My sunny Sardinian sojourn – part I

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panoramic view of Laguna

Laguna de San Teodoro

Did I fancy a trip to Paradise? Sure, why not? Especially since I didn’t even have to munch any forbidden fruit and there hadn’t been a single mention of snakes. Landing at Olbia airport, a travel writing colleague and I arrived in Paradise after dark. It was a bit hard to get our bearings, but I could just about discern it looking lush and leafy, as paradisiacal places should. We were, as a matter of fact, checking in at Paradise Resort, on the northeast coast of Sardinia and the place did its best to live up to the name.

Sardinia is quite a sizeable island – the second largest in the Med after Sicily, both autonomous regions of Italy – and during a 5-day stay I merely had time to scratch the surface of the northeast corner. As well as stunning scenery and pristine beaches, Sardinia offers the visitor an excellent mixture of nature and culture, a fascinating history, and, not forgetting, quaffable wines and gastronomic delights from both land and sea. The pleasant climate is another main draw, with generally mild winters and hot summers.

Next morning it was time to explore a bit further afield, after a quick peek at Paradise. Situated slightly inland, on a lagoon, but within easy walking distance of the main beach, the resort has a perfect location and blends in nicely with the environment. There are several lagoons in the vicinity and our first tour was a morning’s boat trip on one of them, Laguna di San Teodoro, excellent for bird-watching. It was a warm autumn day with blazing sunshine and the lagoon tour, run by Lianti tours, did not disappoint. By the end of it, our knowledgeable guide Anna Rita had had us spotting flamingos, kestrels, cormorants, a kingfisher, herons and numerous more common bird species.

a galss of Mirto

Mirto – the local tipple

The lagoon and surrounding area used to be privately owned, but were bought by the local municipality a few years back. Now there are plans for organic farming and various nature-based activities, as well as the boat tours already in operation.

Bird-watching is of course very thirsty work, so for elevenses we headed to nearby Puntaldia. (The website is only in Italian.) A posh-looking marina with cafes and restaurants, it proved a good place to try the Sardinian local tipple, “mirto”, a liqueur made from the berries of the myrtle plant. Served on ice, the deep purple-red drink was very refreshing, but may have been the root cause of my unscheduled siesta that afternoon.

“Siesta-ing” was quite a wise idea, since for day two of our Sardinian adventure we had a full day’s tour, exploring the more mountainous inland of the island in a 4×4 and on foot. Mount Nieddu, our destination, means Black Mountain in Sardinian and the scenery of looming peaks was a stark contrast to the bright blues and abundant greenery of the coastline. Inland the vegetation was more subdued after the hot summer and instead we were surrounded by cork oaks, olive trees, juniper bushes and wild herbs such as oregano and rosemary. A steep dirt track led up to Stazzo Pitrisconi, an old shepherd’s hut and our first stopping off point.

plares of cold cuts

My Sardinian lunch

Our 4×4 was driven by Manuel whose t-shirt proclaimed him to be “Little Crazy”. I wasn’t too sure I wanted a driver who was a little crazy, what with the hairpin bends and the sheer drops, but Manuel knew his stuff and no journalists were injured during the making of this tour. Instead the day turned out to be fabulous, fun and energetic. From the hut we set out to view the stunning rock pools formed by the Pitrisconi River, scrambling over rocks and getting a crash course in Sardinian flora into the bargain. The hike took about an hour or so and I was well and truly wiped out in the humid air afterwards. The rock pools looked ever so inviting, but alas, I had no swimming gear and wasn’t too sure about the local skinny-dipping rules.

Luckily after the hike a small feast had been prepared for us at the hut – just enough to revive my flagging energy levels. Typical Sardinian crispy flatbread (pane carasau) with pecorino cheese and a wonderfully tasty salami-type sausage nicely cut into thick chunks. All this was washed down with a local (so local it was label-less) red wine, Cannonau, the Sardinian name for the Grenache grape.

chilling on a Sardinian beach

Busy doing nothing – just chilling on the beach!

Thus revived, we continued with Manuel at the wheel, all the way up to Mount Nieddu itself and the view point at 650 m. Stunning views of 52 km of coastline spread out before us in the hazy sunshine, and the mountain scenery behind us was every bit as impressive. There are plenty of nice hikes in the area, but it was getting a bit late in the day, so we returned to the tour company base to settle in for a lunch of epic proportion, making the earlier snack seem tiny, almost.

Sardinians like their meat, pork in particular. The starter included a variety of delicious cold cuts, as well as roast vegetables and cheeses, before we were treated to tender roast pork and fresh rosemary-roasted potatoes; Sunday roast, Sardinian style, with copious amounts of red wine. Dessert arrived in the form of fresh fruit and local biscuits in honey, followed by an excellent limoncello and mirto liqueur-tasting. The kind of meal that leaves you pleasantly oblivious to time and with a distinct need for another siesta. Sardinia was definitely growing on me. Or was that me growing in Sardinia?

To be continued…

For more about Sardinia, click here.

Images and story © Anna Maria Espsäter

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