The island of wonders: finding things to do in Sardinia
“You should really visit Sardinia,” I said to my friend Diana a few weeks ago. She was on her way to Madrid, from where she’d start traveling across Europe for roughly two months. I thought this would be her chance to finally get to the island of wonders.
“But it is winter, still. There won’t be many things to do in Sardinia now, right?” she argued.
“What?! There’s so many things to do in Sardinia, in any season!” I pointed out, frustrated to have to explain one more time that really, there are plenty of reasons to visit Sardinia outside of its amazing beaches and that yes, Sardinia has a lot to offer regardless of the weather. There I was, once again trying to debunk some of the hardest to die myths around Sardinia tourism. After all, what do I expect when most of the world doesn’t even know where Sardinia is?
Read more about Sardinia on my post “Where is Sardinia, anyways?”
Finding things to do in Sardinia – other than going to the beach
For a bunch of reasons that are too long to explain on this post, there is a common misconception about Sardinia, according to which the best things to do in Sardinia all involve a beach. Public authorities and local businesses alike have done little to change this belief, and continue investing most of their funds in summer tourism. It really is a pity though, because there is way more to Sardinia than just beaches – which, granted, are as gorgeous as it gets.
Read more on some of the best beaches in Sardinia on my post “How I got to one of the best beaches in Sardinia (and almost killed myself there).”
I have lived in Sardinia most of my life, this is what I call home and where I feel I belong and I won’t ever get tired to say that Sardinia is a great place to visit any time of the year. So there I was, yet again having to do my best to demonstrate that really, one should not limit herself to visit Sardinia only in the summer months. The thing is, I know for a fact that with a little extra effort, with even small funds invested in some good marketing campaigns and using the already existing resources in a more effective way and with a bit more vision, Sardinia tourism would thrive in any season.
Already last September I went on a mission to show another side of Sardinia, attending Autunno in Barbagia in the village Oliena. Autunno in Barbagia is a festival that spans over the course of three months across 29 villages, and which celebrates Sardinian traditions, culture and food. Back then, I insisted that there are way more things to do in Sardinia than one could ever imagine, and was glad to see that finally more effort was done to promote Sardinia tourism in the low and shoulder seasons.
Read more about things to do in Sardinia in the shoulder season on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”
Sardinia has all that it takes to keep its visitors entertained, whatever their interests may be. This island never stops amazing me: every time I think I got Sardinia figured out, it surprises me again with another of its many hidden treasures. Yes: there are way more things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach and there are many more places to visit in Sardinia than just beaches.
In my crusade to show Diana that it is really worth to visit Sardinia throughout the year, I told her how, every time I think I have done most of the things to do in Sardinia, I realize that there is an event I have yet to attend, one that makes traveling to Sardinia worth it and a keepsake of how varied this island is. From Sartiglia – a spectacular equestrian event that takes place on the last Sunday and the last Tuesday of Carnival – in February, to Sant’Efisio – a huge parade in traditional costumes from all over the island – in May; from Berchidda jazz festival in August to the many wine and food festivals that take place all over Sardinia throughout the year (a reminder of the fantastic wines produced in the island and of its culinary traditions); from archeological sites to biking, hiking and climbing trails, I explained to my friend that there is always a good reason to visit Sardinia.
Read more about the many perks of Sardinia tourism on my post “Sardinia dos and donts.”
Knowing Diana is passionate about discovering new cultures and interested in nature and history, I told her that many of those who visit Sardinia find it a great destination to enjoy nature and archeology. I explained to her that population density is so low here that there are vast portions of the island still completely uninhabited, where nature rules and the only signs of life in sights are just a few shepherds whose multitude of sheep and goats herd freely.
Hiking and photography as a proof that Sardinia tourism can thrive all year long
As I told Diana, there’s no doubt that one of the best things to do in Sardinia is hiking. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a place and I regularly go hiking – hardly ever to the same place. A few days ago, my conversation with Diana almost forgotten, I joined a hiking expedition that took me all the way from Masua Pan di Zucchero, a beach on the wild South West coast of Sardinia, to Cala Domestica, another lovely beach tucked away in what almost looks like a fjord. For the duration of the hike, which was 11 exhausting and very technical km long, we walked along the coast.
This wasn’t a leisurely walk at the beach – and after all, this isn’t yet the season to spend the day frying under the sun or swimming in the sea. This was a strenuous trek, with lots of steep uphills and downhills through a difficult terrain, over high cliffs, through the thick bushes of Mediterranean vegetation whose aroma was sweet and intense – something that those who visit Sardinia often find fascinating.
But I was well compensated for my efforts with some of the most incredible views I could have wished for. At every turn, the blue waters of the Mediterranean laid in front of me, stacks scattered along the coast, with Pan di Zucchero towering above the rest. And I couldn’t help stopping continuously along the way to capture them with my camera. It was just to underline yet again that one of the things to do in Sardinia is taking photos of its amazing landscapes, and to point out how photogenic Sardinia is.
Visit Sardinia to discover some unique archeological sites
“Let’s make one more effort and walk up to the tower,” suggested our guide just as we thought the hike was over, as we had finally reached Cala Domestica.
I was already savoring the idea of relaxing at the beach before making my way back to the village from where we had started walking, when the guide mentioned the presence of a Spanish tower that looked over the beach from the top of the hill.
“But I am exhausted,” I – as well as many others in the group – prayed.
