Descending Su Gorroppu, Sardinia’s spectacular canyon

In my perpetual quest of re-discovering my hometown, I’ve made the unfortunate decision to go trekking in Sardinia and hike in Su Gorroppu canyon region down to its gorge. Sure now I’m proud of it, but back then I swore that was going to be the first and last time I would embark on such an outdoor adventure.

A view of Su Gorroppu while descending to its gorge

Gola di Su Gorroppu “Gorge of Gorroppu” is a valley and canyon in Nuoro province, eastern Sardinia. Believed to be one of the largest canyons in Europe, it makes for a great day of trekking in Sardinia. From the parking area, you can follow the easy route to the canyon and enjoy your gorge walking. Su Gorroppu canyon itself is spectacular, which makes it even more fun to explore and one of the best things to do in Sardinia.

Sardinia trekking, exploring Su Gorroppu canyon

Su Gorroppu is a deep canyon in Dorgali’s territory, or better in Sardinia’s Barbagia region, one of the wildest parts of the island where is just better not to meddle in its “internal affairs”. The same Gorroppu, in fact, probably due to its striking beauty, is in the middle of a dispute: both Dorgali and Orgosolo claim it’s part of their territory. It doesn’t really mind where the canyon actually belongs to as long as everybody can go and enjoy the not-so-relaxing walk.

The journey starts from over 1000 meter height and goes down with the most silent and wonderful views ever seen, so make sure the camera is up and running for some good pictures. It is cold and snows sometimes during winter in this area and I don’t recommend visiting it during the cold season.

⇒ Tip: Book a car rental as it’s the only way to travel around Sardinia, being the public transport next to non-existent.

Wear comfortable hiking boots or sports shoes, take plenty of water and food to enjoy the walk. There is no refreshment stop on the way down the canyon, so you might want to carry enough for the day, even though not too heavy as hiking Su Gorroppu does require some attention and skills.

The trip takes from 7 to 10 hours, food breaks included, and if you have a guide, he/she will inform you on the best paths to follow, also depending on your hiking/climbing level. The gorge is divided into three sections, Green path (easy), Yellow path (a lot of climbing and ropes to use) and Red path (for rock climbers who carry the necessary kit and know what they are doing). Depending on the route, there are fixed ropes in place that help you walk and hike better.

It takes all day to get down and back up and you might come back with knee pain but it’s worth every bit and I recommend you visit the beautiful Gorroppu gorge, one of the best walks in Sardinia.

You can do the hike with the kids as well, from Silana it takes around 2 hours to get all the way down. Take the green path inside the canyon if you are with the kids. On the way back you can get a ride on the jeeps for 10 minutes along the rocky path and have a nice walk up that takes around two hours. The paths are pretty much in the shade so it won’t be too hot.

On our way down

I went in May, and temperatures were already soaring, although not as much as they do in July/August when even tours are stopped by the council.

I confess, abandoning the group in the middle of the way and going back to the car did cross my mind more than once, but in the end I realized I would have been the only one “abandoned” as unless you are a local there’s a very high chance to get lost along a scrubby path strewn with rickety boulders.

As it happens, the adventure started right from the beginning, when, from the town of Dorgali, we departed canyon-bound. Along the way, to arrive high enough to make sure the route was going to be hard for all the members of the group, we drove up narrow country lanes on the very edge of the ravine. As we kept going up at high speed, more concerned looks were exchanged among the passengers of the ramshakle 4×4, until one mustered up his nerves and asked our guide, Francesco: “Isn’t this way a bit too dangerous?”

“Don’t worry!” replied Francesco so promptly I suspected he was almost waiting for the questions. “I come here often and I know this place very well, I can even drive with my eyes closed! Do you want to see how I drive with my eyes closed??”

We froze and silently agreed not to interrupt the peace in the car anymore.

Reaching the gorge

Once we arrived on top, Francesco quickly instructed us: “We need to stick always together to avoid getting lost, many people got lost in this canyon. The last ones were a Japanese couple just last week, they were never found. Also, be careful, rolling stones are very slippery if you fall and you get something broken you’ll understand yourself that it’s impossible to get you out of here either carried by hand nor with the aid of a helicopter because it will never fit in this narrow gorge. The weak will be left here, wild animals have the right to eat, too, after all!”

With this enticing prospect in mind, we started motioning to what seemed an Underworld.

