interior of the island is very green in April, although having visited Sicily in August, I imagine it’s probably more yellow at the height of summer.
At last we arrived at the harbour of the eponymous capital. Unfortunately, this being April, there were no boats operating, despite all the enticing signs up and down the promenade. In Southern Sardinia nothing is running as it should until May, which is fabulous if you want the beaches to yourself and free parking but not so great if you are looking for things to entertain the kids or tourist attractions to be reliably open. The caves we had hoped to see at Grotte is Zuddas were also shut, apart from weekends and that was when we were going home. It was a pretty disappointing trip made worse by the fact we missed the beach we were heading for on the way home and ended up on a seaweedy coastline covered in bits of flotsam.
However, it wasn’t an entirely wasted trip, the mountains are beautiful and if you’d like to get out into them you could do worse than visit the WWF reservation at Oasi di Monte Acruso. It’s home to a range of indigenous species of plants and animals, not to mention supporting a very worthy cause.
Cagliari itself is the place to head to if you are looking for some thing a bit more lively or just some variation in your diet. There is only so much pizza one person can eat, especially when it’s as big as about three of your heads. Local cuisine is very fishy, as you might expect on an island, and features ravioli in large quantities.
Head to the back streets for quaint passages, beautifully crowded with pot plants and sun kissed yellow and orange buildings. There are a few sights to see, St Mary’s Basillica and the view from the Castello but really compared to the splendour of Italy they’re nothing to write home about.
Head to the harbour afterwards for gelato and watch the sail boats before scaling the rock known as Devil’s Saddle, thrown there, as legend has it by the Archangel Gabriel himself.
If you’re more of a culture-vulture you might be best to limit your stay to a few days in the South before heading up North to continue the adventure.
It is a place of wild, unspoiled beauty. The lack of tourist resorts and it’s natural gifts are refreshing and revitalising. Unwind, chill out and enjoy.
Tags: Sardinia, beach, vacation, relaxation, holiday, flights, Europe, Italy, island, Mediterranean