Staring at an incredible view – just one of the many things to do in Sardinia
“You should really visit Sardinia,” I said to my friend Diana a few weeks ago. She was on her way to Madrid, from where she’d start traveling across Europe for roughly two months. I thought this would be her chance to finally get to the island of wonders.
“But it is winter, still. There won’t be many things to do in Sardinia now, right?” she argued.
“What?! There’s so many things to do in Sardinia, in any season!” I pointed out, frustrated to have to explain one more time that really, there are plenty of reasons to visit Sardinia outside of its amazing beaches and that yes, Sardinia has a lot to offer regardless of the weather. There I was, once again trying to debunk some of the hardest to die myths around Sardinia tourism. After all, what do I expect when most of the world doesn’t even know where Sardinia is?
Read more about Sardinia on my post “Where is Sardinia, anyways?”
A beautiful sunrise in Sardinia
Finding things to do in Sardinia – other than going to the beach
For a bunch of reasons that are too long to explain on this post, there is a common misconception about Sardinia, according to which the best things to do in Sardinia all involve a beach. Public authorities and local businesses alike have done little to change this belief, and continue investing most of their funds in summer tourism. It really is a pity though, because there is way more to Sardinia than just beaches – which, granted, are as gorgeous as it gets.
Read more on some of the best beaches in Sardinia on my post “How I got to one of the best beaches in Sardinia (and almost killed myself there).”
Sardinia tourism has already invested a lot on the gorgeous beaches to be found on the island
I have lived in Sardinia most of my life, this is what I call home and where I feel I belong and I won’t ever get tired to say that Sardinia is a great place to visit any time of the year. So there I was, yet again having to do my best to demonstrate that really, one should not limit herself to visit Sardinia only in the summer months. The thing is, I know for a fact that with a little extra effort, with even small funds invested in some good marketing campaigns and using the already existing resources in a more effective way and with a bit more vision, Sardinia tourism would thrive in any season.
Already last September I went on a mission to show another side of Sardinia, attending Autunno in Barbagia in the village Oliena. Autunno in Barbagia is a festival that spans over the course of three months across 29 villages, and which celebrates Sardinian traditions, culture and food. Back then, I insisted that there are way more things to do in Sardinia than one could ever imagine, and was glad to see that finally more effort was done to promote Sardinia tourism in the low and shoulder seasons.
Read more about things to do in Sardinia in the shoulder season on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”
There’s always things to do in Sardinia, even on a gloomy day – photo courtesy of Giuseppe Mercorella (flickr)
Sardinia has all that it takes to keep its visitors entertained, whatever their interests may be. This island never stops amazing me: every time I think I got Sardinia figured out, it surprises me again with another of its many hidden treasures. Yes: there are way more things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach and there are many more places to visit in Sardinia than just beaches.
Sardinian beaches are gorgeous, but there’s way more things to do in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Luca Manca (flickr)
In my crusade to show Diana that it is really worth to visit Sardinia throughout the year, I told her how, every time I think I have done most of the things to do in Sardinia, I realize that there is an event I have yet to attend, one that makes traveling to Sardinia worth it and a keepsake of how varied this island is. From Sartiglia – a spectacular equestrian event that takes place on the last Sunday and the last Tuesday of Carnival – in February, to Sant’Efisio – a huge parade in traditional costumes from all over the island – in May; from Berchidda jazz festival in August to the many wine and food festivals that take place all over Sardinia throughout the year (a reminder of the fantastic wines produced in the island and of its culinary traditions); from archeological sites to biking, hiking and climbing trails, I explained to my friend that there is always a good reason to visit Sardinia.
Attending the Sartiglia is one of the many things to do in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Luca Eskimo (flickr)
Read more about the many perks of Sardinia tourism on my post “Sardinia dos and donts.”
