Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, is, like Sicily, an excellent place for the very Italian concept of the agriturismo, despite it being even more detached physically and psychologically from mainland Italy.
It is rightly famous for its beaches, the Costa Smeralda in particular plays host to a great number of Europe’s most well heeled tourists every summer but it is large enough to have a variety of landscapes and a great deal of superbly isolated rural areas, and rustic agriturismos, where you’ll find peace and quiet in abundance.
Sardinia is an ancient place, the Romans didn’t get here until 238 after a defeat of the Carthaginians when they then had to take over the Carthaginians job of quelling various revolts by the indigenous tribes of the island. The Roman legacy is less notable in Sardinia than some of the ancient peoples who lived there before, particularly the Nuraghic People, and you’ll find ruins of their rounded prehistoric dwellings known as nuraghi scattered all around.
Probably the best examples are Nuraghe Su Nuraxi in the centre of the island, Nuraghe Losa near Abbasanta in the west, and Nuraghe Santu Antine, in the so-called Valley of the Nuraghi near Alghero in the north west.
There are many more though, literally thousands, and if you ask locals in any area, or at any agriturismo, they will point you in the direction of the nearest one. These structures are very symbolic of Sardinia and the Nuraghic identity is still a source of pride for Sardinians.
WHERE TO GO: SARDINIA RURAL HIGHLIGHTS
The island gets a lot of visitors by ferry from the Italian mainland, with the busy capital, Cagliari, and Olbia in the north east being the main entry ports. From Olbia most will go straight to the nearby Costa Smeralda which has some stunning beaches around its main town of Porto Cervo; Capriccioli and Grande Pevero particularly, and some beautiful turquoise coloured waters to go with them.
Alghero on the opposite coast is a vibrant place which sees a lot of visitors and has also has some lovely beaches nearby. It was once part of the Catalan empire and to this day up to a quarter of the native population still speaks Catalan, though that figure grows less with each passing decade.
Sardinia is in general very underpopulated with the interior even more so, there are very few large settlements here, the largest being Nuoro, which has a population of under 40,000 and is a good base for exploring the wild landscapes of the Gennargentu mountain range.
Much of the north and east has similar landscapes with rocky hills, cork forests and swathes of aromatic macchia (maquis) plants. In the west and south the land is generally less spectacular but still with many natural wonders, especially along the coasts with isolated coves, wetlands and coastal lagoons.
Sardinia’s lagoons, and their great flocks of pink flamingos are justifiably famous, with the Sinis Peninsula near Oristano in the west being perhaps the best example but also Molentargius Saline Natural Park near Cagliari in the south and San Teodoro near Olbia in the north east being other contenders. Wetlands in coastal Sardinia are numerous though and you’ll catch glimpses of the iconic pink birds in many places.
You won’t find much urban life in the interior of Sardinia particularly, but will find some great agriturismos, many of which can give a very unique insight into one of Italy’s most isolated and insular regions. Though an insight that, just like everywhere else in Italy, sometimes begins and ends with food.
WHAT TO EAT: FOOD IN SARDINIA
Sardinia is not known as a wine producing region but it does produce some, especially in the north with the most well known being vermentino, an aromatic, refreshing white. It’s food though is more noted. It is a great exporter of sheep’s cheese and milk, saffron and sea food, with many local dishes and specialities which you’ll find in any good agriturismo.
They have variations on classic pasta here, fregola, for example, made from coarsely ground semolina and adapted to many ingredients including seafood, or the small, oblong, malloreddus, again made from semolina with a touch of saffron.
The hearty Porcheddu, a slow spit roast pork, is a big tradition in Sardinia and commonly done on special occasions. You’ll also come across plenty of tangy pecorino cheese and the wafer thin carasau bread, with pecorino being commonly used in an unusual but common dessert called Seadas; fried pastries filled with lemon flavored pecorino and topped either with sugar or honey.
Other dishes to look out for: Culurgiones, a kind of home-made dumpling pasta originating in the mountainous eastern province of Ogliastra. Usually it is filled with mint favoured potato cream and served with tomato sauce and basil or with sage and butter.
Zuppa Gallurese: If you can imagine such a thing as a cross between lasagne and bread soup, then Zuppa Gallurese might be it. It’s a traditional dish from Sardinia’s north west where sheep meat and broth are mixed with flat bread, creating a simple hearty dish with a unique texture.
WHERE TO STAY: THE BEST AGRITURISMI IN SARDINIA
You’ll find agriturismos all over Sardinia, though with a slighter higher number around the coast for no more reason than that it sees higher visitor numbers. The quality is generally excellent across the island. Take a look below at some of the agriturismos we have recommended and reviewed in Sardinia: