“Life in Sardinia is perhaps the best a man can hope for: twenty-four thousand kilometres of forests, countryside and coastline immersed in a miraculous sea should coincide with what I would advise the good Lord to give us as a gift, as Paradise” (Fabrizio De Andrè).
Sardinia, with its 1840 km of coastline, is famous throughout the world for its emerald sea: an island that amazes visitors with its natural contrasts, lights and colours, a country of ancient traditions, immersed in wild, unspoilt nature.
Vast areas have remained magically intact, inhabited by deer, wild horses and large birds of prey, and are rich in small desert areas, ponds and lush forests with trees that are even thousands of years old.
Those who prefer the mountains to the sea can explore the Gennargentu region, the largest mountain complex in Sardinia, where it is possible to see mouflons, golden eagles, Sardinian deer and various species now in danger of extinction.
Not only nature, but also history: Sardinia offers nuragic complexes scattered throughout the territory, unique monuments that bear witness to an ancient and still partly mysterious culture dating from the 15th to the 6th century BC.
The Nuraghi – built with large stone blocks – were built around a central tower in the shape of a truncated cone that conveys a feeling of solidity and power. These are archaeological sites where you can still see signs of ancient rituals and domestic life with archaic charm. Among the many, the Barumini complex in the province of Medio Campidano is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There are 7,000 megalithic monuments scattered across the island, one every 4 km2, and they are the most impressive in Europe.
Some of its most beautiful beaches have made it famous among all holidaymakers looking for a fabulous sea in a dream location.
In the Gulf of Orosei we find the wild and unspoilt Cala Goloritzé, which can be reached both by sea and by land with a trekking route starting on foot from Su Porteddu.
Here the sea and the mountains meet in perfect harmony.
The seabed is surreally transparent, the turquoise waters flow from underwater springs, marble rocks shaped by time emerge from the sea: a natural arch and the famous pyramid-shaped spire of Monte Caroddi.
From a height of 143 metres it towers over an unmissable place on your visit to the island, often identified as its symbol. Two hundred metres north of the main beach is the small ‘spiaggia delle sorgenti’ (spring beach), which derives its name from the spring waters that gush out among the rocks. To the south, the bay is bordered by a rocky wall in which the erosive action of the sea has carved a stone arch that plunges into the sea. The enchanting scenery is guarded by the “aguglia a tramontana“, a grandiose limestone spur coveted by climbers from all over the world.
Cala Brandinchi, the “little Tahiti”, is located to the north of San Teodoro immediately after Lu Impostu beach: the two beaches are separated by a small rocky promontory covered by woodland and are joined by a path through the Mediterranean maquis.
It is a dream beach, with fine white sand, crystal-clear water and a very shallow seabed. The green of the pine forest and the Mediterranean maquis is made even more intense by the extraordinary colours of the sea, reminiscent of those in Polynesia.
Behind it is the pond of the same name with its flora and fauna: pink flamingos, herons and stilt birds live here. Finally, in the background is the majestic island of Tavolara, a huge limestone massif emerging from the sea. In low season, this stretch of coastline is at its most beautiful, especially from September to June: enchanting vegetation, fine white sand and the transparency of the sea are at their best!
The Prince’s Beach, known by Sardinians as the Beach of Portu Li Coggi, is a wide arc of fine white sand, separated in two sections by a promontory of pink rocks, and surrounded by lush Mediterranean scrub, at the bottom of a deep inlet protected by a promontory of pink granite.
Its name is linked to an alleged preference of Prince Aga Khan for this corner of the sea. The unique mixed sand and granite seabed gives this sea its clarity and a palette of colours ranging from emerald green to sky blue, turquoise and blue.
This arc of white sand is often considered the most beautiful beach on the Costa Smeralda and one of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia; in a recent classification it was recognised as one of the twenty most beautiful beaches in the world.
