Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

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travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)  

After a spending some wonderful days in Germany with family, we took advantage of our being in Europe with a short flight from Munich to the Italian island of Sardinia!Sardinia has been on my mind as a possible destination ever since a college acquaintance–after he finished studying abroad in Italy for a year–pronounced its beaches the most beautiful he had ever seen. Aron and I visited Corsica, its French neighbor to the north, a few years back–and that further piqued our curiosity (as we loved Corsica and its Octopus-filled, clear waters so much).It was shockingly difficult to find information on traveling in Sardinia.

There were guidebooks, yes–we brought along a Rough Guide and some photocopied pages from Lonely Planet Sardinia–but not the usual array of magazine-suggested-itineraries, or Epicurious-generated restaurant suggestions (which I occasionally use to come up with itineraries). Moreover, the guidebooks make everything sound good, so I wasn’t sure which way we should drive once we landed in the captial-city of Cagliari. wrote into the Fodor’s Forums (often a great resource), and with the help of one message-board member in particular, we decided to head first to the Eastern seaboard–to the Golfo de Orosei and the little town of Cala Gonone. By this time it was just a few weeks until our departure. Coincidentally, that same week, Joanna showed me that the last Budget Travel magazine contained a short feature on Sardinia; and their photos of the Orosei coast confirmed our decision.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

We landed in Cagliari a short 1.5 hours after taking off from Munich; Aron went off to pick-up our rental car (a little Lancia from Hertz) while I waited at the baggage carousel and tried to listen-in on others’ conversations so as to recall some basic Italian phrases and to figure out where the accent falls. It was hilarious to watch Aron making his way over to the door; he towered over the–mostly–tiny Italian women gesturing around him.

 travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

In no time at all, we were missing off-ramps and doing our best to get turned around en route to the major island highway: Carlo Felice, SS131. But once we figured out which towns were in our direction, it was smooth sailing. The road crosses the island, heading out of the industrialized area surrounding Cagliari and west toward Oristano, before bending back east toward the town of Nuoro. We were surprised how fast the drive went and made one of our first stops in Nuoro at a salumeria.
 
In our excitement, we neglected to consider that we didn’t have any sort of cutting instrument with us, and left with solid chunks of lomo and of pecorino! We also picked out a stack of Pane Carasau. This traditional, cracker-like bread was made to last several months in the mountain shelters where shepherds would spend the night, and is found all over Sardinia. Sometimes called Carta da Musica, the flatbread is as thin as sheet music because it’s made with plenty of olive oil (making it easy to eat a lot of–on both accounts). We made a nice snack of the cheese and bread, but had to leave the lomo for another time.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
 
The views as we drove through the Barbaggia region, looking at the limestone massif of the Supramonte, were beautiful–especially as the sun grew lower and the villages that clung to the sides of the white hills took on an amber glow. In general, the towns weren’t quite as picture-perfect as some of the famous villages in mainland Italy, but the entire scene was lovely.
 
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)  

When we came to Oliena, we spotted a wine cooperative called Cantina Oliena, wherein we sampled a few different glasses of the region’s favorite, Cannonau, and took home a bottle of Nepente di Oliena. The wine was dark–nearly black–and quite rich and tannic. We learned that vitners from the area (nearly 100 winegrowers) typically cultivate a very small batch of grapes, and so they bring their grapes to be processed as part of the cooperative.We drove away and, just as I was reading us about the region’s history of bandits, I realized I’d left my purse on the floor of the winery. We sped back to find it right where I’d left it, and the same group of chatty older men who were more than happy to wish us well once again.
 
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)  
From Oliena it wasn’t far to Cala Gonone. We came to a long tunnel and then twisted and turned our way down through groves of Cork Oak trees covered in the region’s famous product. (Earlier we’d shared the road with a truck bearing a full load of cork, in fact.) The sea came more into view with each successive turn–as did our destination
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
Earlier in the week, I’d reserved us three nights at Hotel Miramare. We were happy to find that they had a small parking lot for us to store the car. And even more so, we were happy to find that they’d put us in a corner room with a large balcony overlooking the town’s harbor!
After settling in, we wandered down to the port to check out prices for boat tours and rentals for the following day, and then looked around at some of the sea-facing restaurants in search of a spot for dinner. We were surprised to find that the town was quite quiet (though we were a little early for dinner even at 8pm), and wondered how different it would be in the month of August. We settled on the spot adjacent to the Pop Hotel and were immediately reminded of how wonderful Italian food can be. Truly–even things that weren’t remarkable on this trip were really, really good. 
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

