Tips for visiting Sardinia:
- Getting around Sardinia: The island is much bigger than what you probably expect and the distances from one place to another too! I strongly recommend renting a car or scooter! The roads can be very winding, you will encounter steep hills, and most cars will be stick shift. I rented the Smartforfour and it was the perfect size for 1 or 2 people but every time I went up a hill, the car had 0 power and the AC would almost stop working!
- Sardinian landscape: Sardinia is a beautiful mix of stunning sandy beaches with turquoise water, mountains with boulders, trees, and cute towns. It’s extremely charming and it has something for everyone.
- Where to stay in Sardinia: I stayed in The Grand Poltu Quatu hotel thanks to a friends recommendation. It was a great location with a beautiful pool and thanks to booking.com it wasn’t too expensive and the buffet breakfast (huge spread) was included. There is no beach access close to the hotel but they offer a shuttle service to two beaches and includes a lounging chair and a sunbrella (see below). I’d recommend staying a few nights there then moving around to the northwest part of the island, for example towards Stintino, and then making your way down and around the island. There’s also a lot of agro-tourism options which I’d love to try next time!
- What to eat & drink in Sardinia: seafood (baked covered in salt & water only), local beer (Birra Ichnusa), Vermentino (local wine), local sparkling wine, local liquor (Mirto), local cracker (Carasau bread), Pecorino Sardo (cheese from Sardinian sheep milk), local cookies and cakes, Aperol spritz, pizza, pasta and of course gelato!
- Beaches: I need to warn you about Sardinian beaches. They are very crowded if you go during peak season. They are not very deep or wide, so expect to be very close to your neighbor. The locals seem to enjoy the lounging chairs as well as the regular beach chairs more than just sitting in the sand. They also very often bring sunbrellas. Parking can be easily 10 euros a day or 2 euros an hour and hard to find. Some beaches you will discover simply by spotting all the cars parked along the road and by following the locals down an unidentified path that leads to a little slice of paradise. The sand texture changes a lot from one beach to another: fine white grains to pebble beaches. Most of them have cute little snack bars above or around them.
- Shops: opening hours are different from the North American store hours. Most of the time they open around 7/8 am and close at noon or 1 pm and they open again at 4/5 pm until 8/9pm.
- Northeast coast- Costa Smeralda- beaches I explored:
- Spiaggia Del Piccolo Pevero Beach: I found this beach on google and decided to ‘swing by’. The parking situation was quite hectic and the walk from the parking to the beach was a good 10 minutes. The beach was quite crowded but stunning. It was my first beach on the island and it definitely set the tone for my beach week in Sardinia.
- Porto Paglia: I found this beach randomly because I decided to pull over when I saw a bunch of parked cars by the busy street and followed a couple down a little pathway. The beach was surprisingly quiet and peaceful compared to Piccolo Pevero Beach.
- Spiaggia Cala Granu: Very beautiful beach, not too crowded and very cute little restaurant right above it. Parking was relatively easy as google maps brought me to a little parking lot with not that many cars and then I kind off followed a driveway and walked through a fence and saw the beach.
- Spiaggia Pitrizza: yellow-ish sand beach with a bunch of people, in a little cove with quiet waters.
- Porto Sole beach: I was here on a very windy and rainy day but it was still beautiful. It’s probably one of the smaller beaches I’ve seen, surrounded by more tall green grass and felt more wild. The shuttle from the Grand Poltu Quatu will drop you off here and you’ll get a free chair & sunbrella.
- Spiaggia Liscia Ruja: One of my favorite beaches! It was busy but wasn’t too crowded and it was pretty long, the water was very clear and the sand a little bit granular but nice. I was there on a very (VERY) windy day and it was still very pleasant! The shuttle from the Grand Poltu Quatu will drop you off here and you’ll get a free chair & sunbrella.
- Baja Sardinia- The beach is located at the bottom of the town. It’s very small but the palapas are very cute! It’s a good beach if you want to grab a drink at sunset and food after some time on the beach. I’d recommend Sole Mare for a good pizza and the fresh fish at Ristorante Baia Blue. There are also cute shops and a delicious gelato place (Il Gelato).
