If you are thinking of Sardinia holidays, here is a breakdown of some of the best things to do, places to visit, food to eat, and the best times of year to visit.
Though Sardinia is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, it’s much less visited than other nearby islands like the Balearic Islands or Sicily. This is surprising as the island is teeming with cultural, history, some of the best beaches in Europe, ancient hiking trails, world class museums, a beautiful forested interior, and some of the most interesting food in Italy. The hot summers and mild winters make it a year round destination to visit.
Beyond the 2000 kilometres of coastline beaches, there is plenty of things to do and see. For food lovers there is a plethora of food markets to visit where travellers can sample local produce. One of the best is in the southern town of Pula. Every Tuesday, farmers descend upon the outskirts of town to sell delicious honey, olive oil, freshly baked breakfast, meats, seafood, cheeses, and wines. Even if you are not looking to buy anything, the colourful market is well worth a visit.
The ancient hiking trails that criss cross through the island are some of the best in Europe. Passing rugged coastline, forests, the mountains that span the centre of the island, and the stark Sardinian landscape, the hiking can be done either on your own or part of the many guided group tours which depart daily throughout the summer season. Look out for the 10 kilometre hike that works its way through the stunning Gola Su Gorropu gorge which is almost half a kilometre deep.
For sailors, the calm blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the sunny climate, and continual winds make for ideal conditions. Many of Sardinia’s beaches are only accessible by boat, so you can anchor up to visit these secluded bays and coves, or swim and snorkel with the rich marine life. You’ll need deep pockets to rent a yacht in Sardinia (as everywhere), but it is well worth the spend. Alternatively, for those who don’t know how to sail, yachts can be chartered with professional skippers who will show you the best parts of the island.
In the west of the island, the Via Ferrata del Cabirol on the Capo Caccia offers some excellent rock climbing for both beginners and experts. Ascending the craggy rock faces are challenging, but have spectacular views down over the sea and the rock formations below. The cliff rises up 203 metres to a plateau at the top, from which a trail brings you back down (you won’t have to abseil down the cliff). There are several rock climbing schools which take newbies on rock climbing trips to the Via Ferrata del Cabirol daily throughout the summer season. It becomes much more dangerous during winter and is not recommended.
Sardinia is full of customs and traditions, some of which are a thousand years old.
If you visit Sardinia in February, you’ll have no choice but to become part of the Carnival which is celebrated in every village and town across the island. Though the festival is a Christian event, it has its roots in Paganism to celebrate the coming of Spring thousands of years ago. During this time, the island comes alive with colourful parades, costumes, music, dance, and of course, food. It runs from the day of Saint Antonio, which falls in the middle of January, all the way through to the day before Lent. It’s worth remembering that at this time, the accommodation prices are much higher and get booked up well in advance.
The wonderful city of Cagliari is well worth a day or two of exploration. Particularly beautiful is the 13th century Cagliari Cathedral. This ancient Baroque and Gothic cathedral is a fine example of Italian architecture. The city is also a wonderful place to people watch which is best done from one of the cafes in the sunny plazas.
Sardinians enjoy parading in their traditional garb during festivals.
Lastly, the Caves of Neptune located up near the town of Alghero in the north west of the island. Discovered by fisherman in the 18th century, the caves have only been open to the public in the last 50 years or so. Inside, the caves are estimated to be over 4 kilometres long, but only a small part can be visited. There are some seriously impressive stalagmites, stalactites, and a huge saltwater lake. During one of the summer months it is one of the most visited attractions on the island. To reach it, one must either take a boat around to the entrance (which sits just above the water line), or descend down 600 steps. If the seas are choppy, the caves are often closed.
Like the rest of Italy, Sardinia is a food obsessed nation. It’s not just a way to stay alive, but a way of life and a way to bring family and friends together to socialise. Having been ruled over by the Moors, Catalans, and Romans, the cuisine is quite different from their Italian counterparts. They have a rich agricultural history, and are fiercely proud of their local produce and seafood.
With access to the sea, it’s unsurprising that seafood dominates the menus in Sardinia. Freshly caught seafood is the order of the day in most restaurants, with everything from anchovies to lobster. Grilled, baked or fried, it is always delicious. A very Sardinian ingredient is bottarga, fish eggs which have been salted and dried, which is often simply placed on bread or cooked with pasta.
Though Sardinia is very different from the mainland, this is still Italy, so pasta is also prevalent everywhere. A popular type is fregula, a small grain shaped pasta which is used with seafood and tomato sauces, and a gnocchi shaped pasta called malloreddus is delicious covered in fresh cheese, tomatoes, and herbs.
Lemons in Italy.
Sardinia is known for its bread, of which there are hundreds of varieties. The most typically is carasau, a flat bread that dates back thousands of years. A traditional way to use breads in Sardinia is to soak then in lamb stock and cover them in tomato sauce and freshly grated cheese. Delicious.
Though it is an island, meat is also excellent here, with double the number of sheep to people. Lamb stews cooked for hours until the fat renders off and the meat begins to become tender is delicious. At traditional events, porceddu is popular and made from a whole suckling pig which is put on a split and slowly roasted over a firepit until the meat is tender and the skin turns to delicious crackling. Wild board, goat and pork is cured to make pancetta, salami, and sausages.
