Sassari, Sardinia's sprawling second city, requires a bit of work. On first sight, it's not an immediately appealing place, but persevere and you'll discover that beneath its rather scruffy veneer lies a proud and cultured university town with an unpretentious atmosphere and a bustling, workaday vibe.
Like many Italian towns it hides its charms behind an outer shell of drab apartment blocks and confusing, traffic-choked roads. But once through to the inner sanctum it opens up, revealing a grand centre of wide boulevards, impressive piazzas and stately palazzi. In the evocative and run-down centro storico (historic centre), medieval alleyways hum with Dickensian activity as residents run about their daily business amid grimy facades and hidden churches.