Sardinia: The Polynesia of Europe
Dive Into the Island Of Longevity
Famous for the most beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean, Sardinia boasts some of the most exclusive destinations in the world. Everyone knows Costa Smeralda and its trendy bars, but perhaps not many people know that Sardinia extends way beyond this. From the area of Gennargentu to the southern coast, this island is full of off the beaten path places. From the most unbridled luxury to the most authentic experiences, Sardinia has a variety of contrasting landscapes. Here you can have a great social life, go trekking in the wild or get to know the locals, the real salt of the land.
Sardinian culture is one of the most salient aspects of this unique island. Because of its prime location in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia has always been a strategic conquering point. Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Genoese people and Spaniards arrived and remained here. Perhaps because of it, Sardinia has developed a very strong identity that is rooted in a truly ancient culture, even protohistoric, the Nuragic culture. By traveling Sardinia you will understand that the importance of the traditions here can’t be overstated.
Sardinia is also called the ‘island of longevity’ because of the age of its inhabitants, much higher than the world average. Apparently here the quality of life is very high. It could be a result of the Mediterranean diet, or the breathtaking beauty of a land kissed by the sun, the sea and wind. Or it could be because of the strength of the traditions that bind the Sardinians to a lifestyle more in harmony with nature. For all these reasons and for many others, Sardinia is an unforgettable trip to make at least once in a lifetime.
Sardinia has two main airports that operate international flights to and from several European cities. South of the island, Cagliari Elmas Airport (CAG) is the main hub. Olbia Airport (OLB) is the nearest to Costa Smeralda. Sardinia is also served by domestic flights from all the major Italian cities. You can arrive by ferry (7+ hours) from the main Italian ports.
Renting a car is the best way to visit Sardinia. The island does not have a highway system, but rather many main roads, including some along the coast. The railways do not cover the whole island, but there are a lot of buses. However, moving with the public transportation can be slow. If you have time, discover Sardinia on ‘The Little Green Train’ (spring only).
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean. It is closer to Tunisia than to Italy (185 km vs 188 km), and just 11 km from Corsica. More than 80% of its territory is mountainous or hilly, with the highest peaks in the middle and the largest plain to the south. There are no big rivers but almost 2.000 km of rocky coastline.
The Mediterranean climate is typical of Sardinia. The coastal areas have mild winters and hot summers, dry and very windy. The winds, especially the Mistral and Ponente, characterize the weather of the island. In the inland plains summers are warmer and winters colder than on the coast. On the central massifs winters are snowy.
Top 5 Things To Do In Sardinia
Sardinia is known worldwide for its natural wonders and strong cultural history. The island is dotted with spectacular megalithic remains of an ancient protohistoric civilization, the Nuragic civilization. Ruins of Phoenician and Roman settlements adorn the coast, where amazing fortified medieval towns have arisen. The center of Sardinia, with its rugged villages and authenticity, will feel like a time traveling through history.
Tropical beaches, vast karst caves, canyons, rugged mountains and rolling forests: Sardinia is a land blessed by beauty. Its best known part is the heavenly north coast, carved out by the winds and home to the most beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean. In the heart of Sardinia, the Gennargentu offers spectacular landscapes, cascading over the splendid Gulf of Orosei. The Coral Coast, the island of Asinara and the Sulcis are just some of the destinations of this stunning island.
Surf and turf: Sardinian cuisine is as diverse as its territory. Taste the carasau bread, unleavened, light and crisp, also called ‘music paper’. Order a pasta with bottarga or the malloreddus, a typical Sardinian pasta shape, with meat sauce. Enjoy a mixed seafood grill, a Catalan style lobster or a roast suckling pig, the national dish. The typical cheese is pecorino, and the signature dessert is the seadas, a puff pastry filled with cheese, deep fried, and served with Sardinian honey.
The Sardinians have produced wine since ancient times, perhaps even since the Nuragic civilization. Cannonau, the most appreciated local red wine, is one of the oldest of the Mediterranean Sea. Among the red wines we also suggest Carignano which is a bit lighter, and Monica, which has a more delicate taste. Among the white wines try Vermentino and Nuragus, with their refined taste. Vernaccia and Malvasia are the most famous sweet wines. Do not leave Sardinia without trying Mirto, the national liquor from myrtle berries.
Nuraghi & Tombs of Giants
We know little of the mysterious Nuraghic civilization, except that they lived in Sardinia and left us incredible examples of prehistoric architecture. The Nuraghi, of which the most famous is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are megalithic towers with a circular base whose function is unknown to us. More than 7000 Nuraghi dot Sardinia, an average of 1 every 3 sqm. The most famous, the ‘Tombs of Giants’, is a collection of majestic funeral monuments for burials where the tribes used to pray for their dead. Away from the crowded beaches, these striking megalithic structures offer a fresh eye on Sardinia.
