It’s no secret that Costa Rei is one of my favorite places on earth. Located on the south-east coast of Sardinia at about one hour drive from Cagliari, in a region called Sarrabus, this is home to some of the best beaches on the island.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t use to go there. My parents took me there for the first time when I was just a newborn. They were pretty broke back then, but it was legal to camp at the beach and they would pitch their tent and be happy with the little things they had.
Things changed as I grew up. My parents first decided it’d be better to rent a holiday home for the summer. Then they invested in a property, where they still spend about 5 months a year and to which we are all very attached.
But why am I sharing so much about my family here? For two reasons, you guys. First of all, to let you all know how attached I am to Costa Rei. It is my happy place – our happy place, in fact. Secondly, to clarify that I am a local there. I know it inside out. I have seen it change as I grew up and got older. It has no secrets for me.
In other words, if you are looking for accurate and up-to-date information about Costa Rei online, this post is your best bet.
Continue reading to discover everything you need to know to plan your perfect holiday in Costa Rei, Sardinia.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Never take sand or shells from Sardinian beaches. This is strictly forbidden and should you get caught, you will be subjected to a fine. Please don’t take marine starts out of the water, as that means killing them.
Singing to the sun in Costa Rei
9 Things To See And Do In Costa Rei
The gorgeous beaches
The main beach in Costa Rei goes by its very name. It’s a 12 km fine, golden sand and incredibly clear waters. The beach is unfortunately quite exposed to the wind, especially mistral, so when this blows you may want to look for a smaller cove, such as one mentioned below.
There are several access points along the beach, some with (limited) parking lots and disabled access – so perfect for families with children who may need to use the car or strollers, and for wheelchair users. Other parts are only accessible on foot via easy trails – these tend to be less crowded compared to the places that can be accessed by car.
Scattered along the beach you will find various kiosks with a lifeguard on duty that serve food and drinks and where you can rent umbrellas and other beach equipment. These places also organize all sorts of activities such as boat expeditions to nearby islands (more about that in a bit).
GOOD TO KNOW: Dogs are generally not allowed at the main beach in Costa Rei, though you will occasionally come across a family that has one. If you are traveling with a dog and want to go to a dog friendly beach, you may want to head all the way to Tiliguerta beach, which is equipped for our furriends.
Santa Giusta in late September
Santa Giusta is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Though there is a beach proper – a lovely small cove that is well protected from the wind and never too crowded – for some reasons people generally hang out on the resorts side, where they can have direct access to the massive rock (locally known as Scoglio di Peppino, Peppino’s Rock), and where it gets crowded beyond belief. I fail to see the point, honestly.
If you really want to spend a day at Santa Giusta, I recommend to either go to the small cove or to only go when the resorts close down. The photo above – where the beach looks nice and empty – was taken at the very end of September!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Santa Giusta, follow the signs to Santa Giusta that you will find near Villas and Santa Giusta resorts. There is a large parking lot and you will have to leave your car there, and walk to the beach (about 500 meters). During the summer months, police patrols the area and fines are given to anybody who doesn’t park in the designated areas.
The gorgeous Monte Turno
Monte Turno (Castiadas)
Monte Turno is one of the most scenic beaches near Costa Rei. South of Sant’Elmo, one of the best resorts in the area, this small cove has the most transparent waters and the rock formations on both sides make it a fun place to snorkel and take photos.
The beach tends to get crowded in the peak summer months – it is easily accessible by car and rather small. Make sure to go in the late afternoon to avoid the largest crowds. It is protected from the wind so a good option on days during which the mistral winds blow.
There is one kiosk on the beach called Iki Beach that serves light meals and drinks and from where you can rent umbrellas and sun beds. The only issue with it is that if often plays loud music.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Monte Turno, drive south from Costa Rei along SP18 for about 5 km, until a small sign points you toward the beach. You will have to make almost a U turn, so make sure to drive slowly or you will miss it. There is a parking lot where you can pay for half of the whole day.
Cala Sinzias (Castiadas)
Cala Sinzias is a fabulous beach 10 minutes south of Costa Rei by car. Contrary to the nearby Cala Pira (of which I talk below), the water here is almost immediately deep. The fine sand however makes it perfect for children.
The beach tends to get quite crowded in the summer months, as it is easily accessible, well serviced with kiosks where you can get food and any sort of rental, as well as a lifeguard on duty, and spotless.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: From Costa Rei drive south along SP18 and continue on until you a sign pointing to Cala Sinzias. There are several access points. Parking is very limited and you will be tempted to leave your car on the main road. Don’t do that, unless you don’t mind risking a fine.
Cala Pira (Castiadas)
Further south from Cala Sinzias, Cala Pira is a truly nice beach at about 15 minutes drive from Costa Rei, perfect on a windy day. As there is a rather large parking lot right nearby, and it is easy accessible, it tends to get quite crowded. Nevertheless, it remains pleasant and an excellent place for a relaxing day.
The shallow, clear waters, the sand and the Aragonese protective tower at one of its end make it a really scenic place. The local kiosk serves light meals and rents out whatever you may need for the day. There is a lifeguard on duty.
At the end of the summer of 2019, dolphins decided to show up at Cala Pira beach, much to the amusements of those who were at the beach then. The video above, which went viral, was filmed by my cousin and reported by a local news channel. The voices you hear are hers, her husband and their kids.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: From Costa Rei take SP18 and continue on until you find a sign that points to Cala Pira – drive slowly or else won’t notice it. There is a parking lot where you’ll have to pay for either the whole day or half of it.
Portu de S’Illixi and Cala sa Figu (Muravera)
I keep hoping these two adjacent beaches never get fully discovered, as even on a peak summer day they are blissfully quiet and not nearly as crowded as the rest. The fact that they aren’t easily accessed, that the road to get there isn’t easily marked and there is a bit of a walk on uneven terrain to get to the beaches certainly help.
My favorite of the two is Cala Sa Figu. It’s really small, with fine sand and water that is as clear at it gets – perfect for snorkeling.
Both beaches are quite secluded so you won’t find services such as a kiosk, umbrellas or even a toilet. There is no lifeguard on duty.
PRACTICALI INFORMATION: To get to these two beaches, drive north towards Olia Speciosa. After about 5 km turn right onto SP97 towards Capo Ferrato. It will take you about 25 minutes to get there.
Costa Rei is a great place to have a try at pretty much any water sport and activity you can think of. Depending on the wind, you can try windsurfing and kitesurfing, catamaran hobie cat. Wave surfing isn’t possible – although Sardinia is a good destination for surfing, the beach in Costa Rei isn’t a good spot. But if that is something you like doing, you may want to look for a surfing spot that is close by.
Other water activities that you could try include fun tubing and kayaking. If you don’t have your own, you can rent a kayak in one of the many kiosks along the beach.
Diving in Costa Rei
Costa Rei isn’t exactly a diving destination, but there are a few spots here and there where you can have a good dive. The best site is at Sant’Elmo’s Rock, a small rock that emerges from the water and under which there apparently is incredible marine life. Other than that, other diving spots are in Capo Carbonara protected marine area, near Villasimius, and further north towards Capo Ferrato.
The nearby islands
Not far from Costa Rei there are a few small islands you can see on a boat trip.
The largest one is called Serpentara; it has the shape of a crocodile and belongs to the protected marine area of Capo Carbonara. You can get close to it by boat, but it is forbidden to dock and to disembark at it is a highly protected area.
The other island is called Isola dei Cavoli, a poor transliteration of the Sardinian word “cavurus” which means “crab” (cavoli on the other hand means cabbage). It is located at about 1 km from Capo Carbonara and belongs to the protected marine area of Capo Carbonara. It’s a fabulous place to go snorkeling.
Other than the marine life, one of the most interesting sightings there is the underwater statue of the Virgin of the Sea. The statue, by Sardinian artist Pinuccio Sciola, was placed there in 1979. Boats can dock on the back side of the island and from there you can follow a short trail to get to the lighthouse.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Boat trips that go to Isola dei Cavoli depart several times per week from Costa Rei beach. The best place to enquire is the kiosk you can access from Via dei Gigli. The trip lasts around 5 hours and goes to the island and to various beaches in the area of Villasimius. It costs €45.
Running and walking
My favorite walk in the area of Costa Rei is the one that goes to the lighthouse in Capo Ferrato, through a gorgeous Mediterranean pine forests. You just have to drive towards north until you reach Capo Ferrato to get to the pine forest and then it’s pretty self evident.
For the best views in Costa Rei, walk up the hill to what is locally known as “casa della contessa” (countess’ house). It’s an abandoned building that is visible from pretty much anywhere in Costa Rei. There are several legends about it – including that the countess left during a fire, and that she hid a treasure on the walls (hence why the house was vandalized). I have often dreamt of buying the property and turn it into a nice small hotel – which would have the most incredible sunrise views.
