Sri Lanka Off The Beaten Path

Sri Lanka Off The Beaten Path

Kuduruketha. A gorgeous, hidden resort near Wellawaya, in Sri Lanka: not many people who visit Sri Lanka make the effort to go all the way there. Yet they should. To be fair, Diana and I had not intended to go either. But then a twist of events took us there, and it turned out to be one of our favorite places in the country.

The irony of being travel bloggers is that, the more time we spend traveling, the less time we have to plan our travels – be it making accommodation reservations; reading about the places we mean to visit; learning a bit about the culture of the country before actually finding ourselves there.

Sri Lanka off the beaten path

Sri Lanka countryside is simply gorgeous

When not having a plan is the best plan

Sri Lanka is a bit like that. Before going there, Diana and I draft a rough itinerary and make a list of the places we would like to see. Yet, we allow ourselves enough room to change plans, just in case something interesting comes up, or in case the weather conditions make it impossible to follow the plans.

The name Wellawaya comes up once we decide to skip Yala National Park. We have read that most sectors of the park are closed during the time we intend to visit, so it makes no sense to invest money on a safari if we don’t get to explore the park properly (by which we don’t mean we want the guarantee we’ll be seeing animals). Besides, we have just visited Gal Oya National Park and have had a wonderful experience that would been hard to match.

Sri Lanka

Having a chat with my new friends

We have already spent more than a week in the Hill Country, and we are tired of the chaos of Kandy and of the dampness of Nuwara Eliya. We want to make our way south, but need to break the trip. We feel the need to be surrounded by nature, so we look for a good alternative to Yala National Park.

Flipping through the pages of our guidebooks, we see that Wellawaya is a small place at the very end of the Hill Country, and Kaduruketha nothing more than a few scattered houses in what is described as an idillyc tropical setting.

We are hardly the kind of travelers that make an effort to get off the beaten path, but this is an easy detour. We decide to go.

A less visited side of Sri Lanka

A 45 minutes bus ride from Ella (once a remote village in the Hill Country, nowadays one of Sri Lanka tourist hot spots), Wellawaya is the closest real village to Kuduruketha. As we get off the bus at the intersection, we start walking the 2 km towards out hotel, Jetwing Kaduruketha, and quickly understand we could have not picked a better place to visit.

The setting is gorgeous: a windy road cuts across the greenest of landscapes. We cross paths with a few local women and children, who as many in the country walk around carrying an open umbrella, to protect themselves from both the rain and the fierce sun. They greet us with sincere smiles, yet unaccustomed to tourists. Dogs sleep in the middle of the street, their sleep hardly interrupted by a tuc tuc or by the odd motorbike.

Sri Lanka

Rural Sri Lanka is by far my favorite

We would be happy just taking long walks or easy bike rides, and relaxing by the pool or on the deck of our cottage with a book, but it turns out that there is much more to do in Kuduruketha than we had expected.

The area is packed with wildlife. Along with monkeys, there are various species of frogs, owls, flying squirrels and peacocks. It is peacock mating season when we visit, and they sure make it clear that they own the territory, flagging their gorgeous tails and singing their need for romance at night.

I actually have to fight a squirrel that keeps getting into our room to steal packets of sugar from our desk, much to the amusement of Diana who thinks I am yelling at her as she tries to walk back inside after her yoga session.

But there’s more!

Sri Lanka

Enjoying Elle Wala waterfalls in the company of a lovely dog

The area around Kaduruketha is packed with waterfalls and swimming holes. We opt to visit Elle Wala. It is a short tuc tuc ride north, though the thick forest. As the tuc tuc stops, two sweet dogs, who we later learn to be the “guardians” of the waterfall, show us the path through the jungle and take us all the way to Elle Wala.

We can hear the noise before we can actually spot it. The stream falls into what looks like a natural amphitheater. There’s a few giant rocks and lots of trees around, and a great swimming hole with freezing cold yet shallow water. It is a perfect setting: we can’t help wondering why such a beautiful place doesn’t get more visitors, but at the same time we are glad to have it all to ourselves.

off the beaten path Sri Lanka

The beauty of having a site all to myself!

Just as we have all to ourselves Buduruvagala, a Buddhist temple at around 7 km south of Wellawaya.

