The Italian island of Sardinia is filled with natural wonder. Its turquoise Mediterranean water and miles of beaches are the main draws, but its mysterious ancient structures, hiking trails and colourful mountain towns are also worth discovering. From Neptune’s Grotto to Cala Brandinchi, here are the 12 most beautiful and surreal places in Sardinia, Italy.
Take the long seaside staircase escala del cabirol, or “goat steps,” down to this incredible natural wonder near Alghero. The grotto takes its name from Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. Inside you’ll find a large saltwater lake and both stalactites and stalagmites that create an otherworldly experience. If you don’t fancy climbing down (and up) the 656 steps, and if the water is calm, you can take a boat from the harbour in the Port of Alghero. Settle in for the night at this farm cottage a short drive from the grotto, in a peaceful corner of Alghero surrounded by farmland and vineyards. Perfect for couples, the one-bedroom cottage features a spacious terrace equipped with sunchairs and a hammock for an evening of relaxation.
This ghost town is a stone’s throw from the university town of Sassari on the western coast of the island. A former mining town dating back to Roman times, Argentiera is now part of a Unesco-protected collection of eight separate areas known as the Parco Geominerario. You can roam the abandoned mine buildings and explore the nearby beaches for an unusual day out. As for where to stay in Argentiera, you can wake up to a fantastic view over the coast at this two-bedroom house, as both rooms overlook the sea. Sleeping four guests, the house features one bathroom, a kitchen, a living room with a fireplace, and a barbecue for grilling outside.
While it is virtually impossible to name just one beach as the most beautiful beach in Sardinia, La Pelosa Beach in Stintino is without a doubt one of them. Calm turquoise waters and soft sugar-white sand are banked on one side, with lush Mediterranean vegetation and a view of the island of Asinara on the other. There is also a charming 17th-century tower thrown in the mix for good measure. If you fancy spending a night right on the beach, consider booking into Villa Lilium. This charming three-bedroom house accommodates five guests comfortably (six max) and is great for families with children and groups of friends.
In the isolated and rugged mountain region known as the Barbagia, there is a town that has always had a strong and independent voice. The buildings in the town of Orgosolo serve as a canvas to broadcast the thoughts and will of the inhabitants. The practice began in the 1960s and grew. Today, you will find political statements and depictions of daily village life expressed in large-scale murals. If you need somewhere to stay nearby, book a room at this cosy B&B. With one double bed and a private bathroom, it is a great choice for couples or solo travellers who value a comfy place to sleep, a friendly host and a hearty breakfast.
The mysterious and ancient structures that are known as Nuraghe are scattered all over Sardinia. The Su Nuraxi is part of the Barumini archaeological site and is considered by experts to be one of the finest examples of Bronze Age civilization villages. This site has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Adjacent to the site, there is also a museum and cultural centre that lends context. Families or groups of friends (up to six people) can rent out this glorious three-bedroom house a short drive away, fully equipped and complete with a sparkling, private swimming pool.
Located in a vast chasm on the Supramonte mountain, the Gola di Gorropu is often called Italy’s Grand Canyon. Almost 1,500ft (457m) down and a mile (just under 2km) wide, this place offers trails to hike and rivers to raft and swim in. If you believe in myths, keeps your eyes out for Sa Mama de Gorropu, Sardinia’s very own Bigfoot. A great base for hikes is this one-bedroom flat in the nearby commune of Urzulei. The flat is spacious and bright and features a kitchenette where couples or solo travellers can fuel up before or after a day of hiking.
At Capo Testa, up in north Sardinia, wind has sculpted granite boulders into soft shapes, and the water is deep and crystal clear. At the nearby Cala dei Corsari, the water is indeed so clear that you can spot submerged Roman-era columns. The end of the day, as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon, is particularly scenic here. And if you’ve ever wanted to spend the night in a romantic old tower by the sea, Capo Testa is the place to do it. With two bedrooms sleeping four guests, Sarazen Tower is bookable on Airbnb and offers an amazing 360-degree view from the roof.
This town, nestled in the Barbagia hills, is best known for its carnival costumes and masks worn by the mamuthones, who wear black leather and large bells, and issohadores, who wear hats called berrittas and distinctive red-and-black outfits. Also of note is a carved granite stone sculpture, the Menhir of Perda Pinta, which dates back to 3200 BCE. If you need a place to stay in Mamoiada, Perda Pinta B&B has double rooms that are great for lone adventurers and couples; it also offers convenient parking and features a striking standing stone in the front garden.
Located on a narrow strip of land, on the Strait of Bonifacio, Santa Teresa Gallura is an oasis of greens and blues, replete with vegetation, granite boulders and clear, cool seas. Find a beach with a view of the nearby French island of Corsica or visit the Giants’ Tomb, a megalithic archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. In the summer season, the town’s main piazza is abuzz with shops and restaurants. As for where to stay, you can’t go wrong with this bright and charming two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the town. The place can sleep six people and is a short walk to the village square (where you can watch shows every night) and less than a 10-minute walk from the Rena Bianca beach.
This town on the northwest coast of the island shows up on a lot of “prettiest towns in Italy” lists with good reason. With a castle, beautiful beaches and spa hotels, there is a lot to like about Castelsardo. Other highlights here include the rock formation known as the Roccia dell’Elefante and the interesting Museo dell’Intreccio Mediterraneo, which is dedicated to the island art of basket weaving. If you like to admire the ocean from a roof terrace, there’s a beautiful stone house right in the middle of Castelsardo that up to six guests can rent out. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the house is perfect for a family holiday.
For three days in midwinter, the sleepy town of Tempio in northern Sardinia transforms with lively and colourful festivities. Carnival in Tempio Pausania is celebrated with parades, elaborately decorated floats and masked performers on foot and horseback. You will likely spot Lu Linzolu Cupaltatu, a mysterious female figure who walks along the streets completely wrapped in a sheet, and Ghjolghju Puntogliu, the enormous masked figure who marks the end of the celebrations and the beginning of Lent. For a grand and unique stay in the town centre, book into this two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a recently renovated 18th-century building. Sleeping up to four people, the apartment features period furniture and lies in the immediate vicinity of Piazza Fabrizio de Andrè.
This beach is so beautiful that locals call it Little Tahiti. Bounded by a cool pine forest on one side and turquoise water on the other, the soft white sand completes the paradise effect. There are private beach clubs that rent out sun loungers and umbrellas – or better yet, you can rent this rustic villa with private access to the beach. The simple but well-equipped house sleeps up to eight guests and makes for a perfect holiday stay.