If you are into running, you can follow Via Ichnusa heading north and after the first km of running on the road, you will have a nice trail which is perfect for running.
If you are visiting in the fall or spring months, you may want to go for a hike in the Sette Fratelli mountain range which can be accessed from Castiadas, not far from Costa Rei. Sentiero Italia goes right through Sette Fratelli park. You may want to get in touch with a local guide to help out with trails and organization.
Other easy hikes – albeit some are bit long – include the trail that goes from Monte Turno to Cala Pira; the one that goes from Cala Pira to Cala Sinzias. There also are several trails around the beaches of Villasimius, which will grant you spectacular beach views. My favorite is the one in Porto Giunco beach.
A beautiful sunrise in Costa Rei
Sunrise and sunset in Costa Rei
Costa Rei is on the eastern coast of Sardinia, so not a good place if you are hoping for a killer sunset. If you are an early bird, you may want to set your alarm extra early to walk to the beach for a gorgeous sunrise. I won’t hide the fact that the only time I did it was once I got back from a trip and was terribly jet lagged!
If you want to catch the sunset, you may want to drive a bit southwards to Monte Turno or, even better, towards Baccu Mandara (it’s about 45 minutes drive, on the way to Cagliari).
The pools of Sarrabus
Not far from Costa Rei, closer to the small towns of Muravera and Villaputzu, you will find a gorgeous wetland known as Pools of Sarrabus which is home to beautiful wildlife. It’s the perfect place to go if you feel you need a break from the beach – but mind you, it’s best if you go early in the morning or in the late afternoon, right before sunset, when chances of spotting birds are higher. You will need to wear mosquito repellent.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Colostrai and Feraxi ponds you have to take the old SS125 following the directions of Muravera. Once you get to Capo Picci, follow the signs to Torre Salinas. Piscina Rei pond is more easily accessible from Costa Rei. Just drive along the panoramic road heading north, and follow the signs.
The main entrance of Castiadas prison
If you are short of ideas on things to do in Costa Rei when it rains, worry not: I got you covered. I had the exact same issue last summer (in fact, many times) and decided that Castiadas Prison would be a cool place to spend a couple of hours while the weather improved.
The prison was first opened in 1875 and operated until the 1950s. The first prisoners who arrived there were taken in directly from the sea, and had to disembark in the nearby Cala Sinzias – back then, where were no roads connecting this part of Sardinia to Cagliari, as malaria was a real issue.
Prisoners were taken in with the idea of working on the land with the final aim of reclaiming the area and freeing it of malaria once and for all. They planted eucalyptus tree brought in from Australia, which were known for absorbing lots of water. One the area was finally reclaimed, a penal colony was created with an efficient prison that also had a clinic.
A guided tour of the prison (definitely available in Italian, do enquire for English) will walk you through the prison cells, the torture rooms, the backyard. Unfortunately some areas of the prison haven’t been restored yet and can’t be visited.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Castiadas Prison is located at about 15 minutes drive from Costa Rei. Follow the directions to drive back to Cagliari, but instead of turning right to take SS125 continue going straight for a short while until you reach the small square where the old prison is located. Admission fee is €5 and includes a guide.
Costa Rei doesn’t have festivals per se, but the nearby Muravera holds a couple of them each year. The most popular ones are the Citrus Festival (Sagra degli Agrumi), which is usually held in March or April to celebrate the delicious citrus fruit produced in the Sarrabus region; and Muravera Carnival, which is held in August and during which traditional carnival masks from various villages in Sardinia parade the streets of the village. It really is a show for tourists, but locals love it too so it can get very crowded.
Dogs are welcome in Costa Rei
Other Useful Information To Organize Your Trip To Costa Rei
Where to stay in Costa Rei
Costa Rei has no shortage of good accommodation options. Most people who visit opt to stay at one of the camping sites or to get one of the many holiday rentals. There are various local agencies you can rent from, but alternatively Booking.com is great resource with a wealth of places for rent. Just take a look here.
If you are looking for a camping site, these two are the most popular options:
Camping Le Dune is one of the most popular camping sites. It has a pool, a grocery store, a decent restaurant and offers a wide range of activities and entertainment.
If you would rather opt for an all inclusive resort, these are the best ones:
Free Beach has been in Costa Rei for as long as I can remember, but it’s been renovated to give it a more modern look. It features a gorgeous swimming pool, restaurants, activities. And it is right by the beach.
Villas is one of the best luxury resorts in Sardinia. It is in the area of Santa Giusta. It features gorgeous rooms, restaurants and a great variety of activities.
Where to eat in Costa Rei
Eating options in Costa Rei don’t nearly match the beauty of the place. In other words, good restaurants are hard to find. I have tried pretty much all of them and these are the ones I recommend.
CHAPLIN – this budget friendly eatery is close to the beach and serves excellent fresh pasta dishes and delicious calamari. I recommend booking in advance.
SA CARDIGA E SU PISCI – by far the best restaurant in the area, with a focus on regional ingredients which are used with a modern twist. It’s expensive but worth it. Book in advance.
LIDO TAMATETE – located on the beach of Cala Sinzias, this fabulous restaurant has a strong focus on seafood dishes. It’s perfect for a romantic dinner. Desserts are to kill for. Expensive, but worth it. Make sure to book in advance.
PIZZERIA SU TOSTOINI – probably the most budget friendly option, it is on the way to Villasimius, right by the intersection. They don’t take reservations so you have to wait until a table opens up (not ideal if you are with a group). Service is slow but pizza is fairly good.
I MENHIRS – in Olia Speciosa, this restaurant with a fixed menu focuses on local specialties so it is the best place to go if you want to try Sardinian food. Book in advance and expect to pay between €35 and €40 depending on the day.
LA BOTTEGA PANE E VINO – perfect place for an aperitivo with wine, cheese and cold cuts.
A good gelateria is located in Piazza Italia. But if you really fancy a good gelato, you may want to make the effort to drive all the way to Villasimius for La Chiccheria. It’s worth it.
As a local, I feel I should also mention a couple of restaurants you may want to avoid. Su Nuraxi is one that I would avoid at all costs. It is huge and in a key location so it gets lots of people all the time, but the food is poor quality – trust a local. Definitely don’t have the suckling piglet Sardinia is famous for there.
I also recommend avoiding Oasi pizzeria: service is painfully slow. Finally, l’Aragosta – once one of the most popular places in Costa Rei – took a turn for the worst a few years ago.
Traditional sweets are sold at the local bakery
Grocery stores are scattered all around Costa Rei. A bakery is located in Piazza Italia, but you will also be able to get fresh bread from the supermarkets – there are 3 in the main village, of which one is on the main road (Via Ichnusa), one is called Market Monte Nai but is locally known as Farci and located on the northern side Via Colombo, and one called Rei Market is on the southern side of Via Colombo.
Supermarkets carry fresh fruits and vegetables too. The best quality is found at Farci. Alternatively, you can shop at the greengrocer in Piazza Sardegna.
A butcher and a fishmonger are located right by Farci supermarket.
Further supermarkets are located in other parts of Costa Rei.
If you have a car and don’t mind scouting for them, you will find several local producers each selling their own fruits and vegetables, as well as free range eggs. Honestly they are much better quality than anything you will find in the stores. The best producers can be found in the area of San Pietro. You will have to drive towards Cala Sinzias, turn right on the big intersection and then immediately left. There is a small road where you will find signs here and there, each announcing what they are selling.
Local services and shops
Costa Rei is well equipped with whatever you may need for a perfect holiday.
The only bank (Banco di Sardegna) can be found in Olia Speciosa, where there also is a central post office. However, ATMs are scattered throughout the holiday resort.
There are several newsagents – the one in Via Ichnusa, located immediately where you enter Costa Rei right in front of Via delle Mimose and Via dei Gigli – has international newspapers too. They also work as an unofficial information desk – they speak English and German. The official information desk is located further north in Viale Colombo, not far from Farci supermarket.
Estate agencies are found on the main street (Via Ichnusa) where you will also find a car rental agency; in Piazza Sardegna and Piazza Italia.
The local police station (Carabinieri) is located on the northern side of the resort, in Piazza Rei Marina. You can also call at +39 070 991 6112.
A doctor on duty is found at Camping Le Dune.
Should you be traveling with your pet and needing a vet, or should you decide to adopt one of the many stray cats that roam around Costa Rei, you will have to drive to Muravera and look for Dr. Gabriele Porcu. His clinic is in Via Roma. Feel free to tell him you read his name on Claudia’s blog. He is a very dear friend of mine, very professional – we spent many years trying to spay and neuter the many strays in Costa Rei. He doesn’t speak English so chances are he will call me to translate – but he will make himself understood.