The next morning, we woke up early to the smell of croissants. A small breakfast buffet had been set up on the terrace in front of our hotel. We watched as others took leave with hiking poles or sun hats and then grabbed our own beach gear and walked back down to the port. There were multiple kiosks offering personal boat rentals for around 80 Euro plus fuel, or boat tours for around 35 per person–and one billeteria for the ferries that would take you to a specific beach for around half that.Cala Gonone is known for its proximity to the Golfo de Orosei, beautiful stretch of coastline only accessible by boat. False inlets make for beautiful beaches between bright turquoise sea and the giant, white cliffs of the Gennargentu.We were hesitant at first about the cost of renting our own boat, but it’s something we have always wanted to do, and seemed like the perfect way to explore the area–so we took the plunge! I’m so glad that we did. 

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
Of course we first swung by the grocery store to stock up on lunchtime provisions. Salumi… yogurt… sardines… . We were interested to see that Sardinian babies are starting their diets of prosciutto and tuna early.Aron had worked out the details of the boat rental, and then the two of us walked down to the dock to find Marco with our boat. Aron started shouting, calling out “Marco? Marco?” and I nearly doubled over laughing. Marco? “Polo!” It seemed like a joke, only of course it wasn’t!Marco gave us a quick lesson in driving the pontiac and off we went!
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

I couldn’t stop snapping photos of Aron (who looked particularly handsome driving a boat), and then we got out into the bright turquoise water and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it!

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Every hour brought different light and different colors. We marveled at all of the little coves we could pull up into, and flew by the beaches trying to decide at which we wanted to drop anchor and stay awhile. Toward the cape at the end of the stretch, the water seemed to grow choppy and I was bouncing quite a bit at the bow, but I seriously could have done this every day of the trip (and we probably would have, if it were less expensive).

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
We decided to spend a few hours at Cala Marilou. It had a bit more of a crowd, but it also had a little stand set up where we could buy drinks–which we decided would be nice. In fact, we would have never needed to even choose a beach–the boat served adequately as a place to hang out.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

We unpacked our picnic and watched the couples taking glamour shots of one another by the beautiful rocks and (literally) rolling in the surf. We brought magazines, but couldn’t take our eyes off the water.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

The sun slowly sank below the steep cliffs behind the beach and so Aron swam out to get our boat while I gathered our things.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

On our way back to the port, we took turns driving, and we alternated between speeding along the coast–joking with and racing against another small boat of older men–and slowing to admire the views in the changing light. At one point we stopped to circle a beautiful jellyfish.

 travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
 travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
 travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010) travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010) By the time we reached the beach at Cala Luna, the water had once again become too tempting to resist. We  dropped our anchor and dove in once more. Floating next to our boat, looking back at the beach and down to the sandy bottom, we wondered why we hadn’t done more of this!The port at Cala Gonone was busy when we returned. We found Marco once again, who hopped in and accompanied us over to the fuel station. The total was around 16 euros–less than we’d expected.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

In that wonderful, slightly salty, post-beach glow, we stopped by our hotel’s bar to order some Aperol Soda and Amaro, which we sipped on the balcony before showering and heading off for dinner.

Before we had left New York, Aron had gone to B&N to pick up a copy of DH Lawrence’s The Sea and Sardinia, and discovered a beautiful cookbook: Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honeyfeatures Sardinian recipes and short anecdotes from the author’s, Efisio Farris’s childhood on the island. Aron wrote the author to tell him we were headed there on vacation and asked for tips–something that would have never occurred to me to do!–and got such a nice reply from his wife, Lori, with a list of suggestions. It turned out that their family has a restaurant just 30 minutes from Cala Gonone, in the town of Orosei.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

So, for dinner, we hopped in the car and drove up, up, up the mountain on this tiny, windy road with incredible views (and incredibly close drop-offs) to visit Su Barchile.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

