Sardinia is served by three main international airports Alghero in the north west, Olbia in the north east and Cagliari in the south, all have good public transport connections.
Alghero (Fertilia) aeroport
Website – www.aeroportodialghero.it
International flights to/from Alghero – Barcelona (Girona), Billund, Bratislava, Bussels (Charleoi), Bucarest (Otopeni), Cologn, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Dublin, Dusseldorf (weeze), Eindhoven, Frankfurt (Hahn), Gothenburg, Hessinki, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Madrid, Munich (Memmingen), Oslo, Oslo (Torp), Ostrava, Paris (Beauvais), Stocholm (Arlanda) Stocholm (Skavsta)
National flights to/from Alghero – Ancona, Bergamo, Bologna, Cuneo, Milan (linate), Milan (Malpensa), Parma, Pisa, Roma (Ciampino), Roma (Fiumicino), Torino, Trieste, Venezia, Venezia (Treviso), Verona.
Sardinia can be reached easily by ferry, bringing yourown car can give you a lot of freedom to explore the island and the holiday starts as soon as you board the ship. An excellent website to find competitive ferry crossing is aFerry Website – www.aferry.co.uk
Cars are readily available for hire from all the airports and in the major cities, however you should bear in mind that if you are travelling in the main season of July and August you need to pre book your hire car, as in this period it is very common for all the hire cars on the island to be taken and anyone arriving on spec will find nothing available to hire. Please remember that when driving in Italy you should use dipped headlights at all times and must always have your licence with you to show to the police if requested.
Regarding pricing the competition between companies means that the best deal often varies on time of year and availability below we have given links for some of the major hire companies along with a couple of comparison sites who often find the best deal. Bicycle hire is common in Sardinia and almost every town has somewhere you can hire bikes from, a lot of these also offer scooter and motorcycle hire if you have the correct license.
A brief history of Sardinia
THE EARLY STONE AGE
Until some twenty years ago archaeologists were convinced that Sardinia, like other islands in the Med, was first colonised by Neolithic man. In 1979, however, new finds of flint spear tips, smooth and toothed scrapers and burins (chisels) were made on the fertile plains about 20km from the Gulf of Asinara.
THE LATER STONE AGE
Human settlements during the Neolithic period were confined to the coast or its immediate hinterland. Caves beside the sea were occupied as were places up to 16km from the shore. The volcanic relief of the area around Oristano provided the early settlers with the rocks they required to make blades, knives and arrowheads.
THE BONUIGHINU CULTURE
At the end of the Mesolithic period (BC 3700-3300) human settlements grew in number and moved further away from the coast. The cave of Bonuighinu is some 20 km inland and was used both as a dwelling and as a burial place. There have been finds here of the ‘Venuses’, typical votive figurines which express primitive man’s hope for abundance and prosperity.
THE OZIERI CULTURE
During this period (BC 3300-2500) Sardinia was reached by seekers of metal. Farming increased and the population began to leave their caves and set up villages formed of huts. However, the people still liked to be buried in caves and would gouge out burial chambers from the soft rocks. These became known as ‘Domus de Janas’ and plenty can still be seen today.
THE ABEALZU AND OTHER CULTURES
The Aenolithic (or Chalcolithic) period (BC 2500-1800) refers to the final part of the Neolithic when some copper was used. A wider us of metal, especially in the construction of more effective weapons, lead to clashes between local tribes and outside invaders.
Some of their huts began to take on the appearance of primitive nuraghi.
THE BONNANARO CULTURE
This began around BC 1800 and is seen as the start of the nuraghic civilisation, the most outstanding feature of prehistoric Sardinia. Thousands of these truncated-cone buildings were erected all over the island – more of which later (*)
THE PHOENICIANS AND CARTHAGINIAN PERIOD
Excavations have shown that the first Phoenician seamen who came to Sardinia three thousand years ago were mainly concerned with finding ports of call where they could put in during their journeys around the Med and trade with locals. Some of these landing places eventually became towns. The arrival of the Carthaginians around BC 500 resulted in more extensive colonisation.
