We’ve just completed a 10-day roadie of Sardinia and like all new destinations we’ve learnt a lot so here are some tips to help you navigate your way around this beautiful island, if it’s on your bucket list (and it should be).
Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean of incredible natural beauty.
Inland it’s mountainous, arid and rugged with wheat fields, cactus, grape vines, bougainvillea’s and olives dominating the landscape.
Where the land meets the sea it’s still rocky, but it does give way too many beautiful white sandy beaches and other beaches where the sand is made up of billions of tiny pieces of quartz, like grains of rice.
While it’s a stunning island man has left some untidy foot prints on parts this beautiful land, particularly in the south and west. Derelict buildings, unfinished homes, abandoned mines, dilapidated hotels and long forgotten beach pizzerias. These remains gave me an eerie feeling of time gone by, but it doesn’t seem to bother the locals who shrug of their shoulders and say, ‘This is Italia’.
Having said this, much of the country is beautiful and well cared for like Villasimius, Alghero, Stintino and Porto Cervo. If you’re into beaches, incredible scenery, good food and wine, a little history you’ll love Sardinia. It is a very chilled place.
What’s it Sardinia like? Sardinia is an emerging tourist destination with pockets that are well-developed. While it’s lovely the south and west lacks sophistication. However, in the north-east around Costa Smeralda region it’s stunning. I think the island will be completely different in 10-years when some of the other regions, notably the west coast and south have been developed more.
What’s Sardinian food like? The food in Sardinia is very good and it would be difficult to get a bad meal here.
What is the best time to visit Sardinia? Sardinia is incredibly busy in June, July and August with European visitors and the prices fluctuate accordingly. We were there in May and the temperatures were between 24-28 degrees, although the sea temperature was only about 20 degrees. My advice is to avoid the crowds and come in May or better still in September when you can guarantee the sea will be warmer. Many of the resorts close from November through April.
Is it best to have a beach holiday or an adventure holiday in Sardinia? If you are planning a beach holiday head to the north or north- eastern part of the island. You will find a better standard of accommodation and more beach resorts, although it is considerably more expensive than the south.
However, in my view Sardinia is a destination to explore as the island is so diverse. Depending on how much time you have, my recommendation would be to stay in 3-5 different locations for 2-3 nights each and use your hotel as a base to explore each region.
What’s the driving like in Sardinia? Sardinia is a large island and not one you would tear around in a couple of days. Public transport is not an option so if you are going to move around you need a car. While the roads are good on the whole, the signage is poor so you do need GPS, but many of the car rental companies do not offer them. As a make shift alternative we bought data and used google maps on our i-pad. It worked really well and was an inexpensive option.
Sardinia is also a great place for walking and cycling tours.
Which Sardinia airport is best to fly in and out of the Island? There are three airports on the island, so plan your trip around an entry and exit point. They are Cagliari-Elmas, the largest, Olbia-Costa Smeralda and a small airport at Alghero-Fertilia. There are a number of ferry options too, from the Italian mainland and Corsica.
Where to go in Sardinia? We flew into Cagliari in the south, explored the south-eastern corner before working our way up the west coast. We stayed near Oristano and Alghero, exploring the regions before heading to the north-eastern, Costa Smeralda. We purposely did this so we would see the least touristy side of the island, but in hindsight I would have spent more time on the east coast and less on the west.
Knowing what I know now, I have amended our itinerary, to make it the perfect Sardinian experience.
10-day Sardinian itinerary
Here is a 10-day itinerary for Sardinia, that will give you a flavour for both the east and west coasts.
Note: If you have less time fly into Olbia-Costa Smeralda and explore the east coast.
Day 1 Cagliari
Fly into Cagliari and have a night there. The old part of the city on the water front is pleasant, but it’s dirty and covered in graffiti and the authorities clearly have no interest in removing it. If you are looking for a good restaurant in the old town Antica Cagliari Ristorante is inexpensive and excellent.
Accommodation We stayed in the T Hotel and from here it is about a 20- minute walk into the old city. It is one of a very few modern hotels in the city, with a good-sized room, a great bar and delicious breakfast with free hotel parking across the road. My suggestion is you get in and out of Cagliari as soon as possible, as there are better things to see on the island.
Day 2- Drive from Cagliari to Oristano on the west coast – driving time approx. 90 minutes
Head north-west towards Oristano. We took a scenic route going via Nebida and Iglesias which has a number of abandoned zinc, iron and silver mines. They are incredible and look like something from a movie set. You will pass through a number of traditional villages and see incredible rocks in the sea-very typical for the south–west coast of Sardinia.
We had and exceptional lunch in Buggerru, at a pizzeria in the marina -grilled squid, spaghetti vongole and melon and prosciutto.
Accommodation We stayed just out of Oristano at Hotel Lucrezia in Riola Sardo, a boutique hotel I would highly recommend. Behind the walled street facade is a delightful rambling garden with about 5 rooms. The hotel used to be an old farmhouse and is a little like a museum.
Day 3 –Explore Oristano and the surrounding beaches The highlight of this regions were the beaches on the small peninsula jutting off the coast. Starting at Putzu Idu work down the coast until you reach the impressive ruins at Tharros at the southern end. Well worth a visit.
Oristano itself is a pleasant city with an impressive cathedral and a few other historic sites, but nothing of real note.
Day 4 –Drive from Oristano to Alghero- driving time approx. 120 minutes
The drive from Oristano to Alghero covers varied terrain from mountainous country to beautiful coastlines. Many of the small villages have no restaurants, but you will find places to eat at Bosa.
Accommodation We stayed at the El Faro Hotel, a little out of Alghero on the coast. It is a magnificent location in the middle of a National Park with an incredible ocean outlook. The hotel was great in all respects with two swimming pools and access to the sea. It’s an excellent location to base yourself to explore Alghero and Stintino.
Day 5 Explore Alghero town – Alghero has a walled old town and is a delight to walk around with restaurants on the sea side. It is well-worth a half-day exploring with a long lunch overlooking the sea.
Day 6 Explored Stintino and La Pelosa beach
North of Alghero is the harbour village of Stintino in the province of Sassari. It’s quaint and a great place for lunch before heading up the road to La Pelosa beach. Arguably it is one of Europe’s best beaches with its shallow turquoise waters and salty white sands. The beach is 300 meters long with an ancient 16 century watch tower.
Day 7 Drive from Alghero to Costa Smeralda – driving time approx. 130 minutes
We had not planned to stay on the east coast as we wanted a non- touristy experience, but having driven to Costa Smeralda, I would highly recommend you spend a couple of days enjoying the great beaches and ambience.
The Coast Smeralda region in the north-east of the island lifted our whole impression of the island as there is real investment there, money and classy hotels, not to mention the super yachts, marinas and even golf courses.
We spent the day at Porto Cervo which is a upmarket town and I would highly recommend the Spinnaker restaurant for lunch.
Accommodation As we didn’t stay here I don’t have any recommendations, but take a look at trip advisor as there are many good options.
Day 8 -10
Explore the beaches of Costa Smeralda and travel further south on the east coast is you have time.
I hope this information helps you plan your Sardinian holiday.