This excursion leads us to Sardinia, a land of ancient civilizations which have left behind their Tomb of the Giants, their Domus de Janas (Houses of the Spirits) and the Nuraghi towers whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity, a land of rocky coasts and wild, untamed mountains, whose heritage has been jealously preserved in its traditions and folklore.
• Olbia and Costa Smeralda
From Olbia (Romanesque Church of S. Simplicio), we will drive up towards the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) with its beautiful cliffs, beaches, inlets, marinas, sports amenities, harbors and luxurious hotel complexes, making this one of Europe’s most famous and elegant holiday resort areas. The main towns are Porto Cervo, Cala di Volpe and Pitrizza. From nearby Palau we will visit the islands of Maddalena and Caprera.
Passing through S. Teresa di Gallura at the northernmost tip of Sardinia, we will head for some of the island’s most interesting towns in the hills and on the coast, with their art treasures: Tempio Pausania and Castelsardo, a well-sited picturesque seaside resort. There are many trips that we can make from here: to the Terme di Castel Doria spa resort, or to Nostra Signora de Tergu (12th century), to Sedini and Bulzi, where we can visit the nearby characteristic limestone outcrops known as the “houses of the spirits” (the ‘Elefante’ is the most impressive), and many churches (the Gothic S. Andrea, S. Nicola di Silanis, and the splendid 13th c. S. Pietro di Simbranos).
Driving towards Porto Torres (Roman remains and the superb 11th-15th c. Basilica of S. Gavino), Stintino and Capo del Falcone we reach Alghero. Sardinia’s ‘Catalan’ city, with truly magnificent monuments. It stands in a extraordinary region, with beaches, nuraghi, caves, Saracen towers and peaceful little bays (Porto Conte, the Palmavera nuraghe, the wild Capo Caccia, the fascinating Neptune, Verde, Ricami grottoes, etc., and the necropolis of Anghelu Ruiu).
The next stop is Sassari, which has preserved the ancient town center with its narrow, irregular streets, with reminders of its Spanish past, and the venue for major folklore events (the ‘Cavalcata Sarda’ at Ascension tide, and the ‘Processione dei Candelieri’ on 14th August). We will visit the 13th-18th century Cathedral, the Romanesque S. Maria di Betlem, the pretty Fonte Rosello (1605) fountain, and the Museo Sanna, with archaeological and ethnological exhibits and paintings.
Interesting trips in the environs: to SS. Trinità di Saccargia, Sardinia’s most superb Pisan-Romanesque architectural masterpiece standing isolated in the countryside; S. Michele di Salvenero (l2th century church); Ploaghe (whose parish museum has a small painting gallery); Sorso, and Monte d’Accordi, a tiny hill built on top of the remains of a megalithic altar similar to the Mesopotamian ones (nearby are the remains of the shrine-village, menhirs, a circular sacrificial altar stone probably linked with the cult of Uranus); Ardara (Church of S. Maria del Regno); the 12th c. Church of S. Antioco di Bisarcio; Ozieri.
• The Nuraghi
Southwards lies Torralba, from where we can visit the 13th century Church of S. Pietro di Sorres near Borutta and the S. Antine nuraghe, the most important monument of its kind in Sardinia with the one at Barùmini, and indeed one of the most important megalithic tower structures in the whole of the Western Mediterranean (nearby is the little Romanesque Church of Nostra Signora di Cabu Abbas). We proceed to Macomer, where we can view the S. Barbara and Silanus nuraghi, and the Abbey of S. Maria di Corte.
If there is time, let us go to Bosa (the Genoese Serravalle Castle and the mediaeval chapel of S. Pietro). From here we go to S. Leonardo de Siete Fuentes, Abbasanta, visiting the Losa nuraghe (11th-6th centuries BC) and the remains of two villages – one nuragic and one Punic-Roman (within a radius of a few kilometers are many isolated Romanesque churches and nuraghi).