THE ROMAN PERIOD
The Romans became the masters of Sardinia in BC 238 during an interval between the first and second Punic wars. They met with fierce resistance on the part of the locals. When the fighting was mainly over they set about their usual construction of public works of every kind. They gave the Carthaginian towns their present appearance, whilst their road were the forerunners of many of the State highways today. Some of their bridges too were used until recent times.
THE DARK AGES
There are many blank pages of history of Europe from AD 500 to 1000 and Sardinia is no exception. The fall of the Western Roman Empire was followed by invasions and transformations of many kinds. The church alone maintained a certain degree of continuity. The island remained for a while in the hands of the Byzantines as can be seen in the Greek cross ground plan of many Sardinian churches.
THE GIUDICATI PERIOD
By the middle of the 8th century the Arabs occupied the whole of the North African coast and Spain. Travel by sea had become dangerous and Sardinia lost contact with Constantinople and had to fend for itself. The island was split into 4 districts, each with its own rudimentary parliament. Arborea, with its capital at Oristano, is the best remembered as it managed to keep the Aragonese at bay for nearly 100 years.
PISA AND GENOA
Around the same time the maritime republics of Pisa and Genoa set about the establishment of increasingly close (and increasingly oppressive) links with Sardinia. Their influence, at first religious, soon spilled over into trade. The influential families worked their way into the Sardinian dynasties through marriage and increased their influence.
The war undertaken to occupy the island started in 1323 but went on until 1409, due to the stubborn resistance of the district of Arborea, and flared up again from 1470 –78 due to their rebellions. These were difficult times. The population dwindled and many villages were abandoned. The new masters began to introduce their ways, including a feudal system, and their influence in art and architecture.
Sardinia passed from the influence of Catalonia to that of Spain in 1479 and this lasted until 1720. The feudal system was consolidated. The villages were becoming ever more distinct from the towns. They were solely rural and required to provide for the larger towns, which were treated as market places and seats of government. Walls and defence systems were perfected and care was devoted to the aesthetic side.
THE ADVENT OF PIEDMONT
The island passed to the House of Savoy in 1720 in exchange for the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. A light and prudent hand was applied at first, but the reforming spirit was soon at work. Improvements were made in agriculture and education. Then came the French Revolution and Sardinia was swept by a vast anti feudal movement. The end of Napoleons empire was followed by further modernisation when landholding was privatised in 1820 and the feudal system was abolished in 1836-39. (**)
SARDINIA AFTER THE UNITY OF ITALY
The discovery that the Sardinians had a vocation for war was made in the trenches of the Great War, to which they had come already toughened by their hard lives of peasants and shepherds. United by their common origin and able to talk their own language, regional formation such as the Sassari Brigade were involved in a host of heroic exploits, though very many never came home to tell their tale. These sacrifices lay behind the claims for a measure of independence put forward when the war was over and acknowledged many years later when Sardinia was made an autonomous region in 1948.
In the second half of the 20th century Sardinia’s agriculture folded. It was devoid of capital and still using methods and implements left over from the Middle Ages. Luckily, pasturage, a much older activity and better suited to the geography of the island, took over the abandoned farmlands. In some places great areas of marshes were drained and populated mainly by settlers from the mainland, they now produce vegetables, fruit, milk and cheese.
To date there are still some 7,000 well preserved (in various stages) Nuraghi around the whole island. Clearly at the time there must have been a lot more built. The building of these nuraghi peaked between BC 1200 – 900. The area surrounding Macomer is where nuraghi are most densely found.
The word nuraghi comes from the Sardinian word meaning ‘heap’ or ‘mound’. There are many different types but the simplest is a circular tower. Built without cement, only the weight and positioning of the stones keep the walls standing. Inside is formed a room covered with a dome shaped roof.
More complex specimens were built later linking two or three nuraghi together with passages, in what looks like a village formation.
Archaeologists still disagree on the exact reason why these structures were built. The theory that they were built as part of a territorial defence system is becoming more and more acceptable. However, pots and cooking utensils have been found in some of the complexes, suggesting habitations and in others there have been discoveries of bones, suggesting some types were used as burial chambers.
Perhaps we will never know exactly the reasoning behind them but this does not distract from the fact that so many of these massive structures were constructed at a time when ‘modern’ techniques were not heard of and were obviously built so well that so many are still standing.