Knowing Diana is passionate about discovering new cultures and interested in nature and history, I told her that many of those who visit Sardinia find it a great destination to enjoy nature and archeology. I explained to her that population density is so low here that there are vast portions of the island still completely uninhabited, where nature rules and the only signs of life in sights are just a few shepherds whose multitude of sheep and goats herd freely.
Hiking and photography as a proof that Sardinia tourism can thrive all year long
As I told Diana, there’s no doubt that one of the best things to do in Sardinia is hiking. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a place and I regularly go hiking – hardly ever to the same place. A few days ago, my conversation with Diana almost forgotten, I joined a hiking expedition that took me all the way from Masua Pan di Zucchero, a beach on the wild South West coast of Sardinia, to Cala Domestica, another lovely beach tucked away in what almost looks like a fjord. For the duration of the hike, which was 11 exhausting and very technical km long, we walked along the coast.
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Sardinia
This wasn’t a leisurely walk at the beach – and after all, this isn’t yet the season to spend the day frying under the sun or swimming in the sea. This was a strenuous trek, with lots of steep uphills and downhills through a difficult terrain, over high cliffs, through the thick bushes of Mediterranean vegetation whose aroma was sweet and intense – something that those who visit Sardinia often find fascinating.
But I was well compensated for my efforts with some of the most incredible views I could have wished for. At every turn, the blue waters of the Mediterranean laid in front of me, stacks scattered along the coast, with Pan di Zucchero towering above the rest. And I couldn’t help stopping continuously along the way to capture them with my camera. It was just to underline yet again that one of the things to do in Sardinia is taking photos of its amazing landscapes, and to point out how photogenic Sardinia is.
Overjoyed with the spectacular views: those who visit Sardinia always enjoy hiking
Visit Sardinia to discover some unique archeological sites
“Let’s make one more effort and walk up to the tower,” suggested our guide just as we thought the hike was over, as we had finally reached Cala Domestica.
Relaxing at the beach is only one of the many things to do in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Carlos de Paz (flickr)
I was already savoring the idea of relaxing at the beach before making my way back to the village from where we had started walking, when the guide mentioned the presence of a Spanish tower that looked over the beach from the top of the hill.
“But I am exhausted,” I – as well as many others in the group – prayed.
“I promise you it is worth it. The view from up there is spectacular,” he insisted. I was intrigued: one of the best things to do in Sardinia is visiting its unique archeological sites – many of them tucked behind a gorgeous beach – and anybody who visit Sardinia would have to agree on that. So up we walked, one last effort.
An archeological site on top of a hill overlooking an incredible beach – this is what people get when they visit Sardinia
What can I say, other than the guide surely wasn’t lying? The Spanish tower stood lonely up on a hill beaten by the strong winds – surrounded by rocks and short bushes of the only plants that manage to resist the sweeping winds. The view from up there was breathtaking. After all, enjoying the spectacular landscapes is one of the most fantastic things to do in Sardinia, and I should only know it too well.
Sardinia tourism will thrive thanks to the sheer beauty of the island. This is the view from the Spanish tower of Cala Domestica
The Spanish tower of Cala Domestica was built during the Spanish domination of Sardinia and used as a watch tower, to overlook and protect the small beach below which – together with many others along the south-western coast of Sardinia – was used as a harbor for the shipment of the minerals that were extracted in the area. It was also used during World War II as an observation point.
But Cala Domestica and its tower are only one of the many places to visit in Sardinia for anybody who enjoys nature, archeology and adventure. As I stared at the spectacular view from the Spanish tower, my mind started running…
“If only people knew Sardinia is that beautiful all year long,” I thought, my mind racing to my friend and wishing he could appreciate what I was seeing.
“If only people knew how many things to do in Sardinia there are…” I wished.
