Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, 250-400 km off the west coast of Italy. At 24,000 km2, it is slightly larger than a quarter of Hungary's area, but has a lower population density and a total of about 1.6 million inhabitants. When planning a week-long vacation, many people plan to go around the whole island in a week, but looking at the distances on the map is tricky. I’m not saying it can’t be accomplished, but if someone wants to go around the island in a week, that means they’ll drive a lot and have little time left to explore the local beauties because there will only be a rush between accommodations. I definitely recommend that you select the half / or the third of the island and target the attractions of that selected area.
Depending on the selected area, it is worth choosing the airline. The island has three airports one in Olbia, one in Alghero and one in Cagliari. The latter is said to be the capital of the island. If you want to explore the northern part of the island, fly to Alghero or Olbia. To explore the south, fly to Cagliari. As low-cost flights fly to all three airports, it is possible to catch quite favorable tickets (we had a return ticket for about 30 EUR per person), but in the high season --> in the summer months, the prices can be pretty expensive.
I definitely recommend renting a car on the island. Because even if we visit only a part of the island, there are still relatively long distances and we may have to drive 1-2 hours at a time to reach some of the attractions. We rented a car from Centauro. This is one of the few car rentals where you can rent a car without a deposit. Most car rentals ask for a security deposit, but Centauro has a so-called zero excess if you book your car with a full insurance option. Car rental is very expensive in high season. In the off-season, a medium-sized, five-person car with full insurance starts at € 400 a week.
The period before and after the high season is advantageous not only because of the prices, but also to avoid the heat and the tourist crowds.
In this blog post, I cover the northeast part of Sardinia, from the Golfo di Orosei to Capo Testa. Sardinia offers a wide range of activities for visitors. Hiking, diving, cruising, water sports, cultural and historical adventures and of course swimming are just a fraction of what Sardinia has to offer.
But since we are still talking about a Mediterranean island with a long coastline, it is important to mention how beautiful its beaches are. There is basically a beach on "every corner". Due to its excellent geographical and natural endowments, Sardinia is full of beautiful beaches. There are sandy, gravelly, rocky, brown, yellow, white, hidden and crowded beaches as well. So for sure everyone will find the right beach for her/himself. The island has a separate coastal map that depicts hundreds of beaches and describes their features in a few sentences. Sardinia is said to be wonderful for its marine life and in many parts of the island you can sign up for an organized diving tour. The main diving sites with colorful marine life are accessible mainly by boat. Snorkeling here doesn’t provide such a beautiful sight, at least not in the northwestern part of the island.
Some must-see beaches on the northeastern tip of the island:
Sos Aranzos Beach
Spiaggia Rena Bianca
Spiagga Binaca - White Beach
Spiaggia di Marinella
Spiaggia Porto Liscia
Spiaggia Mannena and of course La Maddalena, and the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Orosei and Isola Molera.
Gulf of Orosei
In my opinion, the Gulf of Orosei in the (north)east of the island has the most beautiful beaches, such as Cala Goloritzé, Cala Mariolu, Cala Esuili and Cala Luna. The easiest way to reach the beaches on this coast is by boat/speedboat. There are some beaches where you can hike to, however these hikes are relatively long ones, because this area is a nature reserve and it is not possible to go near the coast by car. Therefore, for those who would not specifically go because of the hiking experience, I'd definitely recommend the boat tour. Not only because it’s simpler, but because it’s a great experience and you can visit the entire Gulf of Orosei in one day.
There are many different boat trips to choose from, there are private motorboat rentals, boats for about ~ 10-people, and bigger boats for 50+ people. Tours start from Cala Gonone --> this is the nearest port that can be reached by car. It is about 1.5 - 2 hours drive from Olbia. There are about 20 small, almost the same identical counters in the port of Cala Gonone, where everyone is trying to sell their own boat tours to the tourists. So anyone who hasn’t booked a trip in advance is likely to find a suitable tour there as well, probably with more bargaining power. For us in the off-season, the boat day-trip (without meal) in a medium-size speedboat, with a driver was 200 Euros for 5 people (so there were four strangers in the boat beside us).
