Unknown Sardinia

By | Category: Travel destinations
three menhirs

menhirs near Laconi

The Costa Smeralda, the chic part of Sardinia, is where the rich and famous holiday in the summer. However this area very much belies the majority of the island, which is mountainous, rugged, and dotted with small villages.

From around 1500 BC villages were built around tower fortresses called nuraghe. There are said to be seven thousand of them dotted around the island although originally there must have been many more. In the village of Sadara, excavations on the site of the church of Saint Anastasia have unearthed a well with steps leading down to a temple, as well as other remains dating back to those times. While at Laconi, a museum houses some of the menhirs (known locally as perdas fittas) to be found in the area. These huge stone boulders with carvings on them were originally set into the earth and thought to date from Neolithic times. Today over three hundred can be seen but most of them are to be found around Laconi.

The restoration of derelict houses from the people of a by-gone era is happening at Oliena. Houses owned by the rich had a courtyard where everyone socialised while carrying on their work. With a guide it is possible to explore the buildings and hear stories about how these people lived. The locals are very friendly. Walking along the narrow cobbled streets, I admired a garden where fruit, clementines and pomegranates were hanging from trees. The owner immediately opened her gate to let me see inside, as well as offering me a cup of coffee. Local crafts are still carried on the region.

Oliena crafts

Oliena

I was able to wander into the workshop of an elderly lady who was painstakingly remaking the embroidery of a priest’s mantle while her daughter, who was learning the craft, was embroidering a traditional shawl. In another building, a man whose name I learnt was Franco, was making shoes. Having admired his work he led me to his shop where I was tempted by a selection of leather belts. I bought one and he cut it to size while I waited. Leaving the workshop, I was invited by a villager to taste the local wine, served with macaroons, the traditional almond biscuit. Claudia, my guide told me that the locals make their own wine, also olive oil from the vines and olive trees that grow in their gardens. She recommended coming back in September to see the wine being made.

galtelli

Galtelli

The village of Galtelli has capitalised on the novel Canne al vento  (Reeds in the Wind) by Grazia Deledda published in 1913 which is her most famous book. It was this village from which she drew inspiration and her fame grew to such an extent that in 1926 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The cathedral dates back to the eleventh century with frescoes that were only discovered in the late 1900s. I was reminded that I was in the middle of no-where as, walking along, I heard the tinkling of bells and was soon overtaken by a flock of sheep making their way home. One of the grander houses of the village, one that used to belong to an aristocratic family in the 1700s, has been turned into an Ethnographic Museum. The two-story building has a large courtyard with rooms on the ground floor where the servants lived and carried out their chores. One room had items to make wine including a wine press; another a weaving loom, while a third was where the wheat was ground to make flour. On the first floor were the living quarters of the owners.

Castelsardo

Castelsardo

On a promontory jutting out onto the Mediterranean, the old town of Castelsardo is, as its name suggests, a castle with grounds. The streets are cobbled and steep. The castle houses the Museum of Mediterranean Weaving, the main craft of the village. My guide advised me, if I wanted to buy something woven, that it would be cheaper to do so from one of the ladies who still sit weaving in their doorways. Strategically positioned, on the castle’s roof, is a replica of a medieval catapult. From here the views are stunning, spanning the Gulf of Asinara to the Island of Asinara, a nature reserve where visitors can see turtles and white donkeys.

On a fine day it is also possible to see Corsica and all along Sardinia’s North West coast. Within the castle grounds St Mary’s Church contains the Black Christ, the oldest crucifix in Sardinia, said to perform miracles. The church has several paintings by Maestro Di Castelsardo including the Madonna with Child on the Throne. A guide isn’t necessary in this village as outside anywhere noteworthy is a plaque with explanations in both Italian and English.

roast pork

…as is roasted baby pig

fih on display

fish is a speciality…

Dogs are welcome in some but not all restaurants on the island. One of the benefits of eating in small villages is that the restaurants support local producers. Specialties of the island such as Pecorino cheese; pane carasau, a very thin, crispy bread; and amaretto (almond biscuits) are everywhere. Places by the sea tend to favour the fresh fish and seafood while in the interior, roasted baby pig, with crackling cut into small portions, is the specialty.

Roads, except the main highway, are narrow and cobbled. At one point I had to virtually flatten myself against the wall to let a car past. To really immerse oneself in the countryside it is worth checking out the agri-tourism accommodation, farms that let out rooms. Some of them also have restaurants attached.

Whether at the beginning or end of your trip, don’t miss out on the island’s capital Cagliari which has an elegant historic centre dating back to the 16th century when the island was occupied by Spain.

Direct flights from the UK have tended to operate for just the summer. From January, there will be a Ryanair flight from Luton to Cagliari and easyJet links Stansted to Cagliari. The other main airport is Olbia, but all flights linking the UK do not operate in the winter.

For more about Sardinia, click here

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