Sardinians love to celebrate and will take any excuse to stop working and start breaking out the wine and salami. The festivals are often religious or celebrate the harvests and agricultural changes through the year but one thing they all have in common is the abundance of local red wine made in small cantinas and the consumption of lots of food and local delicacies.
16-17th – St. Antonio, the official start to the carnival season, large bonfires are lit in the towns and cities
19-20th – San Sebastiano celebrated in many parts of the island, again with bonfires and also with religious singing ending, as most Sardinian festas, with wine and food.
Dates move with regard to Easter Carnival – Giovedi Grasso (fat Thursday) there are processions of floats. Martedi Grasso (fat Tuesday), shrove Tuesday in the UK, is the culmination of the carnival and the last chance to eat before lent. Many delicious sweets are made for the carnival season. Carnival is celebrated all over Sardinia but some towns like Bosa in the west are famous for their enthusiastic celebrations. Another town famous for carnival is Mamoiada in the centre of the island where the celebrations end with the procession of the mamuthones and issohadores. This is an incredible experience as the men dress in sheepskins and are covered with sheep bells wearing grotesque black masks.
Sa Sartiglia in Oristano is a medieval pageant set over three days that showcases the Sardo’s incredible horsemanship.
This month is light on festivals as we are in the period of lent, however you may come across a sagra di agrumi – a festa giving thanks for the citrus harvest.
In early March in Alghero and certain other coastal towns you will see the sagra del riccio del mare a festival of sea urchins where hundreds of the sea creatures are scooped out and eaten with fresh bread and strong wine.
Some of the inland villages celebrate San Giorgio – St George whose cross is on the islands flag a typical festa is observed in Bitti, a mountain village where they have a horseback procession with the participants in traditional costume.
Pasqua, the Easter celebrations, usually occurring in April, are often processions followed by church services. This is a deeply religious festival and much more significant here than Christmas. You can often find re-enactments of the Passion during Easter in many of the villages.
1 -4th One of the islands most important festivals is the celebration of the martyr Sant’Efisio. This is a spectacle of national costumes and a procession over two days from the capital, Cagliari, to the site of the martyrdom of the saint at the Roman site of Nora. People arrive from villages all over the island to take part in the procession which features carts drawn by oxen.
15th in Olbia they celebrate their patron saint San Semplicio with fireworks and the distribution of wine and sweets.
Ascension day, the next to last Sunday of May, sees Sassari celebrating in national costume and with a cavalcade celebrating a victory over the Moors in 1000 A.D.
Pentecost 50 days after Easter is also celebrated in some towns
2nd brings the largest horse fair on the island near Santa Lussurgiu
On the first Sunday of the month there is the festa delle ciliegie where the cherry harvest is celebrated in the villages of Bonocardo, Burcei and Villacidro
11th in the village of Villanova Monteleone you will find a fair showing local art and handicrafts.
24th is St. John the Baptists day and also has roots in a pre Christian festival for this many villages host processions with traditional singing and dancing along with the obligatory wine and food.
6-8th in the village of Sedilo the horse mad locals celebrate the S’ardia di Constantino in honour of Constantine the Roman Emperor and saint. In typical style there is a lot of drinking and eating and a dangerous horse race which in the past has seen many fatalities, in the last couple of years however participants have been discouraged from drinking before the race.
On the second Sunday of the month in the village of Tonara there is the festival of their famous nougat (torrone) you can see the torrone being made and of course taste the delicious product made with pure Sardinian honey and local hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts.
4th around Jerzu the fest del vino celebrates the wine made locally mainly from the cannonau grape variety which produces a flavoursome deep red wine.
6th August near Oristano there is the festival of Vernaccia to celebrate the famous wine of the area. Vernaccia is strong white wine similar in taste to a dry sherry.
This is the month when the population of the island swells dramatically with a massive influx of tourists from mainland Italy and elsewhere and all the Sardinians living and working abroad come home for their holidays. It is the only time you will see full beaches in Sardinia.