As we were told to do, we asked after Peppe, Antonella, and Maria, and mentioned that Lori had sent us. We were warmly welcomed by Antonella, who gave us a detailed explanation of everything on the menu as well as suggestions. We started by sharing a trio of antipasti di mare misti–all delicious. Next, we shared a housemade pasta (so fresh) follwed by mains of roasted pork for me, and fish for Aron. His fish was boned, such that the spine was draped with paper-thin potatoes, while the filets were draped with delicate cucumber. It was beautiful. In true italian style, we finished the meal with due esspresso. But the highlight may have been dessert: Sebadas are pastries filled with ricotta cheese, fried, and then drizzled with bitter honey (miele amaro, a regional specialty) and served warm. Amazing!
The only caveat was that we couldn’t just stroll back to our hotel, so not only did we have to limit ourselves a bit more than usual when it came to wine pairings but one of us (Aron) had to drive home while, I’m sorry to say, the other fought a (losing) battle to stay awake.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
As much as we may have wanted to, we decided we couldn’t pay the premium to rent our own boat for a second day. There are actually a ton of active things to do out of Cala Gonone–hiking, climbing, kayaking, diving, and so on–but we were most excited about doing as close as possible to what we had done the previous day.Our first choice was to take the boat to Cala Sisine–a cove which we noted as a top pick from our day of scouting (backed by dramatic scenery yet not too popular)–but it turned out that there was only one return trip at 3:30 (earlier than we had hoped to end the day). The trade-off for a longer day would be a more popular beach, but it seemed worth it for a few more hours of that gorgeous water. I think we made the right choice.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
  travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
Cala Luna–which you can actually trek to in around 2.5 hours–is especially striking for its beachside caves. We set up our towels in the shade of a cave and used it as a base until after lunch, when we decided to move to the main stretch of beach and soak up some sun. Behind the beach, out of view across a pond, was a small shack/restaurant, to which Aron made a few trips for bottles of wine over the course of the day.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
It was hard to leave–especially knowing that we were ending our stay on the Golfo de Orosei.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
We packed up the next morning and left town after breakfast, thinking that we’d head down the eastern coast and past Cagliari to the town of Chia for the night, but not sure if that would be overly ambitious. When we found that we’d only made it to Arbatax–home to the famous red rocks and terminus of the narrow-guage train, Il Trenino Verde–by 11am, we decided on the nearer goal of Costa Rei. (Those red rocks, by the way, were lovely and we could see why they grace many postcards and guidebook covers, but with all of the beautiful coastal scenery on the island I would say they’re a detour one could skip.)
          
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

The road to Abatax, however, was more noteworthy. After coming back through the tunnel that leads down to Cala Gonone, we made a left and began hugging the mountainside on a road that wound around the perimeter of a steep valley. The landscape appeared harsh. Aron recalled reading that most of the primary towns on Sardinia were positioned inland as a protection from invaders, who would arrive by sea. One could see that the central peaks and valleys would prove difficult to penetrate, but they would also–it would appear–be difficult to cultivate. We paused at pull-offs to take in the view, but it was hardly necessary as we rarely shared the road. Only occasionally did it seem that motorcyclists would zoom by.
Our book referred to Baunei, approximately 30 miles beyond Dorgali, as limpet-like–hanging from the cliffside as did. The town is apparently a favorite stop for climbers who wish to visit Il Golgo (an 886-foot hole in the mountain above town). I loved barely fitting down the narrow passageways, pulling in the side mirrors to let teeny-tiny trucks driven by teeny-tiny old men and women pass by. We stopped for a sweet almond and orange confection at a pastry shop.
  travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)  
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
The diminutive theme continued in the countryside: Sardinia is known for its miniature donkeys and miniature red cows. We spotted this adult cow, with its calf (practically the same size) standing–conveniently–by a sign alerting us to the presence of cows. 
 
Some goats came to investigate our car, and we passed pigs along the way as well. 
 
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
We spotted a row of international flags and a sign for cheese and pulled off at a farm. A young man pointed us to rounds of goats’ milk and cows’ milk cheeses and we engaged in a few minutes of smiling and pointing and gesturing to bring home a very tasty wedge. We found it interesting that the man guessed we were German and that his flags did not include one from the U.S. It was clear (again) that Sardinia has not yet become a destination for Americans.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010) Beyond the farm, and beyond Arbatax, we made quick progress down the coast toward the resort area of Villasimius on the Costa Rei. We first stopped short of town when the beach came into view (not knowing just how close we were to our new destination); the golden sand and beautiful water seemed a good setting for lunch. travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010) The restaurant wasn’t serving yet and we could see the kitchen staff still enjoying their meal, so we sampled some limoncello and a regional grappa-like throat-burner, “Filo e Feru,” and drove a bit further to a recommended restaurant (off the beach), L’Aragosta.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

We hadn’t booked our rooms for the remainder of the trip (which is so unlike us). We had a couple of spots in mind–Stella D’Oro and Stella Maris. The latter was the more luxurious and I think we were hoping to happen upon it first, but when we found that Stella D’Oro had a room for 70 euro, a parking garage, a central location, and a lovely interior courtyard–we decided not to waste time weighing our options. The room was fairly bare-bones, but it was perfect for the single night.