A pleasant microclimate protected by the island of Asinara is just one of the qualities of the splendid La Pelosa beach in Stintino: a true paradise of fine sand and clear seabed with the colours of the sea blending into the sky. Located in the Gulf of Asinara, in the extreme north-western tip of Sardinia, it is a natural paradise with water that reaches the ankles for tens of metres.
The impressive view is given by the towers that frame it and the stacks of Capo Falcone, the Piana island and the Asinara island that protect it from the rush of the open sea.
The Aragonese tower, dating back to 1578, is the symbol of La Pelosa, which can be reached on foot after crossing another delightful cove, La Pelosetta. A curiosity linked to its name: it is said to be so called because of the presence of sea straw, and Mediterranean vegetation composed of long, fine tufts.
In the 1970s it was famous for its dunes, which have now almost completely disappeared. Perhaps one day they will reform.
The colourful village of Stintino is home to the Museo della Tonnara, dedicated to the tuna fishing carried out by the locals until the last century. An interesting insight into the town and its inhabitants, who for centuries have been responsible for one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Santa Giusta beach is located to the north of Villa Rei beach, near the famous Peppino rock in Costa Rei.
Santa Giusta is one of the most loved and frequented beaches in South-East Sardinia because of the beauty of the inlet and of the sea, which on days when there is a light wind and also thanks to the shallow water resembles more a swimming pool than a long sea.
It takes its name from the beautiful rock that rests on the right side of the coast.
The rock, which is large and of very clear granite, is said to have been the favourite destination of a fisherman, Peppino, from whom it takes its name.
This is one of the perfect beaches for families with children who love to climb and dive into the shallow, transparent waters!
The beach is characterised by the presence of large, rather smooth granite rocks where you can climb, walk or sit and admire the transparency of these Caribbean waters!
The archaeological site “Su Nuraxi” (the nuraghe) of Barumini, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, is undoubtedly the most important monument of the Nuragic civilisation.
The majestic megalithic construction is one of the largest and most famous on the island and boasts the record of being the first Nuragic complex to be investigated by a scientific archaeological excavation. Impressive in its size and construction, “Su Nuraxi” shows us what wonders were capable of by peoples so distant in time and seemingly primitive.
Together with the fortress, we can find a vast village with narrow lanes and courtyard houses, wells, cisterns and meeting huts, linked to a mysterious history that began 3500 years ago.
Positioned so as to dominate the surrounding plains, it is a four-lobed nuraghe, with the central tower, originally more than 19 metres high, consisting of three superimposed tholos (typical nuragic chambers) and dating from 1478 BC. The four towers surrounding the central keep, positioned at the four cardinal points and originally built on two floors, were presumably built around the 13th century BC. Another clearly visible element is the wall, about 3 metres thick, which completely rebuilds the bastion, built around the 11th century BC, probably to reinforce the structure.
From here, in order to enter the inside of the Nuraghe of Barumini, one had to reach a small entrance door positioned about 7 metres high, making “Su Nuraxi” in the eyes of the enemies, an impregnable fortress.
It is also possible to visit the Centro Servizi Lilliu with temporary and permanent exhibitions and the Casa Zapata museum, an ancient mansion built using the ‘Su Nuraxi e Cresia’ nuraghe as a foundation. The museum houses very important artefacts found in the Barumini nuraghe “Su Nuraxi” as well as the historical and ethnographic sections.
From “Su Nuraxi” it is possible to reach the nearby Giara plateau, a special environment made up of volcanic rocks, cork oaks and seasonal lakes known as “Paulis“. A wonderful walk in a spectacular natural setting and a bit of luck will allow you to spot some specimens of the “cavallino della Giara“, a breed endemic to the Sardinian territory, a small wild horse species that thrives by feeding in those uncontaminated pastures and by the abundant blooms of “water buttercups” that completely cover the ponds in spring.