Sardinia tourism could thrive in any season – photo courtesy of Giuseppe Mercorella (flickr)
And, even more so, if only I could show to as many people as possible that Sardinia tourism is active year round. Because really, putting together a passion for nature, archeology and adventure is so easy here, with so many archeological sites hiding behind amazing beaches or tucked away in thick forests; so many trails that walk along a gorgeous coast line. Indeed, one of the best things to do in Sardinia is exploring the many unique sites that are scattered across the island, and that date back to various times in history – from the nuraghe dating back to the 17th century BC to the mines along the south west coast of Sardinia (actually not far from Cala Domestica and Masua Pan di Zucchero) and that today make up the Mining Park, so unique in its value that it is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And these archeological sites are only some of the places to visit in Sardinia that have yet to become famous.
Visiting old mines now turned into museums is one of the most incredible things to do in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Ezioman (flickr)
“Are we ready to go?” soon enough, the guide interrupted my thoughts and it was finally time to get back to reality. But not before celebrating a fantastic day with a great meal, duly accompanied by some delicious Sardinian wine, just as we like doing here.
Yet more things to do in Sardinia – savoring the island
As we arrived to the restaurant, exhausted after the strenuous hike, starving and in need of a good drink, an array of appetizers was laid in front of us. Beautifully grilled vegetables, cold cuts and cheeses, olives, stuffed breads such as coccoi prena. And then the pasta came – a selection of malloreddus (Sardinian gnocchi) with a rich sausage and tomato sauce served with grated pecorino cheese; and culurgiones, a ravioli style pasta stuffed with potatoes, mint and cheese and served plainly boiled with grated pecorino cheese.
Tasting culurgiones: one of the top things to do in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Pasqualino Piludu (flickr)
As if this was not enough, the feast went on and we were served the slowly roasted suckling pig – so delicious it melted in my mouth. And to conclude, we got a mix traditional Sardinian sweets. All of this was served with a great cannonau wine – one of the best known indigenous grapes. It was a feast for the eyes and even more so for our taste buds. No wonder people who visit Sardinia are always impressed with the food.
Sardinian food is based on fresh ingredients – shopping for them is one of the coolest things to do in Sardinia
Most of the food in Sardinia is prepared using strictly seasonal local ingredients of the best quality. It’s not surprising then that everything here is just so delicious – so much so that Sardinia tourism is slowly placing more focus on eno-gastronomy. One of the best things to do in Sardinia is taking part in food and wine tours that travel across the island to awaken the taste buds of tourists, unveil the secrets of some of the best local recipes and with that give a lot of insights into Sardinian traditions and culture.
It’s always time to visit Sardinia
On the bus that took me home that night, phone at hand, I resumed the conversation with my friend Diana. I sent her some of the amazing pictures I took that day and she was truly impressed with what she was seeing.
“Are you still convinced that there are no things to do in Sardinia at this time of year?” I joked.
Relaxing at the beach after a strenuous hike – one of the things to do in Sardinia
Needless to say, Diana has finally made up her mind and she will visit Sardinia soon. I promised her that I will take her around to some of the best places to visit in Sardinia. I suppose that, like her, more and more people are finally understanding that there are many things to do in Sardinia all year long – thanks to the work of some visionary and passionate people (no bragging, I promise!) who regularly take on the difficult task of spreading the word about the many reasons to visit Sardinia.
Filling the gaps of Sardinia tourism
Not only that. There actually are a few, yet very reliable people who work in the tourism industry who have noticed the existence of a gap in what Sardinia tourism has to offer and are working hard to fill in that gap and invest in alternative forms of tourism – involving traveling to off the beaten path places, biking, photography workshops and food and wine tours – to entertain visitors all year long.
Bird watching is one of the best things to do in Sardinia: pink flamingoes nestle on the island – photo courtesy of Michele Fadda (flickr)
There are many young travel professionals who aim to share the vibes of the island of wonders with anybody who loves nature and wildlife (Sardinia is a paradise for bird watchers!), adventure, archeology, culture, music, food and wine through itineraries that have been carefully crafted with the help of local experts. These people strive to inspire travelers to experience the other (many) sides of Sardinia that don’t necessarily involve Sardinian gorgeous beaches because these are already well-known. The idea is to show that there are way more things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach.
