I had long thought that Sardinia was very expensive, an island where only the well-to-do spent their vacations. However, that is only in the northeast corner of the island along its Emerald Coast. It is a big island, and there are many other places with normal prices: fantastic mountain landscapes, weird rock formations and beautiful beaches.
My girlfriend had recently bought a VW van, albeit an old one, but it was just the right vehicle for this trip, since it would have been difficult to see a lot of places using public transportation. We drove to Genova for the ferry to Olbia on Sardinia, but when we got there, the ferry we had intended to take had been canceled. Fortunately, another ferry company had a boat going later that evening, because we certainly did not want to spend the night in Genova.
For some strange reason, this ferry company thought it was a good idea to decorate their boats with cartoon characters.
Other ferries of theirs in the harbor were adorned with pictures of Superman, Batman and other puerile fantasy figures.
Friends had told us that there was a “campground” on the boat, a large carpeted area, where you could spread out your sleeping bag. Unfortunately, this was not the case on our boat, and we slept uncomfortably on narrow couches near a children’s play area. The boat was huge with sports bar at one end and extremely loud disco music on upper outside deck where cocktails were served. It would have been nice to sleep outside on the top deck, but the deck floor was too wet.
The ferry was scheduled to arrive at 10:30 a.m., so we were taking our time and went up on deck to view the part of Sardinia we were sailing by. However, the ship arrived three hours early, and we had to rush down to our van to disembark.
We immediately headed south and stopped at Porto San Paolo, where a weekday market was taking place. We stocked up on victuals and then drove down to the beach, which was rather small. The Isola Tavolara is opposite, and hordes of schoolchildren were lined up to take the boats there for an outing.
The crest of the island somewhat resembles a dragon. A shepherd from Corsica landed and settled there with his family in the 18th century. Later, the king of Sardinia landed there, and the shepherd’s son greeted him in jest saying the King of Tavolara welcomed the King of Sardinia. The latter found this quite amusing, so he appointed the shepherd as actual King of Tavolara and bequeathed the island to him and his family.
There is just too much to see on Sardinia and we had no desire to spend our day around raucous schoolchildren, so we continued a few kilometers farther to Porto della Taverna. There was a beautiful beach there, also with a view of Tavolara, albeit with not too few people on it. However, the sand and water were just too inviting not to stay.
We decided stay there and sleep in our van in the parking lot for the night. When we starting preparing our dinner, we discovered that the auxiliary battery in the van was something not functioning and consequently the refrigerator was not working and neither was the water supply. Consequently, it was a bit difficult cleaning the fish we had bought, but somehow we managed that and to prepare a delicious meal.
We were practically alone in the parking lot during the night and not even sure that we were permitted to be there, but apparently it was no problem. I went for quick dip in morning, savoring the fresh water and empty beach, and then we headed south again, passing one beautiful beach after another.
We didn’t have a specific plan for our next stop, but when we arrived Orosei, we decided that it would be a good area for a break.
Small beach in Orosei
We headed to the campgrounds called Cala Ginepro, which turned out to be a great choice. Since it was after the vacation season in most of Europe, there was no problem getting a place there. We did have our temperatures first taken and had to show our Green Passes, which we found quite reassuring, i.e., that no anti-science crazies without vaccination would be on the site who could possibly infect others and/or develop mutant variants of Covid-19 against which our vaccinations were ineffective. The campsites were all in shaded with lots of pine trees, and the facilities were all extremely clean. Garbage had to be separated into waste and recyclables, and there was even a man at the garbage deposit site checking that you put your waste into the correct containers.
I wouldn’t recommend this campsite in the summer, since there is a stage where “entertainment” is offered there then. The campsite has two beaches, and I can imagine what it looks like in high season.
There was even a Zumba class on the beach when we were there. However, the campsite has a second beach, which is much more laid-back.
There was quite a bit of wind there and a surf school at one end.
When we walked to the end of the other beach, we came to a second one in the Parco Naturale de Bidderosa, which was almost deserted.
After three relaxing days, we continued to Cala Gonone, famous for the grottoes in its vicinity. It was not far, and we expected to arrive by noon. However, when we got to the turn-off that went through a tunnel, it was blocked for the day while car races were being held there. There is an older road that traverses the mountain to get there, but a terrible traffic jam made it almost impossible to use. The old road is very narrow, and people in large RVs were trying to manage it and blocking the road. Several people at the start told us to forget it and turn around, there was no getting through.
We drove back to Dorgali, the town facing the mountain and had a great lunch while trying to decide what to do. A couple of hours later, we tried the old road again. This time, there were far fewer vehicles on it, although there was a backup at one point where a larger RV was stuck. We finally did get to Cala Gonone and the campsite, which again was quite a pleasant one.
We booked a taxi boat to take us to Cala Sisine, from where we wanted to hike back to Cala di Luna. The ride passed impressive cliffs
before we arrived at Cala Sisine, where we were alone.
We bid goodbye to our driver
and headed off.
There were fantastic views
but was quite a strenuous uphill hike from sea level to 632 meters in 30° C heat.
Not far from the top, there is a rather unique-looking shepherd’s hut.
