Sardinia is often regarded as the playground of the rich due to the location of the famous glamorous beaches of Costa Smeralda on the island of Sardinia which are populated by the world’s jet set during the summer months of July and August. However, there is much more that this island offers to a tourist other than gorgeous beaches and turquoise waters. Sardinia is the second largest in the Mediterranean. The novelist D.H. Lawrence visited this wild and wonderful island in 1912 and remarked that Sardinia is lost between Africa and Europe and belongs to none. He was inspired by the rugged landscape and the island’s 1800 kilometer coastline to write his novel ‘the Sea and Sardinia.’
Sardinia is located between Italy, Spain and Tunisia and is an autonomous region governed by a special statute of the Italian constitution. The fact that it existed in Neolithic times is evidenced by some of the prehistoric stone towers and settlements scattered all over the island which are called Nuraghe and are approximately 9000 in number.
Throughout the ages the island was constantly invaded by marauders from the Sea and hence the island and its people have been shaped by many varied influences. For instance the old town of Alghero in the North West was founded by the Arabs but was ruled later by the Aragonese. The Sardis here speak Catalan a dialect spoken in Spain as the town was at one time a part of Spain when the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were merged. Alghero is a favorite of British holiday makers and retirees some of whom tend to live here all year round and not just in the season. Sardinia is divided into four provinces Cagliari which is the capital, Nuoro, Oristano and Sassari. In addition the Sardinians have created four other provinces Carbonia-Iglesias, Medio Campidano, Ogliastra and Olbia-Tempio. The Italian government has not recognized these provinces as yet.
Getting to Sardinia
The peak season time in Sardinia is the month of August when tourists from all over the world and Europe descend on the unique island to enjoy its miles of gorgeous sandy beaches and azure seas.
One should drive up the narrow hilly road which is along the coastline and enjoy the scenic splendor it provides. Another must is to sample the culinary delights of the unique Sardinian cuisine as well as to shop the exquisite handicrafts for which the Island is very famous .It is usually impossible to find a place to stay here during the summer without having booked months in advance such is the glamour quotient and appeal of Sardinia.
The island has three airports at Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia. A host of budget airlines such as Ryan air, Easy Jet, Air Meridiana and Air One have Sardinia on their routes.
Many ferry services operate to Cagliari, Porto Torres and Olbia as well as Golfo Aranci.
Cars are taken across on the Ferry to the island. Tirrenia is a government owned ferry service while Moby Lines, Sardinia ferries and Grimaldi are some of the private companies.
Travel within the Island
Sardinia is not really known for its public transport system. It does have trains but they travel slowly on narrow gauges which were laid in the 19th century to connect the various parts of the Island. Tourists love to ride on the trenino verde (little green train) an old fashioned steam locomotive which travels to the interior of the island and enables a tourist to drink in the picturesque scenery which is so varied from the views of the Sardinian coastline .The train traverses almost the entire island from Cagliari to Arbatax in the south a very popular tourist route. The train also operates from Sassari to Palau in the north. One must ride on the route from Macomer to Bosa which is yet another route which is visually delightful.
The best way to discover the rugged landscape and the coastline of Sardinia is to rent a car and drive. Car rentals are available in Alghero, Caligiari, Nuoro, Olbia , Oristano Porto Torres and Sassari. Numerous scenic routes takes one past sleepy fishing villages, into the mountains of Barbagia . Along these picturesque routes, in summer the air is scented with the fragrance of the St John’s Wort flowers which grow in wild abandon on the island and are used for their alleged medicinal properties. A recommended drive is the one down to Dorgali for a swim in the Sardinian sea accompanied by a visit to the Grotto del Bue Marino caves where the rare and endangered Mediterranean Monk Seals live.
Cheap and regular buses operate between Alghero and Sassari and Cagliari and Sassari. The frequency of the buses increases in the tourist infested summer months.
By Bicycle, Hiking and Trekking
Various spots offer bicycles for hire and one can easily bike on the island following the sign posts of ‘Costa Smeralada’. Hiking is yet another option and many campsites exist along the coast line, many of these campsites close after the summer but some are perennial. Oliena to Dorgali is a recommended hiking trail and the four walk is known for its picture perfect views, however it is advised that a hiker wear thick socks ands sturdy shoes in order to avoid the thorny shrubs which line the way and emit an inviting fragrance.
Italian is spoken on the island but the Sardinians speak several dialects with the folk in Algehro speaking Catalan.
Sardinia enjoys the temperate climate of the Mediterranean region with mild winters and warm summer months. The temperatures in the months of July and August are around 27C(81F).
Resorts, Hotels, Accommodation
Several options are available to a tourist depending on one’s priorities and budget. Multi million dollar yachts, boutique hotels, apartment hotels and campsites which cost 40€ a night , a tourist has a plethora of choices for accommodation in Sardinia. One must book early for the summer months to avoid disappointment.
