I’m not sure why, but I always try to be out of town for my birthday, preferably by the sea, and with one or more loved ones in tow. This year I chose Sardinia as my birthday destination. I’ve always wanted to go, so my boyfriend Lukas and I started looking into it early this year, and everything fell smoothly into place. I found a direct round-trip flight on Easyjet from Basel for approx. 250.- Chf/USD per person, and we found an excellent place on Airbnb for 53.- Chf/USD per night. One can also reach the island via car and ferry, but that only makes sense when you’ve got a few weeks to be there. Our generous Airbnb host Anna (Cottage in legno, Murta Maria) offered us roundtrip transportation to and from the Olbia Costa Smeralda airport at no additional charge, so we wouldn’t have to rent a car or take a taxi if we didn’t want to.
Our Airbnb rental was located in Murta Maria, a little village south of Olbia. There were bikes available for our use, but we preferred to walk most of the time because the natural surroundings are so beautiful, it’s worth it to take the time to “smell the roses”. The closest beach is Spiaggia Porto Istana, and it was a good 15-20 minute walk from our place. There is a gorgeous trail along the coast with exquisite views and all sorts of intriguing plants, mosses and shrubs to discover (if you like that kind of thing as I do). It was also somehow sweet & comforting to see some plants that are common in Southern California like Iceplant, Bougainvillea, red Bottlebrush trees, and various cacti.
After two days of exploring the local area, we decided to rent a car for one day and drive up to the northern tip of Sardinia, first visiting Palau, then Santa Teresa di Gallura, and finally followed the road back down on the Costa Smeralda to Porto Cervo near the coast. It was pretty easy renting a car – our wonderful host Anna drove us up to the airport and marched us up to the desk of a local rental car company called Ruvioli. The service was fast and friendly, the car was new and clean, and they were asking for 30.- Euro less per day (Including insurance) for the same rental car as big competitor Europcar (We paid 59.- Euro t0tal for a 24 hour rental). Whenever possible, I prefer to use a local company anyway, so it was a perfect fit. The only thing I will warn you about is to remain completely alert while driving in Sardinia. Not everyone drives like a maniac, but we experienced 2 near head on collisions, ran over a turtle, and had so many tailgaters on our ass (people love to pass cars on two-way roads here) that one would have thought we had a massive magnet attached to our back bumper. If you prefer to be shuttled around without the stress of driving, we met a woman named Monica Manzottu (Tel +39-339/7261072) who has an English speaking taxi service, and regularly drives people all over the island for daily excursions.
Anyway, back to our trip…it only took us around 45 minutes to reach Palau from Olbia airport. There were high winds in the forecast for most of our trip, and that’s what we got!
Still, it was bright and sunny, scattered with lush island clouds, and warm enough to lay on the beach beyond the shelter of big boulders. Unfortunately, we only dipped into that incredible turquoise water a few times – even though it was freezing cold, we couldn’t resist.
Palau is a small town with beautiful beaches, sprinkled with large rock formations, mostly known for its ferry service running all throughout the day to La Maddalena, the largest of a group of islands that make up the Maddalena archipelago. We decided to bypass that trip in favor of heading all the way up to the Northern tip of Sardinia, to Santa Teresa di Gallura.
There was a cutesy old town to walk around, but at this time of year and up until June, it’s still officially off-season, so a lot of shops and restaurants are closed or at least have very limited opening hours. Still, as far I’m concerned, it’s a small price to pay for avoiding the swarms of tourists that flock here in the summertime. I would have loved to visit nearby Capo Testa and Spiaggia di Cala Spinosa, but we ran out of time. In fact, my teaser post for this trip featured pics from my friends Sue and Fabu who had visited the region last year. It’s one of those places that I look forward to seeing on my next trip to Sardinia.
The next stop on our little excursion was to Porto Cervo, although in all honesty, I wish we wouldn’t have bothered. First of all, we just wanted to find a nice restaurant for an aperitif by the seaside, but soon discovered that there were only very few restaurants open – 2 of them overlooking a large parking lot at the port, and another was a gelateria inside of a huge fancy shopping mall. Then we tried for over an hour in vain to find an open public toilet – we came across 3 -but they were all locked. Finally we popped into Cafe du Port (one of the places at the parking lot), and once we were able to relieve ourselves, it was actually an enjoyable experience. We ordered a few proseccos, and they were served with an array of small appetizers at no additional charge (as is common, but not expected here).
Porto Cervo is basically a playground for the mega-wealthy, where the rich and famous park their yachts and spend time in places like “The Piazzetta” – an upscale shopping mall which features its very own Harrod’s, or The Billionaire’s club, a world-renowned nightclub. I personally find it absurd to come to an island whose richest resource is its own natural surroundings, where you actually have the chance to escape the modern world, and go to a shopping mall. But, hey, that’s just me, and probably you too. In my opinion there are much nicer places to spend time at in the immediate region, such as Baia Sardegna.
As far as food goes… We ate out every night in the little local village of Murta Maria – all accessible by foot or bike from our rental. Most of the fare was delicious, as is to be expected in Italy. We were really pleased to see what a considerable effort they make to use local products in their kitchens. To be completely honest I ate pizza and salad pretty much every night for dinner, because it was THAT good. Lukas was more experimental than I, but he’s not a pescetarian like me either, so he naturally had more to choose from.
There is only one main road in Murta Maria, and every restaurant we went to was on that road, so it makes things simple. We liked La Caminera (Via Murta Maria 66), the service was fast, and the quality and price were truly very good. It was full of locals, and that’s often a really good sign. We wouldn’t recommend La Pergola (Via Murta Maria 75) – it just wasn’t that tasty, it was full of tourists, and we left disappointed. Our very favorite was Bar Ristorante Murta Maria, which is located at the only roundabout in town. We had a really nice time, and a superb dinner. Giuseppe Pinna, one of the owners of the restaurant, took the time to come and chat with us (In our strained Italian) about the history of the restaurant and the connection to his family. His grandfather, who was a goat farmer, bought the land in 1965, and then built the restaurant on the site 32 years ago. Now Giuseppe and his brother Francesco run the restaurant year-round, which is rare for Sardinia. There are plenty of restaurants that are only open from June to October, and there is no law that requires them to do otherwise. Because my boyfriend is a vintner, we also talked a lot about wine making in Sardinia (They have excellent wine!), and the harvesting of cork oak which is mostly used to produce corks for bottles.
On our very last day our flight didn’t leave until 5PM, so we had the chance to hang out at the local beach one last time, and even take a stroll through the marina in Olbia.
If the pictures haven’t convinced you yet, I hope I did – Northeastern Sardinia was positively a revelation. What I loved most about Sardinia was the untamed quality of the natural environment – just beautiful and perfect as it is – “Selvaggio“- wild and rugged.
The only pity is that the water wasn’t warmer when we were there – the color is almost phosphorescent at times, and it reminds me of Cuba in that sense – just magical. I think it would be best to book closer to the end of May next time, and I’ve heard that mid-September (after tourist season) is a great time too. I love to hang out on the beach all day, but if it’s too cold to swim, I need to find a way to be active too, so I was really pleasantly surprised to discover that there are so many amazing trails to hike on the island.
So, that was our trip in a nutshell! In 5 days we had the opportunity to experience the northeast of Sardinia as a microcosm of sorts. Not only was it breathtakingly beautiful to explore, but we ate well, slept well, got around well, and ended our trip feeling as if we had been through some portal of tranquility. I already cannot wait to go back.
Gratzias meda, Sardegna! A presto!
All photos were taken by June Liechti-Adamson