The island of Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, it is well connected by air and by sea with international airports at Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia and ferries connecting the island to continental Italy. In summer, many tourists choose the sea route to get to Sardinia for the convenience of having their own car to drive around the island.
The main access points for people arriving by ferry to the north of the island are Olbia, Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres. Olbia and Golfo Aranci are a few kilometers apart and from there, it is a short drive to the small village of Palau with plenty of choices for accommodation and a good choice of restaurants and shops.
Most people will be happy to browse the shops in the village or top up their sun tan on one of the beaches in the area but, for hiking enthusiasts, a highly recommended excursion is to the nearby Bear Rock, a rock formation resembling a bear from which there are very good views of the surroundings.
Being based in Palau, it will make it easier to explore many of the tourist spots found in the north of the island like the world famous Emerald Coast; a stretch of land taken over by the rich and famous, it is here that expensive sea-side villas, beautiful beaches and many yachts anchored in the small harbour of Porto Cervo can be seen. Not far is the village of Arzachena where some important archaeological sites can be visited including some nuraghi, ancient megalithic towers found all over the island.
Back in Palau, a popular day trip is a cruise to The Maddalena Archipelago National Park; a number of boats and ferries leave daily from the small harbour offering different choices of routes and number of islands explored.
The Maddalena Archipelago National Park consists of seven main islands and numerous inlets between Sardinia and Corsica in the stretch of sea known as Bocche di Bonifacio; every island has its own reason for a visit; there is history on the island of Caprera, where the famous general Giuseppe Garibaldi lived, scenic drives around La Maddalena island and chances to explore the other smaller islands: Santo Stefano, Spargi, Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria with beautiful beaches, hidden coves and peculiar rock formations. It is not uncommon to spot dolphins swimming in this waters but, jellyfish are also thriving so care needs to be taken when swimming around here.
Back on dry land, a scenic drive around Northern Sardinia will offer the opportunity to visit the villages of Santa Teresa di Gallura, Castelsardo, and Stintino and pass the famous rock formation known as the Elephant Rock on the way.
One of the largest towns on this side of the island is Alghero, site of an international airport favoured by low-cost airlines; an old walled city with churches, palaces and views of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, the town is very well equipped to accommodate the large number of visitors that come here, especially in the summer months.
Boats leave from Alghero to Neptune’s Grotto. These limestone caves can also be accessed by a stone staircase (654 steps!) from the promontory of Capo Caccia, a short drive away.
The complex of caves stretches for approximately 2500 meters but visitors are only allowed in the main cave on a short walking tour (approximately 200 meters) around the shores of Lake Lamarmora, a salt water lakes that occupies a large area of the cave.
Moving away from the seaside, there is so much to see in Sardinia and having a car, rented or owned, is probably the best way to explore the island. There are miles of countryside dotted with villages steeped in traditions that have gradually got used to tourists.
Driving through Gennargentu National Park and the forest of Montes, wild boars are a common sight and eagles are often spotted flying over the area.
The nearby village of Orgosolo, with its very narrow and steep streets, is famous for murals that can be seen on walls all over the village.
In the south, less commercialized than the north, abandoned mines can be seen on the way to Cagliari, the main city in Sardinia. From here, there are options to travel to many locations in southern Sardinia just a short drive away, like the islands of Sant’Antioco and San Pietro, the towns of Villasimius and Teulada or just take advantage of the many unspoiled beaches with crystal clear waters and a peaceful environment away from the mass tourism of the north.
A holiday to Sardinia will offer the opportunity to sample the traditional food and drinks of the island like “pane carasau”, a very thin and crunchy type of bread and Mirto, a liquor obtained from myrtle plants found all over the island, normally offered at the end of a meal; as it is often sold to tourists in decorated cork covered bottles, it makes for a nice souvenir to take home as a present, a novelty liquor to be served at the end of a dinner party.