SUN, SEA AND SPRITZ: SARDINIA

Despite its picture perfect beaches and the allure of Spritz and authentic Italian food, Sardinian hasn’t garnered the cult following among the Euro set that other islands in the Med like Ibiza and Mykonos have, and all the better for it. This paradise is a 2 hour hop from London and is home to some of the world’s most incredible beaches, without the prices and the crowds you might find elsewhere in Europe.

The island is huge and this is by no means a definitive guide to Sardinia, but given there was next to no recommendations online before my trip, I have put together some of my top tips before visiting.

TOP TIPS

  • Sardinia is a huge island and it takes some 4 hours to drive across it – so where you stay really dictates what you will be doing and where you will be going (choose wisely!)
  • A car is a MUST. The best (and really the only) way to get between towns, beaches and restaurants is to drive and the taxi service is very limited
  • There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia – choose where you fly to based on what you want to do and do your research beforehand (my vote goes to Olbia).
  • There are three types of accommodation: traditional hotels, private houses (ie Airbnb) and ‘agriturismo’ which are farmstays but on a whole other level.

FUN FACTS

  • Sardinia was relatively unknown until the 1950s when Prince Aga Khan arrived and sought to transform the island into an eco-sensitive paradise and was soon followed by the jetset crew and other royalty.
  • Much of the island is typified by pastel coloured pastiche village complexes, a hangover from the order of Prince Khan that no development should exceed the height of the indigenous vegetation (a similar rule still applies in Bali).
  • About a third of the island of Sardinia is owned by the Italian military and used as a weapons testing base. There are clear restricted zones around the island.

GETTING THERE/AROUND

Sardinia has three airports: Alghero, Olbia and Cagliari – choose where you fly into based on where you want to spend most of your time as it is not a quick drive between each. The drive from Olbia to Alghero is around 2 hours and to Cagliari is around 3 hours. We flew into Olbia and I would highly recommend for its proximity to La Maddalena, Baia Sardinia and the turquoise coast.

Flights were direct from the UK on Easy Jet or BA, but were limited. Otherwise, a host of smaller European airlines fly regularly but generally with stops in between major destinations.

We hired a car through Europcar (side note: did you know you can get cheap car rental through Sky Scanner now?) and picked it up when we arrived at the airport. I would definitely recommend booking a car before you arrive as the queues at the airport were insane, while we breezed through in under 2 minutes.

Neptune’s Grotto (from the top)

ALGHERO, OLBIA OR CAGLIARI?

Irrespective of where you stay in Sardinia, there is no shortage of incredible beaches. But you will need a car to drive between them and there is sometimes a bit of a hike to get to them!

Alghero is located on the North of the island and has a quaint old town and easy access to the picturesque Neptune’s Grotto. We visited some small cove beaches around here too.

Cagliari is located on the South of the island and is known for long stretches of sandy beaches.

Olbia is located on the East of the island and is home to the Costa Smeralda, and is proximate to many of Sardinia’s famous beaches, clubs (when they aren’t ravaged by COVID-19) and is the easiest jumping off point to the La Maddalena archipelago. We also found it had easy access to Sardinia’s agricultural tourism, including many beautiful vineyards and wineries (about a 30 minute easy drive from the town of Olbia).

WHERE TO STAY

There are three types of accommodation available on Sardinia: traditional hotels, private homes (Airbnbs) and agriturismo. Whilst most will be familiar with the former, agriturismo’s are unique to Italy and Sardinia in particular. Agriturismo are better characterised as farmstays but on a whole other level, and usually include not only lodging but daily meals made from local and fresh produce, generally gathered from the property. If you ventured into the more rural parts of Sardinia you would see signs for these agriturismos lining the major streets, but they are also seen on the side of the road in some of the larger towns too. Agriturismos are generally also open to visitors coming for a meal, but book in advance if you are planning to take a trip out to one as they can be popular!

We stayed in the quaint town of Porto San Paolo which was a 15 minute drive from Olbia Airport, 5 minute drive to the nearest beach Porto Taverna and about a 40 minute drive into the hinterland wineries. The neighbouring town of San Teodoro is more popular with busy restaurants and access to other beaches and a flamingo beach (yes, real life flamingoes!). Either of these are a great stopping off point for exploring the east of the island. Our accommodation was dirt cheap but lovely and included complementary breakfast. Would recommend San Teodoro if you don’t have a designated driver for after Aperols at dinner.

The more tourist heavy part of Sardinia is Baia/Baja Sardinia, where the Phi Beach Club is located. While popular with the crowds, this area definitely isn’t unique to Sardinia and you could really be in any beach side tourist hot spot. There are however some incredible beaches around Baja, including Cala Gonone and it is not far from Pulau, the port where boats to La Maddalena depart from.