We dropped off our things and drove down the main road in town to the first beach, La Spiaggia di Simius. The scene was much different than the one we’d left in Cala Gonone and we were a little disappointed at first, I have to admit: the water, while lovely, was quite rough and the beach is much wider, with resort after resort lining up chairs and umbrellas. We walked confidently over to one such set and laid out our towels (which nobody seemed to mind this late in the afternoon). The people-watching was pretty great and Aron and I strolled up and down the sand to take in our fill.

I think, in retrospect, a little more planning would have helped here. Villasimius has many, many beaches. Some, like Spiaggia di Simius are large, but there are others where we could have enjoyed a more off-the-beaten-path swim. In fact, the next day, after reading about all of the options, we chose La Spiaggia di Campu Longu as it was touted as being sheltered from the wind.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Still, we left happily salty from the sea-air, sand underfoot (only to quickly rinse off at the hotel) and headed out to explore the town. Once again we passed groups of chatty old men and wondered “What are they excitedly chatting about?” (Old men are not typically the most talkative demographic–in my experience.)
The town was clearly a vacation-destination for Italians. The downside of this is a high concentration of t-shirt and souvenir shops; the upside was that there were also lots of interesting shops showcasing regional specialties. We of course tended to linger in the epicurean variety, picking over jars of honey in search of the bitter kind, tasting torrone and inquiring after saba. There was Bottarga (Sardinian caviar) in its many forms, all kinds of almond cookies, and wine shops offering tastes of Cannonau and Mirto (a liqueur made from the myrtle berries typical to the region). We had photographed and brought along pages from Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey, that detailed for which specialties we should be on the lookout.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

I only glanced inside some of the many shops selling woven rugs, as we certainly weren’t in the market for a rug–but I regret not bringing back more images. I took one photo: there was a small example hung from the wall of our hotel. In general, I found the color combinations and relief patterns to be really pleasing and striking.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Aron and I agreed that we we were in the mood to try some pizza and inquired in a bookstore as to the shop owner’s favorite spot. Hotel Acquarius’ outdoor courtyard was filled to the brim and people were stopping by to pick-up takeout. (Good signs!) Aron ordered an appetizer of Bottarga over cheese–the mullet roe came salted and pressed into long, flat, orange pieces as well as grated. He thought it had the flavor of a mild caviar, but the texture of salumi. I thought the pizza would be considered excellent by most standards, but I have to be honest: I’ve had better in New York! That opinion–which we shared–of course did not prevent us from polishing off the entire pie.

After dinner, we strolled and appreciated the warm night, stopping before long to eat again when we split a nutella crepe.  

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

The next morning was cloudy; it was the first day we woke to anything but sunshine but I would be lying if I said I didn’t whine even a little bit. Still, the weather was more than comfortable enough for a day at the beach, and the wind had dissipated, so we packed up everything except our beach gear and deposited our things with the hotel. They offered us seats for breakfast and we had some croissants and cappucinos before heading for the water.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

On our way out of town to find Campu Longu, we passed by a weekend market and decided we had to pull over. The very first stand was a cheese and sausage vendor–with some stacks of pane carasau and bottarga, too, of course. Aron spotted a sign with the words “Casa Marzu” followed by some small print that seemed to say something about its sale being impermissible.  We weren’t exactly sure what it said, but we recognized the name immediately.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Casa Marzu is the infamous Sardinian rotten cheese, perhaps colloquially known as “maggot cheese.” The sheep’s milk cheese is allowed to decompose with the aid of cheese flies who deposit larvae (maggots) in the cheese. They digest the cheese, breaking it down and making it very soft. Ewwwh! Our friend had told us about it before we left and Aron–the intrepid eater–figured he would have to try it if it crossed his path. The cheese has been outlawed, though we had been told that most cheese purveyors would probably have a wheel behind the counter. We hadn’t, however, actively sought out the cheese. But this sign seemed as much an advertisement as a notice of prohibited sale.