I am reluctant to visit, after having been crushed by the crowds during the poja at the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy and having wasted the equivalent of $10 USD to see virtually nothing. Besides, we have already spent a significant amount of money at various sacred places around Sri Lanka only to realize that the sites aren’t really that interesting to us, neither we feel they are worth the price.

But Diana insists, saying that Buduruvagala costs less than $2 USD anyways. So I decide I may as well give it a chance. And I am glad I do, if only to confirm my impression that the best attractions in Sri Lanka are the less visited ones, which have managed to keep a genuine atmosphere.

The temple consists of Buddha figures carved in the rock, dating back to the 10th century. The setting is idillic: completely surrounded by the forest, the only sound that of the gentle breeze the swept the trees.

Jetwing Kuduruketha: we all deserve to be pampered

The best place to access the tropical paradise of Kuduruketha is Jetwing. The property consists of 25 beautiful, cozy and comfortable bungalows set in a gorgeous park, all with splendid views of the countryside.

There’s a beautiful infinity pool that overlooks the rice fields, and a restaurant and bar that serve carefully prepared dishes and fabulous cocktails.

Sri Lanka off the beaten path

A pool with a view

In line with its effort to respect and protect the environment, there’s no air condinioning in the bungalows (and frankly, there’s no need for it as the temperatures are actually quite pleasant at night). There’s no TV in the rooms – this is a place to relax and disconnect from the world. And in order to help guests to do so, Jetwing Kuduruketha offers ayurvedic treatments, as well as yoga classes.

If I ever go back to Sri Lanka (and I intend to do so!) I will visit Kuduruketha again, and I will know where to stay.

For a complete guide about Sri Lanka, check my post 9 Fantastic Places To Visit In Sri Lanka.

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Jetwing Kuduruketha during my visit to Sri Lanka. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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5 Ways to Enjoy the Best of New York — Without the Crowds and High Prices

5 Ways to Enjoy the Best of New York — Without the Crowds and High Prices

New York City is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world. With world-class museums, shopping, theater, dining, and more, it’s easy to see why. It’s one of the cities in the United States to fall in love with.

However, with so much to offer, some of the most popular activities and sites tend to become quite crowded, and prices might be a bit higher than many tourists expect. But with a little advance planning and some creativity, it is possible to actually see the best of New York without breaking the budget or spending hours standing in line.

To get the most from a trip to the Big Apple, consider these alternatives to some of the quintessential New York experiences.

New York

New York is great to explore

1. Use Private Transportation

Now, most people might think “How is private transportation less expensive than taking a cab or using public transportation?”  When looking for the absolute cheapest mode of transportation around the city, nothing really can’t beat the subway or bus system. However, when someone isn’t familiar with the routes, or where they are trying to go, using public transportation can be a bit of a hassle, not to mention it’s often crowded and it may mean waiting for a train or bus. Hiring a company will actually end up costing about the same as taking cabs for the whole trip, with all the benefits of a private car and a knowledgeable driver, who can take his customers where they want to be in no time.

Food trucks are the way to go in New York - photo courtesy of Britta Frahm (flickr)

Food trucks are the way to go in New York – photo courtesy of Britta Frahm (flickr)

2. Eat at Food Trucks

I am convinced street food is the best way to go when traveling. I tried it in Bangkok and it didn’t disappoint, and it is fabulous in New York. Grabbing a hot dog from a cart on a street corner might feel like the ultimate New York activity, but there’s a good chance one may be disappointed in the fare. When I lived there, most New Yorkers would tell me that the best food isn’t found at street carts, but rather at the food trucks that can be found around the city. I could get everything from Korean BBQ to tacos to desserts at these trucks, which often serve food that is fresher and better tasting than even some restaurants.

New York

Who said the best view is from the Empire State Building?

3.  Seek out Alternative Experiences

Most first time visitors to New York have a few “must-do’s” on their lists, like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. While visiting these sites will definitely provide great shots for an Instagram feed, they can also be expensive and crowded. Try checking out some of the lesser-known alternatives instead; for example, the view from Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is arguably better than that from the Empire State Building, but not nearly as expensive. Want to see the Statue of Liberty up close? Hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free cruise across the river and a great view of Lady Liberty.

4. Don’t Stop at Broadway

Seeing a Broadway show can be a highlight of a trip to the city — but good luck getting tickets to “Hamilton.” While it is generally possible to score inexpensive same-day show tickets at the TKTS booths around the city, I like to expand my research way beyond the shows on the Great White Way. I often easily found seats for shows off-Broadway, which are just as good as those at the major theaters. In fact, many shows begin in off-Broadway theaters before moving to the big time (the aforementioned “Hamilton” being one of them) and I even happened to see a show before it became the next big thing. Be flexible and willing to take a risk, and something great may come up.