- Phi Beach: I’m still not sure if this place actually has a beach because I got there when it was starting to get dark but this is a MUST stop for sunset and a night out (cover charge is at least 20 euros per person and includes a drink). It’s a magical place! Their restaurant also came highly recommended.
- Santa Marinella beach: This beach is closer to Olbia and a bit more crowded but known for its good winds for windsurfing and kite surfing. The water wasn’t as clear here but it had a lot of little snack bars and cute beach vendors.
- Poltu Quatu: This little touristy town has multiple restaurants along the marina, which is great if you don’t want to have to take your car to go out for food or drinks. It also has a very well-stocked grocery store and a bunch of shops. The crowd here is very wealthy. You can admire all the fancy yachts along the marina. There is no beach in Poltu Quatu but you can charter a boat out of here or go scuba diving, amongst other excursions offered. The gym Heaven is brand new: very small but well equipped. Restaurant wise I was recommended L’Orsetto, Legami sushi, Tanit, Canteen Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar and Aruana but didn’t have time to try them. I did have a good bottle of sparkling pink wine (and Gelato later) at Chez Panin, a great espresso macchiato at Caffè della Piazza, and an expensive, very al dente seafood pasta dish at Fishbar. I enjoyed a very good seafood meal at Fruits de Mer with friends. This restaurant offers a great view of Potlu Quatu’s nighttime lively marina.
- Porto Cervo: Fancy luxury town where you can go shopping in all the high-end shops (see warning above about opening hours). It has cute waterfront bars such as Nikki beach. You can walk to the marina from the town on a cute little boardwalk (the start was a little bit hard to find). The view from the church (Parrocchia Stella Maris) is also very pretty!
- Lighthouse Capo Fero: looked very pretty from the google maps pictures I’d seen but sadly you can’t get to it.
- I did a fantastic boat tour with Dea del Mare on a motor yacht and it was a great way to see islands on the north coast of Sardinia. The top of the boat had a sun deck with lounging chairs and the bottom part had seating in the front and the back with some shade. We left from the Palau harbor and checked out the beautiful villas of Porto Raphael, then we stopped at a beach off of Spargi Island for a beautiful swim. The water was like swimming in a pool: clear, warm and perfect. I did some snorkeling and saw a bunch of fish! We then sailed by the Pink beach (Spiaggia Rosa) on Budelli Island but it is forbidden to stop and set foot on it. It wasn’t pink when I was there, but apparently, the pink sand color is due to tiny pieces of crushed coral and microscopic marine creatures that surface at a specific time of the year. We then stopped close to Spiaggia Del Cavaliere for a swim (the water was so clear it was like swimming in an aquarium!) and we had a deliciously homemade bowl of seafood pasta waiting for us when we climbed back on the boat accompanied with a glass of Vermentino. Later came the espressos and the Sardinian cookies! We weren’t the only ones in this spot: I counted at least 20 boats! Once we were done feasting, we made our way to our last stop, a beach on Santa Maria island. It was a very skinny beach and by the time we got there, the sun had disappeared so we didn’t stay very long. There were a lot of boats docked here too. We made our way back to the harbor and started getting sprinkled on my some rainy looking clouds!
- I decided to walk around the town after the boat ride to get a feel for the town. It obviously gets flooded with tourists coming for the daily boat rides and for the people taking the ferry to La Maddalena island! Still, it’s a cute little town with a few trendy shops, restaurants and a great gelato spot called Gelateria Fiore di Maggio. I also enjoyed a nice espresso on the patio of La Vecchia Fonte Hotel.
- Recommended restaurants: Ristorante Il Porticciolo and Del Gusto.
- San Pantaleo: this town is worth the stop. It’s a very small artsy town with a bunch of shops (pricey), restaurants and a charming piazza. I think they also have a farmers market on Thursdays!
- Arzachena: is a bigger town with a cute piazza and hosts a very charming church that offers a great 360 view of the area. The steps leading to the Santa Lucia church are painted in a colorful rainbow pattern and it’s a great spot for pictures!
