Bella bellissimo Sardinia: Rebecca Underwood explores this beautiful Mediterranean island
D.H. Lawrence once described Sardinia as ‘strange and rather wonderful, and not a bit like Italy’. Visitors may reflect on these words as the true nature of this beautiful Mediterranean island unfolds.
From the sophistication of Sardinia’s Emerald Coast in the north to the soft white sandy beaches and warm translucent turquoise waters of the south, with its bustling towns, so rich in culture, and the verdant beauty of the Sardinian countryside, there is surely an ideal spot for every visitor.
Sardinia was founded by the Phoenicians, developed by the Carthaginians, occupied by Vandals, Byzantines and Romans, ruled by Pisans, conquered by the Aragonese, given to Austria, and in 1861 when Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed king of Italy, the island was declared part of the unified Italian state. Cagliari, the capital, offers a tantalising insight into Sardinia’s colourful kaleidoscope of history and culture.
Wide palm-lined streets, bustling cafés under all- year- round azure skies make Cagliari an irresistible lure for visitors and the terracotta and ochre hues of the buildings add to the elegance. A leisurely stroll around the city centre, which is divided into four quarters: Villanova, Marina, Stampace and Castello, is just the thing to introduce visitors to a relaxed and informal way of life.
The popular marina quarter, which was once a Roman military camp, is now a warren of winding streets with an extensive selection of bustling trattorias and rather quaint local shops. Serious shoppers should head for Via Giuseppe Mano and the pedestrianised Via Garibaldi and Largo Carlo Felice, a very busy street leading up to the castle and Piazza Yenne, which is the place to watch the young and trendy strolling by. The ancient area of Stampace features the Roman amphitheatre, which is simply magnificent. The botanical gardens (Viale Fra’lgnazio) and Phoenician underground chambers are among the most popular tourism sites and highly recommended.
The spectacular castle sits high above the city and the examples of Pisan, Catalan and Aragonese architecture are enthralling. Largo Carlo Felice, by the castle, is the site of the 13th century Pisan Duomo, the Archbishop’s Palazzo Viceregio and the Pisan fortifications of Torre di San Pancrazio dating back to 1307. The National Archaeological Museum displays an impressive collection of Bronze Age artefacts and the National Gallery also attracts the crowds. For those in need of a rest after all that activity, the six –mile long soft sandy beach at Poetto is the place to find a sunny spot for an afternoon snooze.
Or, head for the five star luxury at Forte Village Resort. Surrounded by the enticing scents escaping from the 25 hectare garden and only a 45- minute drive from the centre of Cagliari this resort is a real treat for those who love to be pampered. There are seven hotels on the resort including the Il Castello, which offers the highest levels of comfort and service, spacious accommodation and first class dining options. The reputation of the resort is such that the English, Italian and German national football teams have all opted to spend their rest periods in this resort to ease the pressures in the constant pursuit of the World Cup.
For sports enthusiasts’ football and tennis fans are well catered for. There are twelve tennis courts, a full- size floodlit football pitch, one 8- a- side pitch and three 5-a- side pitches. For water-sport lovers, the fresh water Le Palme pool, next to the spa has three water chutes and water jets to massage those aches. The Oasis saltwater pool features an impressive children’s pool area and a trampoline area for older children and wayward fathers!
For golf lovers, the world famous ‘Is Molas’ course is only ten minutes away (par 72 for the first 18 holes and par 36 for the subsequent 9).
This excellent golf course has hosted the Italian Open many times and some of the highest- ranking players in the world have walked on its fairways. Bernard Langer, Mark James, Sam Torrence, Ian Woosam, Constantino Rocca and Baldovino Dassu to name but a few! Due to the unique microclimate of the region and the neighbouring mountains blocking the northern winds, it is possible to play all year round. The district of Is Molas adjoins the locality of Santa Margherita di Pula with beaches and bays stretching as far as Capo Teulada. It is one of Sardinia’s most beautiful areas.
And for those of us who appreciate more leisurely pursuits such as sipping a good wine, Sardinia continues to grow in its reputation as a producer of impressive wines. The coastal areas are ideal for raising vines and although in the past these areas were sparsely populated, this is of course no longer the case.
The wines, introduced by past invaders, are from all over the Mediterranean region. Aragon brought Spanish grapes, which today yield Vermentino whites from Sassari, Carignano from Sulcis and Giro from Cagliari. Torbato, also of Spanish provenance, provides light and flowery whites. Carignano, Grenache (also known as Cannonau) and Muscat are of course very popular.
Be sure to sample Vernaccia, a sherry-type wine, the dry version is served as an aperitif and is simply delicious, and the sweet version, served as a dessert wine, is delicious.
Raise your glass in honour of D.H. Lawrence, reflecting again on his words ‘Sardinia is strange and rather wonderful, and not a bit like Italy’.