Living in a country with such a challenging climate like Ireland’s prompts me to seek out warmer parts abroad for at least one week every year. Tranquility, sunshine and a beach within reach are the criteria, criteria which North Sardinia ably met.
The Italian island of Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and is located approximately 400km west of Naples. For its size, its terrain is diverse and one couldn’t possibly do the whole island justice in two weeks. Flight connections and great beaches influenced my decision to visit north Sardinia.
The medieval port city of Alghero on the north western side of the island was my first base and an absolute blissful introduction to Sardinia. The sea wall which protects the Old Town from the Mediterranean is the place for the evening passeggiata. To be honest, any part of the Old Town at any time of the day is perfect.
Boats depart the harbour on a regular basis and head towards the headland of Capo Caccia. Shorter boat trips cover only Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto), a sea cave of stalagmites and stalactites. A better use of time and money would be a day trip around the Capo Caccia area stopping off at islands and inaccessible coves for a swim.
Alghero’s beaches are on the north side of the city. Spiaggia di San Giovanni is immediately north of the harbour but is surpassed by neighbouring Spiaggia di Maria Pia which is well worth the 30 minute walk from Alghero harbour. For the ultimate exotic beach experience I rented a bicycle at the harbour promenade and cycled half an hour north in the direction of Fertilia to the highly recommended sandy pine tree-backed Bombarde beach (Spiaggia delle Bombarde). With clear turquoise water and a full suite of facilities Bombarde beach is quite rightly identified as one of the best beaches in Sardinia.
In the interests of research I needed to compare Bombarde beach with the famous La Pelosa beach (Spiaggia della Pelosa) in the north western tip of Sardinia. Yes, La Pelosa beach lives up to its renowned reputation. The downside? Parking can be problematic.
Porto Torres is a large industrial town with ferries to France and mainland Italy. But the coast east of Porto Torres is a large expanse of golden sandy beaches and to this day I cannot understand how deserted these beaches were during the shoulder season.
The road begins to climb as one approaches the cliff-top town of Castelsardo after which the road veers inland. North of Castelsardo the coast is known as Costa Paradiso, a picturesque rocky coast of secluded coves. As the SP90 road returns to the coast the terrain begins to flatten playing host to large expanses of sandy beaches, Spiaggia Rena Majore the most well-known of these.
The road north ends in Santa Teresa di Gallura, a popular but pleasant hill-top summer resort whose secret weapon is the glorious Blue Flag beach of Rena Bianca which became my favourite for swimming in and for staring across at the French island of Corsica. Unable to find suitable accommodation in Santa Teresa di Gallura basecamp was an apartment in Capo Testa, a headland a couple of kilometres west of the town. Given its rocky terrain Capo Testa only has one proper sandy beach, Rena di Ponente. Another excellent beach can be found in the village of Santa Reparata which is reached via the Capo Testa to Santa Teresa di Gallura road.
Another highly recommended beach is La Marmorata, approximately 5km directly east of Santa Teresa di Gallura as the crow flies, and practically deserted when I visited. The exposed beaches of Porto Pollo and Porto Liscia, a couple of kilometres south of La Marmorata, are only recommended those who want to partake in water sports where wind is a required factor. For curiosity’s sake I drove further south to the money-magnet Costa Smeralda town of Porto Cervo but was disappointed with its lack of a beach. Multi-million euro yachts are no substitute for a bit of sand.
Baia Sardinia in northern Costa Smeralda has a beautiful beach but lacks the character of Santa Teresa di Gallura. More paradisiacal beaches are apparently to be found on the National Park archipelago of La Maddalena (Parco Nazionale dell’ Arcipelago di La Maddalena) but tour boats were unable to travel the route due to wind.
DO I RECOMMEND NORTH SARDINIA?
I have fond memories of North Sardinia and it was difficult to find fault with it as a sun holiday destination. It met all of my expectations, exceeding them when it came to the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. For example, a fellow plane passenger offered to drive me into Alghero city from the airport should the bus service have terminated upon arrival (It was a late-night flight). She disappeared during luggage collection only to reappear in the arrivals hall with a representative of the bus company who accompanied me to the ticket machine and guided me through the purchasing process.
Despite the language barrier, a fellow passenger at the airport bus terminal requested the bus driver to stop at a particular street for me, a request which was duly responded to, enabling me to arrive a couple of metres distance from my B&B. Now that’s a pretty decent introduction to Sardinia, isn’t it?
Question is – Will the rest of Sardinia compare favourably to its northern coast?
GETTING TO NORTH SARDINIA
I flew into Alghero airport from Frankfurt Hahn with Ryanair and departed from Olbia airport to London Luton with Easyjet. The one-way car rental from Alghero to Olbia was a minimal extra cost. Sardinia is a popular destination for Italians so the most convenient connections are from the Italian mainland. Of the 32 flight departures at Olbia airport, whilst I waited, I counted 22 internal flights with 8 of those to Milan alone.
Olbia, Porto Torres and, to a limited extent, Santa Teresa di Gallura are the main car ferry terminals in North Sardinia with daily sailings to mainland Italy and Corsica. Sicily, mainland France and Barcelona are connected by a number of weekly sailings.
Check out my travel guide to Italy.