A hair dresser and beauty salon is located in Piazza Italia and one is on Via Ichnusa.
There are two pharmacies – one in Via Ichnusa and one in Piazza Italia.
Costa Rei isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, and you are probably better off going to the nearby Villasimius if you need to get presents to bring home. A souvenir shop is located right by Farci supermarket. Not far from it, in Via Marco Polo 1, Paderi is the fanciest boutique in the resort. Piazza Italia has a bikini and swim suits shop and a shoe shop.
A windy day in Costa Rei
How to get to Costa Rei
Costa Rei can be easily reached by bus and by car.
Buses leave from Cagliari main bus station. There are several each day. They take about 2 hours.
If you are driving, you have to take SS 554 and following the signs to Muravera, then take SS125. You will have two exits for Costa Rei. Depending on traffic, it should take you about one hour.
How to move around Costa Rei
Unless you are staying away from the beach or want to visit one of the nearby beaches, the best way to move around Costa Rei is on foot. I typically arrive there from town at the weekend, park my car and forget it exists for the next few days.
When to visit Costa Rei
If you ask me, any time is a good time to go to Costa Rei. My parents will say they love it in September, when the crazy crowds of tourists are gone and the beach is a bit emptier. October is perfect as the temperatures are still quite warm and you can enjoy a day at the beach with zero crowds and without the terrible heat of the summer.
I also love going in the winter months, when almost nobody is around. Mind you, this really depends on the kind of place you get. My family’s house has heating and a nice fireplace so it gets warm and really really cozy even when it is cold and raining outside. The winter is perfect if you enjoy long walks at the beach and clean air. But pretty much everything will be closed, so you will have to bring groceries with you from Cagliari, or go shopping in the nearby Olia Speciosa o Muravera.
Other useful information
I recommend taking a good guide book about Sardinia for your trip. These are a couple of good options.
Bosa Sardinia, is known as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy – and for a good reason. This town of no more than 8500 people is colorful; it is on the hills, yet right by the sea. A placid river flows through it and there even is a hilltop castle. In case you are wondering, let me be clear: it would really be a pity not to visit Bosa during your trip to Sardinia.
Bosa was first founded during Phoenician times and prospered during the time of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages it was repeatedly invaded by Arab pirates; but in the 12th century the Malaspina Family built a protective castle that proved vital to defend the town.
When the Savoys arrived to Bosa in the 19th century, they established a lucrative tanneries business. Tanneries are still visible, but this craft has been abandoned decades ago.
The castle and the tanneries are only two of the things to see while in Bosa. The Medieval center is a lovely place to explore. But there’s more – continue reading this post for guidance on what to see and do on Bosa Sardinia, and for tips on how to plan your trip there.
A gorgeous view of Bosa from Malaspina Castle
15 Things To Do In Bosa Sardinia
Walk up Malaspina Castle
If you only visit one place when in Bosa Sardinia, it has to be the Malaspina Castle. This was built by the Malaspina family in 1112, when they moved to the region from Tuscany. Not much remains of the original structure (just the walls and the watchtowers), to be honest – and some may tell you it is not worth visiting because of that. But admission is very cheap and the views are absolutely breathtaking. So make sure to go.
The castle is open daily from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm, but keep in mind that it often observes reduced opening hours in the winter months, so unless you are traveling in the summer you may want to double check before visiting.
Visit Our Lady de Sos Regnos Altos church
Inside Malaspina Castle there are the remains of a 4th century chapel, Nostra Signora di Regnos Altos, where there is a 14th century fresco that depicts various saints and martyrs, including St. Lawrence and St. Christopher. It’s definitely an interesting sight.
Explore Cattedrale dell’Immacolata
Built over a Romanesque church, Bosa’s Cathedral dates to the early 19th century. It’s a good example of Rococo style, and its highlight is the marble altar and Emilio Scherer 19th century’s frescoes.
Sant’Antonio Abate Church
Located on the southern bank of Temo River, crossing the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), this church dedicated to Sant’Antonio the abbot can only be visited during Sant’Antonio Abate festival on 16 and 17 January, and then again during Carnival. If you are in town at that time of year, make sure to stop by.
And Cattedrale di San Pietro Extramuros
This lovely church is located 2 km outside the village, walking upstream along the river from Sant’Antonio Abate Church. The cathedral was built in 1073 and is thought to be one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Sardinia. The apse was modified in the 12th century and the facade in the 13th – it’s in Gothic style.
Go to Museo Casa Deriu
This museum showcases local crafts and arts and it is located in a beautiful historical building that dates from the 19th century. Each floor hosts an exhibit about a different historical period of the city. The first floor hosts temporary exhibits and traditional embroidery; the second floor is dedicated to the original decor and furnishing of Casa Deriu (the townhouse where the museum is located); and the third floor is dedicated to Melkiorre Melis, one of Sardinia’s most important modern painters.
Practical Information: Museo Casa Deriu is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Admission is € 4.50 and includes a ticket to visit Pinacoteca Atza.
The beautiful, colorful buildings along Temo River
And to Museo delle Conce
Located in the former tanneries which were in use until after WWII and on the south bank of the river, this museum is a good place to visit to get more insights on how the tanneries worked. On the ground floor you can see the original stone tanks used to wash the leather; on the second floor there is a photo exhibit that illustrates the tanning process.
Practical Information: Museo delle Conce is open daily from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. Admission is €3.50
Attend Bosa Carnival
Carnival is quite a big deal in Sardinia, and each village has its own celebration. Though the most famous carnival is that of Mamoiada, Bosa Carnival is worth attending too – and it has the benefit of being significantly less touristy.
Bosa Carnival starts with a burning pyre in front of Sant’Antonio Abate church. It consists in parades that culminate in the celebrations of martedì grasso (Shrove Tuesday). On Shrove Tuesday, morning celebrations consists in locals dressed in black lamenting the passing of Carnival; whereas in the evening people are dressed in white to hunt the giolzi, a manifestation of the carnival that is thought to hide in people’s groin. Make sure to attend to discover how the giolzi are caught!
Santa Maria del Mare festival
Celebrated during the first week of August, during this festival fishermen form a procession of boats to accompany the statue of Virgin Mary from Bosa Marina to the Cathedral. Fireworks and traditional dances add to the celebrations. It’s still quite local, so go before it changes.
And Bosa Beer Fest
Bosa Beer Fest has been launched in recent years and takes place at the end of April. It literally is a celebration of Sardinian craft beer. If beer is your favorite drink, it’s a must.
Speaking of drinks, I should probably mention that Bosa Sardinia is an important center for the production of Malvasia, a dessert wine. To discover more about this grape and the wine that’s made with it, make sure to join a guided tour that goes to local vineyards – several tastings are included.
Enjoy the beaches
Not far from Bosa Sardinia there are several good beaches to spend a day roasting in the sun and swimming in the clear waters. Bosa Marina is the most easily accessible one; but if you are looking for something unique go to Cumpoltittu, a tiny cove of white sand nestled among gorgeous rock formations, and with the clearest waters you could hope for.
Go for a hike
The surroundings of Bosa offer great hiking and even birdwatching opportunities. The best areas for that are those of Capo Marrargiu Bio-marine Park and the Nature Reserve of Badde Aggiosu, Marrargiu and Monte Mannu.
An easy hike is the one that goes to Managu beach, formed as a consequence of a volcanic eruption. If the weather is nice, during the hike you even get to see Capo Caccia in the distance.
Another hike goes to Torre Argentina and departs from the parking lot located on the left side on SP49 on the way from Bosa to Alghero. The trail is mostly easy to follow and, crossing an area that reveals the (very old) volcanic origins of Sardinia, leads to a watchtower where you can enjoy a beautiful view.
Visit the nearby nuraghe
There are two nuraghe at easy driving distance from Bosa. Nuraghe di Santa Cristina is very easily reached as it is located right off SS131. It’s an important complex that dates back to the Bronze Age, and you’ll be able to see the best preserved well temple of Sardinia. This is accessed via a very steep staircase of 24 incredibly well preserved steps. On the other side of the nuraghic village, Nuraghe Santa Cristina is a single tower of about 7 meters located in a beautiful olive grove.
Another nuraghe that can be visited from Bosa is Nuraghe Losa, one of the best preserved in Sardinia. It dates to around 1500 BC and the central tower is about 13 meters tall.
Stop by Cuglieri
Not many people who visit Sardinia go to Cuglieri. It’s a pity – this village, perched on a hill at almost 500 meters above sea level, is lovely. I feel like mentioning it here as it is an easy drive from Bosa, and the way there is rather scenic. The main highlight of the village is the gorgeous Basilica di Santa Maria della Neve. You will love the view of the church as you approach the village, and you will love the views of the sea from the village itself.
