Sardinia is one of the most captivating places in Europe. The Italian island is home to 4m sheep – used to produce delicious pecorino cheese – pristine beaches, cactus-spiked mountain ranges and millennia-worth of ancient mystique. And that’s not to mention the fantastic food, epic coastal drives and romantic towns and cities with winding cobbled streets. From Cagliari to Caprera, here’s the best the island has to offer.
As you fly in to land at Olbia, you’ll catch a glimpse of the bite mark of blinding-white beaches, bobbing superyachts and luminous sea that make the northeast corner of Sardinia the de facto millionaires’ playground. And you might think that’s as close as you can get, but don’t be put off by the celeb-y status. Here, the majority of the beaches are open to the public, which is the case all across Sardinia.
This dramatic rocky peninsula, sprouting out to sea from the northernmost tip of Sardinia, is all about the views – and the blustery sea breeze. You’ll follow walking trails around to clifftop lookout points, weather-carved granite boulders that look like sinuous Henry Moore sculptures and a stout lighthouse overlooking the glassy blue sea towards Corsica. There are beaches, too, albeit only about big enough for a picnic blanket. However, if you get there ahead of the crowds, you could have one to yourself.
While there are many beautiful beaches in Sardinia, the best ones are in the Golfo di Orosei along the east coast, and Cala Sisine is a favourite. The only trouble is that it’s only reachable by boat – either from Cala Gonone to the north or Santa Maria Navarrese to the south. However you get there, you’ll find water of the clearest quality, sand that runs through your fingers like liquid gold and a little shaded cafe serving frosted beers.
If you’re claiming to be one of the most beautiful cities in Sardinia, you’d better have the cobbles to back it up, and Alghero has them in spades. Of the island’s three most visited cities (in addition to Olbia and Cagliari), it has the romance factor, with its Medieval old town densely lined with boutique shops and gelaterias. Take a stroll along its high-walled seafront promenade, where the setting sun paints a swathe of gold light over loved-up couples sipping Campari cocktails at hole-in-the-wall bars.
Rising out of the gleaming blue waters like a limestone citadel, Sardinia’s capital has all the Italian holiday bases covered in a single package. It’s home to excellent food markets – the fish market is a must-see for the sheer volume and variety of glistening marine creatures – the best restaurants on the island and more Aperol spritz-serving bars than you can shake a breadstick at. You’ll also see tree-shaded piazzas and locals buzzing along narrow cobbled lanes on beaten-up Vespas. There are also gob-smackingly good beaches a short drive away in either direction.
Su Nuraxi di Barumini
The unique Bronze Age structures known as nuraghi are dotted all over Sardinia, but of all the sites, it’s here – in the heart of the island – that holds the largest, best-preserved example. No one knows exactly what they were built for, which adds to the slightly eerie sense of mystique you’ll feel as you explore the labyrinth-like layout of alleyways and chambers. Interest piqued? Read more about the history and mystery at Casa Zapata Museum nearby.
Grotta del Bue Marino
When it comes to natural drama, there’s nowhere on the island that delivers like the Golfo di Orosei. And this marine cave – reached by boat from Cala Gonone – is the headline act. Once you’re through the imposing cave entrance, you’ll find stalactites, stalagmites, ancient etchings and finally, a sandy beach fringing a subterranean lake, fed by freshwater streams where the monk seals – which the grotto is named after – used to come to breed.
Part of the Maddalena archipelago, Caprera is the most secluded part of Sardinia – an island off an island, off an island. It takes a ferry from Palau and a drive across a strait to reach, but it’s worth the hassle. The whole island has national park status, which means unspoilt coastlines, sparse populations and the preservation of the local way of life. It also means empty beaches – a lot of them – dotted all around this magical island.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the best hotels in Sardinia for every traveller, or treat yourself to one of the best luxury hotels on the island. Inspire your itinerary with the most beautiful towns in Sardinia. For a true taste of the island, book a table at one of the best restaurants and trattorias in Cagliari.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Luca Pinelli.
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