When: 13-18 April 2017
Who: Me, Jerome and Iwona
I hadn’t prepared myself for visiting Sardinia. I hadn’t read any guidebooks. I hadn’t looked up the internet. I wanted to discover MY Sardinia. Experience the island on the go without following the schedule and looking for “places worth visiting”. I’m not saying that travelling this way is a bad thing – not at all. I often plan my trips with a day-by-day itinerary. What I’m trying to say is that there are places where you should just slow down and go with the flow. Admire nature, check what’s around the corner and simply enjoy where you are. This is how we travelled in Sardinia and even though I’m sure we missed out on some “monumental monuments” I have no regrets because I feel that we managed to sample some of the ‘authentic’ side of this beautiful island. So if you’re going to Sardinia and want to get into the right frame of mind or you’re just simply curious about what I thought about the island – below are my Sardinian observations.
Observation 1: Sardinia is green, not yellow or blue…
We hadn’t even landed in Alghero yet and I was already amazed by the amount of greenery that I could see from the plane. I imagined Sardinia as a dry and slightly deserted island similar to the ones that got stuck in my memory after visiting Croatia. The reality exceeded my expectations in an instant and I couldn’t wait to discover more of this beautiful island! Luckily (I think this is not the word that Jerome would use) to reach our holiday destination in Villasimius, in the south, we had to drive across the whole of Sardinia, leaving me with about 4h to enjoy the island’s breathtaking landscape. Mi piace! To be honest, it would have been reasonable if we had flown to Cagliari but what’s fun about reasonable holiday? And, of course, I would have missed on all those amazing views!
Observation 2: If there is any driving law it is definitely different to what you know…
Being on the Sardinian roads was like learning how to drive from scratch. The rules that have been drummed into us repeatedly and followed by the drivers in most of the European countries for decades are somehow forgotten there. Someone put some speed limit signs alongside the road but it seems like no one really has explained their significance to Italian drivers. Or maybe they ARE used for a different, unknown to us purpose? That would at least explain why, when driving 50 kph in accordance with the speed signs, we were overtaken not only by a bus and a lorry (crazy enough) but also by a POLICE car! What a great example. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve noticed another interesting rule during our road trip. It concerns changing the lane while overtaking a car. Here is the CORRECT Italian order to do this manoeuvre: 1) start changing the lane, 2) turn the indicator on, 3) look in the mirror. I’m really glad that Jerome took care of the car insurance and I wish good luck to anyone who drives in Italy without it.
Observation 3: Mysterious stone towers are scattered EVERYWHERE
Moving down south in the direction of Villasimius, it was really hard to not notice mysteriously looking stone towers emerging from time to time from the Sardinian landscape. Being completely unprepared to this trip (naughty, naughty) I had no idea what it was, however one thing I was sure about – it was not this millennium’s type of architecture. What were these towers then? They are so-called Nuraghe and although they are scattered all over Sardinia, they are on Sardinia ONLY. What is really interesting about these structures, is the fact that even nowadays, in the era of such developed science and technology, we still know very little about their use in the past. Did they have a religious purpose? Or maybe they were used as defensive structures? We may need to wait a bit until we find out. Meanwhile, more about these typical of Sardinia stone towers can be found here.
Observation 4: Oristano is not that close to the sea
We have been up for about 10 hours and we couldn’t ignore any more the creeping up hunger or the fact that we really needed a solid caffeine injection. Roughly halfway to Cagliari we decided on a detour to Oristano that, I was convinced, was nicely located by the sea. Ekhm… it was not. We parked somewhere in the city centre in the midday heat that was now really perceptible. I love this feeling! If I could, I would hold on to it forever… but I was too focused on finding food to enjoy the sun any longer.
Observation 5: Bottarga is not a fish – Italians believe me, it is really NOT obvious to non-Italian people
Lead by a hunger within the next 2 min we found ourselves in the patio of Ristorante Il Melograno Bistrot. Adventurously, we all chose the same, very traditional Sardinian dish – spaghetti con bottarga which, from what I understood, was supposed to be spaghetti with some kind of fish. It was either me or the waiter (who was nota bene extremely nice with a little crush on Iwona) but one of us definitely didn’t speak English. In vain I tried to find the fish in the spaghetti con bottarga. There was none. Bottarga, as I found out later, is a salted, pressed and dried roe of (in this case) gray mullet – very popular in Sardinian cuisine! It’s often used as an ingredient, grated and sprinkled like parmesan, over hot spaghetti dressed with olive oil. It was very particular in flavour, intensely savoury, rich and incredibly fishy. I had mixed feelings about it. In couple of days I was about to discover that bottarga shouldn’t be eaten in pieces – trust me, I learned my lesson and you don’t have to learn yours. I still get goosebumps when I think about it…
Observation 6: Sardinian fish is amazing!
