Sardinia, or Sardegna as it’s known locally, is an island jewel where natural beauty, a relaxed pace, age-old traditions and plenty of room for everyone are the order of the day. It’s also where you’ll find some of the most scrumptious seafood Europe has to offer, including succulent lobster.
For Aussie travellers, getting to Sardinia is easy enough. I took a short train ride from Rome to the port of Civitavecchia, where ferries depart for Olbia on Sardinia’s north-east coast. Although many European ferry towns can be less than inviting, Olbia is a pleasant surprise, with an intimate feel and plenty of attractive beaches to explore including Porto Istana, which offers safe snorkelling amongst the house-sized rocks.
The port town of Olbia features a picturesque harbour. ©Kevin Casey
Just up the coast, the scenery gets even better when you arrive at the port of La Maddalena and an archipelago of spectacular islands spreading north toward Corsica in clear, turquoise seas.
The crystal-clear waters surrounding La Maddalena are best explored by boat. ©Kevin Casey
Here you’ll find the finest beaches on the island, reached by hiking to secluded coves or by jumping on one of the reasonably priced boat trips that cruise to all the loveliest spots.
Accommodation in Sardinia is quite economical (I was there in late September and never paid more than $80 a night anywhere), especially if you can spend a while in an Airbnb apartment and get the weekly discount. Hiring a car gives you more flexibility (and is the best way to access the island’s rugged interior) but a cheaper option is to use local buses.
On the west coast, Alghero is well worth a stop, featuring narrow cobblestone streets, a medieval citadel and luscious white-sand beaches. The crowds—which can triple in midsummer—had started to thin out by the time I arrived and it was a pleasure to spend lazy afternoons investigating narrow lanes and hidden cafes in the historic old town.
The whole place is protected from the Mediterranean by a solid sea wall. To the north, several secluded beaches provide an idyllic, sun-drenched escape. Despite being in Italy, Alghero has a distinctly Spanish feel because it used to be a Catalan colony.
If you’re keen to try some authentic Sardinian cuisine, have a go at ricci (sea urchins), which are a specialty of the area. Wash them down with mirto (a liquer made from the berries of the myrtle plant), limoncello or one of the excellent local wines.
From Alghero, it’s three to four hours by bus (for around $32) down the west coast to Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari (pronounced with a silent ‘g’). The first part of the trip is a visual feast as the coastal road passes through rocky mountains and lush vegetation overlooking a sparkling blue sea. If you’re not in a hurry, stop off at the delightful medieval town of Bosa on the way, it has a friendly, unspoiled character and there’s plenty to see and do.
Cagliari may be the biggest city in Sardinia but it’s pretty quiet and easily explored on foot. Three must-dos here include:
A Free Walking Tour
This departs in the morning from the piazza with the obelisk and takes about two hours. It’s an ideal introduction to Sardinian history and you’ll get some handy local tips about making the most of your time in Cagliari, which is truly a beautiful town.
Stella Marina di Montecristo Restaurant
This is hands down the best seafood restaurant I’ve ever been to, anywhere in the world. Make sure you book ahead—if you just hopefully show up, you probably won’t get in. This family-run place offers a superb set menu so you needn’t make any decisions; just sit down and wait for the five or six courses to arrive, one after the other. You certainly won’t leave hungry. This is an unparalleled dining experience and tremendous value too.
San Benedetto Market
Even if you don’t buy a thing, the spectacle of this colourful local market is entertaining by itself. Stroll amongst the stalls to find locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, fresh fish and much more. I paid less than $15 for a bulging bag of assorted fruits and vegies that saw me through an entire week. San Benedetto is a great place to snag a cheap cafe lunch too.
One of the more relaxing ways to depart Sardinia is by overnight ferry to Naples. On board, you get your own little cabin with a comfy bed and a private bathroom with shower. The trip takes a little over 13 hours, leaving Sardinia around 7 p.m. and arriving on the Italian mainland the next morning. Cost is around $70. Check the schedules online because they only make this particular trip twice a week.
If chilling out Italian style sounds like your idea of a perfect holiday, then spend time on gorgeous Sardinia. I’m glad I did.