Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy but the NW of the island is clearly influenced by a shared history with Catalan Spain. The island itself is 267km long and some 140km wide with much of the countryside hilly. The coastline is dramatic with many beautiful coves and beaches as well as sheer cliffs.
Our first in Sardinia was the San Marco buoys in the Gulf of Oristano on the west coast of the island. There are Roman ruins on the north side of the bay close to the moorings buoys.
On the way to our next stop of note, Carloforte, we passed by Porto Flavia. Porto Flavia, a UNESCO world heritage site, was constructed in the 1920’s high up on the hillside to load steamships with ore extracted from the nearby mines. Before then the ore was transported in small fishing boats to Carloforte, on the Isola di San Pietro, just off the SW tip of the main island.
Carloforte is a very pretty place with the main marinas all along the town quay with shops and restaurants along the quayside as well as further back behind the quay in the alleyways and squares. We did consider overwintering the boat here but it would have involved a ferry across from the main island and a taxi from the airport at Cagliari. The streets around the town quay were buzzing on a late Sept evening when the temperature was still in the 20’s at 9pm. We couldn’t find the spot on the town quay where it isn’t a marina and you can moor for free until we were moored up at Marina Sifredi as the pilot book was incorrect.
The “free” town quay at Carloforte
Cagliari, pronounced Caliari, is the capital of Sardinia with some 150,000 plus inhabitants and is a sprawling town of not much character apart from the old town, which is set up on the hillside behind the harbour. The marinas are now a mile or so outside of the centre so it is a long walk into town past very grubby buildings that are in need of a little TLC. The old part is definitely worth a visit with towers, ramparts and alleyways to explore. There are a lot of good restaurants in the old part as this is obviously a tourist destination.
Left is through one of the windows of the Torre dell’Elefante, a Pisan military tower that was only completed on three sides. Above is looking down onto the ramparts where the chic come for drinks in the early evening.
As we continued our way anticlockwise around the island, there were a number of turquoise bays that we anchored in. One of the nicest was Cala Pira. We anchored in 5m of sand with lovely turquoise waters, beach bars and even a look out tower. Following Cala Pira, we then moved onto Cala Sinzias, which was even more stunning as the water was different shades of turquoise. Unfortunately, the beach bars had shut the day before so we could only admire the view.
The east coast of Sardinia has many beautiful calas but the towns are few and far between with nothing to recommend them. The scenery changes once you reach Olbia on the NE corner. It is set in the furthest corner of an archipalego of islands about 2nm down an inlet but with plenty of water to either anchor of moor in. We chose to tie up on the disused town quay as it was free and close to the shops. The marina is some distance from the town. Olbia, whilst not pretty, had a good feel about the place and we felt perfectly safe there despite some reports to the contrary.
The town had all we needed with regard to provisions, Camping Gaz and hardware shops. We even managed to buy a local data card to use with our router as there we hadn’t had wifi since Carloforte two weeks earlier.
After Olbia, we made our way Porto Cervo, arguably the most expensive marina in the world! It was built by the Aga Khan for the rich and famous to play in in the 1960’s. The marina can charge anything between €300-500 per night in high season and even a mooring buoy in the middle of the harbour can be €100. As we arrived in October, the mooring buoys had been taken up and we anchored for free. There isn’t a town as such but there is a complex that looks like a cross between Disneyland and Centre Parcs. Allegedly, the Presidential Suite at the Hotel Cala di Volpe costs over $30,000 a night! Occasionally, we did find something tasteful but it was not the norm.
There are many upmarket shops such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vitton to cater for the guests aboard the many superyachts that moor here. Porto Cervo is at the centre of the Costa Smeralda Emerald Coast), a beautiful stretch of coastline that includes the Maddalena Archipelago, a series of small islands in a national park off the coast of Sardinia where the Italians flock to sail in the summer holidays.
You will see in the picture that our boat, Nimrod, is in the far top corner completely dwarfed by the super yacht in the middle of the picture.
One of the reasons that this part of the coast is so popular is that it is the only area where there are coves to anchor in to shelter from almost any direction of wind. The island is so large that if the wind is blowing from a certain direction, it is difficult to find shelter other than a marina. On the Costa Smeralda, there are anchorages or mooring buoys although these are very crowded in season. We were very fortunate to be in Sardinia in early October as we still had fine weather but without the crowds or the costs. We were not charged for any of the mooring buoys we used during our stay.