- Stintino: an absolute MUST STOP. One of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been too. The beautiful white soft sandbank, the turquoise clear, shallow, warm water and the old castle in the background make this place a very magical and popular spot for local and international tourists. It was VERY crowded on a weekday but I still think it’s a must stop. The beauty of this place may cause goosebumps!
- Scuba diving in Sardinia: I dove with Orso Diving Club because it was located within steps of my hotel and I really enjoyed my experience. The boat was the smallest I’ve experienced so far: it held 13 passengers but with the tanks and the equipment, it was a tight squeeze. I booked a longer day dive with them which meant we were doing 2 dives in one day, farther from Sardinia and closer to Corsica. The boat ride to the first site was beautiful and I saw the famous bear-shaped rock as well as Madalena island. Our first stop was at Angelika off the coast of Santa Theresa and was a shipwreck (my first one!) and it was quite cool to dive in and out of! We were the only ones there too! We saw a huge lobster as well as some cute little purple fish but not a lot of coral. Our second dive was called Spargotello, off the coast of Spargi island, and had 2 other boats on site. It was a cool reef spot to see fish such as Baracuda and other ones. I saw a few orange starfish but not that much colorful coral.
- Still on my list for next time:
- restaurants in Costa Smeralda to try: La Rocca, Dante’s, Mezza Luna and many more
- More beaches (& their towns): Grande Pevero beach, Spiaggia Pittulongu beach, Bados beach, Porto Taverna, San Paolo, San Teodoro, Spiaggia di San Nicolo, Grotta di Nettuno, etc!
- Day trip or overnight on Maddalena Island and possibly the others around there (Carpera)
- Go hiking (& hike down the Gola Su Gorropu)
- Explore Santa Teresa Gallura
- Go wine tasting
- Explore the Western, south and southeast part of the island. Recommended areas include Golfo di Orosei, La Caletta in Sinisola, Arbatax, Cagliari & the Castle, Bosa, Parco Nazionale dell’Asinara, Tiscali, Oristano, Aritzo, Alghero and Nuraghe Su Nuraxi (archeological site).
Impressions of Sardinia:
There is something so magical about this island. I’m not sure what it is about this place that makes it feel like you’ve landed on another planet. Maybe it’s the stunning white sand beach and pristine turquoise water. Maybe it’s the beautiful rocky mountains in the background. Maybe it’s the delicious food and wine. Maybe it’s the colorful sunrises and sunsets. Maybe it’s the people you meet along the way…
I didn’t know much about Sardinia before going other than the fact there were a few cute beaches. I definitely underestimated the number of beaches and all the different sizes they come in… and they are all very crowded in the summertime. I also underestimated the size of the island and the distances from one point to another. The roads are very curvy and I never actually got on a highway (I don’t know if they have them!) but the viewpoints along the way were stunning. I underestimated how hot and windy it could get.
I pretty much underestimated everything about this island. I think you need a good three to four weeks to fully explore the island and enjoy all it has to offer!
I discovered Mirto (the local Sardinian liquor), Vermentino (local white wine), Birra Ichnusa (local beer), Carasau (local cracker) and Pecorino Sardo (local cheese). I ate great gelato, pastries, charcuterie plates, pizza, and seafood. I sipped on delicious cappuccinos, espressos and of course, Aperol Spritz. I went all in!
Let’s just say it blew me away and I almost shed a tear when I left this island. I LOVE YOU SARDINIA!
Side note: I still have this weird feeling of discrimination towards people traveling alone in Italy. I’d felt it when I was in Rome 2 years ago for an extended amount of time and I felt it again on this island. As a solo traveler, I was often offered the table in the back, with no view. I was explained, a few years back, that it was because a couple brings in more dollars than a single person at a good table. It can be true, but also possibly not. Now I know to fight for the table I want and not let them put me in the corner beside the toilet and I don’t let them push me around, but it’s still something I struggle with in this country. The other thing I’m always surprised by is the number of smokers and how annoying it is to have people in a restaurant smoke in your face while you’re enjoying a tasty meal!
(I have organized the photo gallery in the same order I discovered the island. I appologize, I know there are many pictures but I simply couldn’t choose!)
Related posts: Rome (message me for some recommendations)