Bosa – with the Malaspina Castle on top of the hill
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Bosa Sardinia
Where to stay in Bosa Sardinia
Despite being small, Bosa has some great accommodation options. You can opt to stay in the village or closer to the sea, in the area called Bosa Marina. Personally, I’d rather stay in town for more eating and drinking options, and use the car to explore the beaches and nearby areas. These are the best options:
The closest airport to Bosa is that of Alghero, which is well connected to Italy and to the rest of Europe by regular and budget flights. There are five daily buses that connect Alghero Fertilia Airport to Bosa. The ride takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. There are two daily buses connecting Alghero city center to Bosa. If you plan to move around during your stay, you may be better off renting a car directly at the airport and drive to Bosa from there. You can check the prices and book your rental car here.
How to move around Bosa Sardinia
Bosa is small and easy to explore. However, if you want to explore the surrounding region, I recommend renting a car. You can check the prices and book your rental car here.
When to visit Bosa Sardinia
Bosa is a lovely place to visit year round, but if you want to fully enjoy all that it has to offer, try to visit in the spring and summer months, when businesses are open and when festivals take place. It’s when it’s going to be busy, but it won’t be overwhelmingly crowded.
Other useful information
You may find a guide book about Sardinia a great resource to plan your trips and for more insightful information. These are some good options:
It’s incredible how a place as small as Alghero Sardinia, can offer so much to see and do.This is one of the island’s best preserved Medieval cities; one of Sardinia’s main tourist attractions – especially in the summer season. Yet, it has retained all of its character.
With little less than 50000 inhabitants, this Catalan enclave is Sardinia’s 5th largest city. It’s a very lively place, with a beautiful historical center and lots of bars, restaurants, shops, and easy access to a number of gorgeous beaches and other natural attractions.
Called L’Alguerium (or L’Alguer in the local Catalan language) in reference to an algae that washed up the coast, Alghero was founded by the Genoese in the 11th century as a fishing village. It had a very strategic position which made it attractive to the Pisan, who briefly ruled over it in the 1280s.
It was only in 1353 that Alghero fell to the Catalan and these started settling in the area. As the local community was forced to relocate to the nearby Villanova Monteleone, Alghero started to take on its Catalan identity and thrived until 1720, when it turned to Savoy rule.
In the 1920s Alghero only counted 10000 inhabitants, that became even less when the city was heavily bombed in 1943. It was only when tourists started arriving in the area in the 1960s that the city finally got back into shape – to then become one of the nicest places to visit in Sardinia.
In this post, I will provide information on what to see and do in Alghero Sardinia and on how to plan your trip to this lovely part of Sardinia.
The Bastions of Alghero are a lovely place for a walk
20 Things To Do In Alghero Sardinia
Walk along the beautiful Bastioni
The historic center of Alghero is surrounded by beautifully kept walls (bastioni) that were built by the Aragonese in the 16th century. They run from Porta a Mare (literally meaning “door to the sea”), which is the second of Alghero’s gateways, to Piazza Sulis (where you will also find Sulis Tower).
Along the Bastioni you will see various towers – among them, Torre di San Giacomo, Torre della Polveriera, Torre di Sant’Elmo. The Bastioni are the perfect place to go for a walk and catch a gorgeous sunset over Capo Caccia. The stretch called Bastioni Marco Polo is the one where you will find many restaurants, perfect for al fresco dining during the summer.
Visit Alghero’s Cathedral
Santa Maria Cathedral overlooks Piazza del Duomo. Originally built in the 16th century in Catalan Gothic style, the church went through several modifications. It has columns in Doric style and a neoclassical facade that was added in the 19th century and looks a bit out of place. The interior is in Renaissance and Baroque styles.
The beautiful Campanile of Alghero Sardinia
Admire the bell tower
The Campanile, or bell tower, is annexed to the Cathedral and it’s much more interesting to see. It can be accessed via a Gothic doorway that is located in Via Principe Umberto and it was built in Catalan Gothic style. Luckily, it hasn’t undergone the series of unfortunate renovations that the Cathedral went through.
And the Torre Porta a Terra
This tower is located near the Giardini Pubblici and it’s what’s left of the 14th century Porta a Terra, one of the two main gates to Alghero. It is 23 meters tall and it houses a multimedia museum where you can learn about the history of the city. From the terrace on the second floor you can enjoy a fabulous 360 degrees view.
Go to San Francesco Church
This church is actually much prettier looking than the Cathedral. It was originally built in Catalan Gothic style in the 14th century. Its facade was renovated in more of a Renaissance style after it collapsed in 1593. The highlight is the 14th century cloister which can be accessed through the sacristy.
Hang out in Piazza Civica
The nicest square in Alghero is located right by Porta a Mare. In Medieval times, this used to be the administrative center of the city. It is now lined up with beautiful boutiques and coffee shops – the best one is Caffé Costantino, located on the ground floor of Palazzo d’Abis, which hosted Spanish Emperor Charles V during his 1541 visit.
Known as the capital of Riviera del Corallo (Coral Riviera), in Alghero you’ll find a plethora of jewelries where you will be able to find the famous red coral. Other than that, the historic center of Alghero is shopping paradise, with boutiques for all tastes and budgets.
If you are into fashion, make sure to stop at Boutique Marras. Antonio Marras is a famous Italian designer who was born and raised in Alghero. The shop, run by his brother, is housed in a gorgeous palace and sells Marras as well as other designers’ clothes.
If you like seafood, you are in for a treat. Fish and shellfish rule in Alghero Sardinia. This part of the island is famous for its lobster, which here are cooked “alla catalana” – with tomato and onion. You won’t have a hard time finding a place to eat, but I recommend making reservations during the weekend, as it gets really busy.
If you would like a very local experience, you could opt for a dinner at a fisherman’s house. You can book it here.
The following are the places I recommend – they have all been tried and tested:
Nautilus – incredible location overlooking the harbor; excellent quality seafood; great, professional, friendly service. It’s not cheap, but worth every penny. Reservations are recommended. Ask for a table on the terrace.
The Kings – located on the Bastions, it serves delicious seafood in a classy setting. It’s pricey and also very popular.
Focacceria Milese – located on the waterfront, it’s the perfect place to grab a quick bite for lunch. It’s very informal and incredibly budget friendly.
Roberto Murgia Dolci In Corso – if you want to try Sardinian sweets, including the local “menjar blanc,” this is the place to go.
Quintilio – unbeatable location right by the sea; it’s a bit outside of Alghero. It only serves seafood and everything, including sebadas, is grilled. It’s not cheap.
Al Vecchio Mulino – by far the best pizzeria in the historic center of Alghero.
Go wine tasting
Sardinia is famous for its wine productions and in the surroundings of Alghero Sardinia you’ll find several excellent vineyards. The most famous one is Tenute Sella e Mosca, founded in 1899 and which offers wine tasting tours lasting between 2 and 3 hours and whose prices range from €15 to €50 per person, depending on the number of tastings and on the wines tasted.
Mugoni is one of the nicest beaches near Alghero Sardinia
Enjoy the beautiful beaches
There are many beautiful beaches in the immediate surroundings of Alghero Sardinia. The most famous ones are Le Bombarde and Il Lazzaretto, two small coves right next to each other and surrounded by a forest of Mediterranean pines where cicadas live and sing very loudly. Another lovely beach a bit further away is that of Mugoni – a thin stretch of very white sand lined with pine trees and with clear waters and gorgeous views of Capo Caccia.
The area of Alghero is one of the best in Sardinia for diving, and there are several companies that organize diving expeditions as well as diving courses. If you fancy something unique, opt for Nereo Cave – the biggest underwater cave in the Mediterranean.
Sunsets from Capo Caccia are as beautiful as they get
Admire a breathtaking sunset
There is little doubt that Alghero Sardinia, is one of the best places to catch the sunset on the island. A simple walk on the Bastioni will offer splendid views, but for a really breathtaking experience head to Capo Caccia. An easy trail will take you around the area and you will be able to see the sun setting behind the small Foradada Island – it’s a sight you won’t easily forget.
Go for a walk to Capo Caccia
The beautiful white cliffs of Capo Caccia, which can be seen from Alghero, are an impressive sight. But for an even better experience, make sure to go there for a walk. An easy trail takes you around the area and offers incredible coastal views.
Grotta di Nettuno is a must see when in Alghero
Visit Grotta di Nettuno
Located in the area of Capo Caccia, Grotta di Nettuno is possibly the most popular tourist attraction in the area of Alghero, Sardinia – and for a good reason. These caves are a masterpiece of stalactites and stalagmites, with large rooms that look like concert halls, underground lakes and beautiful lighting.
