Sardinia for the Soul - magic and memories | part 1
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
(of a few or many depending on the self-quarantine situation)
Cala Gonone and Bosa.
Almost 1 year later and I have decided to return to this magical island from the 'peninsula', even before the outbreak of Coronavirus had truly taken hold here. So in light of the current situation I have taken the opportunity to 'self-quarantine' in my apartment in Nuoro and recount some of my Sardinian discoveries. Not only as a way of preserving my precious memories but hopefully to provide future travellers with the curiosity to venture into the magic of this 'endless island' as it is proudly presented on all the colourful banners in Cagliari airport.
While Sardinia is not about the architecture unless you have a penchant for 1970's concrete apartment blocks, it has some of the most rustic villages, mountainous landscapes and stunning beaches in the world, boasting fifty shades of blue.
From Is Arutas on the far west coast where the sand resembles grains of rice to the algae strewn bay of Cala Brandinchi on the north east side, there isn't a sun lounger or parasol in sight, only the charmingly quaint shack style beach bars, offset by the brilliant white beaches and dazzling blue seas. It is the simple life personified and I will love it forever.
Initially not one of my favourite beaches due to a disappointing out of season 'ghost town' visit with my Dad on a chilly but sunny March morning 3 years ago. However a subsequent return visit in warmer weather changed my opinion. It has since become one of my go to beach destinations on the east coast for either a day trip or an overnight stay.
From Nuoro the 1 hour 10 minute journey by the upgraded ARST bus is itself one of extreme beauty if you don’t miss it that is, which I have done on several occasions and for several reasons. Either from misreading the handwritten bus time by the ticket officer or arriving when the bus was already at full capacity with Saturday school kids, I still haven't totally forgiven myself for these errors especially as one involved my mother’s 70th birthday and the other my friend’s weekend visit.
However if you are fortunate enough to catch it (the bus that is and not this horrendous virus) you will drive through the old hill towns of Oliena and Dorgali, passing olive trees and little vineyards with Monte Corrasi whoring herself in the background all the way and rightly so. She is a spectacular piece of limestone massif, the highest point at 1400m of the Supramonte mountain range, part of Gennargentu National Park.
The biggest surprise though is passing through the tunnel after Dorgali, separating rustic mountain life from the 'Truman Show' fantasy backdrop of the dazzling blue, just before making the rather nauseating zigzag descent to the seaside town with little braking effort from the bus driver.
Cala Gonone or CG as I’ll refer to it has a 'happy hippy camping meets boutique hotel vibe' attracting a range of visitors including bikers from the continent who take great pleasure in thrumming their engines down the main street of Viale Palmasera passing an array of cafes, restaurants and hotels.
Relaxing in the sun on a big bright comfy sofa at Cala Luna hotel, restaurant and café overlooking the bay and taking a cappuccino or spritz depending on the time of day, I feel like I’ve ‘made it’. This is it for me. My dream of the good life.
OK so while the pale cream 'sandy' beach area down below is man made it still oozes natural form with rocky inlets, pine trees and a harbour area including speed boat hire. With my love of James Bond and accompanying idealistic lifestyle it seemed rude not to hire one of these with my then partner, Mark when we stayed for a few days at the end of my first teaching contract in June 2017.
I had never driven a speed boat before and was a little anxious, even wearing appropriate swimwear. However after the initial hesitation I soon found my love of speed. Zipping along the coast past the Grotta del Bue Marino and various exclusive beaches, we finally dropped anchor near the notable beach of Cala Luna reached only on foot or by sea. A delicious picnic of bread, olives, couscous, cheese and prosciutto crudo was followed by a little sunbathing on deck, skinny dipping in the turquoise water and the discovery of an underwater wreck.
On a previous occasion we hired a kayak for the day from one of the watersports shops along Viale Palmasera with the prices still listed in Lira. I thought it seemed a bit expensive at first! It’s possible to kayak down to Cala Luna and back in a day especially if you have a powerhouse of a partner like mine! Take a picnic and plenty of sunscreen, as you really don’t want to return looking like a lobster as one such person did…Kayaking, although a bit tiresome on the arms offered the chance to discover the tiniest, most secluded beach with its own cave along the Gulf of Orosei.
