Sardinia the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and makes up part of Italy, though culturally it’s quite different. Sitting in size somewhere between Sicily and Cyprus, the island is geographically mixed with almost a couple of thousands kilometres of beautiful coastline that flank a mountainous interior. For years, celebrities have been flocking to the island, known for its’ secluded bays, coves, turquoise waters, and swathes of golden sand beaches . Dotting the island are hundreds of nuraghe, stone ruins built thousands of years ago during the Bronze Age. There are countless things to do and places to visit on the island (that don’t all revolve around the best known beaches ), including eating, exploring Sardinia’s rich history, sailing, and outdoor activities like hiking. Here’s a rundown of the best things to do during your Sardinia holiday .
Sardinia has a long agricultural history, and still most of the island is used as farming land. It’s unsurprising then that there is a wealth of food markets almost every day of the week across the island. Sardinians are rightfully proud of the local produce and in most of the restaurants, the dishes are created using island sourced ingredients. One of the loveliest things to do on the island is wander through the markets, tasting olives, cheeses, freshly baked bread, and local olive oils and wines. There are plenty to choose from, but one of the best is the market just outside the southern town of Pula every Tuesday.
One of the best ways (locals will tell you) to see the island is hiking along the ancient trails that meander along the rugged coastlines and through the mountainous interior. Though the mountains are relatively low altitude, the views over the pristine wilderness and lack of other hikers made it a ramblers’ dream. For a relatively easy (for spectacular) half day trek, following the route along to the Gold Su Gorropu, a stunning gorge often likened to the Grand Canyon in the USA. The 10 kilometre trek takes you through some of the most starkly beautiful Sardinian landscape to the isolated gorge those step sides tower up 400 metres above. Those who take the trek often have the ravine all to themselves. In the morning thermals, eagles can be seen circling above looking for prey. The Marmilla mountain is flat at its top and though it sounds challenging, is actually a rather easy walk, even for children. Enjoy fabulous views down over the island and see plenty of wildlife including lizards, birdlife, and wild horses. Lastly, a 10 kilometre trek up to the Bronze Age Tiscali ruins is particularly worthwhile. Cross over the Sa Barva bridge and then walk along the Flumineddu River and up the step trail leading to the magnificent archaeological site. We highly recommend you take a proper hiking map, plenty of liquids, sunscreen, and a hat when hiking in Sardinia. If you are a beginner hiker, it’s also recommended that you hire a guide for the day. There are plenty to choose from who are multilingual and inexpensive. Not only will you not get lost, but will also give you much more information about the history, cultural, scenery, and wildlife of the island.
There aren’t many places in the world better for sailing than Sardinia . The calm blue waters of the Mediterranean and sea breezes make the conditions ideal, while the spectacular Sardinia coastline make it particularly scenic. Some of the stretches of beach can only be reached by boat, so drop the anchor, and come ashore to your own private secluded bays. There are several choices if you would like to go sailing in Sardinia. First is to hire a boat, of which there are plenty of differing sizes depending on your budget. Alternatively, if you have no sailing experience, hire a boat with a professional skipper who’ll show you the best spots on the island. Either way, you’ll need relatively deep pockets to hire a boat on the island, but if you can afford it, it makes for a wonderful vacation. Be sure to hire a boat that includes sport fishing gear and snorkelling equipment. Anchor at your own little paradise and dive in to the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea to cool off and search for underwater marine life.
Though some of these structures can be found on the mainland of Italy, there is a particularly high concentration of them on Sardinia. There are thought to be over 8,000 beehive shaped stone buildings called nuraghes built over two thousand years ago dotting the landscape. Some are in accessible locations, others are hidden up in the mountains. Almost all of them are free, however we’d urge you to visit them with a guide who can talk you through what is known about their history and how they are built. There are simply too many to list here, but highlights including Nuraghe Orrubiu, Nuraghe Santu Antine, and Nuraghe su Barumini. The latter has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are thought to have been created as either religious buildings or to use as military outposts.