Convinced that we were getting ONLY spaghetti (well, Jerome kind of mentioned that we may get a secondi piatti as well but why would I listen) I stuffed myself with bread and delicious olive oil. Just when I was falling into a food coma and food was the last thing I was thinking about, the secondi piatti DID appear. Damn, grilled fish! For this I had to make space! The waiter kindly carved the filet off the bone and served. I hardly exaggerate these things so believe me when I say that I have never tried anything like it! Fresh, delicate and incredibly buttery – it was almost melting on the fork. So simple and yet so delicious!
Oristano didn’t particularly catch our attention so after a quick stroll we hit the road again. 2h later I was sitting in our AirBnB garden, sipping nicely chilled white wine while admiring the absolutely stunning view over the sea. I could have spent the entire afternoon by looking at these blue waters but we had priorities. It was windy and we couldn’t wait more for the first Sardinian kitesurfing session that was about to start our kitesurfing holiday. Almost every single day after that we spent on driving around and waiting for a good wind. Kitesurfing in Sardinia was great but this is not what this post is about. Let’s get back to Sardinian observations.
Observation 7: 3 euros for a loaf of bread!
It’s a daylight robbery! I was convinced that bread in Italy is like potatoes in Poland (if you don’t get the analogy – the cheapest food product you can get). Clearly, I was quite surprised to find out that it wasn’t the case. On the other hand, Villasimius is a touristy place where higher prices are quite common. D’oh!
Observation 8: Finding fresh sea food for a BBQ before Easter is challenging
The assumption that we were on the island so finding any sea food should be easy WAS WRONG. Shops don’t really sell fresh fish unless they’re a fishmonger or a supermarket. We didn’t organise ourselves early enough to manage either of them;the fishmonger was closed both on Easter Sunday and Monday (as any shop in Italy during this holiday) and the supermarket, miraculously open on Monday, offered only frozen sea food. We had no choice but to take what was available. Being spontaneous doesn’t always pay off.
Observation 9: Italians celebrate Easter in the restaurants
And so did we after our massive failure to find fresh sea food for a BBQ on Sunday. Apparently the restaurants get so busy during Easter that finding a table without a booking may be impossible. We tried our luck, as we always do, and for once it worked. The pizza was yummy and the waiter’s face, when I asked for blankets (we were sitting outside and it got quite cold), was unforgettable. Blankets in Italy?! He couldn’t stop laughing. He did though engage the whole restaurant in finding some warm clothes for us. Kitesurfing jackets were much appreciated!
Observation 10: Italians celebrate Easter with Prossecco
We had left the beach and were just about to get into the car when we were approached by a Sardinian family. The husband and a father of two didn’t have company to share a bottle of Prossecco with to celebrate Pasqua – sad story. Could we ever refuse to help a man in need? Of course not! And it doesn’t matter that between the three of us we only spoke 5 words in Italian and the Italian family spoke 4 words in English – Prosecco helped us to overcome the language barrier. We learned that Sardinian lifestyle (sea, sun, good food and wine) is way more important to them than the money that can be found abroad. Maybe that’s the reason why Sardinia shares with the Japanese island Okinawa the highest rate of centenarians in the world (22 centenarians/100 000 inhabitants according to Wikipedia)?
Observation 11: Mamma’s boys are not a myth
I guess it’s not endemic to Sardinia but so called “mammoni” do exist. We actually met one! Ok, he didn’t live with his mum anymore but being 35 he had very interesting approach to life. He joined us for drinks but he didn’t have money. He wanted to go out clubbing… but he didn’t have money. I was always laughing at the saying that sponsoring is the best form of friendship but that wasn’t funny anymore!
Observation 12: One island and so many faces
Jerome and Iwona were laughing when asking me which country we were in when driving around Sardinia. The landscape was changing so often that I really felt as if we were travelling around the world. At one time we were passing by some dry grassy fields that reminded me of Cuba. Then we were driving up the mountains covered with trees and bushes so green that I had an impression that we were somewhere in Brasil (it’s a vision, I’ve never been to Brasil). We even made it to California with its breathtaking coastal views! If you can’t afford a trip around the world, go to Sardinia!
Observation 13: The beaches ARE stunning
Yep, they are. And there are so many of them that you just get bored of saying “OMG, this is amazing!!!”
Observation 14: The coastal views in Sardinia can compete with the famous Highway 1
Exactly. Plus, it doesn’t get misty in Sardinia unlike in California.