Armed with Paddy Dillon’s Walking in Sardinia and some recently-acquired Italian, Peter Thomasson and his wife Dorothy set off to explore the contrasting landscapes, fascinating pre-history and challenging road surfaces of Corsica’s big brother. Here Peter describes some of the highs and lows of their eventful spring walking holiday.
I've been learning Italian on and off for about 18 months so I was keen for our next walking holiday to be in Italy. Sardinia sounded interesting and a bit different so when we saw that there was a Cicerone guidebook, we thought we'd give it a try.
We planned to spend ten days there from Friday to Monday – flying from Stansted to Alghero and staying at Dorgali for three nights, Baunei for four nights and Aritzo for the last three.
We'd booked the flights, the accommodation and the car hire on the internet so what could possibly go wrong?
We were expecting a Fiat Panda but they gave us a Renault Jeep, which is quite a large chunky car – imagine a mini-Hummer. It seemed a bit too much at the time but we were very glad of it later in the holiday! We got used to the controls and sitting on the left while driving on the right, and then switched on the radio and listened to people talking Italian impossibly fast as we set out to find our b&b in Dorgali. It turned out to be an excellent choice and they were happy to provide us with practically anything for breakfast – not just the default Sardinian breakfast of sweet biscuits and rolls – which was a great relief.
On the first day we combined two walks from the guidebook and walked over Monte Bardia and Cuccuru Cazzeddu from Dorgali to Cala Gonone and back. Cala Gonone is by the sea on the east coast and it took us longer than we expected to get there. To be fair the guidebook had said that the paths were rocky and stony but it’s only when you get there that you discover how much this slows you down. (On the whole the guidebook was really useful but Paddy’s estimates of walk times were a little ambitious for us!) The limestone scenery in this part of the island is very dramatic and we had a pleasant salad lunch in a restaurant overlooking the harbour.
The next day, we had planned to get some food for our packed lunch from the supermarket but it was Sunday and all the shops were shut. We'd have to manage on our supplies of nuts and fruit. We drove to Oliena and parked by the church and walked up a very windy road then a track with many zig zags to finally reach the top of Punta Sos Nidos (1348m). Unfortunately it was bit misty at the top but tricky route finding, following little cairns and rocks in trees, got us back over scree and on forest tracks. There were holm oaks here and white asphodels everywhere.
During our stay in Dorgali, we’d eaten in a couple of different restaurants in the evening and enjoyed some inexpensive local wine along with free glasses of Mirto, the locally made myrtle berry-based liqueur.
On our way to Baunei on the third day we went to see the Nuraghic village of Tiscali (yes, the web hosting company is named after it). Perched in a collapsed cave high up in the hills this curious village is thought to have been inhabited in the Bronze Age, as well as in Roman times, because of various ceramics that have been found on site. (Walkers may want to note that the broken bridge described in the guidebook has been replaced so you don’t have to balance across the river on boulders to get there now!)
When we got to Baunei there was no sign of the owner of the apartment we had booked. I phoned him and explained in my rudimentary Italian that we were booked to stay there for the next four nights. Sadly this was to his great surprise. He drove over to meet us and explained that we couldn't use it because the bathroom was broken and the workmen were coming to repair it in two days’ time. He did find us an alternative apartment but it was 20km away and by the beach, rather than close by the mountains that we were hoping to walk in and didn’t have the lovely view from the balcony that we’d admired on the internet.
To be honest we were not in the least bit reassured to hear that Victoria Beckham takes her holidays there! But he was trying to be helpful and as it was getting late so we acquiesced.
We both wanted a bit of a day off on our first day based at Baunei, so we stocked up on catering supplies and had a look round the village of Santa Maria Navarrese. There are three picturesque rocky islands off shore and we had a leisurely lunch in a restaurant. Next day, we drove back through Baunei to Bar Su Porteddu near Golgo and followed the path to Cala Goloritze. This is by the sea and features in several local postcards with its sea tunnel and rocky limestone spire. We bathed our feet and Dorothy painted while a local school party played on the beach. We speculated that what they were officially engaged in was a Geography field trip but it looked like a relaxing day out for all concerned including the teacher. On the way we saw wild sows with their piglets snuffling about as well as goats. We made a detour to the top of Punta Salinas from where you get a great view of the north west coast of the island and we met the boars again on the way back.
Our next expedition was to see the Tomba dei Giganti (Tomb of the Giants) – an arc of stone slabs flanking a very large passage grave. The walk continued past many springs and fountains (sorgenti e fontane) often set into elaborate walls, troughs or even buildings. We often saw locals filling up plastic bottles from these springs which must be considered to have health benefits.
For our next walk we went back to Santa Maria Navarrese and walked along the cliffs to Pedra Longa, which is another huge limestone pinnacle. We then drove over very twisty mountain roads to the village of Aritzo which is further inland and where the geology is very different. Here there is granite and schist rather than the limestone with occasional basalt lava flows we had seen along the East coast. Allow plenty of time if you are using these roads.
Our hotel in Aritzo was a relaxed, family-run affair. On our first day based there we walked up Brunca Spina and Punta la Marmora, the highest point on the island at 1834m. On a clear day you should be able to see most of Sardinia from the top. The drive to the start was another interesting one. The road ran out of tarmac at one point and just became a rough track, then a series of ridges of hard mud, then more track, then back to tarmac. It was a good job we had the Jeep. (Perhaps the budget ran out?)
Back at the hotel I asked the owner about the road. I pointed to the map: "Questa strada è rotto." He explained that it had been like that for 6 years and they tried to avoid going that way in the winter!
On our last walking day we drove to Tonara, a nearby village where they make nougat – but we couldn’t try any because it was Sunday. We ascended Punta Muggianeddu, an excellent viewpoint, on good tracks and extended the walk to include Punta Perdu Abes.
The weather was cloudy for the last two days we were in Sardinia which made for more pleasant walking conditions. Before that it had been really quite warm but not too hot to handle and we'd only had to put up with a small shower all holiday. Given the number of flowers we saw, especially some gorgeous purple crocuses, I'd say this was a good time of year to go, and we would recommend it. Just beware of the roads and be prepared for a country with traditional Sunday (non) trading!