Last month, Toby spent a blissful week inspecting some very special places to stay and exploring the picture-perfect island of Sardinia.
From its wild horses roaming the plateau of the central highlands to its crooked, gin-clear, perfect coves along the Costa Smerelda, Sardinia is an island of contrast. There are obscene displays of wealth in the ‘Disneyland-for-adults’ of Porto Cervo, where a Rolls Royce showroom greets the owners of superyachts the moment they step off the quay and where €12 for a coffee is normal. A world apart from the endless tracts of dense forest up in the central highlights, where you can easily grind to a halt in your car as shepherds drive their sheep back from a day’s grazing.
Sardinia’s experiencing something of a boom. Low cost airlines have made it accessible to those without a king’s ransom to spend. And they have come in droves. Tripadvisor now boasts 6,500 self-catering listings, up from 50 in 2005. But the island has more than enough space to absorb everyone, and relatively few venture far from the postcard coves of the north. For those willing to break out, there are treats aplenty.
Rich, green cork forests climb into the mountains from the coast, the gnarled oaks baring their naked black flesh where their spongy coat has been removed. The mountains are quiet – life is lived on, and from, the land. Flocks of sheep graze the clearings and forests give on to stretches of arable land fringed with wild flowers and dotted with newly minted hay bales. Roads corkscrew through the hills, breaking out occasionally into working villages, shutters drawn against the midday heat. The walking, hiking and biking here is exceptional – even in the Parca della Giara, famed for its wild horses and miles of winding paths, you’re unlikely to stumble upon another soul.
Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines all had their spell on this island, leaving their mark in some remarkable ruins. Tharros (€5 entry) sits on the edge of a low, sun-baked spit of land, its Roman ruins in remarkable condition, water tanks, aqueducts, houses and main roads all clear to see. And when you’ve had enough of wondering the ruins, you can pile into the sea 50 yards awards on a little-visited beach that would be packed if it were anywhere else in Europe. TIP: arrange to approach Tharros by sea, where you get its full glory. David at Hotel Lucrezia can arrange things for you.
Of course, the north of the island is famed for good reason – it is, at times, jaw-droppingly picturesque. Hundreds of tiny, sandy coves face onto islands, yachts pootle across the horizon, the sun sets behind the sea setting the rocks aflame. Indeed, Sardinian’s travel to places like the Caribbean only to realise what they have at home. But, spend your time on beaches alone and you’ll have missed a larger part of the story.
Have your own Sardinian adventure at one of our handpicked places to stay: www.sawdays.co.uk/sardinia