I had no plans to end up in Sardinia on holiday, but my housemate Justine suggested we go somewhere (warmer than London) and the flights were super cheap - we paid just £68 each for return flights and 6 days car hire!
We flew into Cagliari just before lunch and after some complications with credit cards that could have been disastrous, we picked up our Dacia Duster, which was nice but a lot bigger a car than I anticipated. Even driving it out of the car space was an ordeal, especially considering it was my first time driving a manual on the right side of the road. We even had to Google how to put the thing in reverse. Navigation also didn't get off to a good start, with the car GPS directing us to a dirt road that ended in a pedestrian bridge. My first observation about Sardinia was that all the speed limits are ridiculously low, but that's OK because everyone drives at least double the limit. I fit right in.
Our first stop was the ancient Roman ruins of Nora on the south coast, which was by guided tour. Confirmed that the Romans knew how to do houses, because why the hell do we not still have open roofed atriums in the centre of the house in which rain falls into a pool!? The ruins and view from the tower on the peninsula were nice, but honestly the best part was being able to walk around in the sun in a singlet in November.
Then it was onto our cute little Airbnb (Casa Di Rosa) in Chia, a tiny coastal town with some of the island’s best beaches. At this point it became clear exactly how useful Justine's fluent Italian would be, as our host didn't speak a word of English. I'm sure we would have gotten by, but it was nice to get things like local restaurant recommendations. We drove along the coast a little and went for sunset at a tiny unnamed beach we saw from the road.
Here I’ll say that our trip was dramatically different to one that you would get if you came to Sardinia in peak season. Tourism is such a huge industry here that most businesses outside Cagliari make their living in 2-3 months over summer and then close for the rest of the year. People come here for summer and not much else. While we never had a problem with finding places to eat and stay, our choices were sometimes very limited and the lack of people meant that places weren’t as alive and vibrant as they could have been. While I really enjoyed our trip, I would definitely recommend coming in the summer.
Our sole option for dinner in Chia was Mirage, just down the road from the accommodation. As our first official Italian meal, we went all out with a tasting plate (or nine) for entree (mostly seafood) and then I went straight in with the spaghetti alle vongole (clams) which was SENSATIONAL! Our course of local desserts was also accompanied by trying to figure out if the guy on the next able over was wearing a bathrobe (turns out it was just a terrible jumper).
Day two was official beach day. We started the morning at Cala Cipolla, a cute little beach in a cove. I could have stayed there and slept in the sun all day. In the crystal clear water we were constantly followed by some little fish … we couldn’t figure out why they had no fear - they just kept swimming around our legs. Justine’s more adventurous spirit led us to bush bashing around the headland to the next beach over, the larger Su Giudeu, which was a bit too windy that day to relax on. We did get an ice cream though.
The afternoon was spent trying to explore Pixinamanna forest, but we kept getting met with locked gates on all the tracks we found on the map. We ended up taking a main track that climbed up a small mountain to get some views before heading back before dark. I think it was the low season hitting again - the river was bone dry after all. As we were near Pula, we stayed there for dinner, where we (unsurprisingly) ordered too much food. I tried horse steak for the first time (I don’t think I would have been able to tell the difference between beef) and discovered the sheer delight that is mozzarella and tomato.
(Morning rainbow in Bosa)
(Night in Bosa)
Stop one the next day was meant to be the dunes at Porto Pino, further along the coast to the west, but after driving along a spit to a dead end, and then being faced with a long walk to what we could see were some average looking dunes, we decided to bail. We hit the road and didn't stop until we hit the city of Oristano for a lunch break. We had no plans to go here originally, but it was a logical stopping point. The sun was back out, making the break in this beautiful little city a surprising plus on the trip. When ordering pizza I made the mistake that I'm sure nearly every tourist makes … thinking that pepperoni is a sliced meat, when actually it's the Italian word for capsicum. It was meant to be however, because my vegetarian pizza was one of the best pizzas I have eaten in my life. By this stage Justine was about to murder to get her hands on gelato and I thought she might break down when the place we spotted earlier had already closed. Luckily for all involved, we drove past a different place on the way out of the city.