On the first Sunday of the month Bosa celebrates Santa Maria Del Mare (Saint Mary of the sea). There is a procession of boats, with one carrying an effigy of the Virgin Mary from Bosa Marina up the river Temo to Bosa. She is then taken to Bosa cathedral for a service and later in the evening the procession returns down the river and statue is carried around the streets and then taken back to the church in Bosa Marina. The night culminates with fireworks.
14 -15th Ferragosto – a day celebrating the Assumption. This is a huge festival all over Italy and mostly involves fireworks. In Sassari there is a beautiful procession of huge candles which harks back many years to when it is said the town escaped the plague by divine intervention.
on the fourth Sunday at San Vito there is the festival of the Launeddas a musical instrument consisting of three pipes and a traditional instrument to accompany the Sardinian dancing.
In the old Sardinian calendar the first month of the year.
On the first Sunday at Cabras there is a re-enactment of the rescue of San Salvatore. He was rescued from raiders in the 16th century, the celebration takes the form of a large number of men, dressed in white, running barefoot over a distance of around 8 km.
On the second Sunday in Bosa there is the festa of Nostra Signora di Regnos Altos. Here a procession winds its way through the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town, passing many home made shrines on the way, eventually arriving up at the Serraville castle. Afterwards there is the usual drinking and feasting.
On the last Sunday there is the Festa di Castagne – feast of the chestnuts. Here in the Barbaggia region the harvest is celebrated with many chestnuts being washed down with dark local wine.
1st-2nd is Tuttisanti (All Saints Day) and is followed by the day of the dead when all good Sardinians visit their deceased relatives and leave flowers on the tombs. There is also a tradition of baking biscuit like cakes with almonds and sultanas, these are the usual fare for this occasion.
On the first Sunday in Siligo there is the festa delle salsicce (festival of the sausage) traditionally after the slaughter of the pig the sausage is prepared and cured, it’s a great chance to taste the superb variety of preserved meats that the inland villages are famous for.
Christmas here is not the huge commercial event it is elsewhere in Europe, there is little sign of it before the 8th when the decorations are put up. The celebrations are usually kept in the family with a dinner of new season lamb eaten on Christmas Eve.
Sardinia is very interesting for lovers of nature and being an island has developed, thanks to the isolation, its own specific cross section of plants and animals, many being only found in Sardinia or sometimes also in Corsica, its island neighbour to the North. Sardinia is also on a main migration route for birds moving between Africa and Europe so sees a diverse range of species throughout the year.
Sardinia has a range of very diverse habitats, from the coastal cliffs and beaches, the saltwater lagoons, the macchia covered lowlands to oak covered plateaux and high mountains, each playing host to a diversity of plant and animal life.
The islands saltwater lagoons are the place to see a huge variety of birdlife. Sardinia has around 13,000 hectares of protected lagoons mainly around Oristano in the west and Cagliari in the south-. This is a huge bonus as this type of habitat is becoming one of the most endangered and are of international importance for the breeding of rare species and as a stopover point for migrating birds. Flamingos have long used the lagoons during their migration from Africa to the South of France and many now nest here and stay all year round. This habitat also supports the Avocet, Spoonbill, Crane, Glossy Ibis, Black Winged Stilt, White Headed Duck and many, many more.
The coastal zones are home to some very interesting wildlife. On the rugged coast between Alghero and Bosa is the largest colony of Griffon vultures in Italy. These huge birds can often be seen circling high above the coastal road. There are around 30 breeding pairs and in the spring it is possible to take a boat trip from Bosa up along the coast where nests with young can be observed. On the East coast of the island, in the gulf of Orosei, there are what remains of the Monk Seal sometimes known as the Mediterranean Seal. Only a very few individuals remain as the species teeters on the verge of extinction. Also on this coast, where the Gennargentu mountains drop to the sea, the Eleonora Falcon can be seen – found only in the Mediterranean, this raptor was named after Queen Eleonora who decreed that she was the only one allowed to use the breed for hunting. Off the North West coast lies the island of Asinara which is famous for the small white donkeys that are found there. Boat trips can be taken to the island, however there are now breeding colonies of the white donkeys at Capo Caccia and in the forest of Bourgos area. In the only freshwater lake in Sardinia – Lago Baratz – live freshwater turtles.