Ogliastra is one of the wildest and most unexplored regions of Sardinia, thanks to the particular conformation of its territory, which makes its discovery difficult and has made foreign settlement impossible since ancient times.
Among the mountains of Gennargentu, we can find what geologists of the old continent consider to be the most beautiful and imposing canyon in Europe: the stupendous Gorropu Gorge, a true spectacle of nature that over the centuries has been carved into the rock by the intense erosive action of the waters of the Rio Flumineddu.
With a height of over 500 metres and a width varying from a few tens of centimetres to 4 metres, it is considered one of the deepest canyons in Europe. According to the Sardinians, the canyon is one of the 10 places tourists should visit in Sardinia.
The gorge is a deep wound that cuts through the Barbagia territory and marks a natural border between the Supramonte of Orgosolo and that of Urzulei.
At the bottom of the gorge flows the Rio Flumineddu, whose waters over thousands of years have given rise to this splendid canyon. Today, the waters of the river pass under the gorge of Gorropu and then suddenly gush out right at the mouth of the canyon, continuing its course towards the valley of Dorgali, opening up from time to time into small lakes and feeding other small springs.
A number of legends are linked to this place due to the particularity of the landscape and the high walls that mark the gorge. It is said that from the narrowest and darkest point of the gorge, where the walls rise vertically to over 450 metres, it is possible to see the stars in broad daylight.
According to another legend, the magical flowers of the male fern bloom in the steep walls at night. Only the most courageous are allowed to catch them, by descending from the Supramonte of Orgosolo.
A very special natural habitat has been created inside the Gorropu gorge, which has favoured the development of some rare species of flora and fauna: it is possible to encounter incredible animals, such as the wild goat or the golden eagle, authentic masters of this territory, but also the extremely rare Sardinian euprotto, which is an endemic Sardinian animal and considered the rarest amphibian in Europe, and the Geotriton of Supramonte, present in the nearby Su Palu cave, as well as wild boar, foxes, mouflons, wild cats, Sardinian hares and hedgehogs.
The canyon can be reached on foot after a two-hour walk. It is advisable to make the excursion to the Gorropu gorge in spring and summer, as during the winter and autumn rains make it dangerous to pass through the canyon.
The gorge is also considered a historical and cultural monument: there are numerous nuraghi around the gorge, testifying to the presence of man since the 18th century B.C.: the nuraghe Sa Domu de s’Orcu, located at the entrance to the gorge, the nuraghe Presetu Tortu, positioned at the top to watch over the gorge and the surrounding territory, and finally the nuraghe Mereu, which dominated the entire valley from above. Further along the gorge it is possible to see further constructions dating back to the XVI century B.C., perhaps by men in search of shelter and supplies.
In the heart of the Capo Caccia promontory, the fairy-tale scenarios of the underground world of the Neptune’s Cave open up, one of the largest sea cavities in Italy and one of the most fascinating natural jewels in the Mediterranean. It can be reached by sea or by land by taking the “Scala del capriolo“, a staircase of about 660 steps carved into the ridge of the promontory. The cave is fairly well preserved despite the fact that it is 2 million years old.
It is almost certain that primitive man knew about them and used them according to his own needs.
They are among the largest still existing and extend for about 4 km inside the Capo Caccia promontory.
The route open to the public is almost 1 km long in a rich and luxurious environment with natural sculptures such as stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the presence of a lake and even a beach!
The tourist itinerary begins in the large hall that houses the crystal-clear waters of Lake Lamarmora, one of the largest saltwater lakes in Europe, one hundred metres long at its deepest point and nine metres deep.
At the centre of the cave stands the monumental stalagmite, about two metres high, known as L’acquasantiera:
at the top of it are a number of basins in which rainwater collects, a precious source of water for the birds that nest in the Cape area.
Continuing along the route, after passing the Hall of Ruins you reach the majestic Reggia, which houses the most evocative scenery of the entire Grotta. Suggestive and imposing colonnades rise up in this room, almost supporting the ceiling.