5. Shop Small

It’s great fun to shop in the major department stores and window shop along Fifth Avenue, but I never limit myself to the primary shopping areas. Many of the stores in midtown Manhattan and along the most famous shopping streets can be found in any shopping mall in any city, and there I won’t be getting a true flavor of the city. Instead, I head to Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, or the East Village to find some funky boutiques and shops where I can find unique gems to take home. I am not so much into fashion, but I always make sure to check out some of the secondhand and consignment shops for cheap designer duds, or follow my favorite designers on social media to get the scoop on sample sales.

Visiting New York is exciting, and I’ll never be bored there. But I like the idea of saving a few bucks and I also want a more authentic, less crowded experience: try some of these ideas instead of just following the typical itinerary and fun will be guaranteed!

Why Bela krajina is the hidden gem of Slovenia

Why Bela krajina is the hidden gem of Slovenia

I had never even heard about Bela krajina, let alone planned to go there, until I eventually went, because why not? Of all the beautiful places to explore in Slovenia, Bela krajina isn’t exactly the most famous. Ask anybody about Ljubljana and the usual answer is that it is gorgeous. Everybody knows about Lake Bled. And even Lake Bohinj is becoming more and more famous among travelers.

Slovenia

Everybody knows about Lake Bled

However, ask people about Bela krajina and a blank stare will be the most typical answer. In fact, it makes a good off the beaten path destination. The thing is, I hardly ever try to go off the beaten path. After all, as a proper unsuccessful backpacker, I like exploring all the most touristy places and taking all the most iconic photos. I never really make an effort to go off the beaten path. I just happen there.

Find out why I think I am an unsuccessful backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”

I ended up in Marcahuasi, Peru (and was forced to stay there longer than expected) after following a local tip. I got sick of the buzz of Bocas del Toro, in Panama, and got a good dose of peace and quiet in Playa Las Lajas. And in Costa Rica I found myself as the only foreigner in Sarchi, in the highlands, and enjoyed my time with the locals.

Read more about my adventures in Marchahuasi on my post “Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi.”

Slovenia

I was bound to fall in love with Bela krajina

But what usually happens when I end up somewhere random is that I fall in love with a place. And sure enough, this is what happened in Bela Krajina. Here, life goes by at a slow pace. In a world where everything is fast and frenetic, it is refreshing to see that in Bela krajina people still value the time they can dedicate to family, friends and to just enjoy life. Who knew that such a place existed in the heart of Europe?

A small region with an interesting history and culture

Bela krajina – it took me a while to memorize this name, that doesn’t sound sweet to my Italian ears, but definitely looks soothing to my eyes. Located at 90 km south-east of Slovenia capital Ljubljana, Bela krajina is the most rural and underdeveloped region of Slovenia. The main cities (if really one wants to call them cities) are Črnomelj, that has around 14000 inhabitants, Metlika, whose population is of about 8000 people, and Semič, where around 4.000 people live.

Slovenia

The traditional weaving of Bela krajina

Other than these 3 cities, there’s a myriad of small, picturesque villages that give a sense of peace and tranquility, such as Primostek, where Big Berry, the Luxury Landscape Resort where I stayed, is located.

Check out why I think Big Berry is the ultimate place to stay in Slovenia. 

Metlika, the most important city in the region, was already inhabited in pre-historic times and had an important role in the defense of the region against the Turkish invasions of the 15th and 16th centuries. Testimony of that is the castle that nowadays is the venue of the Bela Krajina museum, which has a permanent exhibit of artifacts of the region up until the 20th century.

Not far from Metlika, in a village called Rosalnice, there’s a complex known as Tri Fare, which for 7 centuries was the object of pilgrimage. Surrounded by a wall, there is a cemetery and three gothic churches built one next to the other. The reason for building 3 different churches in such a small place are still unknown. What I know for sure is that this place has a special aura.

Bela krajina

Good grapes make good wine

Part of the history and culture of Bela krajina has to do with wine. I actually knew that Slovenia has a very strong wine tradition, but I got a full grip on how much wine is important in Slovenia as I drove along vineyard after vineyard, along the hills that surround Metlika and Semič. I stopped to take pictures, and I tried the grapes which I found incredibly sweet.

