Villa Life

Sardinia Travel Blog

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Cagliari

The only problem with Sardinia is getting there. We decided to include a four night stay in Florence with our week in Sardinia. That meant flying Meridiana in and out of Florence airport, not the best airport in the world, it has to be said. The departure information screen  is misleading at best and a pack of lies at worst. We landed at Cagliari airport at midnight after an hour's delay. (Best bet if you're just going to Sardinia without taking in Florence is a direct flight out of the UK.)

 Armed with directions to the villa, we managed to negotiate the Sardinian motorway system at night in a strange car. So began our six days on the Mediterranean's second largest island.

 

Sunday 1st July:

7.00 am: Woken by Italian family in adjoining villa taking kids to the beach. Because our villa owners didn't see fit to leave a welcome pack, breakfast consisted of a mug of black coffee each and half a Madeleine cake the previous occupiers had left.

View from the balcony

8.45: In search of il supermercato, which was called Grim... Enough said! But it was well stocked with lots of greens and fruit as well as packaged food.

9.45: Proper breakfast on the balcony. Great views. By 12.00, the temp was 35 degrees so we sought some shade. Luckily, Sardinia benefits from an almost constant breeze which makes the heat less oppressive.

Swim in the pool, lunch, dinner at the villa, just to recharge the batteries. Today's wine: Nuraghe Majore white, reasonably secco, 3.39 euros.

 

Monday 2nd July:

Drive down coast road then on to Foresta Acqua Calde (eventually, and with the help of a local builder who spoke no English, our Italian is ropey, but we conversed in French). Florence can be described as the place where buildings are closed at a whim and opening times of museums (even The Uffizi) are changed due to staff meetings. Sardinia is the island where roads are closed off without much prior warning as there is so much upgrading of the infrastructure. You get used to driving a few kilometres down a road only to be confronted by a barrier and have to return to the start.

Acqua Calde has a track to the summit of P.

Moths in Foresta Acqua Calde
Moitzus. This is only 319m but the track is very steep in places and gravelly; and, in the heat, it feels like conquering Everest! When we were there, the paper moths were hatching, so we were surrounded by hundreds of them. Good information boards about the flora and fauna. But you do need good walking shoes. Sandals or flip flops are an absolute no-no.

Returned to the villa for dinner. Tonight's wine was Vallefiore Bianco Vino di Tavola. At 2.50 euros it is exactly what you would expect from a bargain table wine. The label says it is fruity, although it has a slight pine resin overtone. Perfectly good with pasta and strong Sardinian dishes.

 

Tuesday 3rd July:

Headed for the interior, only intending to go to Punta Serpeddi, just a few km out of Burcei. (We got lost finding the road and this set the pattern for the day. Instead of the fast main road, we ended up on farm tracks through fields of, amongst other things, bamboo.) The drive to Burcei is scenic, even when you find yourself stuck in a tail behind a petrol lorry. Deep valleys, lots of greenery.

Where has the road gone?
The road itself is very good and well-signposted. However, once off  red roads, you find that Sardinia resorts to its wildest best and scary worst!

There are some basic rules when driving in Sardinia. Stay to red/yellow roads. These are the only ones with regular signposts. White roads are scenic but have a tendency to turn into tracks resembling dry river beds. If you find the road surface changing from tarmac to compacted sandstone, TURN BACK unless you have GPS, an excellent large-scale map, a compass, an unfailing sense of direction, a 4x4 and, if possible, an experienced guide. We had none of these things, therefore our drive turned into a death-defying up hill and down dale journey past goats and horses, on rockstrewn tracks clinging precariously onto mountainsides, the tracks only wide enough (barely) for one vehicle. And the hairpin bends as the track climbs and descends rapidly are, at times, scary for these tracks have no safety barriers. Visions of plummeting to our doom were never far away, so even closing my eyes to shut out the horror only helped to magnify it.

But we made it back to civilisation by always keeping Cagliari on our left and taking a left at each fork.

Amazing views can be found around every turn
And I have to admit that the views were fantastic, as was the wildlife (especially the birds). But I wouldn't recommend the experience unless you have a guide. And I definitely wouldn't recommend it in a Renault Clio hire car.

Very late lunch at the villa. Resisted the temptation to open a bottle to calm my nerves. Had a siesta instead. Talking of which, the Sardinian siesta usually lasts from 1.30 until at least 4pm. In some cases, 5. Do not expect many places to be open. (Grim is open all day.)

Comment from my husband: 'I was quite enjoying the drive through the cane fields. Very rural.'

Second comment from my husband as to why he hadn't taken my suggestion to turn back when the road was no longer a road and we passed a man in a van repairing a puncture: 'How was I supposed to know I'd end up going over the peak on a goat track?'