The characteristic stalagmite formation known as the Christmas Tree stands out amidst large flows and festoons of calcium. The lake ends with a small sandy beach called Spiaggia dei Ciottolini (Pebble Beach) because it was once made entirely of pebbles.
After the Reggia you come to the Smith Hall where you will find the Great Organ, the largest column in the entire cave. Its flows are reminiscent of organ pipes. This room owes its name to the English captain who was one of the first explorers of the cave at the beginning of the 19th century.
After admiring the small columns that adorn the Sala delle Trine e dei Merletti, the tour ends with a visit to the Tribuna della Musica, an evocative balcony from which you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Reggia area and Lake Lamarmora.
The caves are visited by numerous speleologists, the only ones who have access to the deepest and most secret recesses. The caves have been a film set: in 1978, “The island of the fish men” was filmed there, with sets recalling the stories of Jules Verne.
In the cliffs of Capo Caccia, a destination for climbing and diving enthusiasts, there are other fascinating caves. Nearby you will find the gigantic Grotta Verde (Green Cave), also known as the Grotta dell’altare (Altar Cave). A small lake at the bottom provides a green light. Its once dry rooms were a place of worship and burial site from the 6th millennium BC to the Middle Ages. In the vast underwater karst system, the cave of Nereo stands out, the largest submerged cavity in Europe, the scene of unforgettable dives. In front of Capo Caccia stands the island Foradada (pierced), which takes its name from the tunnel that crosses it from side to side, the Grotta dei Palombi (cave of the Leads).
Sardinia is the home of Italian muralism and Orgosolo is its “capital”. The town has no less than 150 murals in its streets, attracting the curiosity of thousands of Italian and foreign tourists every year.
Each with its own style, the murals tell the story of a culturally fervent and politically active territory. With its expressive and evocative images, Orgosolo communicates and creates bonds with inhabitants and visitors.
The first mural was created in 1969 by a collective of anarchist militants called Dionisio.
It was just the beginning of a phenomenon that exploded in the 1970s and that today has transformed a walk through the town’s alleyways into a visit to an open-air museum. There are about 150 drawings that colour Orgosolo, recounting peasant life, power struggles, social battles, political claims, but also the deep-rooted traditions of this land of pride, honour and ancient codes.
Sardinian muralists use water-based paints, typical of interiors, perhaps because of an aesthetic choice whereby the works are only repainted if the community feels the need, otherwise they are destined to disappear, left to memory and remembrance.
A few kilometres further on, we come to Mamoiada, between Gennargentu and Supramonte, the town of the Mamuthones and the Issohadores. This town boasts an ancient tradition based on pagan rituals, culminating in the feast of St Anthony the Abbot on 17 January, which marks the start of the Mamoiada Carnival. It is on this occasion that the two masks, Mamuthones and Issohadores, now famous throughout the world, make their appearance. The Mamuthones, with their black masks, dressed in sheepskins and carrying thirty kilos of cowbells (sa carriga), are very evocative.
They are counterbalanced by the Issohadores, in elegant red bodices and white masks, who mark the dance in procession.
Away from Carnival, all this can be admired in the very interesting Museum of Mediterranean Masks. Afterwards, the visit can continue through the intricate alleyways of Mamoiada with its characteristic granite houses. And just outside the town, another marvel: sa Perda Pintà, also known as the Boeli stele; a granite slab over two and a half metres high depicting a number of concentric circles, hooked sticks and Celtic-type cups, dating from around 3500 BC. Similar ones can only be found in Brittany, Scotland and Wales.
Dozens of murals embellish many other villages in the Sardinian hinterland, such as San Teodoro, Villamar and Serramanna, telling with their own language the customs and culture of the people who live there.
Today, Sardinian murals represent a new form of urban decoration, but in most cases they maintain the message of a collective and popular art that is subject to the judgement of those who enjoy it.