Oristano is not far away, and we will stop at the cathedral, the church of S. Francesco, the Tower of S. Cristoforo. Nearby is the splendid Romanesque Church of Santa Giusta, the S’Urachi nuraghe, the picturesque Sinis peninsula with the 5th-11th c. Church of S. Giovanni, the ruins of Tharros, a city founded by the Phoenicians, later a Carthaginian and Roman city in a delightful natural setting, in addition to its artistic interest, and Fordongianus, with its many churches.
Across the fertile Campidano plain, between hills and nuraghi, lie Sardara (13th e. Church of S. Gregorio), Guspini, Arbus, Fluminimaggiore (with the nearby 3rd c. AD Roman Temple of Antas), and finally Iglesias, with a number of mediaeval monuments (cathedral, S. Francesco, Nostra Signora di Valverde). South again lie the islands of S. Pietro and S. Antioco with their beautiful beaches, clean sea, archaeological remains and splendid caves. At Tratalias, we should not miss the Church of S. Maria (1213), and on the southern coast, the Phoenician, Punic and Roman archaeological zones of Bithia and Nora. You can see part of the submerged city of Nora in the clear waters of sea when everything is calm. And what a splendid view there is from here.
Cagliari is a modern, lively city with some fine monuments and so many folk traditions, partly left behind by the Spanish. One important celebration is the Feast of S. Efisio (1st May); another is the Feast of S. Maria di Bonaria (24th April), and the Festival of the Sea (in April), as well as the night processions that take place in Holy Week. On all these occasions, the men wear splendid uniforms, and the women are dressed in richly embroidered costumes with lace, veils and jewelry. We do not have much space to speak of all the monuments, but we should visit the Cathedral (13th-18th c.) with its museum, the Elephant Tower (1307), the archaeological zone to the west (Roman remains and a Punic necropolis), the Roman Amphitheatre, the Churches of S. Saturnino and S. Domenico, the Tower of S. Pancrazio, and the National Archaeological Museum which is a ‘must’ if you really wish to get some idea of the island’s pre-Roman civilizations (particularly in the Section of nuraghic bronzes which are extraordinarily ‘up-to-date’ in many ways).
To go back to the north, we can take the coast road to Nuoro via Villasimius with its magnificent beaches, Muravera, Lanusei (amid woods and mountains and by the sea), Tortoli, Arbatax (with its typical red rocks), S. Maria Navarrese, and Dorgali where we can go to see Cala Gonone (the Arvu nuraghe, and the Grotta del Bue Marino (Marine Ox Cave), and the nuraghic village of Serra Orrios. Otherwise we can get to Nuoro inland, via Monastir, Barumini, Laconi, Sorgono, Fonni, Orgosolo and Oliena. We have to stop briefly to visit the Su Nuraxi nuraghe at Barumini.
This is a grandiose fortress in the centre of the nuraghic village, and perhaps the most important of all the 7,000 examples that still exist. At Nuoro, the birthplace of the Nobel prizewinner for literature, Grazia Deledda, we will see the cathedral, the Museo Regionale del Costume, the delightful little Church of Nostra Signora della Solitudine and then take the scenic road to Monte Ortobene.
Food and Wine
Sardinian towns and cities, especially those along the coast, have a rich tradition of fish and sea food. Over the centuries the mixing of the traditions has evolved into a unique gastronomic experience. There is a large fishing industry catching everything from lobster to squill, from “astici” to spider crab, from prawns to scampi. The local recommended cuisine includes the ‘ziminio, the ‘coata’ soup, the ever-present bottarga (tuna roe) as well as the delicious spaghetti with lobster. A common way to cook fish is to cover the fish in coarse sea salt and bake it in an oven which preserves the original taste of the fish.
Among the Sardinian wines are:
Red and Rosè – Cannonau, Monica and Carignano
White – Vermentino, Semidano and Nuragus
Dessert Wines – Malvasia, Nasco and Vernaccia.