If you can drag yourself away from the for beach long enough to take a look at what the rest of Sardinia has to offer, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised. Floating halfway between Africa and the mainland of Italy, the island of Sardinia has had a rich and divided history that has colored its current landscape and borne a population with a fiercely independent spirit. Sure there are beautiful beaches, sparkling clean blue waters, and delicious seafood by the plateful, but there are so many more things to do in Sardinia. Once here you can fill your days with leisurely explorations of a myriad tiny towns and ancient ruins.
The Amazing Ruins near Cagliari
Being located in the middle of the Mediterranean, it’s not surprising that Sardinia has had a tumultuous and much-invaded history. Fortunately, there was one continuous settlement way back between 1500 B.C. and 500 B.C. These native Sardinians built stone homes called the nuraghi and it is amazing that you can still see several of these home sites today. The best preserved can be seen by taking a trip north of Cágliari to Su Nuraxi to visit the UNESCO-protected site. The round fortress rising out of the Sardinian landscape will set your imagination running about what life might have been like thousands of years ago.
When the Romans conquered the Carthaginians who had conquered the prehistoric citizens, they too left their traces, best seen at Nora, south of Cágliari, and Tharros, west of Oristano. Though part of Nora may be submerged, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. Perhaps Nora was once an important town in the Empire, evident by its amazing mosaics and the theatre that’s still used in the summer months for performances. The position on the edge of the sea is stunning! Much of Tharros is also submerged, but judging by the photo above, it’s this proximity to the water that makes the ancient site worth a visit.
Sardinia’s Spectacular Cities
If you’re into walking around cities towns more than ruins there’s plenty to keep you busy in three of Sardinia’s most charming towns: Cágliari, Orisanto, and Alghero. Sardinia’s main port, Cágliari, is also the most bustling and cosmopolitan on the island. Take a climb up to the evocative old Castello quarter by way of the Bastione San Remy. Though it’s quite a climb, once you make it to the top and catch your breath you’ll see right away that it’s worth it. The spectacular views of the city and the sparkling sea are best at sunset, but amazing at any time of the day.
Step farther inside the citadel’s walls and immerse yourself in a lovely maze of streets that haven’t changed much since the medieval days. There are even more Roman ruins carved into the hill: the ancient Roman amphitheater is from the second century AD and could once hold everyone from the entire town. Check the schedule of performances in the summer and maybe you can catch a show.
Orisanto is the next big town heading north. Though it’s about two and a half miles from the sea, there are lagoons and canals all around to remind you that you’re still on an island. Orisanto is an elegant city best known for the Sa Sartiglia festival held for three days at the end of the Carnival season. Thought to have originated with the Saracens, Sa Sartiglia is an equestrian tournament that everyone attends masked and costumed. The closing festivities take place in Piazza Eleonora and involve horses running at high speed while the rider attempts to pierce a small hole in a metal star strung above the level of the horses head. The sight is exciting and exhilirating.
Heading north and west to the coast you’ll come to Alghero. This is a charming town that doubles as a busy resort in the summer months. The looming battlements surrounding the town weren’t built before the Spanish took over Alghero in 1354. Their rule left traces in the monuments and sun-drenched narrow alleys that resonate with a distinctly Catalan flavor. One of the best examples of this amalgamation of styles is the Cattedrale which boasts a Catalan-Gothic style.
Perhaps the most impressive of Alghero’s sights lies a boat ride away outside the town. Neptune’s Grotto is a marine cave complete with penetrating stalagmites and dripping stalactites. Both are dramatically lit for effect. If you catching a boat to get there doesn’t appeal to you, then take a drive and enter the cave via a set of stairs winding down the cliff.
Eating and Drinking in Sardinia
Of course you can’t really spend time in Sardinia without trying some of its famous food. Sardinia’s cuisine features fresh ingredients that are simply prepared. A good example are the rich seafood soups that have a very Spanish flavor. Another Sardinian speciality is bottargo, which is something like caviar, is made with mullet eggs, and is often put on pastas. The local cheeses are something spectacular and can range from very fresh and tangy to a more sophisticated aged flavor. Most Sardinian cheeses are made from sheep’s milk, meaning they are called pecorino. The really soft cheeses go best with the typical thin sheets of crunchy “bread”, actually more like a cracker.
Of course you will need something to good to drink as you wind down your busy day of sightseeing. Vernaccia is the best known of the Sardinian wines and can be drunk either dry before dinner or sweet with dessert.
Now that you know where we go when we’re not lounging on Sardinia’s beaches, maybe you’ll want to join us on your next trip to Italy!