Bosa is one of Sardinia’s most attractive towns. Seen from a distance, its rainbow townscape resembles a vibrant Paul Klee canvas, with pastel houses stacked on a steep hillside, tapering up to a stark, grey castle. In front, moored fishing boats bob on a glassy river and palm trees line the elegant riverfront.
With its elegant shopping streets, ornate piazzas, popular cafes and some good restaurants, Oristano’s refined and animated centre is a lovely place to hang out. Though there’s not a huge amount to see beyond some churches and an interesting archaeological museum, the city makes a good base for the surrounding area.
Spearing into the Golfo di Oristano, the Sinis Peninsula feels like a world apart. Its limpid lagoons – the Stagno di Cabras, Stagno Sale Porcus and Stagno Is Benas – and snow-white beaches lend it an almost tropical air, while the low-lying green countryside appears uncontaminated by human activity. In fact, the area has been inhabited since the 5th century BC.
North and inland of the Sinis Peninsula, the landscape is dominated by the wooded slopes of Monti Ferru. Rising to a height of 1050m (Monte Urtigu), this vast volcanic massif is a beautiful and largely uncontaminated area of ancient forests, natural springs and small market towns.
South of Oristano
South of Oristano, flat plains extend in a patchwork of wide, open fields interspersed with canals, lagoons and the odd pocket of pine wood. Until Mussolini launched an ambitious drainage and reclamation program in 1919, the area was largely covered with malarial swampland and thick cork forests.
Founded by Mussolini in 1928, the quiet town of Arborea bears all the hallmarks of its Fascist inception – severe grid-patterned streets, an immaculate central piazza and an array of fantastical architectural styles. Just a few kilometres northwest, the coastal hamlet of Marina di Arborea is home to a notable equestrian centre.
Seneghe is an essential stop on any gastronomic tour of central Sardinia. A dark stone village with little obvious appeal, it is famous for its extra-virgin olive oil, a one-time winner of the prestigious Premio Nazionale Ercole Olivario award (the Oscars of the Italian olive-oil industry). Beef is another speciality.
A one-time Roman military outpost (its name is a derivation of the Latin word miles, meaning soldier), Milis is a small and prosperous farming village, surrounded by the orange orchards that have brought it wealth. Its principal sight is the stately Palazzo Boyl but there are also a couple of churches worth a passing glance.
Sprawled on the southern shore of the Stagno di Cabras, Cabras is an important fishing town and centre of the island’s mullet fishing – the local bottarga (mullet roe) is much sought-after and well worth trying. There's little reason to linger, but you’ll eat well and the archaeology museum deserves a once-over.
From San Giovanni di Sinis, the road continues past a strip of pizzerias, bars and cafes up to the Area Archeologica di Tharros, one of Sardinia’s most thrilling archaeological sites. Tharros was a major city in ancient times and its ruins today make for a haunting sight as they tumble down the promontory to Capo San Marco, the southernmost point of the Sinis Peninsula.
You probably won’t want to hang around long in Macomer. It's not an unpleasant place but unless you're passing through, there's really no great reason to stop off. If you do have some time to kill, the modest Museo Etnografico houses a motley collection of traditional home furnishings and utensils.
Marina di Torregrande
About 4.5km south of Cabras, the small summer resort of Marina di Torregrande is a favourite hangout for Oristano's beach-goers. Behind the long, sandy beach, the village presents a familiar seaside scene with suntanned locals parading down a palm-flanked lungomare (promenade) and music emanating from bars.