Updated: Apr 26
The Coast: West meets South meets East.
It’s still the East Coast that draws me in. Maybe because I come from the East Coast of England. It must be a natural veering. However I was also lucky enough to seek out the far West Coast; S’Archittu, Is Arutas, Tharros and San Giovanni di Sinis when one of my lovely students took me for an afternoon trip last year.
It just felt different though. More like the South West Coast of England, reminding me of Cornwall with the dense foliage and rocky coastline, except for two things. Massive biting insects, possibly horseflies, which left golf ball sized lumps on my forehead and also the corinthian columns of Tharros popping up on the edge.
While there aren’t a great deal of roman ruins on Sardinia they can be seen here and to the south of the island at Nora. I desperately wanted to see the Nora ruins as it was my dear Nanna’s name. They didn’t resemble her in any way of course apart from being ancient but it is comforting to know that she has a place on Sardinia.
Mark and I visited Nora when he had just arrived into Cagliari at the end of June last year. It was a flying visit but we had a whole afternoon before getting the return bus from Cagliari city centre to Nuoro at 18:15.
We took the bus to Pula and walked to Nora, which took a while and by the time we reached the ruins it was upwards of 40 degrees. Whose idea was it to visit roman ruins in this heat? Mark made use of the site map as a hat to protect his bald head from melting and after about 45 minutes we had to seek the shade. The site wasn’t exactly Pompeii but it gave a good indication of what once was.
The beach and pristine sea provided a welcome walk back to the main road following what seemed like a long wait for the return bus. It was already after 17:00 and if we missed the 18:15 from Cagliari we’d have to stay there the night.
As is often the way here, I never quite know which side of the road the ‘pulman’ will arrive so I was dodging back and forth as some folk were on the left and others to the right. Finally the ARST arrived and we were on our way except that our journey was interrupted by the longest ‘rush hour’ traffic jam. It became a race against time, James Bond style as we edged forward along the coast road past the power station with a view of Cagliari’s North African frontage shimmering tantalisingly in the distance.
Come on. As much as I love travelling these kind of journeys really stress me out and I just kept thinking where will we stay if we miss our connection? OK it wouldn’t be a disaster but just preferable to catch our next bus.
On arrival into Cagliari every vehicle that could pull out in front of us, did. We finally swung kamikaze style into the narrow entrance of the bus station at 18:10. So relieved were we to see our ‘Nuoro’ bus still waiting. Mark ran to retrieve his bags from the luggage room while I went to buy our bus tickets. We had made it, sweaty but satisfied!
A slightly more sedate journey took us to the pretty little town of Orosei, north of Cala Gonone on the East Coast, with a beautiful whitewashed church, cafés, tasteful shops and an old square. It may take half an hour to walk to the Gulf of Orosei but it’s a fine beach and if you fancy splashing out a little, why not stay in the resort of Marina Beach for a few nights surrounded by exotic gardens and a vast swimming pool.
On Mark’s birthday 2 years ago we ‘winged it’ rolling up with 1 trolley case and no booking in the hope that they’d have room even though it was Easter time. Luckily they did and we shared a very pleasant 3 night dinner, bed and breakfast offer made even more blissful by the lack of other British tourists. The buffet was ridiculously grand but being British we made the most of it, also accommodating our 'swag' lunch. The beach was ours for the birthday celebrations, as the sound of the prosecco cork and party 'canone' were carried away by the warm breeze.
During 2018 my director and I had been working on a high school ‘town’ project in Siniscola, a pretty tired place slightly inland from the cool, picturesque seaside town of La Caletta. After trying to take some ‘interesting’ project photos of Siniscola - apart from the menacing Mont Albo in the background and a few colourful murales, it was decided that La Caletta was far more forgiving in front of the lens.
A pretty harbour area and a long sweeping but windy beach linking to Santa Lucia (at low tide) meant several trips to this piece of coastline during working hours! A year later and a return visit to La Caletta was made, this time to celebrate Mark’s birthday at the beachside restaurant of El Barrio Del Mar, which served up a delicious platter of grilled salmon, seabass and bream and one of the best seafood soups with calamari, mussels and many tiny octopi, finally beating us with a few sad looking tentacles in the bottom of the bowl.
We loved La Caletta so much that we returned a few days later on Italian Liberation Day and were pleasantly surprised by an all-female rock band performing in an outdoor concert by the harbour with our 'Nora' craft beers in hand.
The week before our beachside luncheon I’d arranged a surprise ‘pre birthday trip’ trip for himself up to Monte Petrosu even further north and just hoped that the ARST bus service wouldn’t let me down. Of course it didn’t! The immediate area reminded me of the wild west of Arizona, plenty of scrubland, cacti, shack bars and grocery stores.
We stayed in the Sardinian equivalent of a Pontin’s holiday village called Lu Nibareddu for 4 days, a little way up the hill. The little beach bungalows were pretty basic but great value and gave us a reasonable living space with bed en-suite and kitchen area.
We were able to hire bikes and took off to the local beaches of Porto Taverna, Cala Girgolu and Cala Brandinchi. I’d discovered this ‘Little Tahiti’ on a previous trip with one of my students along with Capa Coda Cavallo, a rather exclusive residential hillside ‘village’ for the more discerning retiree, with stunning views of Isola Tavolara in the background.
I was curious to explore her, a massive lump of limestone shaped like a dinosaur, rising from the depths and basking in the warmth of the sun. What was special about this island, wasn’t it home to the Sardinian Royal Family? Well not exactly royal, rather a self-proclamation!