The good thing about such a boat trip is that the driver shows the most beautiful shores, and you dock at 3-4 beaches, where, by the way, the driver helps you out from the boat and leaves you there for 1-1,5 hours, and you can decide whether to leave your stuff on the boat or take it with you. What you won't need in the upcoming 1-1,5 hours, you can leave it on the boat. When disembarking, it is worth taking your slippers with you, as some of the beaches are gravelly, rocky and quite uncomfortable to walk barefoot. It is also worth noting what clothes the driver wears and what unique things the boat has, because you will need to be able to recognize your boat/driver among others. (Because of course Your boat won't be the only one, dropping off and picking up tourists.) What is very memorable about the boat trip and the Golfo di Orosei is that the water is crystal clear and the sea has carved beautiful caves and rocks along the coast. The high rocky shoreline hides beautiful stalactites, caves and incredible unique rock formations in many places.
Another such special cave is at Cala Luna. Where the driver drops you off is a sandy beach, however a little further north, large caves await adventurous tourists. I am writing adventurous because if there are even slightly bigger waves, you can only get there from the sandy part through a rather dangerous rock climb. It is dangerous because the narrow rocky (white) part is completely covered by waves in windy weather, and the smooth-surfaced rocky part becomes very very slippery. Therefore, whoever does not feel safe should rather admire the caves from the boat. And keep in mind that in windy weather the cameras and the phones can be in danger, because there are parts where you have to hold on with both hands and climb with your hands and feet.
Even in good weather, there can be relatively large waves at the sea, not only this Cala Lunas experience can be adventurous, but it also means that the speedboat is bumping on the water, especially if the driver is giving full speed just for fun. For the elderly and those with back pain, it is therefore definitely recommended to take a seat in the back of the boat. If you like to go motor boating, I would recommend you motorboat rental, which is available not only at the Gulf of Orosei, but also at the Golfo Aranci and, of course also near the archipelago of La Maddalena in Palau or Conca Verde.
What you should know about private motorboat rentals:
The daily rental fee for a small speedboat in the off-season is 100-200 Euro/day + fuel, which is 60-90 Euro, depending on your driving style. However, if we take the price of 150 Euros, that is all in the off-season price. In the high season you have to pay about 230-250 Euros for the same.
These boats can be rented without any kind of boat license.
There are some local providers where you do not have to pay a deposit, however, if there is any damage to the boat or the engine, a certain amount will have to be paid by you. The details and conditions should be included in the renting agreement signed before departure. (In an ideal case, it is also in English, and with a vendor who speaks English.) However, it is possible that a local Italian will do all this with minimal English knowledge. In this case, the biggest challenge is to understand the usage instructions of the boat such as the refueling process, especially if you have never rented a speedboat before.
There are renting companies where they ask you to take the boat back with a full tank. In such cases, there is usually a gas station on the edge of the port, and you have to navigate there by speedboat and either call the listed phone number, or there is already a "gas station" employee to help you. And then it's good to have cash with you.
The water is very shallow in many places near the coast, especially in the archipelago of La Maddalena, so high attention needed in order to not bump into any underwater rocks, as this will immediately damage the propeller.
On the sea, even if the weather is cloudy, it is very easy to get a sunburn, so have sunscreen and a scarf / towel with you --> this will be very helpful especially at noon.
The most important thing is to ask about the size of the gas tank at the beginning of the rental and to ask how far the given amount of gasoline is enough, because it is quite inconvenient if you run out of fuel on the high seas. --> We had two 25-liter gasoline tanks at one of the boat rentals, and we were told that one of the tanks is smoothly enough for 4 hours, however for us it ran out after 2 hours. The speedboat was probably not handed over with a full tank. But luckily there was a gas station nearby, so we refueled both tanks. At the time of the second boat rental, we already had a slightly more modern boat, and it already had a fuel tracker.
You should keep your eyes open during boating, because there is a high chance of seeing dolphins, especially in the Golfo Aranci area, especially around the island of Figarolo.
In case of big waves, do not go far from the shore, it is not safe on the high seas.
The smallest motorboats can comfortably accommodate 4-5 people.
The La Maddalena archipelago consists of seven main islands and it is one of the most beautiful national parks in Sardinia. Its beautiful white sandy beaches, bays with special rock formations, untouchedness and, of course the crystal clear natural "pool" surrounded by Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria will dazzle everyone. You easily feel like you have been dropped into Paradise.
The Pink Beach is located on the island of Budelli, which unfortunately has not been open to tourists for a long time, it can only be seen from a boat. You can actually discover some shades of pink, but it’s not like you look at it and you see pink sand. What also worth seeing is the white sandy beach on the east side of Spargi, Cala dell'amore, and the picturesque Spiaggia Testa del Polpo between Maddalena and Caprera. --> Again, it is important to be careful, because the water is very shallow here.
In the case of a full-day boat rental, I would definitely recommend cruising around the islands, as long as the sea is calm enough. If it is very undulating, stay in the area enclosed by the islands.
