How I got to one of the best beaches in Sardinia (and almost killed myself there)
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; wild 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.
Find out more things to do in Sardinia off season on my post “The island of wonders.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ketp 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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?