Located closer to Africa than Italy, Sardinia’s turquoise sea and white sandy beaches rival the tropics. Sant'Antioco & San Pietro, off the coast of Southwestern Sardinia, are charming islands as yet unspoiled by too much tourist development. The seaside resort of Santa Teresa di Gallura offers all the attractions of the coast without the sometimes-soulless glitz of the Costa Smeralda. Further east, Palau & Arcipelago di la Maddalena are pretty laidback, too: the archipelago itself comprises a national park with loads of island-hopping opportunities.
Away from the coast, the scenery can be similarly stunning with a pastoral quilt of forested mountain peaks, valleys of citrus groves and pastures of happily grazing cattle and sheep. In contrast, the urban scene can be disappointing. Some towns are, frankly, dull and depressing with breeze-block buildings and graffiti. Others, like medieval Bosa in the west, are impossibly picturesque with their pink-and-golden buildings flanking the river. Alghero, in Northern Sardinia, has a fascinating Catalan history (the language is still spoken here) and a delightful old centre; the lively town of Iglesias also retains an appealing Spanish legacy. Calgliari is historic and cosmopolitan at the same time, while the equally historic Oristano is quietly elegant. Traditional culture thrives most vigorously in the heartland where the elderly women are still draped in black; here tourists are rare – stared at – but ultimately welcomed.
Across the landscape are scattered 7000 nuraghi, strange conical stone fortresses seemingly built by a Sardinian Fred Flintstone. Curious temples, tombs, mysterious menhirs and remains of entire Bronze Age villages complete the prehistoric cartoon.
Sardinia distinguishes itself in the kitchen with hearty pastas and a love for pungent local cheeses, like pecorino and smoked ricotta. Sardinians also produce notable wines and a head-splitting firewater, filu e ferru.
Avoid visiting during broiling, crowded July and August, as well as in winter when the island goes into hibernation and many restaurants and hotels are closed. The best times of the year to visit are in the spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom, and during the early autumn when the temperatures are still pleasantly warm and most of the tourists have left.
Last updated: Feb 8, 2013
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