Sardinia, as an island, is very special. Much of its distinctive appeal is in its separation from the mainland, leading Sardinia to create its own language, cultural quirks and cuisine as a direct product of its tumultuous history. The island holds much to be seen, not only including glorious beaches and a rocky interior, but also the remains of the nuraghic culture as well as more recent Carthaginian and Roman. Other things to see include influences from the island’s various other settlers, churches with a distinctly Pisan feel and building that are elegantly Spanish Baroque.
In an attempt to see all this gorgeous island has to offer, you are at risk of missing some of the highlights or enjoying them all too briefly. So instead of a whistle-stop tour, consider careful planning to truly experience a corner of this incredible island.
The Northern half of the island is home to the glitzy area of Costa Smeralda, renowned for its celebrity guests and high-end luxury, but it is equally scattered with beautiful and intimate coves as well as caves, islands and the dramatic interior.
While all of Sardinia is famed for its beaches, the North has a more rugged terrain and dramatic coastline, however this does not mean it is bereft of white sand and turquoise water. If you are staying on the ever-popular coast of Costa Smeralda, then Liscia Ruja is where you should be heading. Leva from the popular blog Beach Lovers Diary has been hunting down the best sandy spots in the area and told us: “Porto Cervo being the capital of Costa Smeralda has several beautiful beaches located in a short driving distance – Liscia Ruja being the longest and probably the most popular. Besides the super long white sandy beach and shallow waters, this is a perfect place to spot celebrity yachts, so don’t forget your binocular at home.”
If you prefer a more secluded spot, Jennifer from My Sardinian Life recommends Tinnari as the perfect destination: “A fifteen minute drive from Isola Rossa, access to this stunning beach is by boat or foot. The 214m walk down is flanked with cork trees and offers a beautiful panorama of The Asinara Islands and Corisca. Tinnari is comprised of two small half-moon bays and the beach is formed from small fragments of sea shells, granite rocks and round coloured pebbles which have ebbed and flowed for eons.”
Grotte Di Nettuno
As with many islands, the sea is inescapable, and as Sardinians draw so much inspiration, both in food and culture, from the sea, it seems only right that the first activity should be marine based. These are not only the most famous caves on the island, but also the largest, with up to 4 km of tunnels, though for safety reasons, less is open to the public. This is a popular place to dive, especially with the Nereo Cave nearby, which is the largest marine cave in the Mediterranean. For those wishing to see Neptune’s Grotto in a more leisurely manner, boat trips are available.
The site and distance of this island means it has had many reincarnations as a prisoner camp to a leper colony, but it has finally settled down as a beautiful wildlife and marine park. Mostly uninhabited, it is the home to a herd of wild albino donkeys and is famed for its peaceful setting and tranquil attitude. A short drive from Isola Rossa, Isola dell’Asinara is the perfect day trip if you want to get away from towns and enjoy unadulterated nature.
Horse Riding at San Teodoro
After too much pasta or one too many days at the beach, you might be aching to do something more active than lift a glass to your lips. What better way to enjoy the natural beauty this half of the island has to offer than on horseback? The famous beach La Cinta is best experienced when you gallop over it on horseback feeling as glamorous as all the movie stars back on Costa Smeralda. Maneggio La Cinta is the best company to make that happen, organising regular equine excursions. Sardatur offer many hotels and accommodation close to the San Teodoro area.
There are some fantastic eateries in this half of the island, from street bars in Porto Cervo to fish restaurants right on the beach. We have however found some truly special restaurants if you are looking to treat yourself.
I Fratti Rossi promises incredible seafood on the hills above Costa Smerelda. With an extensive wine menu to accompany the artfully served dishes, it will be sure to be a highlight of your Sardinian Cuisine. Just outside of Olbia, Il Portolano is a destination restaurant, famed for its fish, this restaurant only uses the freshest ingredients and local Sardinian wines to accompany their delicious food. Trattoria Tipica Sassari L’Assassino brings both Sardinian specialities and local favourites alongside seasonal dishes from the freshest sources. The large menu makes an effort to be all-encompassing and appetising to everyone.
Cagliari is a must see city and the incredible sweeps of pristine beaches in perfect for those looking for a beach holiday in Sardinia. Though lacking the drama of the Northern half of the Island, Southern Sardinia is effortlessly romantic and gloriously beautiful.
While some people may believe that all beaches were made equal, then they have not visited Southern Sardinia. While it is easy to stop on any stretch of stunning coast, there are a few that are really worth looking out for. The Well Travelled Man revelled in the many beaches he visited but had something to say for San Giovanni di Sinis just beyond the town of Oristano: “We arrived at San Giovanni di Sinis which was even more beautiful than La Pelosa on day one, which we didn’t think was possible! The water was perfect and there were fish swimming everywhere, but be careful as they bite (or nibble) at your ankles!”
Poetto Beach not only retains the untouched beauty of Sardinian beaches, but also has the increased chance of seeing the flamingos that flock to the pond very close to it. Meanwhile Pinus Village beach is surrounded by a rocky cove that gives it an exceptionally intimate feel.
Spiaggia di Chia is a beach for nature lovers. Renowned for its wildlife it is a place to take a camera and soak up more than sun, sea and sand. Next to Chia Laguna, it is a great place for an early morning or evening stroll the perfect time for romance and animal watching.
This is the perfect activity of those looking to venture inland and brush up on their history. Visiting the nuraghic site is atmospheric and stunning. While it is a great way to see the depth of this island’s history and in interest the interior holds, Fondazione Barumini Sistema Cultura, which has been charged with the maintenance of this site, has opened a new Centre of Cultural Heritage Communication and Promotion, offering exhibitions and workshops about the area.
The Ancient Roman ruins look as if they will tumble straight into the jewel bright water to follow some of the other Sardinian towns that have been submerged. With exposed mosaics, half crumbled pillars and an amphitheatre, it is hard to leave without the sensation of how life was once lived here especially so close to some of our favourite hotels at Santa Margherita di Pula. Journey of a Nomadic Family enjoyed their experience here despite a few hiccups: “The roman remains are really good and there’s a huge amount to see (if you’re allowed to) but the best part of the tour was being allowed to visit the Spanish tower. The view over the bay is magnificent and gives a bird’s eye view of just how grand the remains are.”
For the best experienced of a Southern Sardinian way of life, the food is a key part of their psyche. A little way west of the Forte Village resort is Ristorante de Stefano in Teulada. It is the perfect finish to a day away from the resort and offers a unique attitude to flavours despite the traditional atmosphere of the restaurant.
Spitting distance from Pula and resorts at Santa Margherita di Pula, sits a fantastic restaurant that will have you eagerly heading into town. Cucina Machri may specialise in seafood but the real beauty is in the presentation, you will be torn between admiring the delicate creations in the intimate restaurant and wishing to eat even more.
S’Apposentu is a restaurant for the bold, located in the heart of the island, the dramatic scenery is the perfect complement to Roberto Petza’s creations. A combination of traditional flavours and techniques are given a new breath of life as the food is full of flair and surprises and is well worth the journey inland.