Neptune’s Caves can be reached via sea by speed boats that regularly depart from Alghero’s harbor, or from Capo Caccia, via the Escala del Cabirol. It takes 654 steps to get to the cave – and you’ll have to walk them all the way up after your visit. But the cave and the views are incredibly rewarding.
Practical information for visiting Grotta di Nettuno
Neptune’s Cave can be visited year round. Admission is €13 for adults and €7 for children up to the age of 12. Tickets include a guided visit.
Ferries to the cave cost €16 for adults and €8 for children – the ride does not include admission to the cave, for which you’ll have to pay separately.
Go rock climbing
If you are into rock climbing, make sure to do the Via Ferrata del Cabirol. This cliffside via ferrata of medium difficulty offers splendid coastal views. It’s best done in spring or autumn, as it is very exposed to the sun during the summer.
Explore the bay of Porto Conte
One of the nicest places to explore near Alghero Sardinia, is the area of Porto Conte. That’s where you’ll find Mugoni beach, which I have already mentioned. Another place I recommend visiting is Le Prigionette Nature Reserve, a beautiful reserve of Mediterranean scrub (macchia mediterranea) and rocky coastline with several walking and biking trails. It’s a great place for spotting wildlife.
Porto Conte is easy to reach from Alghero if you have a car. For guided tours that also include transportation from Alghero, click here.
Visit Nuraghe di Palmavera
Sardinia is famous for its nuraghe and one of the best kept ones is not far from Alghero. This nuraghic village dates back to 3500 years ago. You’ll be able to see a central limestone tower and a secondary one that was added later, and the remains of the surrounding village. You can get tickets for Nuraghe di Palmavera here.
And Necropoli di Anghelu Ruju
10 Km north of Alghero, on the way to Porto Torres, there’s the Necropoli di Anghelu Ruiu, where the remains of 38 tombs carved in sandstone – known locally as domus de janas – have been found. These date from between 3000 to 2700 BC. In some of the chambers you can still see the paintings.
If you want to make the most of Anghelu Ruju Necropolis I recommend joining a guided tour. Otherwise, you can get tickets online here. You can even get a combined ticket for Anghelu Ruju Necropolis and Nuraghe di Palmavera here.
Bosa is a lovely addition to your trip to Alghero
Spend a day in Bosa
At around 45 minutes drive from Alghero, Bosa is by far the prettiest village in Sardinia. Picture colorful low rise buildings along a river that flows towards the sea; the remains of a Medieval castle on a hill and from where you can admire the most impressive views; a peaceful little town where it is pleasant to walk around – and you will get the picture. If you have a spare day while in Alghero, make sure to visit.
This is more a thing you should not be doing in Alghero, actually. Unfortunately horse pulled carriages are still a thing even in this lovely city. Don’t ride them! Even if you have kids that wish to do so, explain them the discomfort that the horses feel when forced to walk in a city, on the pavement, among cars and noise. There are great alternatives that are way more ethical, such as the train on wheels.
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Alghero Sardinia
Where to stay in Alghero
The choice of accommodation options in Alghero Sardinia is great and you are bound to find something for your taste and budget. Some places are close to the beach, others are in the city center. These are the best options:
Alghero is well connected to Italy and to the rest of Europe via a series of regular and budget flights. Reaching the city from the airport is easy – there are regular bus services. Alternatively, you can opt for a taxi or a private transfer. You can book your private transfer here.
How to move around Alghero Sardinia
Alghero itself is fairly small and easy to explore. If you are keen on exploring the surroundings and all the places mentioned in this post, I recommend renting a car directly from the airport. You can check the prices and book your rental car here.
When to visit Alghero Sardinia
I find Alghero to be charming year round, but if you want to make the most of all that it has to offer I recommend visiting in the late spring and summer months. That’s when all businesses will be open and you will be able to enjoy things such as dining al fresco, the local beaches and the long day with the splendid sunsets.
Other useful information
You may find a guide book about Sardinia useful. These are some good options:
Despite being an island at the heart of the Mediterranean, most traditional food in Sardinia is actually not fish or seafood base. Sardinia, one of the 20 regions of Italy, is different from the rest of the country on many levels. Isolated from the mainland, from where it is very far, its food reflects its ancestral culture and traditional activities.
The majority of traditional Sardinian food is pork or lamb based, and you’ll find a lot of sheep cheese. This is because on of the most traditional occupations on the island was (and still is) sheep farming.
Sardinian food is tasty, unique and at times plain weird. One thing for sure, people who visit Sardinia are hardly disappointed with it. After all, food is one of the reasons to visit Italy in general!
In this post, I will highlight all the best Sardinian food that you should try, and share a few tips to fully enjoy Sardinian cuisine.
Making pane carasau the traditional way
All The Sardinian Food You Should Try While On The Island
There are more kinds of bread in Sardinia than I can possibly name in this post – to the point that an entire exhibit is dedicated to traditional bread in the Ethnographic Museum of Nuoro, one of the main cities of Sardinia. Traditionally, bread is made using “su framentu” – natural yeast. These kinds of bread are the most common, and at times used for other preparations.
Probably the most famous Sardinian bread outside Sardinia, it is commonly found in supermarkets. It’s a very thin and crispy bread typical of the Barbagia mountain region. With olive oil and salt it becomes known as “pani guttiau.” It it highly addictive.
Traditional Sardinian bread baked in a wood oven. It’s a bread that is consumed daily and it is still found in many bakeries. The most famous one is produced in Sanluri, a small town in the Campidano region.
Less common compared to the other two kinds of bread, it’s made with semolina and cooked in the traditional wood oven. The pulp is very thick and somewhat dry, and the crust thick and very crispy, if not hard. It’s meant to last several days.
You’ll find a million different varieties of Pecorino cheese in Sardinia – from semi-fresh to hard. The harder the cheese, the stronger the flavor. The “stagionato” (hard) variety has a peppery taste.
This kind of pecorino is typical of Gavoi, a small town in the heart of Sardinia.
Culurgiones are a must when in Sardinia – photo courtesy of andriaflickr (flickr)
Pasta and soups
Much like in the rest of Italy, pasta is a staple in Sardinia as well. Pasta dishes here are nothing like what you get in other regions. We have our own, unique shapes and our own fillings and sauces. Traditional Sardinian pasta dishes aren’t an every day business: they are meant for special occasions. They are the kind of dishes that you should only eat at the very best restaurants, as they require excellent quality ingredients and hours of preparations.
Having said so, there are a few excellent pasta dishes and soups among the Sardinian food that you should try. Here are some.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Campidano is the main plain of Sardinia. This is where malloreddus, a pasta that is often referred to as “gnocchetti sardi” comes from. Malloreddus are best when homemade, and they tend to be a very chewy pasta, with a strong bite to it – the kind that will hardly ever get overcooked.
The best way to enjoy malloreddus is “alla campidanese,” a sauce that is made by cooking together a rather rough pork sausage, tomatoes and saffron. The end result is a thick, somehow sweet sauce that is full of flavor. For the perfect touch, once malloreddus are tossed in the sauce, they are sprinkled with abundant pecorino cheese (more about that later).
Fregola con le arselle
Fregola is similar to cous cous, but with more of a bite to it as its “pearls” are much bigger. This pasta – a very famous Sardinian food – is made with semolina, water and salt. It’s together and then rubbed between the fingers to get the rounded shape. There are various ways to prepare it, but the most traditional one is with clams (arselle), tomatoes, parsley, garlic and just a hint of chillies. The best fregola is a bit soup-ey, so you should eat it with a spoon.
Culurgionis is similar to ravioli in concept – it’s a filled pasta – but completely different in flavor. They are typical of a region of Sardinia called Ogliastra and are made with potatoes, mint, garlic and cheese. Different villages make them differently – some use pecorino cheese, others a local cheese called “cas’e fitta”, and the end result can be very different depending on where you eat them.
The best culurgiones to me are those from a village called Seui. They are typically served just boiled with no oil and abundant pecorino cheese sprinkled on them. Alternatively, they are eaten with a plain tomato sauce.
Finding good, traditional culurgiones is very hard. You’ll often see them on the menu in restaurants and trattorie, but unless they are very well known restaurants, most places don’t make them from scratch. The best culurgiones are usually home made or eaten at a well known agriturismo (farm house).
INTERESTING FACT: A lot of restaurants are now offering modern versions of culurgiones, so you may come across variations that include a seafood bisque, a sauce made with burrata, and so on. For an innovative, delicious version of culurgiones, go to Le Segrete, a lovely restaurant in Cagliari.
