Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, is one of those clear examples that it is not necessary to go to the Caribbean Sea to enjoy dream beaches. The island is full of them, but it is much more than that. Here’s a great route so that you can enjoy the best of what Sardinia has to offer.
The island of Sardinia is one of those paradisiacal places where you can get lost among beaches, history and gastronomy. Pearl of the Mediterranean.
Cagliari – the capital of Sardinia – is a colourful city, with cobbled streets and old houses where Italian traditions blend with those of previous civilizations. The history of Sardinia is rich. Neolithic tombs and the remains of prehistoric civilizations are mixed with Phoenician, Roman and Aragonese traces. A kind of open-air archaeological museum surrounded by beaches and countryside.
Being the third least populated region in Italy, with only 68 inhabitants per km², Sardinia is the perfect place for a getaway. However, the car is a must, as public transport leaves a lot to be desired and there are a thousand places you will want to stop and where nothing can reach.
Ruins of Nora
About 30 km from the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari, is the most important archaeological site to visit in Sardinia: Nora.
It seems that it could be the first city founded in Sardinia, although the mythical story of its creation is still a legend. According to it, a group of Iberians coming from Tartessos and led by Nora – a mythological hero son of Eritea and the god Hermes – founded the city.
The truth is that archaeological remains of sherden and nuraga settlements, two prehistoric tribes, have been found. The flourishing of Nora came during the conquest of the Phoenicians and the occupation of the Carthaginians. One of the most special objects found in the excavations dates from this period: the Stone of Nora. It is believed to date back to the 9th century BC and recalls the Phoenician military victory that conquered the city.
The Romans conquered Nora in 238 B.C. and most of the remains that can be seen today during the visit are from this period. From the 4th century onwards, after the conquest by the Vandals, first, and the Arabs, later, the city fell into oblivion.
Today, due to the progressive sinking of the southern part of the island of Sardinia, part of the city has been submerged in the Mediterranean.
Walking around Nora is one of the best things to do in Sardinia. It’s like going through an open-air museum. Hot springs, tombs, baths, mosaics, columns, temples and of course a Roman amphitheatre still used for summer concerts.
All this, just a stone’s throw from the beach.
Cape Testa (Capo Testa)
If walking in nature, exploring caves and enjoying beaches with transparent waters are on your list of things to do in Sardinia, Cape Testa brings it all together in an area easily accessible on foot.
Located just a few kilometres west of the town of Santa Teresa di Gallura (Olbia province), Cape Testa is the most north-western point of the island of Sardinia.
The Romans excavated the rocks here in search of granite and there are still remains from that time. In fact, today the northern part of Sardinia produces 75% of all granite consumed in Italy.
Walk through a dense patch of Mediterranean vegetation. Lose yourself in the crests of the cliffs and, on clear days, you can see the profile of Corsica and the cliffs of Bocche di Bonifacio. And when you’re tired of it all, grab a pair of diving goggles and enjoy the beach and underwater life in the magnificent coves of the Gulf of Cabo Testa, one of the most beautiful in Sardinia.
Neptune’s Cave (Grotto di Nettuno)
Near the town of Alghero, at one end of the Gulf of Porto Conte, is the most complete cave of the many to be seen in Sardinia.
Discovered by a fisherman in the 19th century, the Cave (or Grotto) of Neptune can be reached by a small staircase on one side of the cave entrance.
The cave is just over a kilometre long, is full of stalactites and stalagmites and has a salt water lake about 120 metres long. There is a part that is closed for public visits and can only be explored by experienced speleologists. In addition, the guides of the enclosure tell us that Mediterranean monk seals, a species that, sadly, became extinct, lived here.
It can be visited from Easter to October, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in guided groups of up to 200 people at a time. In August it is quite full, as it is one of the most popular tourist attractions to see in Sardinia.
And not far from the Cave of Neptune is the most charming city to visit in Sardinia.
Alghero is, with about 45,000 inhabitants, the fourth most populated city on the island and has one of the main airports.
Although there is evidence of prehistoric, Phoenician and Roman settlements, the city’s golden age came when it was established as one of Sardinia’s most important strategic locations. The Genoese fortified the city and fought for it against the Pisans. The two Maritime Republics were defeated by Peter IV, the king who would claim Alghero for the Crown of Aragon.
With the Aragonese colonization, families of Valencians, Mallorcans, Aragonese and Catalans settled in Alghero and that is why, today, a derivation of Catalan is still spoken.
