Sardinia: the Paradisland

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

This sentence, which seems to be a tourist promotion slogan, was written more than two hundred years ago by a Jesuit father who arrived in Sardinia from Piedmont to teach at the University of Sassari. Sardinia is loved precisely for this, for its "diversity". So, this is the story about Sardinia, the Paradisland

A diversity that can only be perceived through routes along the territories that draw a land caressed by the sea and conquered by rugged canyons, occupied by dense Mediterranean scrub woods and coloured by vast vineyards, inhabited by pink flamingos and Sardinian deer, enlivened by noisy coastal cities and quiet inland villages, divided into various historical regions and permeated by a single and powerful identity.

© iStock / Corrado Morale

In fact, all the islands own an extraordinary characteristic: being isolated lands and surrounded by the sea, they manage more efficiently to preserve their own identity, history, culture, and traditions without being influenced too much by other territories, as instead happens in other regions on the land. And Sardinia is so far from the Italian mainland that the closest coastal point is towards Tunis on the African coast.

© iStock / Ralf Geithe

An ancient and large island

The southwestern cusp of Sardinia, the Sulcis-Iglesiente, preserves the oldest "sod" in Italy, born five hundred million years ago. And the long passage of time has forged the surfaces like the invisible hand of a gigantic sculptor. We have evidence of this history that is lost in time, even just by following the paths or discovering the Barbagia, with the landscape offered to our view.

© iStock / Cameris

It has something like 24 thousand square kilometres, just a bit less than Sicily. Sardinia is almost a continent as if to say that everything is here: high silver mountains (the Gennargentu mountain massif, i.e. the silver door); gentle hills, similar to those in Tuscany, which were initially mountains of modest height and then, with the erosion of the winds, became hills; like Marmilla, which really reminds Tuscany with its sweet hills, where we can visit Little Holland with Turri's tulips; or the house built on a nuraghe, Casa Zapata; and then the Giara plateau, a small ecosystem that seems a miracle, where you can spot the only ponies, and visit the nearby village of Tuili; and then plains lying in the sun, once so rich in grain, so much so that the Romans conquered them with long wars to make them the granary of the Republic.

© iStock / fabiano caddeo

A different history

Here, the history is also different. Remained under the dominion of Rome for almost 700 years, towards the year 1000, Sardinia "detached" from the peninsula, almost as if the island was going to move in other directions: 150 years under Aragon and 250 years under Madrid, the Sardinians have spoken Spanish for longer than they speak Italian. Then Sardinia of Savoy, the Kingdom of Italy, and finally, the Italian Republic.

This historical diversity has also strongly marked the habits of the island's inhabitants. The landscape itself tells it with the Nuragic towers, castles - fortresses of three thousand years ago still firmly erected on the crests of the hills, there are seven thousand. Even the Nuragic complexes in Sardinia are innumerable, and who knows how many there will be that have not yet been discovered.

© iStock / Travel Wild

Not only archaeology

It is enough to see one of the great popular festivals at which young and old people wear traditional costumes, to receive a colourful and living image of this diversity, there is practically a different costume for each town.

In their different expression, popular traditions are still deeply rooted and alive in Sardinian culture. The traditional dress expresses the character of a land with a thousand-year history, and if, by now, there are few centres on the island where it is still worn daily, during the great holidays, such as the Feast of Sant'Efisio in Cagliari or the Cavalcata of Sassari, can be admired in all its variations.

© Giuliana Fabris

Traditions remain alive

Even the traditional textile production in Sardinia has a very ancient history, which goes back over the centuries to the Roman age, a period in which considerable textile activity is witnessed.

As already mentioned, we find evidence of textile production in the variety of traditional Sardinian costumes and popular festivals and traditions. We can see a summary by visiting the Museum of Mediterranean Masks in Mamoiada. Here, we can find different types of masks and traditional clothes produced according to the Sardinian artisan tradition.

© iStock / giovannibussu

But above all, in the 19th century, family production spread. And alongside textile production, we find the artisanal production of baskets in Castelsardo or the weaving of sea silk in Sant'Antioco, according to a unique practice worldwide.

© iStock / gianluigibec77

We find respect for traditions that have remained alive over the centuries following the rites of the Holy Week in Iglesias or the Halloween night in Cagliari, which is not linked to the ancient Celtic rituals but has its own local identity.

© Visit Iglesias / unknown

Not only wine

The winemaking tradition in Sardinia is lost in the mists of time. According to Greek legends, it was Aristaeus who introduced crops to Sardinia. In ancient mythology, Aristaeus is the beneficent god, originally from Thessaly, in Greece, who watches over the flocks and the products of the earth, which is his mother. Today it is certain that winemaking on the island dates back to at least the 15th century BC. According to archaeologists, botanists and chemists, the oldest wine in the western Mediterranean was Sardinian, a sort of Cannonau (full-bodied red wine with high alcohol content, suitable together with red meats, game meat and Sardinian cured meats) from over three thousand years ago. And so, you can lose yourself in the beautiful territories of Sarcidano, not far from the Giara plateau, to visit a wine tasting at Olianas Estate. Even the production of beer is becoming a tradition on the island. In fact, alongside the historic Birra Ichnusa, many small micro-breweries are springing up, which make an excellent product. And then, let's not forget the drink whose scent takes us directly to the Mediterranean scrub, the myrtle liqueur.

© iStock / francescomoufotografo

In Sardinia, food and wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular due to the diversity, goodness and abundance of the products. And we also realize this by visiting the San Benedetto market in Cagliari, which offers the region's food and wine excellence. Or visiting Alghero, we cannot give up tasting the queen of the table, the lobster, perhaps after a very interesting tour of the city, visiting a red coral processing laboratory or a shop that sells "red gold".

