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This large island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Balearic islands and the Italian peninsula, is one of Italy’s most beautiful islands. It’s famous for its striking Mediterranean beauty, hosting some of the most beautiful beaches that sit at the edges of clear cerulean waters. And, you’ll find a lot more to do than just soak up the sun and the sand, including these fabulous things to do.
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What Is It? Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, and it lies on the island’s south coast, rising behind Via Roma and culminating in the ancient majesty of the Castello quarter.
Why Do It? The city is believed to have been founded way back in the 9th century BC by the Phoenicians and today, it offers lots of interesting things to see and do, including visiting museums, upscale shopping in Via Mannao, exploring the hilltop medieval castle and catching open-air dance, music or theater in the Roman amphitheater which sits below the citadel.
Good to Know: Shop the largest civil market in Italy, Mercato Civico di San Benedetto, which offers an array of impressive products, including daily catches from the local fishermen like fresh octopus, salmon, shrimp and lobster, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, local meats and cheeses.
What Is It? The town of Castelsardo, which sits on a large rocky promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea, is a charming medieval village that’s included as one of the “beautiful villages of Italy.”
Why Do It? It’s retained its ancient medieval layout, with the ramparts still surrounding the oldest part of the village. From the top of Doria Castle, which dominates Castelsardo, you’ll enjoy spectacular views over the Gulf of Asinara. The stronghold that stands on top of the hill is reached by climbing up towards the ancient walls, along the alleys and narrow steps that lead to the ancient village of Anglona which is located around the castle.
Good to Know: A museum is housed in the halls of its medieval fortifications. Each room has its own theme, ranging from a bakery to agricultural activities, home life to fishing and general everyday moments of life.
What Is It? Porto Ferro, located on the northern corner of Sardinia, is often ranked among the world’s best beaches.
Why Do It? The over one-mile stretch of uniquely orange-colored sand is the result of an unusual mix of the area’s native orange limestone, crushed shells and other volcanic deposits. This region of the island attracts visitors of all types who arrive to see the spectacular sands along with the crystalline waters that sit at its edge. It’s also known for its scenic hiking and biking paths, as well as three Spanish lookout towers that date back to the 17th century. On a windy day, the sea is ideal for surfing and windsurfing, while more calm days are perfect for hiring a “patino” boat to explore this stunning stretch of coast.
Good to Know: You’ll find a wealth of other gorgeous beaches too, including Cala Gonone, Li Coggi beach, and the touristic Costa Smeralda.
What Is It? Parco Nazionale Archipelago Di La Maddalena is a UNESCO World Heritage site and national park that is made up of seven major islands.
Why Do It? On a clear day, you can even see the coastline of the French island of from its northernmost island, Isola Razzoli. Most of its islands can only be reached by boat, resulting in the chance to revel in unspoiled along with magical views. You can take a half-day or full-day boat excursion that will allow you to enjoy its quiet beaches and coves where you’ll feel is if you stepped into a whole new world.
Good to Know: The main island of the archipelago is also called La Maddalena itself, and it has a substantial town of the same name, with a choice of hotels for those that want to stick around a while.
What Is It? If you’re in the mood for some glamour and glitz head to the ancient harbor town of Porto Cervo on Costa Smeralda in the island’s north region.
Why Do It? It hosts numerous yachting events as well as housing fine restaurants, trendy bars, glitzy nightclubs and designer boutiques.
Good to Know: It’s also a great destination for celebrity spotting.
What Is It? At Tharros, near Oristano in the island’s western region and in Nora, in the south, you can still see what the Romans have left behind 2,000 years ago.
Why Do It? Both sites are generally open-air museums that allow you to wander through ancient Roman streets, while viewing ruins, columns and thermal baths. This site is considered to be one of the most fascinating sites in all of Sardinia, not only because of the archaeological remains of the once flourishing town, originated from merging oriental urban and western prehistoric cultures, but also because of its unique position on a narrow peninsula overlooking the bay of Oristano.
Good to Know: The ruins of Nora are considered to be an extraordinary example of a city of Punic and Roman times. It includes luxurious villas decorated with mosaics, baths, temples, ancient cobbled streets and a splendid theater.
What Is It? Sardinia attracts surfers and kiteboarders from across Europe due to its strong winds that blow an average of 15 days a month, and its waves that reach heights of over 16 feet.