I happened to visit the region right during harvest time, and one too many a celebration for the good harvest meant that the owners of the vineyards were happily drunk and even more welcoming than usual, and offered me a lot of wine (which I never refused, just in case that would be considered rude, I promise).

Among the things I didn’t know, is that Bela Krajina is also quickly developing its own tradition in beer crafting. Vizir craft beers are quickly overtaking the market as a good alternative to Lasko, the most common beer in Slovenia. In keeping with my tradition of trying local beers, I didn’t refuse a tour in the brewery and got (again) happily tipsy.

Big Berry

Pogaca – the traditional bread of Bela Krajina. I baked this all by myself and it was delicious!

The cultural traditions of Bela krajina are also reflected in the traditional bread, the Belokranjska Pogača, a focaccia kind of bread that is prepared with cumin seeds and which is present at pretty much every meal – even at breakfast. I love bread, and I got stuffed on Pogača pretty much every day.

Nature at its best

If I were asked to define Bela krajina with a color, it would definitely be green, the color of nature, which here is pristine. Even the Kolpa river, which marks the border with Croatia for 113 km and contributes to making Bela krajina so lush, is green. Its clean waters are among the warmest of Slovenia, and can get up to 30 degrees in the summer – not bad at all for a river. And canoeing along the river is a pleasant (if only a bit hard, if you are as lousy as I am) experience, as well as kayaking and rafting.

The Kolpa river also names the Kolpa Natural Park, a beautiful park where it is possible to spot various species of birds, turtles and otter. Dears and foxes roam free in the region – and actually pop out from nowhere in the middle of the night. In fact, I strongly advise to drive really slowly at night, or else there’s the chance of hitting a dear. Thankfully I was fully aware and responsive when one crossed the street in front of me!

Bela krajina

One of the gorgeous places I came across while hiking around in Bela krajina

Any nature lover is bound to have a great time in Bela krajina. Here there are plenty of hiking and biking trails, for all levels of difficulty and of various duration. Due to the limited time I had available, I opted for an easy one, following the route of Divji Potok and ended up at some beautiful waterfalls. It was completely quiet – another reminder that this is the least explored region of Slovenia.

Bela krajina

A water mill gives the Krupa River an even more intriguing atmosphere

The hidden gems of Slovenia

Bela krajina is packed with hidden gems. One of them is the Krupa River, a beautiful source of water that actually looks like the set of a fantasy novel. It’s the kind of place where one can go meditate, for the only sound to be heard is that of the leaves softly swept by the wind. A water mill at the back gives the place an even more intriguing aura.

Big Berry

One of the many gorgeous spots in Bela Krajina that I have visited during my stay at Big Berry

Another hidden gem in Bela krajina is the Mithraeum of Rozanec, near Črnomelj, one of the most interesting archeological sites in Slovenia (and shockingly free to access – this gives a full idea of how off the beaten path Bela krajina is). The Mithraic religion was based on the cyclical alternation of life and death, and on the conflict between good and evil and the power of redemptive sacrifice. Its origins were found in Persia, from where it spread to the Roman empire adopting elements from other religions. The beautiful Mithraeum of Rozanec can be accessed via a lovely path through a chestnut forest and a narrow path between large rocks.

Slovenia

The Mithraeum of Rozanec is one of the most beautiful archeological sites in Slovenia

Not far from the Krupa River, the road follows along the countryside. Turn after turn, Bela krajina proved to be one of the most photogenic places I have ever seen. I stopped in the middle of nowhere to jump in a field, in complete disbelief that places like this still exist in Europe.

Big Berry

The gorgeous countryside of Bela krajina

On the other side of the road, the remains of the Krupa castle, in Stranska vas, reminded me once again that this region has an interesting history and culture too.

Big Berry

The remains of the Krupa castle, in Stranska vas, are another reminder of Bela krajina rich cultural heritage

As I left Bela krajina to go back home, I finally understood why people have been raving about Slovenia. It feels like a chest full of treasures that have been hidden for too long, a perfect combination of welcoming, smiling people, beautiful nature and intriguing history. After only one week in Bela krajina, I realized I would love to have more time to explore more of it.