Another unexpected stop was the small town of Cuglieri, which loomed ahead of the road, perched on top of a mountain. Although it was (like the rest of Sardinia at that time of year) pretty dead, the tiny, winding, cobblestone streets were enchanting, and the views from the church at the pinnacle were fantastic.
Our final destination was Bosa, which boasted stunning views of a colourful, hillside city overlooking the water. We were a little alarmed when we drove into Bosa Marina and saw nothing of the sort (I thought maybe we had gotten confused and looked up Bosa, Croatia) but around another bend the city came into view. We stayed in Torre di Alice, a cute little B&B right in the heart of things. The first room we got shown had nothing dividing the bed and the bathroom/toilet except a glass wall, which we explained to our host was not the most appropriate for us. With dusk upon us, we got out to explore and take photos in the beautiful light, climbing above the city for the views. We also found an olive tree and were curious about how raw olives tasted … absolutely fucking disgusting. I am scarred.
I will always remember Bosa as the place where I discovered that Martini was a brand of Vermouth and not just a cocktail, and also where I learned that Vermouth was a thing. A very delicious thing. We had Martini Bianco at a streetside café and then Martini Rosso with our dinner, a rabbit pasta, which has easily made onto my list of favourite meals in my lifetime, along with Duck and Waffle's foie gras crème brulee and the lobster bisque in Iceland. Bosa is also the place where I introduced Justine to No Doz (caffeine pills), which are lifesavers when you’re a perpetually sleepy nana, but you need to stay up past 8pm to go out for drinks.
The morning brought rain and so after another short wander, we decided to kick it over to the east coast where the weather promised to be not as shithouse. Almost killed us both by driving into an oncoming car while marvelling at a bridge. Just outside San Teodoro we stayed at B&B La Minditta, with a nice view and very close to the reason we came, La Cinta beach. While the beach was in fact beautiful, we only got a few minutes of weak sunshine before the clouds and wind rolled in. By chance we discovered a smaller beach just a bit further north at Porto Taverna, just as lovely and much more sheltered. The most impressive thing for me about this area was Isola Tavolara just off the coast, a massive peak jutting out of the water and visible for miles. Spiaggia di Porta Taverna had perfect views of the island, as well as a small boat which I saturated pants jumping in and out of.
The larger town of Olbia further north was quite lovely, but like most places we visited, completely deserted. Not so the case when we stopped by the indoor shopping mall to pick up snacks and more Martini, leading us to believe the entire population of Sardinia was in fact hanging out at Auchan Olbia. Dinner was just too hard, so we stayed in and ate bread and cheese.
Being on the east coast, we forced ourselves to wake for sunrise, heading back to Porto Taverna. It wasn't pointing in the ideal direction, so after finding another beach on the map, we headed there. Unfortunately it was some kind of private beach and a 20-minute walk from the road, so after jumping some fences and sneaking past some houses, we made it just in time.
When the weather continued to be temperamental, we wasted no time getting on the road and heading back down south to Cagliari, where at least if it was raining, we could enjoy the city. Our B&B, Biddanoa, was right in the centre of things and on the most picturesque, tiny little street. Spoiler alert, parking is a bitch to find and the roads shrink to footpath size with little to no warning. All we really did in Cagliari for a day and a half was walk around and eat a lot. As the island’s capital city, it at least had people around and a bit of life. It reminded me quite a lot of a smaller Lisbon, in terms of layout, architecture and colour. Among other things I had horse steak pizza, porceddu (suckling pig), a lot of Sardinian baked goods.
On our last day I was basically a walking zombie, but we still managed to hike up Sella del Diavolo, the promontory on the city edge, for the views. I even learnt a bit of Italian from Justine on the way.
The journey home was not so great, after being stuck in the line for immigration at Stansted for an hour and a half, missing the last express train (which we pre-booked) and slumming it all the way home on buses, finally getting back at 2:30am, thoroughly exhausted.