Gaveena strives to promote Sardinia tourism to off the beaten path places, such as the lovely Bosa – photo courtesy of Antonio Romano Liscia (flickr)
While all tours look interesting to me, photography tours are particularly intriguing since, as of late, despite being a total amateur, I am enjoying experimenting with pictures, exposition and post-production. There would be nothing better than discovering some of the most beautiful villages in Sardinia, some of the places to visit in Sardinia that are off the beaten path, as well as some fantastic archeological sites and natural reserves, experiencing some of the best events on the island and are gorging on the delicious local food and wine. And to think that all of this would occur in the company of a professional travel and landscape photographer who would be available to provide tips on how to take good photographs and who would have some sessions on image analysis and post-processing!
Would you like to visit Sardinia? What are the things to do in Sardinia that you look forward to the most?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Writing a post on the best beaches in Sardinia is a difficult task, because Sardinia is packed with beautiful beaches, and they are all different. There is something for everybody: long sandy beaches which are easy to access and that are perfect for families with children; small coves; incredible beaches that get beaten up by the strong winds and where the most adventurous practice all sort of water sports; secluded beaches than can only be reached via a short boat ride or, even better, via a hike.
I love hiking, and in fact I think one of the things to do in Sardinia is going on a fabulous hike. I regularly do that, whatever the season and as long as it is not raining, always wearing the appropriate gear. This is how I get closer to nature and visit places that can’t be reached otherwise.
Check out my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”
It is how I got to see the deepest canyon in Europe – Su Gorropu – as well as the mountains around my hometown Cagliari. Most people find that hiking during the summer months is insane and even a bit risky, as the weather in Sardinia is truly hot, perhaps too hot to endure the efforts of a long trek. However, considering that only via a strenuous hike it is possible to reach some of the best beaches in Sardinia, I take my chances and go.
Things to do in Sardinia: jump into its clear waters – photo courtesy of Gian Michele Murru
Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Goloritzé
With this in mind, and although we knew that the hottest weekend in the summer had just been forecasted, my friends and I decided to hike to what I – and many others – consider one of the best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Goloritzé. Located on the Southern side of the Gulf of Orosei, in an area that belongs to Baunei and the region of Ogliastra, Cala Goloritzé can only be fully enjoyed via a hike. It was created by a landslide in 1962, and it is famous for its 143 meters pinnacle which makes it a paradise for climbers. There also is an arch that opens on the right side of the bay. The beach is made of small white pebbles (that some disrespecting tourists occasionally try to steal, only to be reported to the police and fined) and sand. The colours of the water are incredible shades of turquoise.
Until a few years ago it was possible to reach Cala Goloritzé by boat from either Arbatax (further south on the coast) or the nearby Santa Maria Navarrese. But since 2007 the coast near the beach has been closed to traffic to preserve it from pollution and from too many tourists. As one of the best beaches in Sardinia that must be preserved from human damage, Cala Goloritzé has been declared a national monument and it also is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All the more reasons to make the effort to hike there.
Could one ever say this is not one of the best beaches in Sardinia?
Where to go in Sardinia to access some of its best beaches
I generally recommend people who visit Sardinia and ask me what are Sardinia best beaches and where to go in Sardinia in order to access them to visit the area of the Gulf of Orosei. I normally suggest to stay either in Baunei or Santa Maria Navarrese. The latter is the marine appendix of Baunei, a pretty seaside village that offers good services to tourists and from where boats leave at regular times to visit the various beaches of the Gulf of Orosei.
Baunei, on the other hand, is on the hills and from there there is a spectacular view of the valley and the coast below and it offers easy access to the Golgo Plateau, from where most of the hiking trails to the various coves begin. What people plan to do when they visit Sardinia should be a decisive factor in deciding whether to stay in Santa Maria Navarrese, Baunei or even the Golgo Plateau.
