Updated: Apr 23
(ancora in quarantena).
Castelsardo and Alghero.
‘Dov’è il ‘B&B’ chiama Colti Di Rosa, per favore, perché non posso trovarlo?!’ I asked 2 young women who were sitting nonchalantly outside a little bar in the upper area of Castelsardo.
I wasn’t even sure if that was the correct way to ask but it elicited a positive response! Now I know there are grammatical errors (in my Italian, that is) but I’m keeping it authentic, ok?!
One of the women summoned whom I could only assume to be her little daughter from out of the doorway in some form of Italian/Sardo dialect to show me the way.
I had been searching amongst the myriad streets for no more than 20 minutes, trying to memorise the location of my B&B on Google maps due to a dying phone battery. However it seemed much longer after climbing up the steep and winding road to this mystical place.
Having left Nuoro at 10:00 and now approaching 19:00 I was rather sweaty and tired especially after 2 long ARST bus journeys.
Oh how I love them. These blue and red 'pulmans'. Dried chewing gum stuck in every crevice. Graffiti of various anatomical parts on the back of the seats. Packed with raucous but harmless good-looking teens seeking their summer of love.
I had already asked a wizened 96 year old bisnonna for directions up top. She was sitting expectantly outside her home/shop, which was stuffed out with woven rugs and embroidered items for the home, as if she knew a weary turista was coming.
However she just confused me by saying,
‘Vai a sinistra, poi dritto, girare di nuovo a sinistra, e poi scendere i gradini, svolta a sinistra…'
'Cosa?!!' I just couldn’t concentrate but I remembered the first turning left and then straight on and that’s when I saw the women hanging out by the bar.
The little ‘daughter’ said 'vieni' in a small voice waving her hand for me to come forward. I felt a bit hesitant at taking up this offer. Being led along narrow streets in an old Sardinian town by a 4 year old seemed slightly concerning. Certainly it would have been perceived this way back home. But I wasn’t at home and I couldn’t find my B&B and I was all out of energy so I followed, like a contrary Pied Piper.
In under 5 minutes after struggling to keep up with this skipping pixie, jogging down some precariously steep steps and being led past a variety of stone dwellings; some pretty, some crumbly, this sweet, dark haired little waif had delivered me safely to the front door, hidden down a tiny alley fronted by an old ruin.
‘Grazie mille, arrivederci!’ followed by a ‘niente’ and off she ran, never to be seen again.
On reflection I should have given her a euro or two. She was probably one of the local tour guides. Family traditions of passing work down through the generations appears to be quite a thing in 'Sards'.
It was June last year towards the end of my 3rd teaching contract when I ventured up to Castelsardo on the north west coast, staying overnight in this quaint B&B for 37 euro. I booked it through yes, you guessed it, booking.com on my bus journey that morning to Sassari; a grid system city with some impressive architecture in the main square but in my opinion a little soulless.
I had to change bus at the main ARST 'bus station', which was a series of stops along a bombed out main road rather than an actual compound. Luckily it was broad daylight and I was in line with a host of other folk waiting to get the hell out of there and on to prettier places by the coast.
Castelsardo, which as the name suggests, comprises a fortified castle and mini city perched high up on a mound overlooking the Gulf of Asinara.
Stepping back in time is a feeling that often arises when I'm in Sardinia and on this day it was no exception.
I realised that I would have never found my B&B, Colti Di Rosa alone but was more than pleasantly surprised when I entered. A friendly host greeted me and we conversed in a form of Italian, mine fragmented and his a local twang.
I was surrounded by traditional yet comfortable furnishings, plain plasterwork smoothly shaped to expose original stonework. I was so relieved to reach my room that I dumped my stuff, laid on the bed for all of 5 minutes and then went to find a suitable restaurant for cena, it was time.
The traditional restaurants offered a variety of fresh seafood including spigola -seabass, orata - seabream, cozze - mussels, polpo - octopus, gamberi - prawns and calamari - squid, not forgetting the infamous dessert of Sebadas or Seadas, originating from the Barbagia region (including Nuoro). An oxymoronic dessert, this big raviolo shaped pastry is traditionally filled with ewe's milk cheese, flavoured with lemon zest, then fried and smothered with bitter corbezzolo honey.
I can imagine what you’re thinking. Is this really a dessert? Cheese and honey? At first I didn’t think my English taste buds would accept it but trust me it’s a Sardo delicacy and must be tried.
However best enjoyed for a main dish rather than following a big meal, as I had that night in La Schizzula. Yes that was the name of the restaurant and yes it was better than it sounds, especially as I transferred from street level up to the terrace, sharing the sea view with some very noisy gabbiani.