We pointed to the sign and asked the woman behind the counter if she sold the cheese. In true black market fashion, she gave a sideways head nod to her coworker and went to tell him–we assume–that there were two people asking about the Casa Marzu. He came over, pulled out a plastic bin, leaned back from it (to avoid the stench? or the exiting flies?), and lifted its lid. Out he pulled a wheel with a disintegrated center–just as we’d seen in pictures. He offered us the whole wheel, but Aron requested his smallest slice.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Not sure exactly what we were in for, we left with a double-wrapped, plastic takeaway container of something resembling cheese–staying just a while longer at the market to admire the cork plates for sale.

Finding Campu Longu beach required some sleuthing. We drove along the coast, by the harbour where we thought we’d find the sand, and found ourselves a bit lost within a campsite. Back out on the road, we were finding that most roads out to the sea were marked private. But then there was the one public road that lead to one small public lot and a tiny alley fringed with bougainvillea leading to the sea. What we found at its end was a beautiful, small bay overlooked by the very hotel we had first gone in search of!

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

We paid a small fee to rent two chairs from the hotel and headed straight to the water for some snorkeling. The water, as before, was cool at first, but felt lovely with a little time. There wasn’t too much to see–but a few schools of fish took interest in us, and we took our time looking around one large outcropping that sat in the shallow bay.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Back at our chairs, Aron pulled out the Casa Marzu and some bread. The smell of the cheese seemed to hit him first. I held up the camera to catch his reaction, which seemed to contain a mix of disbelief and laughter. There were, indeed, lots of tiny wriggling white maggots in the cheese. (Blech!) Apparently, if the larvae are alive, the cheese is good; but eating the larvae themselves poses some risks to your intestine.

Working carefully, with pursed lips, Aron pushed aside the little buggers and cobbled together, I’d guess, about a teaspoon. Down the hatch! He noted that he did a lot of chewing in case he’d missed any.

I loved the series of expressions that followed. His verdict: rotten cheese. Like, really rotten, stinky cheese. I tried about a tenth of what he had and I can confirm: not terrible, but still rotten and stinky, ammonia-tinged cheese. Where was that wine?

We felt a little bad throwing the rest away in the hotel’s trash, but there was no way this stuff was coming back to the car.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

After another hour or so, our all-too-short time at the lovely beach had to come to an end. We wanted to be sure we would have some time to explore the capital-city of Cagliari. After swinging back by the hotel to pick up our bags, we drove back out to the coast and followed its turns. Aron and I both agreed that the Villasimius area would be a perfect getaway from mainland Europe. From Cagliari’s airport, it’s just a short drive to the resort area. One could rent a home overlooking the turquoise waters, ancient Nuraghe in the distance, and spend the days moving from one beautiful beach to the next. The one we’d chosen for our second day was so shallow and calm, it would be a perfect spot for families with young children. And it would be nice, in all cases of these beachside destinations, to have more time to explore the museums and for appreciating the cultural opportunities and land-based natural sights the region held.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

The costal drive back to Cagliari was also lovely, though we did wish the sun were shining. Once we passed through the less-than-picturesque industrial areas on the outskirts of Cagliari–about an hour later–and arrived in the center of town, we both expressed excitement over being back in an Italian city (we really do love cities). Unfortunately, we soon learned that we had been silly not to book a room when we had the chance. Aron pulled up to hotel after hotel, and I would run up to ask after a room. At each place I learned it was booked solid.

We pulled up to the tourist office and (still to my surprise) we learned that indeed the town’s rooms were all full! I explained that we had an early flight and didn’t want to stay far–perhaps we could stay near the airport and drive back into town for dinner? She pulled out the “Guida Bed & Breakfast” and dialed Deiana Antonio in the village of Elmas. For 50 euro he would be happy to host us. Phew!

We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, and though Elmas seemed nice (without nothing t0 belie
its airport proximity), we were a little hesitant when we pulled up to a culdesac of high-rise apartment buildings. Antonio, with his pipe, calmly strolled over and pointed us to his gate, which led to a small house behind the towers. He was friendly and apologized that he would not be up early enough to make us breakfast. He showed us our room, an ornate bedroom with two of the tiniest single beds I’ve ever seen, and then he smiled at Aron (all 6-feet-7-inches of him) and shrugged. We chatted for a little while, rinsed off in the shower, and then dashed back to town.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
 

We found parking, once again, on a sidewalk by the port. We inquired about fees at a newspaper stand (where tickets are sold), but were told that the sidewalk is unofficial–and therefore free–parking. We walked away, crossing our fingers that we would still find our car there when we returned.