On one of the first day trips to CG when Mark and I were chilling out on the beach I realised I had misinterpreted the return bus times. It was taking a while to get used to this ARST bus service. Their timetables have abbreviations for every occasion such as GIO, FER, FERI, FERE, SCO etc., so 'unfortunately' we became stranded for the night.
There were a couple of options, having checked at the tourist office. Either get a taxi back to Nuoro at a cost of 60 euro or find a cheap hotel. It seemed a no brainer to stay in this haven for the night. It was the weekend after all. We stumbled across an advertising board for La Favorita boasting 'cheap rooms'. Perfect for us. We found the nautical themed hotel towards the end of Viale Palmasera offering a large double room for 60 euro and had a most fun night trying on their collection of wigs from the dressing up box near the well-stocked bar!
La Favorita has literally become The Favourite hotel when staying in CG. I finally made it up to Mamma last year after the missed visit 2 years before, treating her to a belated birthday weekend stay. Despite the 24 hour heavy rain we very much enjoyed the beautifully light marine themed restaurant, offering us a mouth-watering range of fresh seafood, followed the next day by a mad dash in the continuing rain to the contemporary aquarium up the hill.
Continuing with the fishy theme was the Lobster experience in the typically Sardinian restaurant of Sa Nassa in beautiful Bosa on the west coast of Sardinia. Dwellings in every peachy shade to cerulean blue and old tanneries line the meandering Temo river, with the formidable castello overlooking the painted town.
It has a charming main street and square with some typical restaurants and tasteful souvenir shops selling Malvasia, a local and incredibly drinkable sweet honey coloured wine, intricate filigree jewellery and packets of pane carasau, the typical flat bread of Sardinia.
The prettier pane coccoi is made for special occasions such as Easter, when you will find effigies of Mary and Jesus surrounded by wafts of incense, carried by ministers towards the sound of the duomo bells.
After discovering the delights of Bosa with my adventuresome Dad in March 2017 (more of that trip later) the following week I decided to book the elegant Palazzo Sa Pischedda via a booking.com deal for Mark’s arrival. Situated just over the Ponte Veccio, it was mirrored on the other side by said Lobster restaurant.
Mark was curious to try one of these alienesque sea creatures but the first night they had sold out. We had to go back the next evening mainly as no other restaurants appeared to be open and of course this time they had restocked their lobster pot. We were enticed in and Mark chose what he thought to be the smaller one. Having never tried lobster before he then panicked about how it would be served.
‘Will I have to prepare it myself?’
‘Will it come with a nutcracker thing?’
‘Will I have to 'de-shell' it?'
Just some of the questions raised.
Frantic googling ensued, but with some relief the lobster arrived suitably and tantilisingly 'dressed'. Unfortunately what we had both overlooked was 'per kilo' written in the minutest text on the menu! So at 13 euro for 3.5 kilo this was a rather pricey but memorable crustacean. That was the end of our lobster tale.
Now you may be forgiven for thinking that I'm a complete travel snob what with mention of speed boats, exclusive beaches, beautiful hotels and lobster but please let me make it clear that before we continue with this blog fest, I’m really not! Yes, I recognise and appreciate the good life but more importantly I am all for finding the best deals, conserving my euro and enjoying the best things in life for free (or good value).
I am an EFL teacher for goodness sake so I'm not earning a massive salary although it's relatively reasonable but apart from said lobster ‘miscalculation’ I would actually rather search out the best value places than choose the first 'wow' option that hits me between the eyes.
From the 'straniera' perspective there seems to be an assumed exclusivity to Sardinia - the Costa Smeralda being the case in point. However this is an island blessed with natural beauty and rustic charm. Therefore in other less 'celeb' ridden parts it really can offer brilliant value for money.
The beauty of Sardinia is that it can be done on a budget if you're prepared to put your life in the hands of the ARST bus service, search relevant accommodation websites for some last minute deals and make a few picnics, once this virus has passed of course. Oh the adventures continue…
Text and images: Lisette King