Dramatically perched on a headland overlooking the beautiful sea and the Gulf of Asinara, Castelsardo is a medieval hamlet in the north of Sardinia, in the province of Sassari. The hamlet was founded by the Genoese family Doria and is now a bustling tourist destination, with a picturesque port and beautiful beaches nearby. Visit the Doria castle, take a walk along the medieval path of the sentries and look out from the mighty ramparts. Do not miss the panoramic Sant’Antonio Abbate Cathedral, with the bell tower covered with colorful tiles. Wander the narrow streets and hidden courtyards of the characteristic historic center, where it is not uncommon to see older women sitting on doorsteps, weaving baskets.
Located in the center of Sardinia, in the Barbagia of Ollolai in the province of Nuoro, the hamlet of Orgosolo is famous for its murals. More than 150 murals decorate the facades of the houses of Orgosolo. The drawings tell about the Sardinian culture, popular struggles, banditry, the life of the shepherds and the political events of the ’70s and ’80s. If you are in Sardinia on August 15th, do not miss the parade in traditional dress dedicated to the Assumption, followed by a mad horse race through the streets of the hamlet. Do not miss a dip in the wild region that surrounds Orgosolo, the Supramonte. Enjoy a walk in the Montes forest, strewn with pinnettos, the typical shelters of the shepherds.
Inhabited since the Phoenician era and later colonized by the Romans, Bosa rises along the river Temo, the only navigable one in Sardinia, immersed in the green valleys of Planargia. Bosa is famous for its colored houses and the beautiful ancient village, Sa Costa, perched on the slopes of the hill of Serravalle. Visit the ancient castle and take a boat ride along the river. Do not miss the local handicraft, which includes workings of coral, gold filigree and woven baskets. Taste a glass of Malvasia, the traditional sweet wine of Bosa, in one of the wineries in the lower part of the hamlet. Have a look at the picturesque district of Sas Conzaz, on the left bank of the river, a relic of the nineteenth century industrial architecture.
Tiscali Nuragic Hamlet
Built on top of Mount Tiscali (515 m) within a vast karst sinkhole, the ancient Nuragic hamlet of Tiscali (XV / XIV – IX / VIII century BC) is one of the most fascinating Sardinian destinations for lovers of archeology. The trail to the hamlet goes through the woods and the rugged peaks of Supramonte, in the territory between Oliena and Dorgali (1h30 in the more resounding silence). The hamlet is not visible until you reach the interior of the enormous cavity through an opening in the rock wall. In this spectacular setting about 40 stone huts and mud have been preserved since before recorded history. A large window on the rock wall offers a stunning viewpoint of the Lanaittu valley. It is far off the beaten track.
Alghero is a beautiful walled seaside town that preserves a historic Spanish atmosphere. Located on the northwest coast of Sardinia, this bustling town is the tourist landmark of the Riviera del Corallo (Coral Coast). Alghero was a Catalan colony for centuries, and the Catalan-Aragonese style here meets Baroque, Rococo, Art Nouveau and Neoclassicism. Take a walk along the sea walls, visit the Civic Square, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of San Francesco (XIV century) and the Church of San Michele, with a splendid octagonal cupola with polychrome majolica, an Italian tin-glazed pottery. For a breathtaking view of the city and the coast, climb up one of the panoramic towers of the city.
Tropical beaches, luxury boats, cool bars – Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) is a haven for the most seasoned travelers. In the northeast of Sardinia, between the gulfs of Cugnana and Arzachena, this exclusive destination was created in 1962 by the Ismaili Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. The natural scenery is breathtaking: 80 km of coastline covered by Mediterranean vegetation and dotted with white sandy beaches, granite rocks and hidden bays. Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo are the the most lively villages. Do not miss the Capriccioli Beach, Golfo Aranci for snorkelers and a drink at Phi Beach, considered among the 10 best beach clubs in the world.
Gennargentu and Orosei Gulf National Park
The National Park of the Orosei Gulf and Gennargentu ranges from the mountains to the sea. The massif of Gennargentu includes the highest mountain of Sardinia (La Marmora, 1834 mt.) and is ideal for trekking, with breathtaking viewpoints of the island. The plateau of Barbagia and Supramonte slopes down to the steep coastline of the Gulf of Orosei. The park is inhabited by wild sheep, deer, fallow deer, foxes and real eagles. Do not miss the Supramonte of Oliena and the Lanaittu valley, the Supramonte of Orgosolo, Su Gorropu, the deepest canyon in Italy, the marine cave of the Bue Marino and the beaches of Cala Mariolu, Dorgali and Cala Gonone.