What was very interesting to me is that Corsica (the island of France) is just 12 km off the coast of Sardinia, and especially when we were sailing off the north and west coasts of the islands of La Maddalena, we were already so close that the French mobile network reached us and I received a "Welcome to France" SMS.
Talking about phones ...
Another very useful tip! Download the offline map of this area on your phone, it comes in very handy when you need to navigate in the boat!
Isola Molara, Tavolara
From Golfo Aranci, I recommend a boat trip to Isola Molara and Isola Tavolara. These are little untouched gems that can only be approached by boat. Noone lives on these islands, just sheep. Isola Tavolara has a restaurant, but Isola Molara is completely uninhabited. Very interestingly, there’s a speedboat buffet-boat sailing among the other boats and the driver is shouting around if somebody wants to buy something, and if so, they stand by the customer's speedboat to grab its edges and hand over the food and drink s/he wants to buy.
Isola Molara has amazingly beautiful tiny bays, where you can swim in the beautiful crystal clear water among hundreds of fish. Have some bread with you because it is a really unique experience to feed the hundreds of fish. When renting a speedboat in Golfo Aranci, be sure to go to the islands of Tavolara and Molara, as well as the area around Figarolo, and a little north of Golfo Aranci you can drive up in the direction of Porto Rotondo.
Anyone who enjoys speedboating is for sure will enjoy this great experience, especially if you are lucky enough to see dolphins along the way.
Sardinia plays a significant role in Italy's cork supply. There are so many cork oak plantations on the island that about 80% of Italy’s cork demand is provided by Sardinia. It is a very interesting sight, who has not seen cork yet, be sure to stop at a plantation. Calangianus and its surroundings are the so-called cork capital of Sardinia. There are many plantations in this area.
The cork oak has a very unique look when the layer of cork on the trunk has just been peeled off. Before peeling, it looks like an ordinary tree, but if you go closer and touch it, then you can see that the bark on the trunk is not as hard, but rather spongy, with a softer feel (of course, not completely soft, only compared to the bark of the other trees). On the other hand, when the outer layer of cork, which is a few inches thick, is peeled off, the bark of the tree becomes dark reddish-burgundy, making it easy to recognize the cork plantations from afar. The new cork bark with a thickness of several cm-s grows back on the trunk of the tree, it takes quite a few years, so it is always necessary to take care of the new plantations in the meantime.
There is also a little cork museum in Calangianus, where you can learn a lot about the cork oaks and how to use them. However, its opening hours are limited. However, if you have come to Calangianus, it is worth driving a little further to Tempio Pausania, where you will find a small cute town with alley streets and a beautiful main square and church in the middle.
Golfo Aranci - Mermaid
Now that we talk about such unique Sardinian things, it is definitely worth mentioning the Mermaid of Golfo Aranci. This Mermaid comes out of the water every morning at 11 am and 5 or 7 pm in the afternoon (depending on the season) and sings Sardinian songs. Its symbolic meaning is that it is waiting for the fishermen to return to the harbor while singing the local songs, furthermore to delight locals and tourists with the beautiful melodies. She sings for about half an hour each time and then sinks back into the sea after half an hour. It’s a very unique little piece, I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere else before, and it’s a particularly unique experience, especially when you can hear it from your accommodation. It gives the musical background for dinner.
Tiny seaside town with luxury yacht marina --> favorite place for many celebrities. Let's stop for a walk, because it is a very cozy little town!
Perhaps one of the most unique and special experiences in Sardinia was the sunset at the Capo Testa lighthouse. This place is quite amazing, one of the northernmost parts of Sardinia, closest to Corsica, and the huge rocky sea is a playground for the imagination, as everyone can unleash their imagination on the shapes of the rocks. --> Just like at Roccia dell’Orso, the famous Bear Rock, in which you can discover the bear shape in quite different forms.
Going back to Capo Testa, this stretch of coast reminded me of the great rocky beaches of the Seychelles. I wasn’t there yet, but most of you have in mind the typical photo of the Seychelles where the sandy beach is dotted with huge rocks, so for me, the scene totally reminded me of this when we got out the car in the parking lot of Capo Testa.
It is not possible to go directly to the lighthouse, because it is a military area, but there is a small fortress where you can go up and admire the wonderful panoramic view.
In a nutshell, that would have been my summary from the northeast part of Sardinia. But this is just the beginning, as we haven’t even visited a quarter of the island, so we’ll definitely be back because Sardinia has many many more adventures and experiences in its pocket! :)