It’s that time of the year again. Which time, you might wonder. Well, the beach season is approaching and many of us haven’t booked our summer holidays yet.
Often, when it comes to spending summer in Sardinia the first thoughts go to its famous Emerald Coast which, for as beautiful as it is, it’s not the best place if you want to get to know the island and its people. And this comes from a local, myself, so you can believe it. Here is my list of ten places to go if you want to unearth real Sardinia, but by no means this claims to be an exhaustive list, on the very contrary, it’s only the beginning. On the bright side, fret not, I’m preparing a travel guidebook about the most traditional and offbeat spots in Sardinia, the ones that will make you fall in love with the island and certainly want to come back to see more of it.
Are you ready for the beginning of the journey around authentic and real Sardinia? Read on.
Do you like great food, mountain and sea? Then the quaint and lovely hamlet of Seneghe might as well be your ideal destination. Famous for an extra-virgin olive oil that will change your concept of salad dressing forever, Seneghe boasts incredibly delicious cakes, cookies and all types of sweets, along with its other delicacies. What about the mountain and sea combination? This little town is built on the valley of a hill belonging to the mountain range of the Montiferru, where different areas bear different names. From here, apart from enjoying the typical unspoilt vegetation of the Mediterranean woodlands, you can stare at a beautiful view of the island’s western coast.
I get it, you are in Sardinia and don’t want to miss a jaunt to one of the beaches that make its coastline so famous, but instead of immersing in a crowded sea resort, you would like a secluded haven. On the island’s western coast, at about 130 km from Cagliari, Sardinia’s main city where there is one of the international airports connecting with many European cities via direct flights, lies S’Archittu, a hidden little sea resort, and even more hidden than its main beach is another smaller beach reachable via a short walk through a rocky path, a pleasant stroll thanks to turquoise crystal waters on your left.
Controversial, wild and utterly beguiling, the town of Orgosolo is mainly known for its stormy past and famous city council building covered with bullet holes as an illustration of the obstreperous spirit of the place. Known as the village of bandits mainly for their struggle against the occupiers when Piedmont royal family decided that Sardinia would have made for a nice backyard, Orgosolo is famous also for its beautiful murals, most of them heavy in political and anti-imperialist messages. From here, or nearby town Dorgali, you can also organize a day out to the gorgeous canyon Su Gorroppu.
Parco della Giara
Wonderful plateau that originated some 3000 years ago on top of two extinct volcanoes, Parco della Giara can be reached from different villages, such as Tuili, Gesturi, Setzu and Genoni. Beautiful expanse of local vegetation and native wildlife, from birds to wild pigs, the real stars of Parco della Giara are small horses, as small as they were about 10,000 years ago, when they stopped evolving and decided they actually wanted to keep their look as it was. This is a very suggestive place to visit whether you are passionate about nature, history, evolution, science or just walking through untouched surroundings, and depending on the season you will be able to enjoy different colors and smells.
Quaint town further embellished by stunning murals, San Sperate is famous for its delicious peaches, for which even a local festival (sagra) is organized every year when the season starts, the exquisite honey production and the world famous sculptor Pino Sciola, whose sounding (and bleeding!) stones make for a spellbinding experience. Giving us the sound of the universe, stones are the backbone of the planet, present since time began, they’ve always existed and they always will. Less than 20 km from Cagliari, after you enjoy your colorful stroll around San Sperate, do visit Pino Sciola in his house-lab or directly at his open-air museum towards the countryside where he will charm your senses with tales and his stones’ otherworldly sounds.
Sant’Antioco is Sardinia’s southernmost island, not far from Cagliari, and is indeed quite a popular spot especially for summer vacation. However, there is a hidden gem that many tourists (and locals!) don’t know about, the museum of the byssus managed by Chiara Vigo, the only woman on the planet who still weaves this sea silk. Fascinating form of art hailing from somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, the byssus is a fine fabric produced out of the velvety strand of an endangered seashell native of the Mediterranean Sea. Coming from a family of artists (or masters, as she likes to point out), Chiara doesn’t sell her work, instead she donates the precious fabric to museums, galleries, popes and presidents. Between a stroll in the lagoon and a swim in the sea, don’t miss a visit to Chiara’s workshop if you want to get the feeling of ancient Mediterranean civilizations.
Famous for its skilled bricklayers, Ghilarza is known for being the town where Italian politician, writer and philosopher Antonio Gramsci lived before being imprisoned by the Fascist regime in 1926. Nestled between beautiful Omodeo Lake and Chenale valley, Ghilarza is a dynamic little town in mainland Sardinia worth a stop both for its traditional houses and historical places such as an Aragonese tower, and because, being located in the very heart of the island, from here you can easily reach all the other destinations in your itinerary. As a curiosity, Ghilarza is surrounded by tiny little villages, almost ghost towns, that are inhabited only once a year for 9 days to one month during the celebrations of the festivals devoted to the saint each village is named after, be it Saint Michael (San Michele) or Saint Seraphim (San Serafino) among the others.
Not far from Ghilarza, basically on the other side of the Omodeo Lake, lies Sedilo, traditional town where guests are sacred entities and every saint in the calendar is a good occasion to organize a festival. Reason why summer here is a great collection of parties, late nights and concerts. The main festival is undoubtedly S’Ardia, a spectacular and reckless horse race where around 80 horses dart down a dangerous trail in the countryside just outside the village and around the sanctuary of Saint Constantine, whom the whole 3-day feast is devoted to. Sedilo also boasts an important archaeological site, the Iloi complex, comprising of a nuraghe (bronze-age stone tower) and a giants’ tomb.
Close to Orgosolo, also in the Barbagia region of Nuoro province, is Mamoiada, lovely town known for its delicious crunchy thin bread (carasau), its excellent production of Sardinian red wine Cannonau and the grotesque masquerade of the Mamuthones, fascinating masks that come out only a few times a year, the first time being in occasion of Saint Anthony festival on January 17th and then for Carnival, usually celebrated 40-45 days before Easter. Mamoiada is not only this though, and if you are a history lover you can also enjoy its prehistoric ruins of fairies’ houses and giants’ tombs.
Finally, it’s spa time. Whether you enjoy delving into ancient ruins or pampering yourself with fancy treatments, Fordongianus is the place for you. In fact, here a modern spa center providing all types of treatments, from mud therapy to balneotherapy to relaxing in the thermal baths rich in healing properties, sits just beside the ancient baths dating back to, wait for it, Roman times. Unsurprisingly, one might say, since Romans were pretty famous for their knack for overindulging in spa treatments. Located on the plain of the Campidano Oristanese, Fordongianus lies between Cagliari and Nuoro, just after a detour from the main 131 highway.
For as beautiful as it is, Sardinia is not exactly known for its efficient public transportation, so when you organize your trip beyond modernity and in the quest for the primordial, your best bet is the rent a car with the many car rentals available in the island’s airports, such as Hertz, Avis and others.