It occurred to us that dinner reservations might be tough in light of whatever was going on in town, so we made sure to swing by some of top picks and inquire along our tour of the city.

The first two were booked, but multiple sources had recommended Antica Hostaria–so we made reservations there for 8:30 and then climbed up to the Castello neighborhood to wander through its narrow,  medieval lanes.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Cagliari emerged as a city around the 6th century BC, so it has a nice mix of the old and the new (though most of its notable old sites date more to the 16th-18th centuries), but it is most of all a bustling port. From its old citadel, you can look out at the working shipyards as well as over the red-roofed buildings that enclose piazzas and churches and cosmopolitan shopping streets.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
After a few hours atop the citadel, we made our way back down to the main square, Piazza Yenne–which begins the Carlo Felice highway–and sampled the reputed-favorite gelato spot, L’Isola Del Gelato.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
The streets were crowded, even as shops were just reopening from the afternoon siesta. I admired some shoes, but we still spent most of our time exploring local delicacies. A favorite spot was Bottega Sarda on Via Baylle. They offered us samples of everything that interested us, and we were drawn to their beautiful packaging. I brought back some delicious lemon-peel/almond confections to share with colleagues, and we picked out some additional bottles of wine to carry home. I had already chosen a bar of Torrone for myself, but the boxes here were so pretty that it was hard to resist another. 

 

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
As it turns out, it was a good thing I remained strong, because shortly thereafter we happened upon the dolci shop, Durke–on via Napoli. There, the shopkeeper showed us the ovens that she, her sister, and her mother still use to make the Amarettes, Mustazzoleddus, Pardulas, and Zilicas that were sitting around her on a large table. We sampled a few and chose others to bring back. I was worried that my appetite for dinner was diminishing.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

After an unsuccessful flight-check-in attempt in a small internet cafe, we settled on a spot for one drink, then settled on a second for a balancing espresso, and then watched the crowds amble about from open-air readings to dance performances before heading back to the restaurant.
travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

Antica Hostaria was a bit more formal than we required for the night (to be honest, we’ve decided that we tend to prefer Trattorias over ristorantes in Italy–something to keep in mind for next time), but it offered up an impressive scene of fresh fishes and a cozy room. I tried two of the specials, both featuring mushrooms (which were in season, and on display when we walked in).

After all of our pre-dinner treats, we kept the meal light–but we couldn’t pass up another order of Sebadas. The ones we had at Su Barchile were far superior, but it’s hard to go too wrong with honey, pastry dough, and cheese.  

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)
Thankful that our car was waiting for us (that’s it–third from the right–dangling off the sidewalk), but so sorry to be leaving so soon, we drove back to Elmas and packed up our wine- and honey-laden bags.
One last stop at a pastry shop en route to the airport the next morning (where I actually found perhaps my second-favorite dolci after the Sebadas: a simple slice of orange, sweetened atop a thin layer of custard in a pastry shell) and a short wait at the airport, and we were back in Munich.

travel  Travelogue: Sardinia, Italy (September 2010)

By the way, in Munich we realized that we had returned to the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. (Poor timing on our part; maybe we should have considered staying put?)

Fortunately, Sardinia was worth missing it: We had such a wonderful time and the crystal-clear waters lived up to and in places surpassed our expectations. I think both of us will forever look to that day that we rented a boat as the highlight; it will become the emblem of our trip. And I think in our typical fashion, we may have tried to see a bit too much and should have considered staying put once we’d found that coast of our dreams. But it’s terribly hard to find yourself in Italy and choose to visit only one beachside town. We would have wondered what else we were missing. It’s the kind of choice we will no doubt continue to struggle with on all of our trips, but it’s a struggle I’m happy to endure.

One final note: we absolutely loved our flight home. We got lucky and found ourselves on a Lufthansa Airbus 340-600. The configuration was 2:4:2, so we had two seats all to ourselves. Each seat had on-demand video (so we watched quality movies we’d been meaning to see–like Please Give and Young Victoria), the international flight meant they served us complimentary wine and spirits, and best of all–the bathrooms were downstairs. That’s right: you go downstairs, and there are six or so stalls in a little room with a water fountain! Nobody lining up in the aisles! It’s the little things…
[Travel dates: 9/14-9/19/2010; Map at top from here]
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Let’s Discuss

  1. Wowie! The trip sounds amazing, and it seems as though the two of you have created quite a charming life together. I am hoping when my kiddos are a little bigger, I can take them along on more vacations like this.

