Forget flying: the best way to arrive in Cagliari is by sea, the city rising in a helter-skelter of golden-hued palazzi, domes and facades up to the rocky centrepiece, Il Castello. When DH Lawrence arrived in the 1920s, he compared the Sardinian capital to Jerusalem: ‘…strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.’
Yet, although Tunisia is closer than Rome, Cagliari is the most Italian of Sardinia’s cities. Vespas buzz down tree-fringed boulevards and locals hang out at cafes tucked under the graceful arcades in the seafront Marina district. Up in Il Castello, sunset is prime-time viewing in the piazzas, when the soft evening light illuminates pastel facades and the golden fortress walls like a fresco painting. Everywhere you wander, Cagliari’s rich history is spelled out in Roman ruins, museums, churches and galleries.
Edging east of town brings you to Poetto Beach, the hub of summer life with its limpid blue waters and upbeat party scene.