I suppose it is easy to see why I fell in love with Bela krajina. All I can say is that I will go again, and next time I will stay longer.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Big Berry during my stay in Bela krajina. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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Learn why you should visit Bela Krajina - via @clautavani

Beyond the sea: fantastic things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach

Beyond the sea: fantastic things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach

One of the biggest misconceptions of the tourism industry is that some regions of the world are meant to be visited during a specific and limited season, or else travelers should be ready to face bad weather, hurricanes, heavy rains, cold temperatures and the overall inability to visit what seemingly are the only tourist attractions in the area. This would mean that Costa Rica should not be visited between April and October (although the best time to spot turtles is actually July or August); that Cuba should be avoided in September (despite the fact that hurricanes hardly hit it) and that Sardinia is best visited between June and September to properly enjoy its amazing beaches.

I enjoy debunking myths, which is why I can’t help but point out that there are many things to do in Sardinia that actually do not involve laying in the sun all day. Although Sardinia tourism is mostly centered in the summer months, and despite being the biggest fan of Sardinia beaches, I often recommend travelers to visit Sardinia during the fall months in order to put together the most varied trip.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

It is during the fall that Sardinia shows its visitors and its inhabitants the multiple aspects of its millenary and unique identity. That’s when it flourishes with the sound of the music and singing that accompanies the traditional ritual dances; the flavours of its traditional food and of its delicious wines; the soft noise of the traditional weaving; and the concentrated faces of men who craft the traditional jewels. There is no better time to immerse oneself and fully experience the identity of Sardinia than the fall. In fact, among one of my favourite things to do in Sardinia is participating at one of the regular Autunno in Barbagia events. “Autunno” means fall, and Barbagia is one of the most beautiful mountainous regions of Sardinia, a gorgeous chain with high peaks, forests, canyons (Gorropu is the deepest canyon in Europe), caves and small villages scattered around.

things to do in Sardinia

Good news! There are other things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach

Debunking the myth: there actually are things to do in Sardinia during the fall and winter months!

In 1996, for the first time in Barbagia, the municipality of Oliena organised an event, called Cortes Apertas – literally translated it means “open courtyards”. Historic homes opened up their courtyards and visitors could take a journey through the artistic expressions, the food and wine, and the traditions of the village. The success of the event was such that the local tourism board did not take long to understand the great potential to generate a good and steady revenue. It was visionary enough to see that Sardinia could profit from tourism and create long term employment opportunities that could stretch far beyond those of seasonal work.

things to do in Sardinia

Sardinia tourism goes well beyond summer time

It was finally time to take the challenge and prove that Sardinia tourism can flourish year round, and that the territory has much more to offer than just splendid beaches. There are so many things to do in Sardinia that it is reasonable to believe that its attractions can be a source of income all year long, and that a return to the customs and traditional occupations is perhaps the key to lead the region towards a more sustainable development, one that respects the territory, the culture and the people and that, in a region where unemployment and poverty are the biggest social evils, can finally lead out of the financial crisis that hit it badly.

Sardinia tourism

The way out of the financial crisis? A clever use of Sardinia tourism industry

With this in mind, Cuore della Sardegna (Heart of Sardinia) saw its birth in 1997 to coordinate the promotion of tourism in the region. In 2001 it favoured the cooperation and coordination between the tourism board and a multitude of villages in Barbagia, thus leading to the first edition of Autunno in Barbagia in 2001.

But Cuore della Sardegna doesn’t just strive to promote Autunno in Barbagia and encourage visits of the villages that are involved in the festival. One of its aims is to show that Sardinia tourism can thrive all year long, that among the places to visit in Sardinia there also are archeological and natural sites, that it is possible to visit Sardinia on a limited budget too and that there are things to do in Sardinia to keep visitors busy and engaged throughout the year.

Things to do in Sardinia: enjoy Autunno in Barbagia

As I have already pointed out, Autunno in Barbagia is a series of festivals that, starting from the first weekend of September (when, truth be told, the weather in Sardinia is still perfect to enjoy a day at the beach!) and ending in December, involve 28 villages. It is like a moving exhibition, that hops from village to village, and where each one of the 28 participating communities gets to showcase some of its peculiarities, its traditional costumes, its crafts. It is a feast of local customs.

Sardinia tourism

This lovely old lady tried to talk to me – too bad I don’t speak her variety of Sardinian. Perhaps learning how to speak Sardinian properly is one of the the things to do in Sardinia?