Where to go in Sardinia for a unique experience: Golgo Plateau
If one likes a bit extra comfort and prefers visiting the area on a boat trip, Santa Maria Navarrese may be the best option. Going local is easier in Baunei which also offers easier access to the Golgo Plateau and the hiking trails. There is one lovely hotel and several bed and breakfasts, and most of all there are occasional village festivals that make the stay more eventful. Finally, staying in the Golgo Plateau – called “Su Sterru” by the locals, and which means “abyss” in the Sardinian language – implies being fully immersed in nature, with the chance to explore an impressive karst sinkhole at 400 meters above sea level.
One of the things to do in Sardinia is relaxing and enjoying nature, and there is hardly a better place to do it: there are some basic accommodation options there, and animals such as goats, cows, wild boars, horses and donkeys can be seen roaming freely. People who visit Sardinia find it that it is a good place to look at the stars: since there is no electricity in the Golgo Plateau (except that of power generators, which are switched off at night), this is where to go in Sardinia in order to look at the gorgeous sky.
Meeting the donkeys at the Golgo Plateau – one of the things to do in Sardinia
Planning our hike to one of the best beaches in Sardinia
My friends had never been to Cala Goloritzé but I had been several times (did I mention that to me is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?) so, being the expert traveller in the group, and considering that the hike would be my very own way to celebrate my birthday, I did all the planning for what turned out to be a fantastic experience. Although visiting Cala Goloritzé on a day trip from Cagliari can be done, we opted to spend the night nearby in order to have a fresh start the morning after.
Indeed, it takes almost 3 hours to drive the roughly 160 km from Cagliari to Baunei (the road is amazing and has great views, but it is not in great shape!), the nearest village to the Golgo Plateau, from where the hiking trail begin. We wanted to avoid the usual traffic jams caused on Sunday morning by the masses of people who go to the beaches near Cagliari, so we left on Saturday morning. Since we knew that the following day we’d be quite active, we opted to do one of the things to do in Sardinia: be lazy on a beach. We went to Lido di Orrì, a lovely beach not far from Tortolì, a small city about 30 km from Baunei.
Lido di Orrì is one of Sardinia best beaches
After bumming at the beach all day, we made our way to Baunei to then reach the Golgo Plateau. When some of my friends visit Sardinia they are shocked by the fact that hardly any road here is straight. The road that gets all the way to Baunei climbs up a steep hill, and, true to Sardinian tradition, is full of turns and curves and is best approached at a slow pace – which is also great to enjoy the amazing view below. Once in Baunei, we followed the directions to the Golgo and a few scary turns over some crazy cliffs later we were on the plateau, surrounded by nature, in a place that look completely different from the rest of Sardinia.
There are three accommodation options in the Golgo Plateau: two camping sites (one on the Rifugio Cooperativa Goloritzé and the other one at Su Porteddu, which is right where the hiking trail to Cala Goloritzé begins); bungalows for up to 4 persons with shared bathrooms and showers and private double or triple rooms. Another option would have been to rent a fully equipped camping car through Follow the Sun Sardinia, which also have a camping kitchen, chairs and tables.
We did not want to have to take our sleeping bags and pack our tents for such a short stay – although I always recommend camping as one of the things to do in Sardinia in order to save some pennies. And I wanted to splurge a bit as after all I was there to celebrate my birthday. So, we made reservations for double rooms and included the option to have dinner and breakfast included at the Rifugio as well. I thought it was a real bargain: for € 50 per person we had a private room and a feast for dinner.
Things to do in Sardinia: eat!
Eating a traditional meal is one of the things to do in Sardinia, so we did not want to miss on this one. As the traditional occupations of Sardinia used to be (and to a good extent still are) in shepardy (yes, even though it is an island!), most of the traditional food that is found on the island is based on lamb, goat, pork and cheese and olives. The Rifugio had a set meal for its guests, which included antipasti – lots of local cold cuts and grilled vegetables; culurgiones – a ravioli kind of pasta, filled with potatoes, cheese and mint and with a meat sauce; and roast suckling pig. It all came along with salad, bread, fruit and some very good wine.