Rock climbers should head straight for the Via Ferrata del Cabirol . This climb works its way up the Capo Caccia to the west of the island. For experienced rock climbers, it’s not particularly challenging, but what is lacks in difficulty it more than makes up for in scenery. There are perhaps no other locations as beautiful as looking over the craggy cliffs that descend into the blue sea below. The popular climb works up through a series of ledges and vertical ascends 203 metres up. If you have never rock climbed before, it is still possible to take on the climb, but ensure you are in good shape and take one of the many experienced rock climbing guides with you. When you reach the top, there are some spectacular views down over the island and you can descend down a pathway instead of having to abseil down.
Off the northern coast of the island is La Maddalena, a small archipelago and national park. The private island of Santa Maria is uninhabited other than the beautiful La Casitta Hotel . This gorgeous hideaway is nestled in acres of well wild garden and was built in the 1920s for shepherds. It’s now been completely renovated and offers total privacy from the outside world. If you are looking for bars, restaurants, and entertainment, this won’t be for you. For those looking for an isolated holiday amongst empty beaches and wild landscapes, a stay at La Casitta Hotel is perfect. Here, guests can take walks across the small island, look for wildlife, sunbath on the quiet beaches, swim and snorkel, and learn about Sardinian cooking in classes offered by the hotel. Complete bliss.
Though the weather can be unpredictable, visiting in February during Carnival is a fantastic time to see the cultural side of the island. Though Carnival is a Christian event, it has its roots in Paganism which dates back thousands of years and celebrates the coming of Spring. It’s an important time in Sardinia, with all the towns and villages coming alive with colourful parades, music, dancing, and food. The locals dress in old costumes and masks and attend a series of events. Most of the festivities kick off on the day of Saint Antonio (which usually falls in the middle of January) and continue on through to the day before Lent. It’s a popular time for tourists to visit, and accommodation prices are usually steep. If you plan to go at this time, be sure to book your accommodation early to avoid disappointment.
The Grotte di Nettuno are considered by many as some of the most spectacular caves on the island. Located near Alghero town in the north west of the island, the grotto was discovered by fishermen in the early 18th century and opened to the public as a tourist attraction in the 50s. The entrance to the cave is low, only a metre above sea level, so it can only be visited while the sea is calm. To reach it, guests must first walk down a series of over 600 steps. It’s also accessible via boat. Guides wait to take tourists inside the cave system, which is over 4 kilometre big (though only a few hundred metres are open to the public), to see the impressive stalagmites, stalactites, and an enormous saltwater lake. It’s one of the top attractions in Sardinia, so if you visit in the high season, expect to see hundreds of other milling around. The caves were used in the 70s as a filming location for Fishmen staring Barbara Bach. Under the sea, there are a series of marine caves which scuba divers can explore. The most impressive is the Nereo Cave.
We couldn’t compile a list of things to do in Sardinia without adding Cala Mariolu beach. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. It’s relatively small, and flanked by towering limestone cliffs around the edge, as well as swallow turquoise waters. It couldn’t be any more picturesque. Looking more like a beach in Thailand, you’ll see locals jumping into the sea from the nearby rocks, and tourists frolicking in the calm waters. There are only two ways to reach the beach, neither of which is by car. Visitors can either take a boat trip around the bay from the village of Cala Gonone or Santa Maria Navarrese, and there are daily departures throughout the high season. Alternatively, there is a 6 kilometre hike from Piredda. The trail is truly beautiful, but it’s rather challenging with some uphill climbs in the midday Sardinian heat. If you decide upon this option, leave early to avoid the hottest part of the day and take the boat back around in the afternoon. There are, of course, plenty of other beaches to choose from, but Cala Mariolu is particularly scenic.
Only for the brave, casu marzu literally translates to rotten cheese and is created from sheep’s cheese filled with live maggots. These live larvae eat on the cheese which helps to ferment it, breaking down the fats. Solely eaten in Sardinia, the cheese is quite different from anything you will have had before with a mushy texture and seeping liquid. When the cheese is opened, the maggots can jump out of the cheese, so some like to clear them away before eating. Though the origins are unclear, presumably it came from a cheese which accidently became invested with the larvae, before someone tried it and realized its potential.