Locally known as “suppa cuata,” this dish is typical of Gallura, a region in the north east of Sardinia. It’s made using stale bread which is soaked with sheep broth and then layered with pecorino cheese mixed with parsley and mint. It’s then cooked in the oven until the cheese melts, and served piping hot. For a lighter flavor, it can be done with beef broth.
Known as Italy’s rarest pasta, the tradition of su filindeu is currently held by no more than two or three women in Sardinia – one of them is Paola Abraini, whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet during a filindeu workshop during which, however, she didn’t spell the secret on how to make this unique pasta.
The pasta is made with water, flour and salt – though proportions are unknown – and the dough stretched and pulled seven times to create 256 thin strands of pasta which are then laid down to dry. Once dry, the pasta is cooked in a thin sheep broth and served with pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti ai ricci
Fine, spaghetti ai ricci (spaghetti with sea-urchin) isn’t exactly a Sardinian food that can be defined traditional, since it is mostly a modern dish. But it is something that we in Sardinia consume abundantly – except when the local authorities restrict the fishing of sea urchins in an attempt to protect the species and allow them to reproduce.
Spaghetti are drained when al dente, and thrown in a pan where garlic, chillies and parsley have been lightly fried in oil. Sea urchin pulp is added at the very last, for a delicate yet intense flavor.
Porceddu is a local delicacy – photo courtesy of Samuele Pau
Meat and fish dishes
Most of the meat dishes of Sardinian cuisine require hours of preparation. If you intend to eat them while visiting, you really need to research a place where you can try them, and request them in advance.
As far as traditional Sardinian food, porceddu (maialetto in Italian) is probably the most famous dish. It is a milk piglet that was born and raised in Sardinia, which is split in two and roasted ever so slowly on a spit over the fire, until the meat is soft and moist yet the skin crispy. The best one is made occasionally rubbing lard and mirto leaves on the skin of the piglet.
Porceddu takes an average of 4 hours to cook properly, so don’t expect to pop at a restaurant and have it fresh made to order. The best porceddu is usually eaten at home, where it is prepared for special occasions, or at a good agriturismo.
Pecora in cappotto
Literally meaning sheep in a coat, this is a dish typical of Barbagia, a mountainous region of central Sardinia. It’s a very flavorful stew prepared using carrots, potatoes, various herbs such as parsley and bay leaves, onions, celery and sundried tomatoes. You either love it or hate it. I admit I am not a fan of it, but many locals as well as tourists swear by it.
Sa Cordula and Sa Trattalìa
This is for the real so called “foodies” – those who aren’t afraid of trying new things. They are both made with the internal organs of either goat or lamb, which are kept together by the thin guts. It is usually cooked over the fire, on a spit, very slowly until the guts become golden and crispy. Other versions are stewed with peas and other vegetables.
Agnello coi carciofi
One of my favorite dishes of traditional Sardinian food is lamb slowly stewed with artichokes. Both of them become incredibly soft and moist, and the dish is very delicate in flavor, with a sweet hint. I recommend eating it with large amounts of bread.
Spigola alla vernaccia
A very simple dish made by oven roasting a large seabass covered in vernaccia wine, adding black olives. The wine thickens to become a delicious sauce to accompany the moist fish.
Burrida a sa casteddaia
Typical of Cagliari, it’s a dish of dogfish cooked in vinegar and walnuts. It’s not exactly light, but it is oh so tasty. It is never missing on special occasions.
This soup is prepared by cooking mussels, clams, octopus, mullet in vermentino wine with olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley and chilli peppers. If you like seafood, it’s a must.
Aragosta alla catalana
This lobster dish comes from the area of Alghero, which is a Catalan enclave in Sardinia. Lobster is boiled and then served with thin slices of onion and tomatoes.
Insalata di polpo
Literally octopus salad. The recipe varies from place to place, but the most traditional version calls for fresh, boiled octopus, boiled potatoes and celery dressed in abundant oil with garlic and parsley. It’s usually served as an appetizer.
Orziadas is the Sardinian word for anemones, which are passed in flour and semolina and friend in abundant oil until golden. It’s a favorite local appetizer, though not very easy to find.
Fish a la Scabecciu
Fish is fried and then marinated in oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and parsley. Occasionally, capers and chopped tomatoes are added to the mixture. It’s typical of Cagliari.
I wouldn’t know how else to classify these typical dishes – they are commonly consumed as a full meal.
This traditional Sardinian food is prepared by slightly soaking pane carasau in broth (preferably sheep) and then layering it with a poached egg, onions, tomatoes and basil, and an abundant dose of grated pecorino cheese. It’s very nutritious, and incredibly delicious.
The idea of this dish is similar to that of empanadas, of which you have probably heard while traveling across South America. It is typical of Assemini, a small town near Cagliari, but can be found all over the island.
In Sardinia, panada are usually large – though there is now a trend to make single portions. A dough made of flour, lard, water and salt is thinly laid on a tray, then filled with a mix of meat (usually lamb) or eel mixed with parsley, garlic, sundried tomatoes, potatoes and olive oil. The dough then covers the mix and everything is cooked in the oven.
The dough becomes crispy and golden, while the filling piping hot, moist and full of flavor.
A tray of pardule, one of the most popular sweets in Sardinia
Most Sardinian sweets involve the use of almonds or cheese. Much like the rest of Sardinian food, the best are home made by women who know all the secrets to their preparation. These are just a few you should try.
This sweets are probably the most famous Sardinian ones outside of Sardinia. A very thin dough is filled with a mild cheese cooked with sugar and lemon peel, and then fried in oil and serve boiling hot with abundant honey on top of it. Yes, it is delicious.
Lovely sweets made with ricotta, saffron, sugar and very little flour. They are moist, rich and delicate at the same time. Simply mouthwatering.
Pabassinas and Pan’e Saba
Pabassa is the Sardinian word for raisins, which are highly present in both sweets – typically consumed during Christmas or Easter. Other ingredients are eggs, flour, candied orange peel, walnuts and almonds.
Ever present when you buy a tray of Sardinian sweets, sweeter than sweets, gueffus look a lot like very large candies as they are wrapped in thin colored paper. They are made with lots of sugar, almonds, orange flowers water and lemon peel.
Sardinian wine deserves a post of its own, so I won’t even begin talking about it here. The ones below are drinks that we in Sardinia typically enjoy after a large meal.
A strong liquor made of myrtle berries. Commercial one is easily found in supermarkets and liquor store, but the best one is always the homemade stuff.
Filu e ferru
Literally meaning “iron thread,” a name that refers to the thread of iron that allowed people who stored it illegally underground to find it. It’s a very strong kind of grappa.
Pizzetta sfoglia is the ultimate snack
Weird yet tasty stuff
I promise all of this is eatable.
I have honestly never tried Casu Marzu (literally “rotten cheese”), but people who have say it is delicious. It’s a very strong pecorino which is laid outside, holes dug in it for flies to lay their eggs. The larvae open up and feed on the cheese, giving it a creamy texture. It’s not exactly easy to find, but were it dangerous as they say, generations of Sardinians would have been wiped out.
Sardinian caviar is actually fish roe made by pressing together tuna or mullet eggs, salting them and drying them. It’s usually grated over pasta, pizza, seafood dishes or served sliced with lemon and olive oil for a quick, cholesterol rich appetizer.
Bitter honey is made of arbutus flowers. It’s sweet and at the same time bitter. Interesting for sure.
Pizzette sfoglia aren’t actually weird – they are just tasty. I used to think they are Italian, but realized they are a local thing when my friends in the rest of Italy said they have never heard of them before. A good pizzetta sfoglia is made with phyllo pastry. The greasy, crispy and moist crust is filled with tomato sauce, a couple of capers and an anchovy. The end result is the ultimate snack, which we in Sardinia love at breakfast (instead of the very Italian cornetto) or any time we want to treat ourselves to a snack. Pizzette sfoglia are sold in “bars,” grocery stores and even in some good bakeries.
Sebadas is the most famous dessert – photo courtesy of Joselu Blanco (flickr)
7 Tips To Find The Best Sardinian Food
Join a food tour
Joining a food tour may be a great way to learn more about local food and culture. There isn’t much available online, but I have managed to select a few tours that may be interesting. Most of the time, food is paired with wine for a more complete experience.
One of the best way to discover Sardinian food is by attending one of the many festivals that take place around the island. Many of them are highly centered on traditions, so they will have a focus on traditional food too. If you happen to be in Sardinia during the fall, you can opt for Autunno in Barbagia, which takes place every weekend in a different village for a whopping 29 weeks. Also watch out for culurgiones or porceddu festivals.