“I promise you it is worth it. The view from up there is spectacular,” he insisted. I was intrigued: one of the best things to do in Sardinia is visiting its unique archeological sites – many of them tucked behind a gorgeous beach – and anybody who visit Sardinia would have to agree on that. So up we walked, one last effort.
What can I say, other than the guide surely wasn’t lying? The Spanish tower stood lonely up on a hill beaten by the strong winds – surrounded by rocks and short bushes of the only plants that manage to resist the sweeping winds. The view from up there was breathtaking. After all, enjoying the spectacular landscapes is one of the most fantastic things to do in Sardinia, and I should only know it too well.
The Spanish tower of Cala Domestica was built during the Spanish domination of Sardinia and used as a watch tower, to overlook and protect the small beach below which – together with many others along the south-western coast of Sardinia – was used as a harbor for the shipment of the minerals that were extracted in the area. It was also used during World War II as an observation point.
But Cala Domestica and its tower are only one of the many places to visit in Sardinia for anybody who enjoys nature, archeology and adventure. As I stared at the spectacular view from the Spanish tower, my mind started running…
“If only people knew Sardinia is that beautiful all year long,” I thought, my mind racing to my friend and wishing he could appreciate what I was seeing.
“If only people knew how many things to do in Sardinia there are…” I wished.
And, even more so, if only I could show to as many people as possible that Sardinia tourism is active year round. Because really, putting together a passion for nature, archeology and adventure is so easy here, with so many archeological sites hiding behind amazing beaches or tucked away in thick forests; so many trails that walk along a gorgeous coast line. Indeed, one of the best things to do in Sardinia is exploring the many unique sites that are scattered across the island, and that date back to various times in history – from the nuraghe dating back to the 17th century BC to the mines along the south west coast of Sardinia (actually not far from Cala Domestica and Masua Pan di Zucchero) and that today make up the Mining Park, so unique in its value that it is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And these archeological sites are only some of the places to visit in Sardinia that have yet to become famous.
“Are we ready to go?” soon enough, the guide interrupted my thoughts and it was finally time to get back to reality. But not before celebrating a fantastic day with a great meal, duly accompanied by some delicious Sardinian wine, just as we like doing here.
Yet more things to do in Sardinia – savoring the island
As we arrived to the restaurant, exhausted after the strenuous hike, starving and in need of a good drink, an array of appetizers was laid in front of us. Beautifully grilled vegetables, cold cuts and cheeses, olives, stuffed breads such as coccoi prena. And then the pasta came – a selection of malloreddus (Sardinian gnocchi) with a rich sausage and tomato sauce served with grated pecorino cheese; and culurgiones, a ravioli style pasta stuffed with potatoes, mint and cheese and served plainly boiled with grated pecorino cheese.
As if this was not enough, the feast went on and we were served the slowly roasted suckling pig – so delicious it melted in my mouth. And to conclude, we got a mix traditional Sardinian sweets. All of this was served with a great cannonau wine – one of the best known indigenous grapes. It was a feast for the eyes and even more so for our taste buds. No wonder people who visit Sardinia are always impressed with the food.
Most of the food in Sardinia is prepared using strictly seasonal local ingredients of the best quality. It’s not surprising then that everything here is just so delicious – so much so that Sardinia tourism is slowly placing more focus on eno-gastronomy. One of the best things to do in Sardinia is taking part in food and wine tours that travel across the island to awaken the taste buds of tourists, unveil the secrets of some of the best local recipes and with that give a lot of insights into Sardinian traditions and culture.
It’s always time to visit Sardinia
On the bus that took me home that night, phone at hand, I resumed the conversation with my friend Diana. I sent her some of the amazing pictures I took that day and she was truly impressed with what she was seeing.
“Are you still convinced that there are no things to do in Sardinia at this time of year?” I joked.
Needless to say, Diana has finally made up her mind and she will visit Sardinia soon. I promised her that I will take her around to some of the best places to visit in Sardinia. I suppose that, like her, more and more people are finally understanding that there are many things to do in Sardinia all year long – thanks to the work of some visionary and passionate people (no bragging, I promise!) who regularly take on the difficult task of spreading the word about the many reasons to visit Sardinia.
Filling the gaps of Sardinia tourism
Not only that. There actually are a few, yet very reliable people who work in the tourism industry who have noticed the existence of a gap in what Sardinia tourism has to offer and are working hard to fill in that gap and invest in alternative forms of tourism – involving traveling to off the beaten path places, biking, photography workshops and food and wine tours – to entertain visitors all year long.
There are many young travel professionals who aim to share the vibes of the island of wonders with anybody who loves nature and wildlife (Sardinia is a paradise for bird watchers!), adventure, archeology, culture, music, food and wine through itineraries that have been carefully crafted with the help of local experts. These people strive to inspire travelers to experience the other (many) sides of Sardinia that don’t necessarily involve Sardinian gorgeous beaches because these are already well-known. The idea is to show that there are way more things to do in Sardinia other than going to the beach.
While all tours look interesting to me, photography tours are particularly intriguing since, as of late, despite being a total amateur, I am enjoying experimenting with pictures, exposition and post-production. There would be nothing better than discovering some of the most beautiful villages in Sardinia, some of the places to visit in Sardinia that are off the beaten path, as well as some fantastic archeological sites and natural reserves, experiencing some of the best events on the island and are gorging on the delicious local food and wine. And to think that all of this would occur in the company of a professional travel and landscape photographer who would be available to provide tips on how to take good photographs and who would have some sessions on image analysis and post-processing!
Would you like to visit Sardinia? What are the things to do in Sardinia that you look forward to the most?