Why Do It? While surfing is possible year-round, winter is the best time to come for big swells. At Su Giudeu, Chia, the pink flamingos living in the lagoon behind the beach, as well as the fine golden sand dunes, make it one of Sardina’s most breathtaking beaches. And, when the winds blow from the north or northeast, it’s particularly outstanding for surfing. On the island’s western coast, along the Sinis Peninsula, popular surf spots include Capu Mannu’s giant granite cliff, as well as Mini Capo, Putzu Idu, Is Arenas Reef and Is Benas.
Good to Know: In southern Sardinia, there are top spots for kite surfing, which is set to replace windsurfing as an Olympic sport in the2016 Summer Olympics.
What Is It? The Trenino Verde, or “Little Green Train,” as it translates to, runs between Arbatax up the coast from the Perdepera during the summer months.
Why Do It? The narrow-gauge railway brings passengers on the 100-mile trundle through a picturesque landscape of olive trees, fields dotted with sheep, neat rows of fig trees, mountains.
Good to Know: You’ll also get a chance to see the lunar landscape of the Taquisara valley and glimpses of the stunning red rocks and idyllic beaches along the Arbatax coastline.
What Is It? If cycling is your thing, you might want to explore the island by joining a bike tour.
Why Do It? A variety of options are available, including a multi-night north tour that starts in Olbia, passing through Cannigione and Costa Smeralda, a sophisticated retreat for celebrities and Italy’s jet-set with powdery white sands, quaint Mediterranean villages and elegant resort towns. Cycling along this stunning coastline, you’ll want to take occasional breaks to lounge on the sand or get refreshed by taking a dip in the azure waters before heading inland to the rocky, green hills of Gallura. There you’ll roll through the eroded granite cliffs and wind-carved boulders of Moon Valley, the island’s best-known landmarks, before crossing lush pastures that lead to fiery red cliffs and hidden bays.
Good to Know: The journey ends in the medieval streets of Alghero, one of the most attractive towns on the island, set right at the edge of the sea, renowned for its beautiful beaches and incredible cuisine.
What Is It? The Bastion of Saint Remy, built in the typical local white lime-stone, is a monumental 19th-century building located in the historical neighborhood of Castello in Cagliari.
Why Do It? It sits atop one of the city’s seven hills, affording jaw-dropping views of the Gulf of Cagliari. The lookout is a mix of neoclassical and Liberty styles and provides stunning vista’s over the town’s jumbled rooftops to the Mediterranean.
Good to Know: The monumental stairway that ascends from busy Piazza Costituzione to Bastione San Remy is the best way to get there, but if that’s not a challenge you want your legs to undertake, you can always take the panoramic elevator.
What Is It? This archaeological museum is set in the harbor on its own tiny island and looks a bit like a modern-day version of a medieval fortification.
Why Do It? In it, you’ll get the scoop on the Greek foundation of Olbia, as well as the subsequent clashes between Carthaginians and Romans, and the maritime and commercial activities that flourished over years. Many of the exhibits were taken from local shipwrecks, with some of the remnants dating back as far as 2,000 years. Other highlights include a small bronze boat from the Nuraghic era, a head of Hercules that was found in the sea, some fine Roman decorated glassware, and an incense burner depicting musicians riding a camel.
Good to Know: If you want to explore the town, its central core is based around Corso Umberto, a lively shop-lined street leading uphill from the waterfront.
What Is It? Su Gorroppu gorge is Sardinia’s deepest canyon, and one of the deepest in Europe. Located in the Ogliastra region.
Why Do It? It’s nearly nine miles in length and limestone cliffs that rise almost 1,500 feet. Legend has it that there is a magic piece of land in Ogliastra, and that those who walk there will be rewarded with a long life. The endemic Aquilegia nuragica plant grows only here and it’s also possible to see golden eagles perched up in the trees.
Good to Know: The path that follows along the canyon, between massive white limestone rocks is sure to leave a lasting impression, particularly when gazing up to see the seemingly endless majestic walls.
What Is It? Sardinia is not only filled with striking scenic beauty, it has an abundance of wildlife, including some unique species.