Try a Sardinian aperitivo
If you want to try a bunch of Sardinian cold cuts and cheese, the best thing to do is to go for a Sardinian style aperitivo. You will typically get a glass of good local wine and a tray with lots of dry sausage, lard, pancetta, ham and a variety of aged and semi-aged cheese, as well as local olives and bread. Make sure to drink plenty of water because it is very salty – but oh so tasty.
Go to an agriturismo
The best traditional Sardinian food is found at good agriturismi. These are rural restaurants where owners typically cook using their own products. Keep in mind that no agriturismo in Sardinia will ever offer seafood – it just never is on the menu. For that, opt for an ittiturismo.
Learn where (and when) to eat certain foods
As I have tried to explain throughout this post, certain traditional Sardinian food is only eaten seasonally and in certain places. You can’t expect to sit down at an average restaurant and be able to order a portion of porceddu – not unless you warn the restaurant days in advance that you will going there specifically for that reason.
In fact, you should stay away from places that have porceddu or other dishes that require long cooking time on the menu: if they do, chances are that you will be served something that’s been pre-cooked and stored, and then warmed up to be served.
Get to know about Sardinia Blue Zone
I know a lot of the Sardinian food I mentioned in this post sounds very rich, and not exactly healthy. But did you know that some areas in Sardinia are famous for being one of the six blue zone regions in the world? These are places where people live longer than in the rest of the world. Ongoing research proves that a combination of healthy food, family and social bonds, daily light exercise all contribute to a long, healthy and happy life.
Further readings about Sardinia
For more readings about Sardinia, make sure to check my other posts:
Asinara is one of the most beautiful places you can hope to visit – not just in Sardinia, but anywhere in the world; and if you are traveling to Sardinia you should make it a point to include it in your itinerary.
This small island off the north west coast of Sardinia is as wild as it gets – at least by Italian standards. Picture a place when nobody lives; with abandoned buildings scattered around; animals roaming freely; and wind sweeping the most beautiful beaches, with the clearest waters you could swim in. This is Asinara.
In this post, I will highlight everything there is to know about Asinara, and share some useful information to better plan your trip there.
The Aragonese watchtower in Trabuccato
A Few Facts About Asinara Island
With its 52 square km, Asinara is the second largest island of Sardinia. It’s located off the north west coast of Sardinia. Contrary to common believe, according to which Asinara takes its name from the many albino donkeys (asini bianchi, in Italian) that live there, the name actually comes from the Latin “sinuara,” which means sinuous and which refers to the shape of the island.
Asinara is blessed with unique landscape and it is a safe haven for wildlife (more about that below). It is dotted with abandoned buildings. Some date back to the 1600s, when a community of shepherds and fishermen started residing on the island (though there is proof that it was inhabited since Neolithic age).
Not many people lived on the island when, in 1720, the Habsburgs, who had succeeded the Aragonese in the rule of Sardinia, decided to surrender Sardinia to the Savoy in exchange for Sicily. That’s when shepherds coming from Corsica started moving there.
For about 30 years after that, King Charles Emmanuel pushed to turn Asinara into a productive island. Local shepherds moved out of the island in 1767 when the French Velixandre brothers bought their land. That’s when around 150 French settlers moved in. These, however, left soon after realized they had been swindled by the Velixandres.
From 1774 onwards a small community of shepherds coming from Liguria moved on the island, which at the time was being ruled by Don Antonio Manca Amat.
From 1885 onwards the residents of Asinara were forced to leave, as this was designed to become a maximum security prison and a sanatorium. Prisons were established in Fornelli, Cala d’Oliva (the main village), Campu Perdu, Trabuccato and various other places on the island. The sanatorium was built in Cala Reale and it’s where people suspected of diseases such as leper and cholera were quarantined.
In 1915, during WWI, Asinara started hosting Austrian prisoners of war. Around 20000 of them lived on the island and 7000 died of cholera and other diseases, and ended up being buried in mass graves scattered around the island.
In the 20th century Asinara became known as the Italian Alcatraz and remained completely off-limits until 1997. Its prison hosted famous criminals such as mafia bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Toto Riina were held. It’s in the main village – Cala d’Oliva – that public prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino (who both died at the hands of mafia in 1992) resided for a few months in 1985 as they were preparing their trial against the criminal organization.
The island was officially declared a national park (the smallest of the 3 national parks in Sardinia) in 2002. That’s when it finally opened to visitors, who can since enjoy the incredible beauty that its complete isolation helped preserving.
Continue reading this post to discover the many things to see and do in Asinara, and how to organize your trip there.
A coastal hike offers incredible views of Cala Sabina
11 Things To See And Do In Asinara
Hiking is the best way to enjoy the island of Asinara. There are several excellent hiking trails of various difficulty levels, each of them offering different views and a different experience. Keep in mind that it can get seriously hot in Sardinia during the summer, so if you intend to go hiking in Asinara you should make it a point to visit no later than May.
Sentiero del Granito is a circular route that starts in Fornelli, one of the docking places for ferries from Sardinia.
Sentiero del Castellaccio, also starting in Fornelli, goes all the way to a medieval castle from where you can appreciate incredible views. It’s a short hike that will take you no more than 3 hours, but the walk up the castle can be a bit challenging.
Sentiero dell’Acqua is another circular route starting from Fornelli, that follows the coast to get to a small lagoon where you will be able to admire local birds.
Sentiero della Memoria trail starts in Cala Reale and it allows visitors to discover some of the most historically relevant places on the island. It is a circular trail that goes all the way to Campu Perdu, where prisoners enjoyed a more permissive system that allowed them to cultivate land – there even used to be some vineyards in the area.
Sentiero dell’Asino Bianco starts in Cala Reale and goes to Trabuccato, all the way to an Aragonese watchtower from were you can enjoy magnificent views.
Sentiero del Leccio is the one that, starting in Cala d’Oliva, goes all the way to the viewpoint of Punta della Scomunica, which at 408 meters above sea level is the highest peak on the island.
Sentiero del Faro is by far the best on the island. After about one km you reach Cala Sabina, one of the nicest beaches on the island. After that, you can continue to Cala d’Arena and then all the way to a lighthouse. The views along the hike are simply spectacular.
If you want to join a guided hike, your best bet is contacting one of the local companies such as La Nassa.
Ready to jump in the clear waters of Cala Sabina
Enjoy the beaches
Asinara has some excellent beaches, blessed with incredibly fine, white sand and the clearest, cleanest waters of a million shades of blue. And since nobody lives on the island, this means that even on a crowded day the beaches are much emptier than their equivalent Sardinian beaches.
Cala Sabina is one of the best and most easily accessible beaches. It’s a 15 minutes hike from Cala d’Oliva, on a trail that offers incredible views – it’s the one that continues to the lighthouse. There’s a small gazebo for shade on the beach, and a small one with tables and benches if you fancy a picnic.
Another lovely spot is Cala dei Detenuti, a tiny cove with plenty of trees for shade and a nice platform from where you can get in the incredibly clear water. There’s not much of a beach, really – but it’s as beautiful as it gets. Trabuccato is another nice beach. And for a cool swimming spot, go to the bridge near the ossuary.
Keep in mind that not all beaches are accessible in Asinara – some of them are heavily protected, in an effort to allow the marine life to reproduce. Places like Cala Arena and Cala S. Andrea are close to the public.
Sail around the island
One of the best ways to fully appreciate the beauty of Asinara is on a sailboat. Several companies depart regularly from Stintino and sail around the island’s most beautiful places – though keep in mind they can’t access the restricted areas either. Sail trips cost around €85 and include lunch and several stops for snorkeling and swimming in the sea.
Considering that there’s more to see in Asinara than you’d ever think, one of the best things to do there is exploring it by bike. Mind you – some of the hiking trails are really too rough to be suitable for bikes. But others are just perfect. Besides, there is also the paved road that can be used and since there are basically no cars on the island (other than service cars for the only hotel, and the occasional police car checking around), biking is super pleasant.
Keep in mind that much like Sardinia, Asinara island is very hilly. If you aren’t a pro biker, you’re probably better off using an e-bike. There are several charging stations around the island.
Diving and snorkeling
Asinara probably is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in Sardinia. Protected as it is, marine life is thriving there and if you decide to get under water you are bound to see a great variety of fish and even corals.
If all you want to do is snorkeling, make sure to bring your own snorkeling equipment and jump in anywhere it is permitted. If, on the other hand, you want to dive, you will need to join a guided expedition that keeps you away of restricted areas.
There even is a diving and free diving school located in Cala d’Oliva, called Cala d’Oliva Diving, where you can get certified.