One of the things to do in Sardinia is eating is wholesome, delicious food. These are “culurgiones” – photo courtesy of Maurizio Mascia
A few years ago, when I visited the area on a different occasion, I actually managed to get a tip to go eat at one of the local shepards. I had to make reservations by phone as he could only accommodate no more than 15 people at once, and meet him where the road forked, as his sheepfold was in the middle of the forest and we’d easily get lost trying to find it. It was a feast, with way too much food for only € 22. The problem with these kind of places is that they are improvised restaurants, so they can’t be found in guidebooks or even on Tripadvisor. They are as local as they get – a way to taste traditional Sardinian home cooking – and the best way to find them is to ask around.
… And finally, hiking to one of the best beaches in Sardinia!
Given the heat wave that hit Sardinia right when we had decided to hike to Cala Goloritzé, we thought it best to start our hike fairly early in the morning. We set our alarms at 6:30 am to have a good breakfast and prepare for the hike and at 8:00 am we were already on our way. As I had hiked there before, I knew what to expect and I insisted with my friends that they followed my advice on what to wear and what to carry. Although they were reluctant to do so, they admitted that I was right and ended up offering me a beer for that!
Here is what I recommend:
- wear some good hiking shoes and socks. Yes, it may be incredibly hot and your feet may melt inside the shoes, but the path can be dusty and slippery and it is mostly downhill on the way to the beach. Having a little extra ankle support helps avoiding injuries and reduces the risk of falling. I have seen people going on this hike with plain running shoes and even sandals or flip flops. I wonder what their feet, knees and ankles felt like at the end of the hike.
- carry plenty of cold water. It may be heavy on your back, but having a few sips of water every 15 minutes or so helps keeping hydrated and fight the effects of the extreme heat. Furthermore, there are no services at all in Cala Goloritzé: in order to preserve what really is one of the best beaches in Sardinia (and the world), no kiosk or toilets have been built there.
- carry some lunch – for the same reasons above! I generally suggest some fresh fruit, some carrots (they are easy to carry and don’t get all mashed if carried in a bag) and sandwiches which can be easily bought in a supermarket.
- carry an umbrella. For as heavy and as uncomfortable to carry as it may be, it is much needed when the sun is so warm. My friends and I have devised various ways to carry umbrellas. I had mine strapped at the bottom of my backpack. Newer ones generally come with a bag that has a strap and they are easy to carry.
- wear lots of sunblock. The sun gets really strong during the summer, and one of the things to do in Sardinia in order to avoid a trip to the pharmacy or even to the emergency room is wearing lots of sunblock. I apply mine before leaving the house, and then re-apply it every couple of hours and every time after I swim.
Among the things to do in Sardinia when going on a hike, there is wearing the right gear
The hiking trail starts at the parking lot of Su Porteddu, a lovely coffee shop and camping site in the middle of the nature of the Golgo Plateau. The trail is little less than 4 km long and it is an out and back kind of trail, meaning that the same trail gets hikers to Cala Goloritzé and back. The main difficulty of the hike is having to endure the summer heat. The weather in Sardinia is very hot during the summer, especially during heat waves – that is why, at least on the way out, I recommend an early start. Depending on the number of stops (for pictures, water and resting) going down takes between 1 hour and 15 minutes and 1 hour and 45 minutes. We averaged at 1 hour and 30 minutes, taking our time to admire the scenery that surrounded us and take plenty of pictures.
Ready, set, GO! Preparing to get to one of the best beaches in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Gian Michele Murru
The first 15 minutes of the hike are steadily uphill. Once at the top, a wonderful view opens up and the incredibly blue sea can be seen in the distance, with mountains and vegetation framing it. Those who visit Sardinia are always amazed by the variety in the types of beaches. On this side of the island, mountains meet the see and drop directly in some of the most pristine waters that can be seen in the world. We took a moment to take in the view and take some pictures and then started descending.
