My partner and I are hardened Greek Island holiday makers. What can I say, we love it; the food, beaches and people, plus we’re guaranteed sunshine. For me Greece is like the Caribbean of Europe.
This year we threw caution to the wind and booked flights to Olbia in Sardinia. We broke our cardinal rule, splitting time between two areas on the East for two different experiences. The first was up in the hills, far off the tourist drag, the second was where Italian holiday makers go to relax in August.
Sardinia is an Italian Island in the Mediterranean Sea and wedged between mainland Italy and Tunisia in the African continent. It has 2,000 km of coastline, sandy beaches and a mountainous interior dotted with hiking trails. If you’re looking for a different Italian break without the noise and stress of the mainland, Sardinia has some of the Med’s most idyllic beaches. But close to restaurants, bars and evening socialising or ‘passeggiata’.
When to go to Sardinia?
Actually, the question is when not to go! Avoid August like the plague as that’s when Italians lock their doors, pack their cars and head for the beach. Prices go up, hotels are full, beaches get mobbed and the peace and tranquility that the travel brochure sold you is no longer. Plus, it is excruciatingly hot. Just about any other time is fine, with May/June seeing the island at its best with clear skies, warm days and noise free.
Renting a car
You’re going to need to rent a car to get around. We were both so surprised when we took ‘scenic’ routes, just how stunning they were. I mean ‘pull over on a sharp bend to take a photo’ scenic! Just include a car in your travel budget and forget about it, although this does come with a warning.
We read countless reports about companies cheating people and charging them for damage that was already there, so we were prepared…sort of. Do NOT book through Auto Europe, Fire Fly or Thrifty (last two both owned by Hertz as low end option), even though booking with a local operator comes with less financial security, it would have saved lot’s of time and money. The more we read, the more apparent it became that other visitors had fallen into the same trap.
One more thing, car companies in Sardinia will try any means possible to sell you insurance, irrespective of whether you have your own or not. No matter what story they tell you, this is their goal. You’ve been warned! Also, you must take a visa card, a visa debit will not work. Take photos and video of ALL damage before you leave and make sure all damage (including scratches and paint chips) is marked on your copy of the contract and countersigned.
Eight day itinerary
I don’t claim to know everything about Sardinia, I can only tell you what we did. Apart from the car fiasco (start and end of the trip), we enjoyed every second of our time here. It is beautiful and if you’re looking to explore places that the British haven’t filled with greasy spoon cafes or 18-30’s clubs, where life still has time for tradition, Sardinia may be for you.
After flying into Olbia airport, we split our time between two places. The first three nights (four days) we stayed just outside of Tortoli and Barisardo in the hills at a hotel called Hotel Abba ‘E Murta. This is a stereotypical old Sardinian house which has been converted into a hotel. It is stunning with wooden beams zig-zagging the ceiling, infinity pool, vineyard where they produce their now wine, horse stables, and at EUR110.00 per room per night including breakfast, it really can’t be beaten.
I liked this hotel because it reminded me that I was in a different country constantly. There is oodles of character. Plus its peaceful and quiet so if you’re after wild nights and after-parties, this is not the place for you. It is so quiet that you can actually hear yourself unwinding. I cant recommend this place enough.
Naturally, there are a few towns nearby which are off the tourist trail such as Barisardo and Tortoli, plus a handful of beaches to choose from. Our focus was the beach and we ended up on the same one each day.
Spiaggia Planargia beach
Spiaggia Planargia beach is a 25 minute drive form the hotel through the small town of Barisardo. There is a supermarket in the town where you can pick up supplies. My advice is to head for the main beach carpark, you’ll know you’re there because they have sun loungers and a cafe, but don’t get out the car. Turn right (literally the only road) and drive for about 10 minutes until there is a tiny dirt road on your left, this takes you to a car park. I think it was called “Bau Beach Planargia – Spiaggia per cani” or ‘Beach for dogs’.
Once you’re on the beach, turn right again and walk until you find a nice spot. The days that we were there, it wasn’t busy and people were spread out, keeping to themselves and not much walking around. If you want to go nude for that all-over tan, this is the place to do it.
There are no sun loungers so buy a mat and parasol for the sun, also a pair of wetsuit shoes because it’s stoney getting in and out. There is no cafe so take your own lunch and water. This beach is beautiful with Caribbean-clear style water, plus it’s off the main drag so peaceful and quiet.
You should definitely eat at the hotel restaurant a few nights. It isn’t the cheapest but the quality is superior, plus the service and setting is excellent. Apart from that, we ate at a couple of places in Barisardo which were OK and averagely priced.
Part two of our Sardinia trip for four nights was the town of Cala Gonone. The road into town is an adventure in itself, with each hairpin bend bringing you ever closer to a sea. Once you arrive, you’re surrounded by a pine-shaded promenade and the low-key vibe of the small fishing village it once was. Monstrous limestone peaks frame views of the Golfo di Orosei, sheer cliffs rise from the Caribbean-clear sea, and hiking trails wind down to white-sand beaches. The town is quite charming, as is the view of the town from high up in the mountains; August aside, the beaches were mostly uncrowded and quiet in the evening.
We stayed at the Hotel Cala Luna which is right on the promenade. Decent sized rooms, balcony (you pay extra for this), rooftop bar with an awesome view, included breakfast and they organise boat trips. We were super happy with this hotel and at EUR120 per night, it did the trick although paying €6 per person for a shower on check out day is really taking the piss.
The thing to do is either go on an organised boat trip of the islands, or hire your own Zodiac. If you decide to rent your own boat, its easy to drive and anchor, plus it comes with a sunshade, cool bag with ice packs and umbrella for the beach. When you go down to the harbour, there are a number of different booths to agree the service and price although, it does appear to get more expensive depending on the month.
We booked it the day before (box 14 down at the harbour), and picked it up at 0830 the following day. The boat man explained everything we needed, before taking us out of the harbour on our own boat and leaving us. We had the boat until 1730 and petrol is on top of the cost of hiring. This is the only way to visit most of the beaches around the area and really shouldn’t be missed. We paid €120 for the boat and €30 for the fuel.
Top tip: one restaurant we highly recommend is Due’Pi. Great food, amazing service and lovely setting. Also, they have cats which I’m always a sucker for, even if they do shew them away.
Spiaggia di Marina di Orosei
We drove to Spiaggia di Marina di Orosei each day which is about a 40 minute drive from Cala Gonone. The drive is beautiful, along narrow and winding roads, past a rock quarry and small town where you can pick up supplies. I highly recommend taking the mountain pass on the way back into Cala Gonone, the roads are tiny but views most certainly make up for it.
Once you hit the beach, you have two choices. Park up and stay nearby to the cafe for drinks and snacks, or turn right and drive all the way to the end towards Spiaggia di Su Barone. Once you come to the jetty, park the car and walk across the wooden bridge to the quieter side of the beach. You’ll find fewer people and if you want to strip off you can.
On the whole, we enjoyed Sardinia more than expected and were pleased to have split our time. Seeing the countryside where life appears to have stood still, as well as the stunning beaches was the perfect introduction to the island, and a great way to spend eight days.
Until next time!