Among the largest and most dramatic islands in the Mediterranean, Sardinia has been much praised for its natural beauty. In particular, its dazzling coastline — an interminable series of breathtaking seascapes, featuring windswept dunes, vertical cliffs, deserted coves and inlets. The island’s wild interior is less hyped, but no less spectacular, with a landscape that encompasses jagged limestone peaks, hidden caves, deep ravines and primeval forests.
Sardinia is not just a place for sun worshippers and outdoor enthusiasts, it also boasts cultural riches, including numerous Bronze Age towers and a smattering of Roman and Carthaginian ruins, as well as graceful Pisan Romanesque churches and grand Baroque structures. With glitzy harbors, deserted beaches, laid-back cities and a wild unblemished hinterland, Sardinia is a true getaway — a place to leave the stresses and strains of the mainland behind.
The Northeast: Costa Smeralda and Olbia
Costa Smeralda, the Emerald Coast, is Europe’s answer to the Caribbean. With powdery white sands, well-heeled holidaymakers, chic resorts and shiny marines replete with luxury superyachts, it’s a place to enjoy the high life.
Located on the northeast of the island, the perfectly translucent waters of the coast are the main draw, but if you can tear yourself away from the sun lounger, there are other sights to see. In the flashy town of Porto Cervo, there are high-end boutiques, spas, restaurants, cafes and plenty of nightlife to entertain, while Olbia offers a must-see archaeological museum and a smattering of other interesting architectural monuments including the Pisan-style church of San Simplicio. North of Olbia and further inland, you’ll find the stony remains of Bronze Age nuraghi (stone towers) and burial sites in Arzachena.
The South: Cagliari and Pula
Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari, is a lively and vibrant city in the island’s south. The outskirts of the city are full of modern builds, but the hilly old town, known as the Castello, is a medieval delight, packed tight with golden stone fortresses, pretty palazzos, Pisan towers, churches and palaces. There are great restaurants, medieval monuments, Roman ruins and fascinating museums, as well as stretches of golden sand beaches within easy reach of the city. Plus, it makes a great base for exploring the glorious coast and culture of south Sardinia.
Southwest of Cagliari is the popular resort of Pula, a colourful spot with plenty of shops and bars. Most visitors to Pula come with the intention of visiting nearby Nora, a haven for beachgoers and culture vultures who flock here to explore the Carthaginian and Roman remnants of baths, theatres and mosaic pavements, before lounging down on the adjacent beach. Pula also makes a good base for exploring the Costa Verde, a 47-kilometre stretch of windswept coastline full of remote beaches, rocky bays and plunging cliffs.
Further west, Sardinia’s exceptionally beautiful coastline continue to impress, with the treasured Costa del Sud providing more of the island’s famously clear waters and golden sands.
West: Alghero and Oristano
The well-preserved medieval port town of Alghero is the most popular tourist destination in the northwest. There’s good reason for that. This charming fishing town is centred around a cluster of beautifully preserved medieval lanes. The lively Spanish atmosphere — a hangover from the Catalans and Aragonese who inhabited here — is a major draw, as are the stunning sea views and the popular day trips to the nearby Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto) marine caves, a complex of underground chambers full of intricate stalactites, stalagmites and rock formations.
South of Alghero in the central part of the island is Oristano, a waterfront town rich in history, culture and Baroque architecture. Oristano is also known for its distinctive cuisine, which relies heavily on local seafood and features strong pungent flavours, including cured mullet roe, eel and casu marzu (sheep’s cheese with maggots). Milder, more palatable options, such as gnocchi, pasta and delicious fresh fish, are also widely available!
Getting there and getting around
Cagliari Airport is located 7 kilometres northwest of the city and is connected to the town centre through local bus routes, which take around 10 minutes. If arriving by sea, the port in Cagliari is next to the old town.
Alghero Airport (also known as Fertilia Airport) is located around 12 kilometres north of its namesake city and local buses will take around 20 minutes to reach the town centre. Trains to other major cities on the island, including Olbia, Sassari and Cagliari, depart from the rail station in Alghero.
Olbia Airport, conveniently located on the Costa Smeralda, is best for visitors heading to northern and eastern Sardinia. The airport is connected with the town by public buses and the journey takes around 10 minutes. Several long-distance buses operate directly from the airport during the summer high season and additional long distance bus routes depart from Olbia town centre.