    The German quip is funny – I guess a lot of Germans have second homes in Italy. When I was in the Italian Alps region, I was asked the same question (people started talking to me in German, I had no idea what was going on!).

    Thanks for the beautiful, informative post. A nice reference for fellow travelers, and a terrific diary of your adventures.

  2. Thank you all so much! (And thank you, Lucie! I bought the hat there.)

    I think Aron's height adds to the suspicion that we're German (he is often mistaken for a native when we travel there). That or his wearing socks with his sandals. (Just kidding!)

  3. i've been to Italy & Sicily three times but had never thought of going to Sardinia. Your pictures and descriptions are making my heart ache for a trip to Sardinia. That water!!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful trip with us! I'm going to rent an apt. in Rome this summer, it will be my base while in Italy. Thanks to you, I'm also going to check out Sardinia! Breathtaking!

  5. You know, you're right about the reading part but I could stare at your photos all day long! Gorgeous, gorgeous shots and so fun to look at! You've made me unbelievably excited for some upcoming travels I have in central america.

  6. I LOVED reading this! We were in Sardinia in July and stayed in Villasimius and rented a scooter and rode to Costa Rei. It was an incredible island and your travel guide is now making me want to return! and this time maybe with a car to explore a bit more. :) And we noticed that there are definitely many more German travelers there than American or english speaking, which worked out fine for us as my man is german. funny though, but I thought it was a nice change from everyone automatically speaking english.
    thanks for sharing, I adore your travelogues!

  7. dooks

    .. absolutely fantastic! I've been scouring the blogs for some insight into Sardegna and you've just made my night. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hi there
    We are going to Sardinia (from Scotland) in a couple of weeks' time. Just came across your blog and have found the information really impressive.
    We are going to stay with an ex-student of mine at Cala Gonone (pretty lucky, huh?)….she also happens to be a chef! Heaven.
    So thanks for the info. It'll be so useful.
    All the best
    Heather and Jonathan (Edinburgh)

  9. My friend sent me a link to this page of your blog months back and it immediately sold me on going to Sardegna. I just came back from a week there and I wanted to thank you for everything you wrote about Cala Gonone. We had such an incredible time there and thanks to you we also rented a boat, which made it our favourite day of the trip as well! If you guys make it back one day, I strongly recommend seeing La Maddalena in the north coast too.

    I'll be doing a small writeup of my trip too at venividigiosy.blogspot.com, though your pictures are hard to beat! Many thanks again:)

  10. Denise Robinson

    We are going to Cala Ganone this summer and want to rent dinghies. Do you happen to have contact info for Marco?

  11. Sardinia is wonderful and your blog is really interesting. Wonderful photos and an interesting description of your trip will attract all the tourists in this wonderful island that offers spectacular seas, views and a lot of services like hotels.

  12. I enjoyed this travelogue – we LOVE Sardinia, and have spent altogether about 2 months of our lives there on different holidays.
    Just one quick note: the beach is MARIOLU (not Marilou). ;)

    All the best,

  13. Cillygirl

    Very inspiring and well-written read before my hubby and I hopefully get to go for a Sardinia trip this September too – thanks!

  14. Hello!
    Myself and my boyfriend (also a Marco!) have just returned from a week in Sardinia – we went early Sept too.
    I think we staying in the same room as you both did, what a wonderful room, we absolutely loved the 5 days that we stayed in Cala Gonone and it’s amazing beaches and was thinking of renting our own boat, but very regrettably decided not to. – I want to go back to rent a boat! The beaches are indeed beautiful, and breathtaking colours!
    I have become emotional reading your post, I miss Sardinia!
    Samantha

  15. Carolyn

    I just wanted to Thank You for this post! My husband and I just booked flights down to Cagliari (from Germany). A bit last minute as we will head down in a couple of weeks leaving me little time to plan this. This has been a huge help especially since this is very similar to the way we travel. I am busy trying to locate a little place on the beach now. Thanks again!

    • Ashley

      So glad to hear, Carolyn! Hope you have a great trip and I’m sure you’ll find somewhere lovely to stay. After your trip, maybe share where you end up staying? All best!

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