Donkeys are the majority inhabitants in Asinara
Admire local wildlife
Asinara is famous for its wildlife. Don’t expect anything tropical, but if you enjoy the sight of wild donkeys you’ll be in for a treat. They are literally everywhere, they wonder around undisturbed, at times getting to the beach or walking the streets of Cala d’Oliva, the only place on the island that resembles a village. Keep in mind that donkeys and other animals are protected, and it is forbidden to touch them and to feed them. Just enjoy their presence and take photos of them!
Mouflons and goats also live freely on the island. The first are harder to spot, whereas goats can be seen chewing on grass and licking salt from the rocks on the way to the beach.
Wild boars wander Asinara too. Shy during the day, if you hang around the village in the evening chances are you’ll be able to spot a mama wild boar with her cubs looking for food.
Last, but not least, peregrine falcons are among the most beautiful bird species that live on the island.
Fornelli prisons and the white donkeys visitors
Visit the prisons
As I have explained, Asinara used to be home to a maximum security prison. However, there isn’t just one but ten different prisons on the island.
The main prison is the one in Fornelli. This is where people that were accused of acts of terrorism were kept in the 1970s. Following an insurrection in 1979, security measures were increased heavily. This is also where people accused of being connected to mafia were held.
At the time of writing, Fornelli prison is closed to the public as it is in desperate need of restoration works. You should still try to see it at least from the outside as it is quite an impressive sight.
The prison of Trabuccato was built right after WWI to host dangerous criminals. These were forced to work on the island and had to look after the nearby vineyard – unfortunately, nothing remains of the vineyard so there is no way to taste Asinara wine.
Similarly to Trabuccato, the prison of Campu Perdu was established right after WWI, though the buildings existed before. Prisoners living there used to work in the fertile land that surrounded the prison.
Another prison is located in Cala d’Oliva and there are two different sides of it. One is known as “Diramazione Centrale” and has the cells built around a very large garden; there was a small doctors’ office, and even a barber shop. Prisoners were free to leave the prison and dedicate themselves to the land.
Another side of the prison in Cala d’Oliva is known as “bunker” and it’s where mafia boss Totò Riina was held. It was also meant to hold Bernardo Provenzano, but by the time he was finally captured, Asinara prisons had already been dismantled. In order to avoid communication between the two bosses, a small courtyard was built right in front of each cell so that they could each enjoy their hour of fresh air but not communicate with each other.
During the 112 years the prisons in Asinara existed, only one prisoner – Matteo Boe – successfully managed to flee the island in 1986. At the time, he was nothing more than a common criminal but he was later on accused of much more serious crimes.
The picturesque Cala d’Oliva as seen from the watchtower
Walk around Cala d’Oliva village
Cala d’Oliva is the only real village on Asinara, and people stopped living there altogether when the prison was established in 1885.
It’s a lovely small white village that can be easily explored in no more than 30 minutes. The location is idyllic: the village faces the magnificent Mediterranean sea, and it is overlooked by an Aragonese watchtower that dates back to the 17th century. Among the places of interest in the village there are the house where public prosecutors Falcone and Borsellino lived in 1985, the church, the school and the prison.
The only people that currently live in Cala d’Oliva are the seasonal workers – those employed in the only hostel on the island, at the coffee shop, and the rangers.
Admire the Aragonese towers
There are three Aragonese watchtowers in Asinara. The first was built in the area of Trabuccato as early as 1609. The tower surmounts a beautiful beach and can be visited inside.
The watchtower of Cala d’Oliva dates back to 1611 and was used to communicate with Porto Torres, on Sardinia’s mainland. The tower of Cala d’Arena was built in 1611, but it was abandoned in 1721.
Walk up the Ossuary
Not far from Campu Perdu and right by one of the nicest swimming spots on the island, there is an ossuary that was built upon request of the Austrian authorities in 1936. This hosts the remains of the more than 7000 Austrian soldiers that were held on the island as prisoners of war and ended up dying there.
Shop for locally made products
Farmasinara is the only shop in Asinara where you can buy products made with locally sourced ingredients. It’s a really tiny building located at the back of the restaurant of Cala Reale where you can purchase high quality cosmetic products.
The tiny cove of Cala dei Detenuti is a fantastic spot for snorkeling
Practical Information For Visiting Asinara
How to get to Asinara
Asinara is connected to mainland Sardinia by ferry.
During peak season Delcomar has three daily ferries departing from Porto Torres and going to Cala Reale. They depart at 8:15 and 11:30 am and at 4:30 pm. The ride lasts about one and a half hour and costs €15 one way and €20 round trip. The ferries from Cala Reale to Porto Torre departs at 9:45 am and at 1:00 and 6:00 pm.
Linea del Parco / Ausonia ferries depart from the tourist harbor of Stintino and go to Fornelli. There are two ferries per day, one departing at 9:30 am and one at 10:30 am. The ride lasts less than 30 minutes and costs €20 – it is not clear whether the price is for one way or round trip. The ferries from Fornelli to Stintino depart at 5:00 and 6:00 pm.
Private boats depart from Stintino upon request. They are significantly more expensive than the public service.
How to explore Asinara
Cars are not admitted on Asinara island and you’ll only see the odd police car or the van that belongs to the only hostel running around for errands. Other than obviously walking, these are the best ways to move around the island.
A lot of people that visit Asinara decide to explore it by bike. Bike rental is available in Fornelli or Cala Reale. Alternatively, you can either bring your own or rent it in Porto Torres or in Stintino, before boarding your ferry – please take care to note that the ferry ride from Stintino is more expensive if you carry a bike. As the island is very hilly and biking can be quite challenging, I wholeheartedly recommend opting for an e-bike.
By electric car
If you don’t feel like biking, the best option to explore Asinara is by electric car. There are 2 and 4 seats one. The 4 seater costs €100 for the day, so it doesn’t end up being too expensive. You can pick up your car in either Fornelli or Cala Reale. I recommend booking in advance as this is a quite popular way to move around the island. The best way is to call in advance. This is the number +39 079512290.
By train on wheels
There are a couple of trains on wheels that roam around Asinara. Tickets cost between €45 and €55 for the whole day, depending on the season (children under 12 pay between €35 and €40). The train makes several stops around the island. It’s a good option if you can’t find an electric car or if your group is larger than 4 persons.
On a jeep tour
Of all the ways to explore Asinara, this is a good one if you have limited time and want to see as much as possible. Jeep tours depart from either Cala Reale or Fornelli as soon as passengers get off the ferry, and they stop at all the most important places around the island. Jeeps carry up to 7 passengers, so if it is a full group the car can get filled up.
Several companies run the tour, which costs €55 and has to be booked in advance. It does not include lunch.
Occasionally, a public bus runs around Asinara island, connecting Fornelli to Cala Reale and Cala d’Oliva. This year it isn’t running. I will update this post accordingly if there are news.
Cala Sant’Andrea is highly protected and nobody can get near it
When to visit Asinara
The best time to visit Asinara is spring, when it is in full bloom and the colors of the wild flowers pop out. That’s also when the temperatures are mild and you can best enjoy the hikes. If you enjoy swimming, then the best time is by far the summer when the water is warm enough to swim.
How long to stay in Asinara
The majority of people who visit Asinara go there on a day trip. It’s a pity, because spending the night in Asinara is one of the best things you can do! At night, it becomes incredibly silent – all you hear is the occasional donkey, and the wind. The sky is incredibly starry, and the atmosphere truly unique.
On my last visit, I spent 2 nights and 2 full days on the island, and I honestly wished I had stayed longer. Make sure to take your time to fully enjoy all that it has to offer.
Where to stay and eat in Asinara
Until a few weeks ago, the only place to sleep in Asinara was the hostel in Cala d’Oliva. It’s a very basic place, with dorms and private rooms, all of them with shared facilities. The prices include breakfast and dinner. It would be a good option, where it not for the fact that meals are not exactly good (it reminds me of a cheap high school cafeteria) and the hostel staff isn’t exactly kind and available to share information and help guests.
The good news is that you can now opt to stay at the newly opened La Locanda del Parco, which has 6 beautiful rooms and where you can also eat much better meals prepared using locally sourced fish and seafood.
The other two places where you can have a bite are the restaurant in Cala Reale and the coffee shop and restaurant in Cala d’Oliva called “Asino Bianco”. I can’t really comment on the restaurant in Cala Reale, but I can really recommend Asino Bianco for a drink, for the freshly made sandwiches and for the kindest staff you can hope to encounter.
Other useful information
Internet is hardly a thing in Asinara, so don’t be surprised if your phone hardly catches the signal. The hostel and the newly opened bed and breakfast both have wifi, but this is not really reliable.
A few movies have been filmed on Asinara island, featuring it in the plot. The most recent one is “La Stoffa dei Sogni,” a beautiful movie that was filmed and aired in 2016.
Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated July 2019). Learn more about me here…