Over dinner that night, and we pushed the boat out and spent 6 euros on a La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna which proved to be highly quaffable, we officially declared the day to be Fuxanbollux day. San Fuxanbollux is the patron saint of tourists lost on goat tracks on mountain sides. Who the hell drives a Renault Clio hire car up mountains!!!!

 

Wednesday 4th July:

Drove to Barumini to see the nuraghe Su Nuraxi (about an hour or so out of Cagliari).

View of the village from the top of Su Naraxi nuraghe
Sardinia is the only place in the world where nuraghi can be found. These are basically towers, almost like Bronze Age medieval castles with watch towers and corbels and weapon slits in the walls. Su Nuraxi boasts one of the most complete towers, and the village complex is said to have supported a population of about 200. Opening is at 9.00 but the guided tours begin at 10.00. It is definitely worth having a guide (included in the entrance ticket). Fabrizio, our English speaking guide, was, like all the other Sardinians we have met, a very pleasant, helpful and humorous man. Get there as early as possible before a) the temp hits 35 in the shade and b) the tour buses arrive. Allow an hour and a half. You can get a joint ticket with the museum down the road.

Drove back on the Nurri-Escalaplano road. Very picturesque drive through burgeoning vineyards and cork oak plantations. Did you know that Sardinia makes 17 million wine corks a year? Impressive, hey. That's why a lot of souvenirs are made of cork. More about souvenirs later... Then we followed the Escalaplano-S. Vito road. Each valley is very different to the one before, which makes the drive so surprising.

NEVER EVER forget to put on the mosquito milk

We then drove on to Cap Ferrato and followed the coast road through Costa Rei. Little coves and sandy beaches are strung all along the coast to Villasimius. Wherever you see cars seemingly abandoned at the roadside, this is a sign that a nice little beach is just beyond the trees. The sea around Sardinia is so clear that, in the shallows, it is no longer azure but takes on an electric blue colour. There are several scuba schools and diving clubs. The sea is also full of people snorkelling in the rocky shallows.

 

Thursday 5th July:

Drove to Cagliari. Got there early (8.15) and managed to find a free parking space on Viale Armando Diaz near the harbour/marina. There are two free car parks very close to each other on this road near to the CIS building. We walked up Viale Regina Elena where there are two lifts to take you up to the Citadella dei Musei. (If you cannot walk or push a wheelchair or buggy uphill from the harbour area, there is a pay to park car park on this road near to the lifts.) The traffic isn't a problem in Cagliari. The drivers are so polite that they even stop at pedestrian crossings and allow traffic from side streets to pull out! But walking in the narrow streets is more problematical.

From the booklet of the Wax Museum
Look out for  the ubiquitous teen on a scooter bowling down steep, one-way 'pedestrian' streets.

We only wanted to visit the Museum of Archaeology to see the finds from the nuraghe. All the main museums are clustered around each other just off the Piazza Indipendienza. (The archaeology museum has lifts and ramps, one of the few buildings we came across that is completely disabled/buggy friendly.) You can buy a combined ticket with the art gallery but, because we had been spoiled by our five days in Florence, we decided to give art a miss. Instead we headed for the Museum of Wax (Cere). This is an interesting little place. For the princely sum of 1.50 euros you get an entrance ticket and a lovely, well-produced booklet, which has to cost more than the entrance fee itself! An absolute bargain!! But when I say waxworks, I mean anatomical waxworks made for students of anatomy. The models show parts of the body in various states of post-mortem/autopsy preparation showing nerves and tendons, major organs etc. It is truly fascinating and in no way gruesome or ghoulish. The best 1.50 euros you will ever spend. And the ticket guy, a typical Sardinian with a sense of humour, asked us to give his best to the Queen when next we saw her.

Blue seas...
..

The Marina area is a hive of tiny streets and artisan shops. Great for whiling away the hours. This area has a kind of Spanish feel to it. Loved it.

Down by the waterfront, under the arcade, (Via Roma), are many little souvenir shops: some selling worthwhile, handcrafted Sardinian produce while others sell cheap and cheerful tat. Now when you are in a 'who can find the worst holiday souvenir that doesn't cost more than 2 euros' club, this area is a veritable mecca. Unfortunately, because some of the things on offer were so horribly gorgeous, and because my husband and I were giggling so much that it brought tears to our eyes, and the giggles attracted the attention of the assistants who looked at us with disdain, we were on the verge of being thrown out; and not just because it was 1 o'clock closing either! So I spent 10 euros on five presents, which means I have two presents left over for Christmas. Yey!

