The novelist DH Lawrence described Sardinia as being ‘lost somewhere between Europe and Africa, and belonging to nowhere’. Visit this enchanting land and you’ll have to agree – there really is nowhere quite like Sardinia.
A land of ancient history and sleek, modern marinas – of vertiginous cliffs and crescent bays, Sardina sticks to you. We’ve listed 15 of our favourite Sardinian adventures, but this island encourages you to go off grid and find your own.
You’ll find Sardinia’s charms very hard to resist in Nora Bay. The Phoenician town of Nora was established over a thousand years ago – it now lies in ruins, but the nearby town of Pula, very much alive, is a vibrant centre for watersports and nightlife, Sardinian style.
With its many layers of history, charming Oristano warrants a couple of days’ exploration. Climb the tower of St. Christophoros, otherwise known as Tower of Mariano II, built in 1290, for the best cityscape. The stunning St Mary’s Cathedral offers a cool and hushed retreat. The tight maze of little streets in the old town is lined with jewellery shops, boutiques and bars. And don’t miss enjoying a coffee or cocktail in handsome Piazza Eleonora the geographical and social heart of the city.
Villasimius is a typical, lively Sardinian town with plenty of history within its cluster of narrow, ochre coloured stone walls. Excellent restaurants and pizzerias line the streets as they fan out to meet the coast. And it’s at the coast where this picturesque tourist centre really shines. The Inlet of Santa Caterina has water so clear it looks like the little bobbing boats are floating, mid-air. The ancient fortifications, such as the 15th century ‘Old Tower’ punctuate a winding coast road with fascinating views of land and sea, from the islands of Cavoli to the vibrant capital, Cagliari, just 40 kilometres away.
Just out of town, but just as much of a draw, is the stunning pink sand beach of Simius and Campulongu, where the warm, clear waters of Capo Carbonara roll ashore. The coastline here is carefully protected – its marine animals and plants forming part of the island’s Geo-Marine Preservation Park. Take a boat trip or diving lesson to enjoy a closer look, and don’t forget your waterproof camera!
Sardinia’s Costa Smerelda (the Emerald Coast, main pic above) is well named. The coast here, indented in a frill of golden coves, is washed twice daily by the deep green waters of the Mediterranean. It’s mesmerizingly beautiful, and only enhanced by the region’s stylish resorts and bustling towns. Try Porto Rotondo overlooking the wide Gulf of Cugnana, with its tavernas and boutiques wrapped by luscious forests and glittering bays.
The coastline of western Sardinia is sublime – and one of the best ways of enjoying it is to take a day’s boat trip out into the Mediterranean. You’ll pass countless horseshoe-shaped bays, golden beaches and soaring limestone arches. Dropping anchor just offshore allows you to dive into the clear, warm waters. Operators leave from nearby Is Arenas beach. Or head to the south west to stunning Cala Domestica, one of the island’s most photogenic coves surrounded by cliffs and washed by some of the clearest waters in the Med (great for snorkelling).
Its coastline may be beach lined and tranquil, but at its core Sardinia is surprisingly, and spectacularly wild at heart. Explore the island’s dramatic east coast, the rugged hills and rushing rivers of the Oliena National Park, and the Codula Fuili Gorge – glimpsing dazzling white beaches as you walk.
There are over 1,800 kilometres of coastline in Sardinia to choose from (a quarter of Italy’s entire coastline), but Chia Beach in the south of the island is one of Italy’s best. The light gold sands enjoy a backdrop of protected sand dunes and juniper trees, offering the beach a little shelter.
The Monte Arci Regional Park is an open air playground offering strenuous mountain bike trails, horseback riding excursions and rushing rivers for kayak enthusiasts. If nature’s your thing, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear: the ancient woodlands are home to wild boars, foxes, wild cats, pine martens and weasels. And the birdlife is equally impressive – bring your binoculars! More than 6000 hectares’ worth of wetlands snake their way inland from the coast north of Oristano. The most famous is the Stagno di Cabras, home to several rare aquatic bird species, such as the red-crested pochard, purple heron, purple swamphen and Eurasian coot.
There are over 7,000 prehistoric sites on the island. About 50 kms inland lies Fordongianus, famous for its many prehistoric remains, including Roman era works (the aqueduct, amphitheatre, thermal baths and a few villas). Close by, the Church of San Lussorio is a 12th Century shrine to St. Luxorius, martyred by Roman emperor Diocletian in 304 A.D. The area is also home to two of the island’s most important prehistoric monuments: the Nuraghe Losa complex (losa in Sardinian means tomb) and the Santa Cristina Nuragic Sanctuary, with a famous sacred well.
Don’t miss a visit to see the Stagno di Mistras, breeding ground for gulls and vividly hued flamingos. A protected area, with lovely walks through reed beds, and with judiciously placed bird hides, this is as close to nature as it gets.
Charming, elegant, and unlike anywhere else on the island, Cagliari climbs up from the sea in a succession of pastel-coloured waves. The island’s capital, Sardinia is both a bustling working city and a place infused with ancient history. Take a look at the gorgeous Neo Romanesque Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Castello and pause at its entrance to enjoy stunning viewpoints over the city’s rooftops and out to sea. Sit and enjoy a coffee in the peaceful Piazza Palazzo, and walk along the fortifications of the Castello quarter. A human-scale capital city, Cagliari is awash with delights – not least its excellent restaurants and tiny, independent boutiques.
Tiny Arborea, with its Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic buildings, makes for a memorable day’s excursion. Exhibited inside the Palazzo Comunale is a fine archaeological collection, featuring Punic, Roman and late-Medieval finds, and rich tapestries and coin collections.
An hour and a half’s drive north will take you to the province’s far northwest, and to Bosa. Sitting in the foothills of dramatic mountains, the town is an ancient Phoenician settlement in the valley of the Temo river. The town is famous for its handicrafts, including coral, textiles and embroidery. And its food is second to none. One of its wines, Malvasia, a DOC-certified beauty, has a wine trail dedicated to it, which is definitely worth exploring. At almost a kilometre long, the beach of Bosa Marina has been awarded “five sails” – the local equivalent of a huge thumbs up!