Then a long hike down to Cala di Luna
The S’Achitieddu Lupiru, through which you can see Cale Gonone
We expected Cala di Luna would be almost deserted, since it is only accessible by boat, but the contrary was the case. Years ago, it was populated by young backpackers who slept there, but the government forbid such and now the boats do not even take anyone there who has a larger backpack.
The boats there going back to Cala Gonone were all leaving soon, and we reluctantly only had time to jump into the water for a short time before we had to get on one. Otherwise, we would have had several more hours of hiking on flat terrain, including a couple of kilometers on an asphalt road.
We had hoped to visit one the Grotta del Bue Marino, but there was too much wind on the day we wanted to go and we told the cave was flooded on that day and consequently there were no trips to it. Then we heard that there are sometimes 80 to 100 people visiting the cave at one time, so we decided to forgo it this trip.
We next drove to Ponte sa Barva, from where we hiked to Gola di Gorropu, an impressive karstic canyon.
Along the trail there
Entrance: the rangers recommended not going past the red-marked area unless you had a lot of experience climbing. The canyon is filled with huge boulders.
It was a two-hour hike from the parking lot to the canyon, and then two hours back, so it was already early evening when we continued. The road south clung to high cliffs and the ride was quite spectacular when somewhat nerve-racking at times.
It was getting dark, so we decided to stop in a small village along the way, Osulai, which was not even on our map. The village seemed almost deserted, and there were some interesting murals as we often saw in towns and villages in Sardinia.
We encountered a local woman on the street and asked her whether there was a restaurant in town. She went out of her way to direct us to a pizzeria. The pizza was very good, but it was also the only thing on the menu: no salads or vegetables of any kind.
We parked on a small area next to a fountain and hoped we could sleep in the van there undisturbed. However, a police car soon car and parked not far from us. I watched anxiously from the van window to see whether they would approach us. It seemed they were controlling passing cars to check if the drivers had consumed alcohol. After what seemed like an eternity, they left and we went to sleep.
The next morning, we drove to a campground at Santa Maria Navarresse. The campgrounds were half empty and the adjacent beach even more so.
Spectacular evening vista
Alas, we only had two weeks and there is so much to see! We headed north on an inland road, which became a highway after a harrowing ascent on narrow, winding mountain roads. We stopped along way at one of the many sites, Nuaghe Loelle, type of building from the Nuragic Age:
Quote from Wikipedia:
“The Nuragic civilization, also known as the Nuragic culture, was a civilization or culture on Sardinia (Italy), the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, which lasted from the 18th century BC (Bronze Age) (or from the 23rd century BC) up to the Roman colonization in 238 BC. Others date the culture as lasting at least until the 2nd century AD and in some areas, namely the Barbagia, to the 6th century AD or possibly even to the 11th century AD.”
We stopped for the night in Tempo Pausania where we booked a room in a small hotel for the first time on this trip. We were aghast when we drove into town, because it looked like a poorly planned, dilapidated city. However, our hotel was at the edge of the old town, which was quite nice. Unfortunately, the food in the restaurant so praised in our guestbook was disappointing. We learned that it is best to order antipasto and then only a first or second course (all three would be too much!)
The area produced a lot of cork, and there were murals depicting bygone days.
We had rushed a bit to get north, because two friends had arrived on Sardinia a couple of days previously, and we wanted to hike on the peninsula Capo Testa with them.
White cliffs on Corsica 12 kilometers away
It was late by the time we finished, so we headed to the next campground at Porto Pollo that turned out to be a surfer spot. This was the first time we experienced a full campground, and we were lucky to get the last space. A narrow strip of land connects the campground area with the main island, and sundry surfers populate the water on the two sides of it: mainly kite surfers on one side and windsurfers on the other. There was also another type where the sail was held in hands, the board ran above the water, and only a ruder was in the water. No idea what that is called. It seemed like 80% of the people there were Swiss, the other 20% Germans.
We only had two more nights, so we booked accommodation in what is called “agriturismo” in Italy. It seems to be every on the island and in the country (even my Italian language books talk about it). There are (former) farmhouses offering accommodation to tourists. We really got lucky and wound up in a fantastic one, Monti di Jogliu, run by a very nice young couple.
The breakfast room had a huge granite rock as one wall, and we wondered how they had managed that without problems of water seeping it. And there was a lot of rain just on the day we arrived there, a tremendously loud thunderstorm. What luck that we were not at a campground!
The proprietor stood at his window for 15 minutes to get this photo, which he was kind enough to share with me.
It was also only a 15-minute drive to Cannigione and the lovely Spiaggia (Beach) Mannena only a couple of kilometers north of there.
It was then our last day and time to head to Olbia for our ferry back to the mainland. We first stopped in nearby Arzachena, since it was market day and a chance to get some good cheese for back home. There is quite an interesting stairway leading up to a church with a painting that is continued on each step.
We stopped on the way at a beautiful beach for a last swim. The color of the water explained why this is called the Emerald Coast.
We had some time before our ferry in Olbia and were pleasantly surprised at how nice the main street was.
A carousal at one end:
We had the foresight to book a cabin on the ferry back to the mainland, since we had a long drive the next day to get home. We only saw a very small part of Sardinia, but enough to make me want to see more.