Not to mention, there is lots of delicious traditional food involved (I really enjoy the cheese, bread and pasta-making workshops) and even though I am not much of a foodie, I am not one to miss an opportunity to sample some of Sardinia delicacies.

This is to say, I love this kind of cultural events and that is why I did not think about it twice to say yes when I was asked to attend Cortes Apertas in Oliena. This little town of less than 8000 people is famous for the peak of Monte Corrasi, a limestone summit easily visible from the village that glows in the dusky light. It is also known for its Nepente, a Cannonau wine famously loved by Italian writer, poet, journalist, playwright and World War I soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio. Not to mention Oliena is also the birthplace of Gianfranco Zola, Sardinian favourite football player in England.

what to do in Sardinia

Waiting in line to enjoy a sample of Nepente – tasting wine is one of the things to do in Sardinia. Can you spot me?

Little did I know then that I, a Sardinian born and raised girl who often brags about knowing most of the hidden secrets of her region, would learn that there are so many more things to do in Sardinia than anybody could possibly conceive.

Things to do in Sardinia

Sardinian women are strong and proud – visit Sardinia to check

When in the early hours of Saturday my friend Alessandro picked me up in his camping car and we made our way to Oliena, I was not sure what to expect of the weekend that was ahead of me. It didn’t take us long to realise that Cortes Apertas in Oliena is one of the most popular events of Autunno in Barbagia, as we saw many buses on the motorway, all packed with people traveling from the main cities. Sardinians are unique in this sense: they travel the world far and wide, but they are so proud of their land that they love to visit Sardinia and being tourists in their own region.

visit Sardinia

Lots of people attend Cortes Apertas in Oliena: it is one of the things to do in Sardinia!

The multitude of people that attend Autunno in Barbagia may be a deterrent to some visitors who may consider it as too much of a touristy thing to do. Yet, the fact that most of those who go are actually Sardinians makes it such that it still feels like a very real, local experience. This also gives an idea of how varied Sardinian culture is: each village has its embroidery style, its own way of preparing the same food (which is inevitably the best one), its local dialect (one of the many varieties of Sardinian, the minority language that is spoken all over the island); each is unique in its own way, so much so that Sardinians feel the urge to roam their island to unveil its well kept secrets.

However, before actually reaching Oliena, we opted for a brief detour and got off the beaten path to explore some of Sardinia’s unique archeological and natural sites. That’s how we discovered some places that I had not even heard of before (shame on me) and that very few actually visit.

Where to go in Sardinia to get off the beaten path: the mountains and sites of Barbagia

Sardinia is packed with archeological sites and one of the things to do in Sardinia is exploring them. A few of them are well known and get a fair share of visitors. They even are included among the UNESCO World Heritage sites for their uniqueness. Others, on the other hand, are more difficult to spot and reach and they are hardly mentioned in tourist guides. They are the kind of places that only the people living in the area know about and are able to point at. Not far from Nuoro – Barbagia’s main city – and right outside the pretty village of Dorgali (easy access to more well known sites such as Tiscali and to some of Sardinia’s most amazing hikes such as that to Gorropu Canyon), there is the a scarcely known archeological site, S’Ena ‘e Thomes, that is hard to find but worth visiting.

places to visit in Sardinia

Looking for a unique experience? One of the things to do in Sardinia is visiting its “secret” archeological sites – this is S’Ena ‘e Thomes

When we got there through a local’s tip, I realized I had actually driven past it a dozen times without ever noticing it, so well hidden it is – once again the confirmation that Barbagia is where to go in Sardinia to get off the beaten path. S’Ena ‘e Thomes is known as a giants’ tomb which, according to legend, was indeed built by giants. The site is actually located in the land belonging to a local shepherd, and in fact there is little more than a sign at its entrance and a warning to visitors to keep the gate shut to stop grazing animals from escaping.

The site has been hardly explored and its main feature is a stelae of about 4 meters, around which the tomb (of about 11 meters diameter) was built. The surroundings are stunning: countryside and mountains offer a spectacular view of one of the best places to visit in Sardinia.

I often say that one of the things to do in Sardinia is enjoying its many hiking trails. Valle di Lanaittu, not far from Oliena, is one of the places to visit in Sardinia to get close to nature. It is a karst valley of about 8 km which is best explored hiking or cycling, and where one can forget about the stresses of daily life. I would have loved to camp here for a night or two with Follow the Sun Sardinia camping car, to just listen to the sound of nature and admire the starry sky – and my friend’s camping car would have been perfect for that (it’s top opens up to reveal a tent – with a real mattress – that sleeps two persons, and there is all the necessary gear to be location independent, such as a small stove, a sink and even a fridge).