‘The Island of the Kings’ became the smallest (imaginary) kingdom in the world by the Bertoleoni family, who arrived there from Corsica at the end of the 18th century. When Carlos Alberto, King of Sardinia, visited the island in 1836, Giuseppe Bertoleoni introduced himself as the ‘King of Tavolara’. The island was subsequently sanctioned as an independent land by King Carlos for Giuseppe and all future Bertoleoni ‘kings’.
So from Porto San Paolo, we left our bikes locked up at the harbour, safely guarded by an old local boy and his dog. Reaching the island by pleasure cruiser with picnics in hand we were dropped off at the wooden jetty immediately in front of the café and restaurant. After a couple of refreshing Ichnusa Limone beers we headed to the beach area stretching around to the right. I took an ice cold dip in the crystal clear waters but not for long!
The curious mix of ‘royal’ graves in the family cemetery to the south and the off limits NATO military base taking up a vast section of the island, with the only restaurant in the middle owned by Tonino Bertoleoni, makes this a unique landmark on the horizon.
I decided to travel even further north up to Olbia last February and in some kind of style by choosing the Deplano airport coach over traditional ARST. Although I had to get a connecting bus into the town centre from the airport, it was certainly a more comfortable and slightly quicker ride even winding through many seaside towns en-route, from La Caletta through Budoni and San Teodoro and along the SS125. I left Nuoro at 09:20am but I was in Olbia before 12:30. Not bad for public transport. It takes just over an hour by car.
Olbia was a weird place bearing in mind it was winter. My first impressions were of a ‘hick’ town. It had a live railway line with no barriers, which I had to cross before reaching the Centro Storico. I arrived at my B&B rehearsing my best Italian check-in lines when the host asked me for my documenti.
I had packed the bare minimum for this weekend trip even stripping down my wallet to a purse with some cash and a bank card. I had no documenti. Didn’t even think to bring any.
At this point last year my Italian was even more fragmented than it is now so I made some limp attempt at an explanation:
‘Non ho pensato ho bisogno documenti perché io lavoro in Nuoro.’
As if working in Nuoro would save me. She was not a happy host and demanded to know why I wouldn’t be carrying any documents. I explained that I wasn’t on holiday so had not come from the airport, although technically I had through my bus journey. I think she realised that if she didn’t let me stay I would cry or she would lose this piece of business, so decided to give me a room key.
Most Sardinian towns and cities are quiet during the winter but really this place was giving me a strange vibe. Not that there were many people about but those that were, stared as if I was trespassing across their territory. I explored nevertheless and after a delicious lunch of mussels and a glass of Vermentino in Il Vecchio Porto, I ended up at the end of the old ferry port facing a vast car ferry with a brightly painted Superman leering out along the side, a homage to ‘80’s superheroism.
I then strolled through the park area with some pretty gardens, tired looking old men, tired looking tennis courts and an even more tired looking café. By this point I was in dire need of a drink after all the salty mussels. So I walked into what reminded me of a camp site bar. I was greeted by a wall of old men stares. They were playing some traditional card game.
I walked up to the bar and asked for a ‘Coca’ and asked to sit outside. More stares. It was very sunny even if it was February. The ‘bar maid’ hastily ran a dirty cloth over an old plastic chair and faded ‘Nestle’ table so I could enjoy the slight warmth of this February afternoon, much to her puzzlement. A little piece of bliss in this age forgotten Giardini.
I don’t often indulge in fancy restaurants but when I do, I like to try something typical or that I wouldn’t cook at home. In Officina del Gusto I was happy to find only a few other diners and some very attentive camerieri for my evening meal. After nibbling on the omnipotent pane carasau and sipping my chilled Vermentino, I then revelled in my pasta dish with grilled vegetables. My absolute favourite dessert of cioccolato fondente was mirthfully digested with a local dessert wine.
As if that wasn’t enough gustation, I then stumbled across Mint Julep cocktail bar on the way back to the B&B. A cool continental bar with a few ubriachi staring at the straniera who had just entered. I enjoyed a Disarrono before questions of ‘where you from?’ and ‘where you live?’ to which I replied 'Inghilterra' and 'Nuoro’ in that order. Time for a sharp exit.
I really hadn’t planned my escape route from Olbia and so wasn’t sure if I would return to Nuoro by the plush Deplano or the battered ARST. It all came down to timing but having looked at the timetables, ARST would leave first. Being a Sunday morning nothing was open apart from a few cafés. So after my mid-morning cappuccino I decided to hunt out the ARST bus stop having been given directions by my ‘friendly’ host who directed me to buy my ticket from the café opposite the bus stop. On entering the café the bar maid said that I couldn’t buy the tickets there but at the ARST terminal down the street.
I walked up and down the main street looking for the compound and when I eventually found it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was even more bombed out than the one in Nuoro. Broken glass, broken seats and a ruined building played host to a rather modern ticket machine. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to put my money in but what choice did I have. Either leave this slightly depressing place by midday or wait until after 15:00. I put my money in and nothing happened. Oh shit that’s my only change and the machine has eaten it. I then realised I had to press a button to issue the ticket – OK.
The bus journey back was an excruciating 3 hours of whining brakes and a sneezing, coughing passenger in front. Never was I so happy to be back in Nuoro!
Which is where I am right now, dreaming of all these absolutely stunning locations. The nature is truly breathtaking, achingly, achingly beautiful. Not your typical beach holiday destinations. For a start there are usually very few other people around even in June and even less so now. They are truly unique and unspoilt places and I hope they stay that way forever.
Credits: Text and images: Lisette King
Images of Orosei town & beach: www.carolinehornesuffolkphotography.com