Why Do It? Its isolation has resulted in lots of diversity, though there’s no reason for concern as none of the animals that live on or near the island are considered very dangerous or poisonous. Sardinia is home to a number of rare mammals, some of which are endemic subspecies, like the Mediterranean monk seal, albino donkey, Sardinian wild cat, mouflon, Sardinian deer, Sardinian fox, Sarcidano horse, Giara horse, wild boar, and European pine marten. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise too, with the many lagoons and coastal lakes home to various wading birds, including the greater flamingo. Look up in the trees, or in the skies, and you might see golden eagle, long-eared owl, peregrine falcon, Sardinian goshawk, and many other magnificent feathered creatures.
Good to Know: Terrestrial tortoises and sea turtles live here too, and fin whales can be spotted regularly near the shore.
What Is It? Sardinia has a cuisine all its own, including tasty pastries and roasted meats, which pairs well with local wines.
Why Do It? You really should try at least some of the local food and drink, the like light, a local white wine produced in Sardinia’s northern region considered an island specialty, and File ‘e ferru, a liqueur made from marc which was at one time taxed so heavily that producers would bury it – its name comes from the piece of iron wire that was used to mark the hiding place. You can also feast on pecorino cheese and porcheddu, pork roasted in a spit with herbs, and pane casarau, a wafer-thin flatbread that can be eaten alone or with a sauce.
Good to Know: If you like sweets, you’re in luck because there is a rich array of fantastic local deserts like sebadas, which are honey brushed fried pastry with pecorino cheese in the middle.
What Is It? The long mining history of Sardinia is believed to have begun around 6000 BC, which means that mining has played an important role in the island’s history.
Why Do It? In the early 19th century, Sardinia had nearly 60 mines in operation, mainly producing lead, iron, copper and silver. The island’s abundant ore deposits attracted the interest of entrepreneurs from Piedmont, Liguria and other European countries, who soon set up companies to exploit the local ores. The village of Ingurtosu, along with nearby Montevecchio, was one of the most important mining areas of the island up until around the 1950s.
Good to Know: To prevent the region from becoming abandoned UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site, and many of the old mining facilities were restored and transformed into hotels or opened to the public to explore.
What Is It? Nuraghi are beehive-like stone dwellings from the bronze age, and this is the only place on Earth they can be found, so you won’t want to miss a chance to visit them while you’re here.
Why Do It? While it’s unknown as to exactly what they were used for, the general belief is that they were either military strongholds or religious temples. The most well known of the nuraghi is Nuraxi su Barumini, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It lies at the foot of the Parco della Giara near Barumini, and stands on a small plateau. It is remarkably well preserved, particularly the proximity of its vast fortress that includes several towers.
Good to Know: The extensive labyrinthine village with narrow lanes and houses, wells and meeting huts tell a mysterious story of what it was like here 3,500 years ago.
What Is It? Garibaldi spent the last years of his life on the island of Caprera, which is part of the La Maddelena archipelago.
Why Do It? The white house you’ll see overlooking the sea was the last residence of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was an Italian patriot and military leader who helped free the Italians from foreign rule and unify the country. He lived here after the death of his wife Anita for 26 years until passing away in 1882. Today, his house is a museum, offering the chance to see not only the home but the very furniture, works of art and other objects that belonged to the general. A vintage watch hangs on the wall, still marking the time of his death.
Good to Know: You can reach the Garibaldi home by boat from within La Maddelena, or via ferry from Palau on the northern coast of Sardinia.
What Is It? For the ultimate Sardinia vacation, you might want to indulge yourself with a stay at Forte Village Resort, a five-star property with garden or sea views and a balcony or terrace for taking them in.
Why Do It? Forte Village is actually made up of seven luxury hotels that were arranged to mimic a real Italian village. They all meet at a central piazza from which guests can access facilities like the heavenly Thalasso & Spa, one of the few spas with the distinction of being one of the “Leading Spas of the World.”
Good to Know: There are also over 20 restaurants serving both fine Italian and world cuisine.
What Is It? If you like to taste strange foods, you’ll have the opportunity to taste one of the most bizarre dishes in the world while you’re in Sardinia.
Why Do It? Casu marzu is a traditional Sardinian dish that’s sometimes referred to as “maggot cheese.” This is literally a meal of sheep’s milk cheese that contains live insect larvae. Aficionados say that the live, wiggling creatures are what enhance the flavor.
Good to Know: Though some kill them before consuming the cheese, true connoisseurs refuse to do this, as they say, it changes the experience completely. The squirming maggots tend to jump when panicked, making eating it even more interesting.