Sardinia tourism

One of the best ways to visit Sardinia is via a camping car – perfect to be 100% location independent

But we were tight on time so we just decided to drive through Valle di Lanaittu. Yet we were able to appreciate the thick vegetation and crips and clean air. This is an area where the most famous Sardinian banditi (bandits) would easily hide, as it is scattered with caves such as the Grotta Rifugio (which was used by the Bonu Ighinu people as a burial ground between 4700 and 4000 BC), the Grotta del Guano, where cooking utensils and ceramics dating back to a period between 3800 and 2900 BC were found, and the Grotta Sa Oche e Su Ventu, two caves linked through a natural siphon. There also are a multitude of other caves that are best explored by speleologists and in fact one of the things to do in Sardinia is speleology (including underwater speleology) and many people visit Sardinia just for that.

Where to go in Sardinia

One of the best things to do in Sardinia is enjoying its nature

Driving through Valle di Lanaittu, we got to the stunning and very isolated archeological site of Sa Sedda ‘e Sos Carros. This consists of a series of nuraghe huts (buildings which are unique to Sardinia) built around a temple of an evocative cult of sacred waters performed during the Nuragic age, between 1300 and 900 BC. The entrance ticket, which includes a visit to the caves and to the archeological site, costs a more than reasonable €10. We were fortunate to have a guide explain us the main features of the site, and in fact I do recommend hiring one to get a better understanding of the relevance and history of the sites.

A glimpse of a possible future for Sardinia tourism – learning from the past

Once we finally made it to Oliena in the early afternoon of Saturday, we understood why this is one of the most popular villages among those that participate in Autunno in Barbagia. The atmosphere was simply fantastic, confirming once again that attending village festivals is one of the things to do in Sardinia. Men, women and children proudly walked around wearing the symbols of their identity, parading in their traditional costumes, some so richly embroidered that, as an embroider explained us, may well cost over €5000 (the average time needed to embroider a muccadori, the showl worn during festivities, is about 3 months).

Sardinia tourism

Women and children wear the traditional costumes: Sardinia tourism will benefit from a return to traditions

A traditional wedding was celebrated in the main church, beautifully adorned for the occasion. Among the various rituals, the bride and the groom kneel in front of their mothers, who pray for them and then move on to break plates in a noisy yet amusing ceremony.

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One of the most interesting things to do in Sardinia is seeing a traditional wedding ceremony

The exhibit in the town hall showed a collection of incredibly intricate traditional jewels, from the buttons used to close the vests, to the earrings, the rings and the rosaries offered to brides and the traditional toothpick which is more a work of art than a utensil. Traditional music was played at every street corner.

visit Sardinia

Embroidery of a “muccadori” – one of the things to do in Sardinia is admiring its traditional crafts

The locals gladly engaged with the visitors, showing them how cheese is made, explaining the secrets to bake a perfect panedda, a bread that has a shape similar to pita bread but a completely different taste, or to fry a good sebadas, a thin pastry filled with mild cheese, fried and served hot, topped with one of the local honeys. They offered samples of the delicious local wine and oil. There also were many places to eat at very convenient prices (from as cheap as €5 for pasta and a glass of wine). One of the things to do in Sardinia is eating the delicious food and I surely did not want to miss on that.

Visit Sardinia

One of the things to do in Sardinia is learning how traditional bread is made

The success of Autunno in Barbagia, the magic atmosphere we experienced, the traditions, the stunning archeological sites, the beautiful surroundings once more confirmed that there are things to do in Sardinia throughout the year, that is it worth to visit Sardinia even in the shoulder season and that Sardinia tourism can actually thrive thanks to its traditions. I was more than happy to see that Sardinians strive to preserve and protect their cultural identity and that are investing on it as a real economic resource.

visit Sardinia

A child cracks open a bunch of almonds which will be used to prepare traditional sweets – visit Sardinia to learn how they are made!

Have you ever been to Sardinia during the fall or winter? Have you been to one of its festivals? What did you like the most about it?

A huge thank you goes to my dear friend Alessandro Abis for joining me on this adventure and sharing his amazing pictures with me.