At Poetto, south of Quartu on the Cagliari-Villasimius road (195) is the wonderful sight of hundreds of wild flamingos paddling in the salt marshes. They come as a complete surprise, not just because you don't expect to see flamingos in Sardinia but because they are only a few metres from a very busy road on the outskirts of the island's capital city.

A proper Sardinian gift shop.
Unfortunately, there are no pull-ins so taking photos is a bit difficult. If you do stop to gawk and photograph, you get short shrift from the locals! Choose a quiet time either side of siesta if you want a photo.

 

Food

I'm sure it's very nice, but I didn't sample lattume - tuna testicles. Culungiones are ravioli stuffed with potato puree, egg yolk, mint, onion and cheese. They can be served with either a tomato or meat sauce. This is the closest you get to a vegetarian meal unless you opt for pizza...  Obviously any kind of fish is a good choice in Sardinia. Fregola is couscous soup with clams, garlic and tomato: strange at first but totally delicious. Look out for sebada. These are pasties filled with cheese and fried in olive oil before being drizzled in honey. Talking of honey: Sardinian honey is fantastic. Some shops sell honey in gorgeous little jars painted with the cockerel (whose name eludes me...) of Cagliari. A bargain present to take home at just 4.50 euros.

 

Impressions

Sardinia is largely unspoilt. Most visitors are Italians from the mainland. But it is obvious that Sardinia is cranking up a few gears as far as preparing for a tourist influx in concerned.

Donkey souvenir
EU and local money is being poured into attractions such as nuraghe, many of which are tumbling down, and there is a lot of new-build.

If you attempt to speak Italian, the genuine people (as opposed to the gum-chewing, bored teenager at the supermarket checkout) will embrace your pathetic attempts and do their best to communicate with you.

Beaches are generally narrow strips of sand or rocky coves. They are primarily for soaking up the sun. You couldn't have a decent game of beach football or cricket. Sardinia is set up for watersports due to the constant breeze, which can quickly turn into a strong, blustery wind. So be warned.

Sardinia is marred by the Mediterranean culture of disposing rubbish in the nearest bit of undergrowth. Anyone who has been to Spain will know what I'm talking about. And when I say rubbish, we're not talking about the odd plastic bag or beer bottle; we're talking fire surrounds, washing machines, cars... You can recycle glass at the supermarket.

In general, if you want to see Sardinia before the tourist influx, go now. But, as one young man told us: tourism is good for the island. 'After all, it's better to earn an honest living rather than to resort to the old ways of kidnapping and extortion.

All the souvenirs. Nice, hey?
' In this case, refuse to shop at the supermercato and choose to buy fruit and veg from roadside sellers or go to the local 'corner shop' mercato and buy from farmers and growers desperate to make a living. Okay, so the tomatoes are a bit mis-shapen and the fruit isn't uniform in size, but it all tastes fantastically fresh. Support the locals. Drink the local wine...

www.subcentre.com tanka village diving

www.carloforteyachtclub.org

www.yachtclub-cagliari.com

www.airsub.com (diving Villasimius)

www.windsurfingclubcagliari.it 070 37 26 84 

canoa club Oristano 0783 2103 35

kayak da mare, Cagliari 070 6604 89

speleology Sarda, Cagliari 070 272 331

Horse riding, rock climbing golf etc, all available on web sites but I couldn't be bothered to look them up as I don't play golf, don't climb rocks (unless it's in a Renault Clio hire car) and definitely don't horse ride.

p.s. If you want to know what souvenirs I bought: 1) a pair of cork sandals 5cms long; 2) a very tasteful dolphin swimming round a glittery ship's wheel, the dolphin is so blue it hurts your eyes; 3) a fish fridge magnet, the fish is covered in sand; 4) a cigarette lighter covered in cork; 5) a straw donkey carrying two pots.

hvwoolley says:
Fantastically helpful review - we're now looking forward to our trip so much more!
Posted on: Apr 21, 2009
travelman727 says:
Excellent blog with tremendous web info! I agree with your husband; how was he to know what was ahead without going ahead? (It's a man thing).
Posted on: Jul 08, 2007
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Cagliari
Cagliari
View from the balcony
View from the balcony
Moths in Foresta Acqua Calde
Moths in Foresta Acqua Calde
Where has the road gone?
Where has the road gone?
Amazing views can be found around …
Amazing views can be found around…
View of the village from the top o…
View of the village from the top …
NEVER EVER forget to put on the mo…
NEVER EVER forget to put on the m…
From the booklet of the Wax Museum
From the booklet of the Wax Museum
Blue seas...
Blue seas...
A proper Sardinian gift shop.
A proper Sardinian gift shop.
Donkey souvenir
Donkey souvenir
All the souvenirs. Nice, hey?
All the souvenirs. Nice, hey?
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Sardinia
photo by: formicacuriosa