There are many varieties of excellent cheeses made in Sardinia, from hard pecorinos to soft ricotta. Perhaps the most famous is casu marzu, which literally translates to rotten cheese, and is made by allowing maggots to eat away and ferment the cheeses interior. The process breaks down the cheese, creating a mushy and liquid like texture which a strong taste and smell. When the cheese is opened, the maggots can actually jump out, so some like to remove them before eating. It’s not for the brave hearted, but you know the old saying, when in Rome.
The beaches of Sardinia are often voted as some of the best in Europe. Likened to those in Asia or the Caribbean, with white sand flanked by cliffs, trees, and the lapping aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The coast is over 2,000 kilometres along, so it would simply be impossible to list every beach here (some are only accessible by a hike or boat), but here a four that you shouldn’t miss.
Near the eastern village of Orosei, the Spiaggia Oasi Di Bidderosa is coated in white sand and backed by sweet smelling pines and eucalyptus trees. The bay is actually made up of five different beaches which are joined by a trail through the forest and span over 3 kilometres. It makes up part of the Biderosa National Park, so visitors are limited. To avoid disappointment, ensure that you arrive early to avoid disappointment. When you arrive, there is plenty to do other than sunbathing. Swim and snorkel in the sea, hire sea kayaks to glide across the ocean, go hiking along the trails, or rent bicycles. It’s a great place to bring the family and enjoy a picnic on the beach.
Cala Mariolu is one of the island’s most famous beaches. Also located on the eastern side of Sardinia, the beach has pebbles instead of sand, but don’t let this put you off. Surrounding the tiny beach are dramatic cliffs which offer welcome shade in the afternoon. Tourists and locals descend upon the beach to snorkel in the sea which teems with schools of fish and marine life. The beach isn’t accessible by car. You’ll either need to take one of the boats that transfer guests to the beach from Cala Conone or Santa Maria Navarrese throughout the high season, or hike a 5 kilometre trail that winds its way along the rugged coastline. If you take the hike, just be sure to bring plenty of water, comfortable shoes, and a hat.
Beaches in Sardinia are some of the finest in Europe.
Spiaggia di Mugoni wouldn’t be out of place in the Caribbean. It’s a picture perfect beach located just down the road from the town of Alghero. The 2 kilometre swath of sandy beach overlooks the Porto Conte National Park and is backed by a lovely pine forest. The shallow waters make it perfect for families with small children. There is also plenty of marine life to see under the waters’ surface. There are sun loungers, umbrellas, and a bar offering snacks and cold drinks. The only way to reach the beach is by car. There are currently no shuttle buses from Alghero. The nearby villa of Tramariglio is well worth a visit.
Spiaggia di Campana Dune sits at the very south of Sardinia. Its name comes from the towering 15 metre high dunes which back the 2 kilometres of beach. Locals and tourists come to walk or jog along the beach, hike the nearby trails, and take part in the many activities on offer from sea kayaking, wind surfing, kite surfing, and paddle boarding. There is a restaurant which serves up meals, snacks, cold drinks, and ice creams to keep the whole family happy. Su Giudeu Island can be seen from the beach in the distance. There are also some great hotels nearby should you want to stay close to the beach.
Sardinia’s climate is typically Mediterranean. The summers between June and September are dry and hot with cool breezes coming off the ocean. This is the busiest time to visit, with tourists from both the Italian mainland and the rest of Europe who come for the beautiful beaches. The island is particularly windy during summer, with breezes coming from France and Africa. This creates ideal conditions for water sports like kite surfing and wind surfing, but can also blow up the sandy beaches. Be sure to look for the protected coves and bays. During the autumn, the temperature begins to drop and the plains and the coast become a little chillier, but are still warm enough for hiking, or eating outside. The winters are mild, and although the island doesn’t get much rain, most of what it does get hits during this time. Temperatures in winter average around 10 degrees, so if you wrap up, you can still take walks along the empty beaches, through eating outside is usually not possible. The Gennargentu massif rises up to almost 2 kilometres and receives snow during December and January. The best time to visit is a difficult one. If you visit in summer, the weather is glorious, but it is also very busy. The outside months of the high season (May and September), are often dry and the skies clear. Though cooler, it’s still warm enough to visit the empty beaches or swim in the sea. Any other time, you’ll need to wrap up, but there are still some wonderful cultural sites to visit, and restaurants serving up some delicious cuisine.
There are three main access points in Sardinia which include the towns of Olbia, Alghero, and Cagliari. The island is relatively small, but can take some time to get around the winding coastal roads, so it’s worth picking somewhere as close to your hotel as possible.
EastJet offer flights from London Gatwick to Olbia all year around, and have routes from Bristol, Manchester, and Luton during the summer months. British Airways only have direct flights from London to Olbia during the high season summer months. When you reach the airport, there are shuttle buses departing every half hour and it only takes 10 minutes or so to reach the centre. Alternatively, there are always taxis on standby or you can rent a car from the international car hire firms located inside the terminal building.
Between the summer months, Ryanair and Thomson have daily flight routes between London Stanstead, London Gatwick, and Manchester all the way through the summer season. When you arrive at the airport, there is a local shuttle bus, taxis, or you can hire a rental car. If you come by cruise ship, it will most likely moor up at Porto Torres some 25 kilometres from Alghero and there are also buses that service the route.
Cagliari is the best serviced location in Sardinia. Throughout the year, Ryanair and EasyJet for fly to Cagliari from London Gatwick and London Stansted, while British Airways has routes here between May and October. When you arrive at Cagliari airport, you can take a train into the centre in around 10 minutes, or hire a car from the international rental firms located inside the terminal building.