The walls of Alghero overlook the Mediterranean. Take a walk through the beautiful old town and visit the cathedral of Alghero (built in the 16th century in the Gothic style), the churches of San Francisco and San Miguel, the Torre del Portal (14th century, built by the Jewish community) and the palaces D’Albis and Carcassona.
La Maddalena Archipelago
Close your eyes and imagine what would be for you an Eden of beaches and sea. The image is almost certainly very close to the one you will see in Sardinia, specifically in the archipelago of La Maddalena.
Located off the northeast coast of the island, La Maddalena National Park groups more than 60 islands, islets and rocks. In the past, this area was of great strategic importance, but today it is a paradise of natural beaches and transparent waters.
The limited access of boats and people has protected, since 1996, this Italian Eden.
In La Maddalena you will find totally hidden beaches that are best visited with an organized boat trip.
Only the main island of La Maddalena has a considerable urban centre and it is here that the ferries from Palau (on the coast of Sardinia) arrive. Here you can also find accommodation. Another inhabited island is Caprera, where you can also visit the most important historical house to be seen in Sardinia, that of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian revolutionary leader. He spent the last years of his life there.
Don’t miss Cala dei Corsari (Spargi Island) and Spiaggia Rosa (Budelli Island). Walk on the rocks, swim, sunbathe, dive, eat and rest in this place where Adam would have managed, in any case, that Eve did not bite the apple just to stay.
Yes, the beaches are impressive, but don’t think there aren’t more things to see in Sardinia. Cagliari, the capital, is good proof of that.
How can you stay if they tell you that in Cagliari you can see Neolithic remains, a Carthaginian necropolis, a Roman amphitheatre, a Byzantine basilica, three Pisan towers and a complex system of fortifications built by the Spanish Habsburgs? Add to that the fact that it is one of the greenest cities in Italy thanks to parks such as Monte Urpinu and San Michele hill, that it has an urban beach almost 8 km long (Poetto), that it has a pleasant climate all year round and that you can eat fantastic Italian food and fish in good, nice and cheap restaurants (such as ‘Doctor Ampex’ and ‘Trattoria Lillicu’).
Is Cagliari one of the best places to visit in Sardinia or not? No further questions, Your Honour.
National Archaeological Museum
And within the town of Cagliari there is also the best museum to visit in Sardinia. It is archaeological. In an island with so much history and archaeological wealth, it could not be otherwise.
The National Archaeological Museum has been operating in Cagliari since the nineteenth century and displays handcrafted objects from the many civilizations that have passed through the island.
Moreover, it has not remained anchored in time and its modernization has led it to incorporate digital exhibitions and interactive corners that make the National Archaeological Museum a great place for a didactic and family visit in Sardinia.
Grab your diving goggles, fins and snorkel and enjoy the best snorkeling cove in Sardinia.
Cala Goloritzé is a tiny but beautiful beach at the base of a ravine, just south of Cala Briola on the east coast of Sardinia.
Besides being the best place to dive, it is also one of the most photogenic beaches on the island. It can only be reached on foot, through a beautiful route that will take you more than an hour to walk. The effort will be worth it, because you will find a patch of white sand that dies in green and blue waters, and whose underwater life is not envious of ‘The Little Mermaid’.
The tombs of the giants
As you travel around the island of Sardinia, you will see some really curious megalithic monuments. The local people call them the tombs of the giants and they were built by the tribes of the Nuragic civilization during the Bronze Age.
They were mass graves and there are about 800 of them in Sardinia. The tombs have a rectangular floor plan topped by an apse, and are surrounded by a kind of slab that acts as a tombstone and a central stele up to 4 metres high.
Although the beaches are the main natural protagonists of the island, mountain lovers will also have a place to visit in Sardinia. The mountain range of Supramonte – located in the central-eastern part of Sardinia – has peaks up to 1,463 meters above sea level (Monte Corrassi) and an average altitude of 900 meters above sea level.
Its nature is karstic and the rivers and streams of underground water that flow through the chain have created deep ravines and canyons. It is precisely these underground rivers that have created a large complex of caves, including Grotta del Bue Marino, Grotta di Ispinigoli, Su Bentu cave and Sa O’he cave.
But, if you prefer the surface and the open air, don’t miss the views of the Donani’horo plain or the deep Gorropu ravine.
Although nowadays you will hardly find any living creatures while walking along the paths that lead to viewpoints and even coves, in prehistoric times Supramonte was a densely populated area. A clear proof of this is the village of Serra Orios, which still shows 70 round huts and two stone temples.
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