Once at the top, we got our first peak of one of the best beaches in Sardinia
The descent is steep. We walked on dried creek banks (they only fill up in times of heavy rain) and on screes, under secular oaks and junipers. The vegetation is very thick. In the distance, we could hear the sound of the bells worn by goats that are free to roam. At times, we understood the goats were actually really close to us although we could not hear them, because their smell was unmistakable. That’s when I finally got to understand the Italian saying “puzzi come una capra” (you stink like a goat) – as the smell was really strong and less than pleasant.
As we kept descending, the vegetation kept getting thicker until at some point we could finally see the famous pinnacle of Goloritzé. We knew we were finally getting closer to our destination, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. Indeed, a few minutes later, the view completely opened up and not only we could see the pinnacle and the far away blue of the sea, but we could spot the small cove, people below at the beach and already swimming in the incredibly clear waters.
When we could see the pinnacle, we knew we were getting closer to one of the best beaches in Sardinia
We started rushing down the staircase (which really is no more than wooden railings to hold on to when going down the steep rocks) and at the end we were greeted by the beach guard, who charged us one euro each for entering the beach and gave us recommendations such as not to drop garbage on the beach, including cigarette buts (there is no garbage disposal system as literally there is no way anything with an engine can reach this tiny cove) and, quite importantly, not to steal any of the tiny pebbles. Needless to say, we did our share to keep Cala Goloritzé, one of the best beaches in Sardinia, as pristine as we found it. And even showed a bit of envy for the guardian who gets to admire that spectacular view every day.
Celebratory selfie for getting to one of the best beaches in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Gian Michele Murru
The view opened and we got to see one of the best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Goloritzé
How I nearly killed myself in one of the best beaches in Sardinia
As soon as we arrived at the beach, we dropped our bags and planted our umbrellas. And within 5 minutes we were already jumping in the inviting and calm waters. It was a gorgeous day! The water is immediately quite steep, but so calm that children are usually safe there. It also is quite cold due to the presence of several fresh water sources sprouting from the rocks and mountains surrounding the cove. We were not put off by it. In fact, we wore our swimming goggles and swam all the way to the arch, cameras at hand. The water is around 12 meters deep there.
Time to jump in the water of one of the best beaches in Sardinia
Among the things to do in Sardinia, I have already mentioned hiking, swimming in its clear waters and enjoying its incredible food. But there are other things to do in Sardinia that lots of people enjoy and that I hardly ever say no to. One of them is jumping off cliffs, directly into the water. Cala Goloritzé is surrounded by cliffs and to a reckless person like me, there is nothing better than climbing those cliffs and then jump. Or, there used to be nothing better. Because this time, I really thought I was going to kill myself.
Jumping off the arch in Cala Goloritzé is not among the things to do in Sardinia!
As soon as I got near the arch, I saw another guy staring at it. I asked him if he was considering going up and jumping and he in turn he asked me if I thought it was doable. I said that of course it was – I had done it years before. What I forgot is that, the other time I had done it, many people where there and a human chain meant we all helped each other to climb. This time, it was just me and this poor guy I involved in my crazy plan. We started climbing, in our swimsuits, naked hands and feet. Once I got about halfway I got stuck.
I realised I am way too short to be able to climb over some of those rocks, and there was no way I could get down either: if, for whatever reason, I fell, I would crush on them and kill myself. That’s when I started getting nervous. My left leg was twitching. My heart was pounding. I felt lightheaded. I begged the poor guy not to let go of my arm and there I stood, waiting for someone else who was reckless enough to climb up. I was lucky, because a minute later two guys started climbing and I begged them to help me. They all pulled me up (and I scratched my legs on the rock in the process, but who cares!) and then I made my way to what I considered a good jumping point. There I stood, 12 meters above water, surrounded by the various shades of blue, my friends below filming the entire event. I was still trembling, but I knew it would not go away, so I jumped.
