If you’re yearning for an intoxicating mix of ancient history, traditions, craggy wilderness and sublime coves, Sardinia is a perfect choice. We asked British-Sardinian writer Sara Alexander, author of two novels set on the island, to give us the lowdown on her favorite spots – from sun-swept beaches to authentic meals at an agriturismo. Here's an insider's guide to the best things to do in Sardinia.
At the centre of the Mediterranean sits a jewel of an island surrounded by the kind of crystalline turquoise waters that make even the most stoic want to weep. Its tumultuous history has seen Arabs, Greeks, Catalonians and many others leave their mark, from the ruins that crumble along the cerulean west coast, to the flavours woven into the cuisine. There is a palpable islander pride to the people – don’t expect sing-song Neapolitan flair or brusque Roman charm. Sardinians are earnest, slow to trust, welcoming yet reserved. Their island and the sensual temptations it offers, speaks for itself, and of this they are sure, and very, very proud.
San Michele dome under a clear sky in Alghero © Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock
Sardinia is ubiquitous with spectacular beaches. Lu Impostu is a breathtaking cove along the northeastern coast, around twenty minutes south of Olbia. Visitors need to cross a short section of water to reach the beach but it is worth it. Book a table at Ristorante Lu Impostu for lunch, for its panoramic view of the turquoise water and surrounding hills, and its exceptional linguini with vongole, or salt-baked fish. Pair with grilled vegetables, locally sourced salad, a handful of pane carasau – crisp, paper-thin bread streaked with olive oil, coarse salt and a hint of rosemary – and a glass of refreshing local vermentino white wine, for a perfect respite.
A ten-minute drive south of Lu Impostu is San Teodoro, a pretty town with wide, white sandy beaches and shallow waters, as well as a main drag that shimmers with a bustling night market from June to September. Couple supper at L’Artista, Via del Tirreno, which serves the best shellfish mixed platters, with gelato at Il Gelo Viola on Piazza Emilio Lussu, to sample their stunning homemade seasonal – and imaginative – flavours. The town has a range of campsites that are well organised but not over pampered.
Crystal clear water in Brandinchi Cove near San Teodoro © Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock
Next, swing by the picturesque town of Ozieri, some 45 minutes inland from Olbia. This historically wealthy mercantile town comes alive on Fridays when the market is in full seasonal swing. Find a van selling local cheeses and fresh, large flatbreads called spianata – which the town is famous for – then pick up a tray of delectable pasticcerie (miniature pastries) from Maria Laura Secci’s Pasticceria (6, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi) before heading down the valley to Agriturismo Pedru Caddu, a 15-minute drive away, for a dip in the pool before its set feast.
To the west lies atmospheric Tharros with its cliffside ruins. From here zip up to the Catalan-speaking Alghero, with its Spanish fortress and walls – and, if you can, a generous bowl of their famous fish zuppa, a light seafood stew crammed with crustaceans and fresh catches of the day. The capital Cagliari is your go-to for its array of foodie delights and breathtaking beaches including the powdery sands of Chia.
Shops, cafes and art galleries in the Piazza Umberto I in La Maddalena © eFesenko / Shutterstock
Day trips from Sardinia
Give yourself a day for a trip off the island to Tavolara. This rocky island off the east coast used to be home to a Nato radio station, but today it’s a quiet granite outcrop surrounded by water of startling colour. Boat trips depart from Olbia, throw you into the water for a bit, usher you to land for a feast and then ferry you back home.
Other trips take you north to the archipelago of La Maddalena, the jewels in Sardinia’s crown. Cala Luna and Baunei are some of the most resplendent, closeted coves, which are reachable only by boat from other towns further up the coast. Day trips almost always involve food – this culture’s rhythm beats with a culinary heart.
A plate of spaghetti alle vongole © Iuliia Karnaushenko / Shutterstock
All regions in Sardinia are dotted with agriturismi, farm houses that are open to the public seasonally. You can stay in some but you can also just visit for their lunch feasts. There are no menus, but you will usually be proffered around five to seven courses that include, but may not be limited to, home-grown produce, handmade pasta, slow-roasted meats and fresh breads. The homemade wine at agriturismi flows freely, and it’s included in the price of typically between €35–50 per person.
When to go
August is when most Italians take their beach break, so expect crowds. May/June or September/early October are sublime though, especially if you’re yearning for solace and space. Coastal towns are sleepier off season, with many restaurants closing early – it's a small price to pay when even modest grocery stores offer fresh sliced meats, cheeses and daily baked bread for shore side picnics. Sardinia sleeps in the afternoon when it’s hot, so don’t expect to be able to run to a shop or café between three and five o’clock.
Tempted to experience the islanders’ pagan roots that are still very much interwoven into the calendar, even by the most devout Catholics? Visit Orgosolo during the carnival before Lent. Here, in the molten heart of the island, you will find processions of Mamunthones, masked men with animal furs laden with sheep bells on their backs to scare away the evil spirits. The murals in Orgosolo are prized, and provide a rich and colourful history of the town and its difficult past. Take time for a drive through the beauty of the Gennargentu mountains close by – or better still, a hike or bike through it.
Sara Alexander is a British-Sardinian actress and author born and raised in North-West London. Sara has published two novels with HarperCollins, each inspired by her roots in Sardinia where she regularly returns. Sara is particularly known for her championing of the female experience through both her acting and her novels. Her next novel, The Last Concerto, is published on 22 August and is set between Sardinia, Rome and Sicily.