One of my favourite places in Italy, if not Europe is the beautiful island of Sardinia. The first time I visited Sardinia was back in the early 2000's, when we went there for a beach holiday with my family. I was around 15 years old and what I remember to this day was the beautiful white sand beaches with crystal clear turquoise water - and also the excitement of ordering "drinks" (aka juice) at the hotel bar with my sisters. Ever since I have been drawn to Sardinia and its beautiful beaches, people and interesting culture.
Sardinia is a large island that lies to the west of Rome, and can be accessed either by plane or ferry. The island is directly south of the French island of Corsica. There are multiple daily direct flights to Sardinias biggest airports Cagliari and Olbia from Rome, Milan and other Italian cities.
Olbia lies in the northern part of the island and is home to the jet-set area called Costa Smeralda. This is a popular spot for Italian celebrities and its main town Porto Cervo is home to many luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. Some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia lie on the Costa Smeralda area.
In the southern part of Sardinia lies its capital city Cagliari, a city of 155 thousand inhabitants. The city is beautiful but also quite rough at places, having been quite heavily bombed in 1943 during WW2, fortunately since then new apartment blocks have been built and the city is whole again. Cagliari is an interesting city to visit, you can take a walk around the harbor on Via Roma or dive into the cobblestone streets just behind. There are many great restaurants (I can recommend Luigi Pomata for out of this world tuna), and you can easily spend a day or two exploring the city and enjoying shopping and delicious food.
However, the best part of Sardinia is it’s beaches and smaller towns that are scattered along the coast. The island has nearly 2000km of coastline and its beaches often top lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Last summer I spent time in Castiadas - a rural area in the south of the island. My family has a house there, so I will most certainly write more about this areain the future. It takes around one hour to drive by car from Cagliari to Castiadas and on the way there you can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and the Mediterranean.
From Castiadas we did several trips to nearby beaches of which the best ones are Cala Sinzias and Cala Sa Figu. Cala Sinzias is a wide beach with many restaurants offering Ombrellino packages (sun-loungers and a shade) if you want a totally relaxed day on the beach. Cala sa Figu is a natural, smaller beach with no restaurants or other amenities - in turn you get a beautiful beach surrounded by cliffs where you can enjoy your day away from everything else (even cell-phone reception did not seem to work here).
Other things to do?
When visiting Sardinia make sure to taste some local wines - white wine made of Vermentino grapes are some of my absolute favorites as well as the red Cannonau wines. There are many wine producers on the island and you can make a day trip visiting a winery. We visited Cantine Argiolas, about an hour drive from Cagliari and I can really recommend it! The wines were amazing and the winery in itself was interesting to visit.
Sardinia has its own culture, that is different from that of Italy. The Sardinians have their own language (they also speak Italian of course) which is quite different from Italian. They also have a lot of specialty produce: cheese made of goat or sheep milk (make sure to try some Pecorino), pasta Malloreddus (small gnocchi-type pasta made of wheat)and lots of local sweet pastries.
If you are staying in the south of Sardinia, I recommend taking a day trip to the mountains. We visited the town of Burcei, which was quite rural and definitely not touristy. We happened to witness a tournament of a very confusing looking game, where four people (+ two judges) stand opposite of each other and shout different words very quickly. After some googling we figured out that it was in fact Morra, a a hand game that dates back thousands of years to ancient Roman and Greek times. We enjoyed watching it although we had no clue what they were in fact shouting.
The road to Burcei goes through the mountains and the views were spectacular. However, I would suggest doing this trip during a weekday: we did it on a saturday and witnessed several motorcycles driving very dangerously on the steep roads. Unfortunately as we were going back, we had to stop to make way for a helicopter that was landing on the road: a motorcyclist had gotten into an accident and had to be airlifted to the hospital (luckily, we heard that he was going to make it) . We learned from locals also waiting for the road to clear that this was unfortunately very common, this is a popular spot for motorcyclists to drive on during saturdays.
But, on to happier thoughts! Sardinia is really a wonderful place to visit, and I feel that it often gets overlooked as there are many other more famous islands in the Mediterranean. If you ever have a chance of visiting I cannot recommend it enough.