It was hard to resist the waters of one of the best beaches in Sardinia – photo courtesy of Maurizio Mascia
It was scary as hell. And I will never do it again. I don’t mind heights at all, really, but I did not fancy the idea of falling on those rocks and the last thing I wanted to do on a day on one of the best beaches in Sardinia was having an accident and get injured. I suppose I am getting old, because I think that next time I climb a rock I want to be strapped up, wear a helmet and wear proper gear! Anyways, I was happy to be alive, so soon afterwards we swam back to shore and set to spent the rest of the day at one of Sardinia best beaches. We relaxed, we ate our lunch, we went for more swims all over the area and just had a good time.
UPDATE! A few days after I visited Cala Goloritzé, the news reported of a guy who, having had my same idea, had to be rescued because he could not make it up to jump, or go back down. He was stuck. A boat passed by and the people on board saw him and called the rangers as the poor guy really looked like he needed help. He was ok in the end, although obviously shaken and dehydrated for the heat.
What is a goat doing in one of the best beaches in Sardinia?
People visit Sardinia to explore its magic beauty. Sardinia always surprises its visitors and even the locals. Imagine the expression people had on their faces when they saw that just there, on one of the best beaches in Sardinia, a goat had decided to have a drink of water at one of the fresh water sources. The best part of it is that, really, we all felt as intruders as it was quite obvious that he belonged there much more than we did: he showed a grace in climbing those rocks that none of us could master; he was not bothered by our presence and in fact proceeded to do what he had come for as he owned the place and, to top this off, the guardian warned us against bothering him because if he was bothered he may throw stones at us!
A goat decided he wanted to also spend some time at one of the best beaches in Sardinia
Later on during the day, three more goats came to the beach to have a drink and stare at the people.
Hiking back up
At about 4:30 pm the beach starts being in the shade: the mountains behind drop their shade on Cala Goloritzé. That means it is about time to hike back up. At 5:00 pm we packed our stuff and started puffing our way up the trail. Once we passed the main cliff, it was still very bright and only the trees provided a bit of shelter from the sun. I won’t lie and say it was easy. It was challenging – it was not a long hike back, but it was 90% uphill and predictably, the weather in Sardinia was very hot that day.
I am a good hiker and in good shape, and I much prefer going uphill than downhill, as it is easier on my knees and back. Whenever I hike uphill, I get into a steady pace and if I see that I am getting too tired, I don’t stop but just slow down. I didn’t stop this time either: I kept drinking small sips of water and on wetting my head with it, to fight the effects of the extreme heat. However, I must admit that I was relieved when I finally made it back to the parking lot, about 1 hour and 20 minutes later (actually faster than going down) and could enjoy a much deserved beer.
One would think that getting to such a paradise as one of the best beaches in Sardinia has to be expensive. I say, think twice. I actually splurged and in total I spent no more than €75 for two full days of fun. This was parted in this way:
Accommodation: € 30 per person, for a double private room
Food: € 30 for a traditional dinner and breakfast, and two days worth of packed lunch consisting of a sandwich, fruit, vegetables and lots of cold water.
Petrol and parking: € 10 – we shared the costs between 4 persons.
Access to Cala Goloritzé: € 1 – I would say that getting to one of the best beaches in Sardinia for so little money is a real bargain.
It is actually possible to go much cheaper: sleeping in a bungalow costs €10 per person per night (but it is necessary to carry a sleeping bag and towels) and it is even cheaper to just pitch a tent.
Things to do in Sardinia: hiking to Cala Goloritzé!
Hiking to Cala Goloritzé is one of the things to do in Sardinia and I highly recommend it to anybody who visit Sardinia and wants to have an incredible experience that mixes nature and a gorgeous beach.
Have you ever been to Sardinia? What did you like the most about it?