If i had my time again I would love to stay on La Maddalena, for its deserted beaches, turquoise waters and untouched landscapes.

Porto Taverna beach in Porto San Paolo
Baja Sardinia – where the tourists go
The view from Nuraxi winery
Whilst not known for its shopping, you can buy a bikini on the beach!

WHAT TO DO

If you’re travelling to Sardinia, I am going to assume you are going for the purpose of a beach holiday and boy you have chosen well (more on that below). But it turns out there is so much more to Sardinia.

Visit a winery! We visited Societa Agricola Lu Beddu and were blown away by the friendliness of our hosts so much so that some of our group went back a couple of days later for the local speciality which is suckling pig. We also visited the more modern and equally as stunning Nuraxi winery where we learnt about their philosophy to take products back to their roots. They also offer dining under the stars if romance is in order. Don’t be put off by the steep uphill drive to both!

Take a boat to La Maddalena (Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park). Boats leave regularly from Pulau in the North of the island, or you can hire your own. This place is picture perfect.

Visit Neptune’s Grotto. I have to admit we had a bit of fail getting here as we drove the 2 hours to get there only for it to be closed due to hazardous sea conditions, But from all I have read this is is a must see in Sardinia, although it is a bit of a climb to get there and probably quite overrun with tourists when it isn’t COVID season!

Check out old town Alghero. While reminiscent of many European old towns, and with tourist prices to match, if you are seeking a bit of history this is worth a stroll. We ate at Mandiga, just on the outskirts of the old town and can quite honestly say I ate the best pasta I have ever had in my life (for the texture of the spaghetti itself), with a friendly owner and cool interior to boot.

For those of you in the mood to boogie, check out Phi Beach Club – it was closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak when we visited but it seems to be the place to party in Sardinia. Otherwise the capital of the Costa Smeralda is Porto Cervo which boasts chic boutiques and restaurants around a sprawling marina.

Last but not least, try the food! You won’t find much other than Italian food in Sardinia (no complaints here!) but while you are at it, check out an agriturismo which are in abundance in Sardinia.

Cala Brandinchi… popular for a reason

BEACHES

There is no shortage of incredible beaches in Sardinia and these are just a few we visited or heard about (I am using this as a guide on the off chance I visit Sardinia again so not all of these are personal recommendations).

Just approaching San Teodoro are the twin beaches of Cala Brandinchi and Lu Imposto. We playfully nicknamed Cala Brandinchi ‘naked beach’, which you will understand if you search the beach on Instagram, but the water and sand at this place are like no beach I have ever seen before and- it’s definitely nicknamed ‘Little Tahiti’ for a reason. Pillow-soft squelchy white sand and warm, crystal clear water are what you will find here, when you make it through the throngs of people search for the same. There is a north and south side to the beach, and I feel like the north might be the better option as we felt ourselves a little squished up the south end where the width of the beach is only around 3 metres.

Cala Brandinchi and Lu Imposto are both accessible following a ten minute walk from a well-managed car park just off the main road into San Teodoro. Parking costs 2 euro an hour and is capped at 14 euro a day. Keep in mind that if you arrive after 2PM there may be a wait to get in as the beach will have hit capacity. Lu Impostu, while great is much more exposed and windier than Cala Brandinchi. if you come to Sardinia looking for deserted beaches this is not the place to go.

Porto Taverna is a more traditional European beach, with deckchairs for hire and thankfully no stones. The view from Porto Taverna to Isola di Taverna is phenomenal and we spent most of the day at the beach in the aquamarine waters mesmerised by the island.

Cala Gonone is a favourite in Sardinia slightly further south on the east coast from Cala Brandinchi. This is a narrow stretch of beach met with the bluest of waters, popular with tour boats. From what I hear there is a steep drive down to the beach and parking can be difficult, but well worth it for the more deserted vibe.

Other recommended beaches on the east coast (or otherwise spied through the gram) are Spiaggia del Principe, Cala Goloritze and Cala dei Gabbiani.

EAT

Given the size of Sardinia, it is hard to pinpoint ‘must-dine’ venues and indeed in all my research there was no clear winner that became apparent.

My best advice would be to do your research before you go about the best restaurants near your accommodation. In any case, we loved the more ‘local’ vibe of the island, including the abundance of agriturismos who offered the whole ‘farm-to-table’ philosophy before it was cool, as well as the abundance of wineries.

If you do end up visiting one of the town centres make sure you check out the options outside the town first. We found in Alghero that restaurants inside the town were ‘tourist-traps’ and we ate much better (and for much less!) immediately outside the old town.

The best pasta I have ever eaten: Mandiga

With special thanks and credit to my tour guide, driver and personal photographer Roberto and good time gal pal and content creator extraordinaire Shirlina xxx

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