A view from the gorge

Paying extra attention to every single step added to the fatigue a normal trek would have naturally caused. Our path bristled with small and bigger rolling stones, and being careful to place our feet on the right stone at every step made our initial attention to what our guide was telling us quickly fade away.

Although, I did manage to retain some of the most precious anecdotes. Being very rich in precious wood such as juniper, these mountains of Barbagia have been the unfortunate target of shiftless former Italian royal family, the Savoia, who, after colonizing the island, as every invading entity, started looting its resources, exploiting its natives and destroying its forests to burn the trees in order to have scented ashes to please their princely noses. Thousands of trees have been wasted, with the obvious deadly consequences for the natural environment, and only now little by little, the forest is being brought back to normal.

The period under the Savoia rule is still fresh in Sardinia’s memory, one of the worst in modern history, this is why natives have often organized revolts against the occupying forces, and it’s from these days that we have been nicknamed “bandits”. If a bandit is someone who revolts against bloody occupations, then I’m delighted to be considered such.

Once in the gorge, boulders are not over

Although there are two definite paths to reach the gorge, it’s still quite easy to get lost. In fact, the tour guides, who know the place like the back of their hands, are part of the rescue team called to look for missing people. It’s not uncommon that when they go looking for someone specific, they find other people who got lost days before and keep wandering on the lookout for the exit.

I absolutely loved my trek down and up the canyon, not sure I want to do it again, but I certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys full immersions in nature. Here marks of modernity are seldom seen, summer heat is unforgiving, most of July and August tours are forbidden due to too high temperatures. Winter time is dangerous because too slippery, I think the best period is April, May, June and then September/October, obviously not on rainy days. Getting here it’s not difficult, there are many low-cost airlines flying from different European cities to Olbia, the closest airport, especially during the high season, and from Olbia, your best bet is to rent a car, although there are some buses (very few) a day running to Dorgali.

Once back where we had parked the car, the prize was a delicious homemade lunch with plenty of local delicacies.

Being surrounded by scented plants, prehistoric sites and every kind of minerals makes it easy to reconnect with the planet and setting new priorities. It might be my recent holistic turn, but I’m increasingly enjoying anything that can make me feel at one with the planet, and this was one remarkable experience.

The last touch was aphrodisiac, soft bread filled with fresh ricotta with a topping of local honey

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24 Comments
  1. Reply
    Cole @ Four Jandals June 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Oh man that last photo looks delicious! Obviously well deserved after that hike :)

  2. Wow that last picture of the food looks so good I wish I had that.

  3. J’ai les vertiges à regarder les photos! FANTASTIQUE!!!

  4. Fotografie molto suggestive, danno proprio l’idea del canyon.

  5. :) the guide’s threat sure worked!!!

    must have a very satisfying adventure!

    lovely images!

  6. Sounds like you had a really interesting trip, especially your ride going to the canyon! Very nice photos too.

    http://www.GreenGlobalTravel.com

  7. I wanted to do this when I was there last month but didn’t get time. It looks really tough! But worth it in the end. Next time, maybe.

  8. This looks like such a fun trip! Not sure how I’d react to those ominous warnings of the couple never getting found or the animals having a right to eat! Other than that, looks like quite the adventure!

  9. Dear,
    your photos are magnificent as always, frankly speaking i am attracted by your art of focusing on grand perspectives.
    and why don’t you like climbing??? come back to iran and stay with me you shall experience massive climbing in a climbers’ family ^-^

  10. p.s. i add your hometown to the list of places im gonna visit in italy ;)

  11. What was the total hike time? My wife and I are going to Sardinia in May. She had shoulder surgery in September and is not yet 100% as far as upper body strength. Is this something that would prevent her from doing this trek safely? Thanks! Amazing photos.

    • Hi Nick, thanks for stopping by! Our total hiking time was from early morning to late afternoon, but we had lunch there too. Truth be said, we did take the hardest trail, I was told there is an easier one, which is longer though. May is a good season as it’s not as hot as July and August, even though I think in July and August there are no tours as it’s really too hot.

      The route we took included also some minor climbing, up to a point where we needed to climb with a rope, which most of us didn’t do as it was right at the end anyway.

      What you can do it go to Dorgali anyway, from where we started the tour, and explain your wife’s condition to the operators, they’ll be able to tell you if she’s fit to hike or not.

      Do let me know if you need further help and information!

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