One of the most famous beaches in Sardinia is the Spiaggio Rosa, Pink Beach, on the island of Budelli. It is now a designated conservation area so no one is able to anchor in its waters or go onto the beach. We were able to pick up a mooring buoy nearby and take the dinghy to shore and walk the short distance to the view (left) that few get to see now.
One of the main stopping points for us in this area was Palau on the main island. Palau is the main ferry port across to the town of Maddalena and quite a pretty town in its own right.
We were able to pick up a mooring buoy for free just outside the marina on several occasions. It also has a regular bus service to Olbia, perfect for transfers from the airport there. It is also a nice harbour with a pleasant main street full of shops, restaurants etc. It has a nice feel to the place.
We used the opportunity of being there to catch the ferry over to Maddalena Town, on the island of Maddalena. Maddalena is a busy place in the summer months but in the late season it had a feel of a place somewhat deserted. The town quay was bustling with ferries and fishing boats so I think it could be quite fun in the height of summer. It was nice enough but we preferred Palau.
We worked our way around the top of the island anchoring off Isola Rossa. We were able to dinghy into the town but most of it was locked up for the winter. It seemed a pretty place with a good anchorage just outside of the marina.
Our next stop was Castelsardo, a pretty town set up high on the hillside. The present town dates back to the 12/13th century. The marina is below the town, about 30 minutes walk away but you get lovely views from the old town out to sea. As with many Sardinian towns, this one looks a bit grubby until you get into the old part and then there is usually something worth seeing. The cathedral, dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great, sits on top off the cliffs overlooking the sea with a bell tower next to it. The tower has also been used as a lighthouse. The castle is also worth a visit, if only to walk the ramparts and take in the views but it also houses a museum of various forms of siege artefacts from battering rams to catapults.
Our next stop was Porto Torres, a large commercial port with a number of marinas. It has absolutely nothing to recommend it apart from a couple of supermarkets. After that we went up to Isola Asinara, a large area of conservation on the north west tip of Sardinia where you can’t anchor and must use mooring buoys. In summer the various bays are packed but in October we had the place to ourselves. We stayed in Porto Conte, where the water was clear but not turquoise.
It used to be a penal colony but it is now a mecca for bird watching and walking. It even has its own resident goat!
It was a bit spooky walking around the deserted buildings with only donkeys, cats and a goat for company but it did provide spectacular scenery.
We sailed round to Alghero, which is tucked in on the NW corner where we have left Nimrod for the season of 2012/3. Alghero is a thriving, medieval town that is busy all year round. The area around Alghero has been inhabited since pre-historic times and there are some nuraghic remains outside of town. The old fortified part of the town dates back to the 12th century when Alghero was ruled by the Genoese Doria family until captured by the Catalans in the 14th century and this is where a lot of its current culture and cuisine stems from.
The ramparts are a favourite place to stroll in the evening and look out to sea. The marina we are in, Sant ‘Elmo, is directly under these ramparts.
We used the base of Alghero to visit other towns around the area including the incredible Neptune’s Grotto on the Capo Caccia, about 20km away.
The Grotto was first “discovered” by local fishermen in the 18th century and has been a tourist attraction ever since. If the sea state is calm, ferries motor round from the town quay to the entrance of the Grotto. The wind and sea had got up when we went so we caught a taxi and we were the last ones in before the place was shut as the waves were coming into the entrance! We had to descend the 624 steps as the entrance is at sea level. Well worth it as the caves are spectacular.
We caught a bus to Sassari, the capital of the region and were underwhelmed. There was one main street but the squares described in the guide book as historic have been turned into car parks! We caught the next bus home. A much nicer place was 25km south called Bosa. The town is situated along the riverbanks slightly inland and reminded us of Portugal with its ancient bridge crossing the river. We had a very pleasant walk along the river and stopped for lunch at one of the cafes.
We also visited a couple of towns inland, Tempio Plausania and Aggius. Tempio was a delightful medieval town with cobbled streets and a Pisan bell tower.