La Maddalena Archipelago National Park
Surrounded by Caribbean waters, the archipelago of La Maddalena boasts the most beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean. It includes the islands of La Maddalena, where the only village, Caprera, stands connected to the main island by a bridge, Spargi, Budelli, Razzoli and other smaller islands (total 62). The archipelago has been sculpted by the mistral and the currents of the Strait of Bonifacio. The color of the sea varies from turquoise to emerald to cobalt blue. Dolphins, sea birds, whales and sea turtles inhabit the park. Enjoy the pink beach in Budelli, the pearl of the park, Caroltto beach in La Maddalena, Cala Coticcio and Cala Andreani in Caprera, perhaps the most beautiful island, Cala Conneri, in Spargi.
Asinara Island National Park
In northwest Sardinia, in the municipality of Porto Torres, is the unspoiled island of Asinara. Formerly known as the ‘Devil’s Island’ in the ’70s, this corner of paradise was home to the maximum security prison for mafia and terrorists. As a result, the island was preserved from tourism, at least until now. Asinara has rugged coastlines, rocky on the eastern slope and sandy on the western side. Albino donkeys are the symbols of the island. The only town is Cala Oliva, where you can sleep in the only hostel on the island, rent a bike, a jeep or leave for an excursions to Punta Scomunica, the highest top of the island. Do not miss Cala Sabina, ideal for snorkeling, and the beaches of Cala Sgombro and Cala Sant’Andrea.
Porto Conte Regional Park
Jacques Cousteau called it ‘one of the most beautiful corners of the Mediterranean’. On the northwest coast of Sardinia, in the province of Alghero, the Porto Conte Regional Park boasts an extraordinary variety of habitats. The karst promontory of Capo Caccia and Punta Giglio scenically overlooking the sea, the wetland of Calich lagoon which runs parallel to the coast, the forest of Le Prigionette and the underwater habitat, rich in caves and posidonia prairies. Do not miss the famous Grotte di Nettuno (Neptune Caves), 2500 meters of spectacular settings, with salty lakes and inland beaches. The park is also dotted with Nuragic monoliths, Roman villas and Spanish coastal watchtowers.
The Sulcis Iglesiante includes the south-western part of Sardinia and Sant’Antioco and San Pietro islands. Inhabited since ancient times, far from mass tourism, Sulcis is famous for its abandoned mines and beauty. Visit the Regional Park of Sulcis, which boasts one of the oldest and more extended forests of the Mediterranean. Reach the Nebida Belvedere and admire the Sugar Loaf and the ancient port of Flavia, carved into the rock. Walk on the talcum powder dunes of Porto Pino, amongst the salt pans of Sant’Antioco or along the spectacular coast of San Pietro. Among the most beautiful beaches is Cala Domestica (Buggerru) on the coast of Iglesias. For lovers of surfing the beach is Portixeddu.
A Short History Of Sardinia
Since the dawn of civilization, Sardinia was a mooring for those who sailed in the Mediterranean. From the Neolithic we have inherited splendid ceramics, figurines of the Mother Goddess, dolmens and the famous Domus de Janas (houses of the fairies or witches). These megalithic populations developed in the famous Nuragic civilization, which left us more than 7,000 conical towers and palaces, the so-called nuraghe, the center of social life of each clan. Along with the Tombs of the Giants, the nuraghe represent the testament of this sophisticated population of warriors, shepherds and navigators.
Phoenicians and Romans
The Nuragic civilization lasted almost a millennium. It was in the heyday when another population of navigators, the Phoenicians, arrived on the island (X-VIII BC) as merchants and not as invaders. They were integrated in the coastal villages bringing new impulses and lifestyles. Until the Carthaginians (510 BC) and then the Romans (238 BC) conquered the island by force. The Nuragics retreated into the interior regions opposing fierce resistance. The Romans brought to the island roads, agricultural techniques (Sardinia became one of the granaries of the Empire) and the Sardinian language, of neo-Latin origin.
Byzantine Sardinia and Giudicati
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Sardinia was occupied by the Vandals and then by the Byzantines (534 A.D.). Christianity made its difficult appearance between Nuragic deities. With the decline of Byzantium, from the ninth century BC, the Sardinians gave themselves an autonomous organization based on 4 Giudicati, ie states. It was a period of social evolution. In 1395 the regent Eleonora di Arborea issued the Carta de Logu, a very advanced charter in terms of human rights. In this period, the Maritime Republics of Pisa and Genoa gained a great influence defending the island by the Arabs.
Spanish Sardinia and Banditry
The history of the Kingdom of Sardinia continued under the crowns of Aragon and Spain, then moved to the Savoy dynasty in 1720. This was Sardinia’s darkest period, made of social injustice, economic involution and cultural stagnation. The communal ownership of land, a figure deeply rooted in the identity of Sardinia, was abolished and the new feudal lords took possession of the land. The phenomenon of banditry, linked to the demand for rights and justice, was born. This is a typical Sardinian phenomenon, connected to an indomitable identity which lasts until today.