The plains and plateaux and the macchia covered slopes are home to many species of wildlife and plants. Sardinia is a particularly good place to find many rare species of wild orchids alongside lavender, poppies and asphodel. Wild boar are plentiful here and are still hunted avidly by the locals. There are also hare, rabbit, foxes and partridge. On the Giara di Gesturi plateau you may be lucky enough to see the Cavellini – Sardinian wild horses, which are small and timid creatures. Among other sights are the Little Bustard, quite rare but doing well in Sardinia along with Rollers, Bee Eaters, Woodchat, Shrike, Hoopoe, Buntings and at night, Nightjar and many Owl species.
In the higher woodland areas and the high mountains there is yet another habitat for rare species. Sardinia is the most forested region of Italy with large areas of cork oaks, being one of Europe’s largest supplier of cork. There are also holm oaks, bay oaks, yew and maple. On the high mountains there are areas of truly ancient forest that has never been felled these ancient, gnarled trees are some of the only specimens of this age left in Europe. These forests and mountains are home to some very interesting creatures. Here the Pine Marten is common, there is also a population of wildcat. You may see the small stocky Sardinian Deer or even Mouflon. In the high mountains there are Golden Eagle and the rare Bonelli eagle. Once there was also the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeyer but unfortunately they are said to have been wiped out by hunters shooting them for trophies or wrongly killing them, thinking they were a threat to their livestock.
North coast beaches
La Pelosa is one of Sardinia and Italy’s most beautiful beaches with pale white sand and amazing tourquois seas, however its popularity means that in July and August you will find the beach crowded.
Isola Rossa is the name of the small Island overlooked by this small tourist town there are several small beaches here and just to the west there is a long beach with great views over to castelsardo
La Marmorata is both the name of the beach and of the islands in front it is a large swath of beach and is just outside of the town of S. Teresa di Gallura there are also more lovely sandy beaches just down the coast near Capo Testa
East coast beaches
Berchida was included for three consecutive years among the 10 best beaches in Italy. Fine sand and clear green-turquoise sea, Bérchida beach is surrounded by juniper trees that grow among the small dunes.
Capo Comino a fine white sandy beach, characterized by sand dunes. Ideal for snorkelling, from the beach you can swim out to the red rock of Isola Ruja. Back from the beach there is a lagoon where flamingos can often be spotted.
Cala Luna considered by many people the most beautiful cove of the island, Cala Luna is a long stretch of fine white sand, accessed only by a coastal pass or more easily by boat.
Tortoli is considered one of the most clean and beautiful beaches in Sardinia, it stretches for kilometers and consists of fine white sand, with crystal clear waters that remain quite shallow for about 200m into the sea.
Budelli an uninhabited island of the la Maddalena archipeligo has uniquely beautiful beaches of rose pink sand and some of the clearest waters you could hope to find.
West coast beaches
Around the area of Cabras there are several beautiful beaches Is Arutas and Mari Ermi are amazing beaches with the sand consisting of small grains of quartz mainly white in colour
San Vero Millis has a lovely beach of fine sand and is frequented by surfers for the good waves found here.
S’Archittu is named for the rock arch you will find there the sea is clear and the beach is lovely if a little small. The daring local youth have taken to jumping into the sea from one of the large rocks here.
Alghero stretching from the north side of Alghero known as the lido there is a long strip of fine white sanded beach that stretches for miles up to the next small town of Fertilia.
Going north from Alghero there is the huge bay of Porto Conte an enourmous curve of splendid beach lining the bay of sheltered water ideal for yachts and windsurfers.
Bosa Marina has a wide swath of yellow sand and has the reputation and has awards as one of the cleanest beaches in Italy, the sand contains grains of iron and gets unbearable to bare feet in the August sun.
Piscinas has a beach made up of huge sand dunes the highest dunes found in Europe
Cala Domestica a short distance from the resort of Buggerru this secluded beach is at the end of a deep inlet and has some lovely crtstal cear waters for snorkeling.
South coast beaches
Il Poetto beach is longest and livliest beach on the island, lying just outside the capital of Cagliari it is frequented by the citizens for high days and holidays.
Villasimius has a long stretch of stunning beach and has become quite famous for the stunning beauty
Tuerrredda is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in sardinia famous for its powdery white sand and stunning clear seas.