Why I toured Sardinia on a rickshaw
I have always loved road trips. When I was a child, my parents would pack the car and off we’d go to explore a new place. I was fascinated by the views that opened in front of me, the sights that unfolded and the change of scenery. I loved the whole singing in the car thing, I didn’t mind getting lost and having to ask a (usually funny and welcoming) local for directions.
Even more than that, I love Sardinia, the region where I was born and raised and which I still call home. From the cities to the smaller villages, from the beautiful beaches to the mountains, from the unique archeological sites to the festivals, not to mention the food and the wines, I will never get tired to say that Sardinia offers endless possibilities for exploration and entertainment.
It seemed quite obvious that, eventually, I’d have to go on a road trip around Sardinia. What was not so obvious, on the other hand, is that I actually toured Sardinia on a rickshaw. I rented a rickshaw in Milan, drove to Genova (a whopping 200 km which took me the best of 7 hours to cover), boarded a ferry along with a bunch of cars and under the puzzled looks of other passengers, and landed in Olbia, in the north east coast of Sardinia. From Olbia to Cagliari, I drove around to discover – and in some cases re-discover – my beautiful island.
It was an exhilarating experience, in some cases tiring but always a lot of fun. Sure enough, I made lots of heads turns and laugh. Indeed, although rickshaws may be a common thing to see in developing countries, they are not common at all in Europe, and they are mostly unseen outside of major tourist cities, where they are occasionally used as taxis.
Discovering a lesser known Sardinia
The beauty of using a rickshaw as a mode of transportation is that it forced me to travel slow, to truly savor the views. I had to mostly pick secondary roads, as the rickshaw does not go faster than 65 km per hour. On a few occasions, there was a line behind me – and drivers would have been angry had they not been too amused by the fact that the line was caused by a rickshaw driven by a woman. They’d pass me, phone in hand, and take a quick shot of me then waved away.
Most of the time, I drove through places that were completely off the beaten path. I came across archeological sites I didn’t know existed, such as the Nuraghe Nuraddeo near the village of Suni (which by the way I had never even heard of). Or I went through areas of Sardinia that would have seemed more in place in Africa – I stopped to take pictures, thinking that at any moment a lion would walk in front of me. These places were so isolated that I had the sites and the road all to myself – the only thing that broke the silence was the wind.
The gorgeous villages and small cities of Sardinia
Driving along secondary roads, I reached some of the most beautiful and best known villages of Sardinia. Some of them I had visited before, others I discovered for the first time. Castelsardo was just as beautiful as I had imagined, and perhaps even more. I explored the walled city, its tiny cobbled alleys where life went along at a slow pace and the locals smiled at me. I also got to some incredible view points.
Further south, on the way to Oristano, I stopped in Bosa. I had been there before, and was eager to go back. This is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, yet lesser visited than other ones in Sardinia. From the Malaspina Castle, the view of the Temo river slowly making its way towards the sea and among the colored homes was simply stunning.
All the scents of the Mediterranean
As the rickshaw is completely open, I could really smell the air. It wasn’t too pleasant in the few cities I drove through (especially if it was rush hour), but it was lovely when I managed to get out. I could notice how a different smell accompanied a different view: the coastal roads smelled like the Mediterranean, with juniper, myrtle and pine trees being the predominant scents. Areas that had a high concentration of farms smelled like fertilizers (and a bit gross to be honest).
The friendly locals
My rickshaw got me a lot of friendly smiles. Whenever I drove through a village, people pointed at me, laughed and waved. Each time I stopped at a gas station, customers and workers alike would come close to ask me a bunch of questions: why was I traveling on a rickshaw? How fast could it go? Was it fun? How much did it cost?
Once I even met another rickshaw, in Costa Smeralda. I had almost lost hope in finding a parking spot in the crowded (and expensive) Capriccioli beach, and was about to leave, when I bumped into another rickshaw, practically identical to mine. The driver stopped the minute he saw me, I told him that I could not find a place to park, and he motioned me to follow him. It turned out he worked at a local resort, driving guest to and from the beach, and he let me park my rickshaw (for free) at the private beach La Celvia. Sure enough, this wouldn’t have happened had I been driving a car!
Tips for traveling around on a rickshaw
Doing a road trip on a rickshaw is a lot of fun, but it can also be tiring and quite challenging. I advise to do it during the summer, as that’s when the weather is most reliable. I was lucky enough to never get any rain, but I know that some people who did it were note as fortunate and got soaked a few times.
Furthermore, the conditions of the road may be variable and not always ideal to drive around. Sardinian secondary roads are not very well kept, and due to the nature of the island (hills, mountains and coastal roads) driving at times was difficult.
Knowing what to expect and being prepared for the worst is a good way to go, just in case.
Here’s a few tips for anybody who wishes to embark on this great experience.
- Wear layers: even in the summer time, mornings and late afternoons can be chilly. The rickshaw is completely open and it gets a lot of wind, especially on the backseat, and having a good wind and rain proof jacket is a good idea to protect against the chill.
- Wear shoes: especially if planning to drive, wearing proper closed shoes is necessary. The break is on the right hand side, and it is maneuvered with the feet. It is important to have shoes with a good grip, just not to slip on it.
- Wear driving gloves: it may sound cheesy, but a decent pair of driving (or even biking) gloves helps holding the handlebar and avoids getting blisters on the hands.
- Wear sunblock and a hat or scarf around the head: if planning to take the sunroof down, make sure to wear a scarf around the neck and head and a lot of sunblock on the face. Seemingly not too strong, the sun is actually unforgiving. The last thing anybody would want is getting sunburnt while driving.
- Carry a bike lock: there is no booth in rickshaws, but bags can be placed on the back. The villages one drives across are so small that hardly anybody would dare steal anything, but a good lock to chain the bags to the rickshaw are a good deterrent, just in case.
- Carry wireless speakers: there is no sound system on the rickshaw, but music is a good company on long drives.
- Try not to drive at night: the rickshaw is fully equipped with lights, but even so visibility isn’t the best at night. Plan to leave early in the morning and to be at the final destination well before the sun sets.
- Never put more than €5,00 of petrol: the tank isn’t big at all. It is better to fill up regularly than have the tank overflow and waste petrol (and money).
Finally, and most importantly, always wear the best of smiles: rickshaws in Europe attract a lot of attention. People are curious and welcoming and a smile will surely go a long way.
Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with Generali and The Gira as part of the #viviamopositivo campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.