Music of Sardinia
Sardinia has its own brand of music ,which is the richest and oldest in the Mediterranean and has provided inspiration for leading musicians such as Frank Zappa and Peter Gabriel. It is a type of vocal polyphony and the instruments used are native to the island. One such instrument is the Launeddas composed of reeds strung together with bees wax. The Canto a Tenors( tenors song) is an exponent of this form of vocal polyphony and is a choral of four male voices. It originated in the Barbagia region of Sardinia. Canto a Chiterra( guitar songs) are played in a competitive spirit in village squares .Sardinian jazz musicians like Paole Fresu are world renowned for their talent. Music is an important component of life in Sardinia and both the young and the old participate actively in preserving this musical tradition of Sardinia.
There are several Sardinian sights worth exploring .The Gennargentu mountain ranges with their prehistoric villages and festivals are as much an attraction of the rose colored beaches of Costa Smeralda which attract the rich and famous to Sardinia.
Garibaldi’s House on Carpera
The home of famed revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi is a popular tourist destination in the summer. After his 20 year exiled from Italy, he established his home on Carpera in 1855. His tomb is located in the garden of the preserved dwelling and there is also a museum dedicated to his life. A ferry from Palau brings one to Carpera. The museum is open daily from 9am to 1 pm and from 3pm to 6pm.
Located in the Cliffs at Cappo Caccia ,the caves with their limestone stalagmites and stalactites can be reached via a 45 minute boat ride from Alghero or by bus or by car from Alghero airport . On foot one has to climb down 650 steps to see the wonders of the cave
Numerous prehistoric sites of the mysterious Nugaric people are visible all over the island. The UNESCO has declared the Nuraghe in Barumini a world heritage site. These circular fortified structures can be accessed from Cagliari or Oristano, Other examples of well preserved Nuraghea are seen at Sant Antine ,Villanovaforru,Abbasanta and in Nora an entire nugaric village can be observed which includes an amphitheater and baths etc.
Admissions to the Nuraghea are free but most of these sites are closed in the afternoons and on Sundays.
The Citadel of Museums
Cagliari contains the Citadel of Museum complex which showcases the history of Sardinia through The National Archeological Museum, The National Picture Galllery, the Cardu Siamese Museum and Floretine sculptor Clemente Susini’s wax creations. The National Archeological Museum is a treasure trove of Phoenician, Roman and Punic arte fact as well as Nugaric bronzes. These exhibits together portray Sardinia’s history through the ages from pre historic times.
The Archeological Museum is closed on Mondays but on other days it is open from 9am to 7.30 pm.
The Churches of Sardinia
The people of Sardinia are largely Roman Catholic but some followers of the Greek Orthodox Church also exist. Numerous Churches have withstood the ravages of time and are worth exploring. One such church is the Church in the village of Uta . It is located 20 kilometers fom Cagliari. It was the last church of the Vittorini monks, the church has stone sculptures created by Arab stone masons. One has to obtain the key from the priest of the parish of Uta in order to visit the Church. Another alternative is to visit Uta during the festival of Santa Maria held in early September.
Another Church which is an exponent of Sardinian architecture is the Basilica of ‘Santa Maria del Regno’at Ardara in Sassari. It is constructed of black trackytic stones. Sunlight bounces off these stones in a unique fashion and adds to the beauty of the church. Yet another uniquely built medieval church is the Church in Bulzi in Sassari which is built of alternating strips of black Basalt and white limestone.The Basilica della SS Trinita di Saccargia in the province of Sassari is also constructed of the same materials such as the church in Bulzi but it is built like the churches of Pisa on the mainland of Italy.
Handicrafts and Shopping
Sardinian arts and handicrafts are a unique tradition and present an example of their unique and peculiar culture which was influenced by the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine civilizations. Sardinian carpets are known the world over, the designs and colors are unique in their expression. The carpets woven in different villages vary in terms of color palette and designs. Sardinian Handicrafts include baskets and ceramics. These too are exponents of the predominantly rural culture of the Sardinians. However they are exquisite in their execution and are famous for typifying the culture and art of Sardinia.
A confluence of Italian and local Sardinian flavor the cuisine is dominated by fresh fish At many a fishing village along the long coastline one can buy fresh catch and attempt to cook it or simply sample the ‘pesce azzuro’ , a special fish dish served at the local restaurants. Sardinia produces its own wines, Vernaccia di Oristano, Mirto and Filuferru are some of the alcoholic beverages produced on the island. These are relatively cheap. Yet another must try is the array of Sard pastries and deserts which generally complement a meal. Sardinian cuisine is unique with local flavors and a must try for any tourist
Festivals, a way of life
Every month of the year in different parts of Sardinia there are festivals and feasts ,the most widely celebrated is St Anthony’s day in January This Festival is associated with a bonfire and each town constructs and ignites its own. Sweets, Bread and alcohol are consumed. February is the month of Carnival where masks and costumes dominate along with much pomp and glamour. The best Carnival is held around the towns of Oristano. Other similar Festivals mark other months and give the Sardinians an excuse to celebrate all year round.