After a generous breakfast on the roof terrace of ‘Colti’ I was eager to explore this stone maze. Souvenir shops selling various shades of coral, Castello dei Doria, crumbling and restored private dwellings and a cathedral no less, perched near the cliff all served to create this magical haven, slightly touristy but not overtly so even in June.
Spiritual, although not ‘religious’, I was curious to witness a Sunday service in Cattedrale di Sant’Antonio, which I had stumbled across the night before when trying to walk off the fish, sebadas, and half litre of wine. Unknowingly, I became witness to a baptism; a straniera nursing a slight hangover suddenly part of a familial gathering. Hiding in the back pew, or so I thought, I was trying to understand and keep up with the service.
Actually I was just content to sit and wonder, while dreaming of where to take my morning cappuccino. Then the family walked back down the aisle to the font for the anointing procedure. So now my back pew became front viewing! The bambino, crossed with holy water shed a few tears but less than myself. An ethereal experience.
After a much appreciated cappuccino overlooking the bay, I did what most turisti do and paid a visit to Castello dei Doria both inside and out. I do struggle with museums and artefacts of which there were many typical hand woven baskets, pots etc., but all interesting in their own way.
I always feel I should see these things, when in reality all I want to do is enjoy the surroundings and admire the architecture from the exterior! Why do I put these expectations on myself? I think it’s because I don’t like ‘missing out’. I feel that if I don’t go inside a place I will have foregone something spectacular.
But honestly after ‘going in’ many landmarks during my travels, I am now learning to save the banknotes and enjoy the outside! It’s difficult but I am getting there slowly. Castello di Angelo, Rome. I held back.
So I let myself off the cultural hook and took an obligatory Aperol spritz at Ristorante Spaghetteria Aragona, right in the nook of the walls overlooking this spectacular coastline, bellissimo and relax...
...which is just what I wasn't doing on the way to this stunning place. During my first Sardinian contract in 2017 Mark was driving our hired Fiat Panda like an F1 racer around the snaking west coast road from Bosa heading north, until faced with an Italian ‘F1 racer’ coming the other way! It shook him sufficiently to slow down to my relief of actually being able to admire the view.
It was already afternoon and after a quick ‘packed lunch’ sandwich stop we made an impulsive decision to head for Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto) right at the end of the peninsula of Capo Caccia. We arrived at the entrance to the steps - Escala del Cabirol leading to the caves with less than 10 minutes to closing time, so that’s why he was driving like a maniac!
When I say steps down to the cave I mean 654 steps down, clinging to the ridge of the peninsula right to the mouth of the cave, which was discovered by fishermen back in the 18th century.
Please don’t attempt this if you have any major health issues. It’s a trek and don’t forget the going back up again, unless of course you take a boat from Alghero and back.
We just latched on to the tail end of the tour near the entrance and although I’m really no fan of guided tours, it was the only way to see this sight. The ‘stalags’ both ‘tites’ and ‘mites’ were magnificent, giving off a heightened sensual awareness. The dampness, the space and the natural beauty really made our last minute ‘climb’ down worth the effort.
On the way back we stopped in Alghero (latin - Aleguerium - stagnation of Algae) which is much more beautiful than it sounds.
It’s actually a medieval walled town with Catalan influences and dialect. Grids of old cobbled streets house the ubiquitous souvenir shops, again spot the coral! Not to mention the Italian fashion stores, numerous cafés, seafood restaurants and picturesque harbour with pricey yachts. It’s tasteful.
When my Dad first came to visit in 2017 we stayed in Villa Loreto just outside of Alghero and were we glad to find that place after circumnavigating what felt like the entire North of Sardinia. From Nuoro to San Teodoro on the East Coast, past Olbia, Porto Cervo for the bling, Palau for lunch, inland to Tempio Pausania for an afternoon car nap for Dad (he was 71 at that point) then with a view to staying the night in Sassari. However after driving around the outskirts, which he described as a shithole, we gave it a swerve and headed for Alghero as it was nearing dusk.
We veered off the road at Villa Loreto virtually without stopping at around 17:30 after driving approximately 500km. He was never one to chill out on holiday. Yet this villa offered just that. From the welcome reception of Corrado, then manager, to the spacious rooms and bar, it was like finding a diamond in the rough, as what followed was a veritable Sardinian feast of antipasti, fritto misto and my personal favourite, spigola, with a chilled Vermentino of course.
After being in Sardinia for only 3 months at that point my Sardo adventures were only just beginning…
Text and images: Lisette King
Cave images: Mark Noble