© iStock / Tetiana Rozvodovska

We also encounter diversity in gastronomy, given that Sardinians know as many as three hundred different types of bread. And, still, in the field of food and wine, we find in Sardinia large expanses and cultivations of saffron, a spice with a unique and unmistakable aroma.

Even the olive oil produced in Sardinia is excellent and tells a millenary tradition. The production of olive oil in Sardinia represents an important economic sector involving over 42,000 hectares of land. Evidence of this ancient cultivation can be found throughout Sardinia, where millenary olive trees are found in various areas. But the place that best testifies to this agricultural activity in Sardinia is in the territory of Villamassargia, which is called "S'Ortu Mannu". S'Ortu Mannu is a natural oasis-museum made up of 700 centuries-old olive trees, which stands at the foot of a medieval castle in the Iglesiente area in South-western Sardinia.

© iStock / PS3000

Food in Sardinia

Like the rest, Sardinia is made up of diversity also for food… Sardinian cuisine is a unique world in Italy's various food universe. The geographical distance from the continent has meant that Sardinia has developed its own culinary tradition, which uses locally produced ingredients to create delicious regional recipes.

Land of ancient Sardinian shepherds, where, contrary to what is expected, the traditional recipes are mostly based on meat and cheese. Centuries of sheep farming have left an abundance of excellent cheeses made with sheep's milk, both fresh and aged, on Sardinian tables. Kid, pork and horse meat are widely consumed. The places where you can taste traditional flavours are generally the restaurants of farmhouses, less tied to the fashions and more authentic. Obviously, fish also occupies one of the first places in daily consumption, but more in coastal areas.

The most famous typical Sardinian product is bottarga or mullet roe, a precious (and expensive!) food obtained from fish roe dried with a laborious traditional process. Available only in certain periods of the year, it is sold as a loaf or already grated. Bottarga is an ingredient that lends itself to many creative recipes, but it is also delicious, simply placed on a slice of buttered bread or grated on pasta with sautéed cherry tomatoes.

© iStock / Sissoupitch

Among the first courses, a great dish to start your exploration of traditional Sardinian cuisine is the malloreddus, known in mainland Italy as Sardinian gnocchetti. Eating them where they are produced is a completely different experience than eating ready-made dumplings bought at the supermarket.

© iStock / marmo81

Another very tasty first course is culurgiones, ravioli made of fresh ear-shaped pasta filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese and mint served with fresh sausage gravy or a simple tomato and basil sauce.

© iStock / Tatyana Medvedtskaya

A dish usually served as a first course but also excellent as a second course is fregula: it resembles couscous in appearance but has a completely different preparation. The simplest version is topped with tomato and basil, like pasta. The most delicious is in fish broth with seafood.

© iStock / Olga Mazyarkina

Among the main courses, it seems that on an island, the main dish is always fish, but meat dominates in Sardinia. The true king of the table in Sardinia is, in fact, the porceddu (roast suckling pig): it is a constitutive element of the Sardinian identity. A cornerstone of the culinary tradition of this enchanting island, the roast suckling pig flavoured with myrtle and rosemary leaves is a dish that requires very long preparation, with cooking ranging from 3 to 5 hours to guarantee the external crunchiness of the skin and the softness of the meat.

© iStock / alexbai

As for sweets, Sardinian pastry is a world and extensively uses a typical ingredient of the island, the exceptional cheeses. The two most famous typical desserts are made with a cheese filling, the pardulas and the sebadas (also called seadas). Pardulas are stuffed cakes typical of the Easter period, made with ricotta and saffron filling and flavoured with orange and lemon. Sebadas is a fried dessert consisting of two layers of semolina flour worked with lard which encloses a filling of fresh cheese flavoured with lemon. They are sprinkled with honey or sugar. Sweets prepared with almond paste are also very popular (including amaretti, Gueffus, candelaus).

© iStock / Emiliano Pane

Wonderful itineraries

It is known as one of the most scenic and beautiful roads in the world and is located in northwestern Sardinia, which connects Alghero and Bosa. Do not miss this experience because it is a part of Sardinia that remains in the heart. Beautiful to drive this piece of road when approaching sunset. From Alghero, you can then go north and have a beautiful experience, between nature and landscapes, on Asinara island. Going south from Alghero instead, arriving at Costa Verde, you can visit the beautiful Piscinas beach, with the rare shifting dunes and abandoned mining village. From here, still going south, we find the Iglesiente, and many other industrial archaeology sites, such as the Asproni Village, which tells the story of the golden age of deposits and mining in Sardinia. A magnificent example of industrial archaeology.

© iStock / AlKane

Cagliari, the city of the sun

The Guardian, one of the world's most widely read British newspapers, has included the city of Cagliari in the list of the six most beautiful seaside cities in Europe.

But the enchanting and numerous beaches kissed by the turquoise and crystalline waters of the Sardinian sea are not the only reasons to visit Cagliari at least once in a lifetime.

© iStock / travellaggio

The capital's territory is a real showcase of the island's excellence: sea, mountains, nature, landscapes, archaeology, art, history, gastronomy, events, sports, and festivals... and throughout the year.

Overlooking the Golfo degli Angeli and with the skyline of the Devil's Saddle, immersed in Mediterranean scents, in constant balance between tradition, legend and modernity, the ancient Kalaris is the city of wonders where faith and folklore, mystery and magic, history and art, nature and culture meet. And, why not, also the most playful part of the nightlife.

Recently the city of Cagliari has also become very popular as a wedding venue. As a result, couples worldwide often decide more and more often to say "yes" in this city. For this reason, the Municipality of Cagliari offers a series of suitable places for the most important day of your life.

The beaches and the sea

Until now, I have deliberately not spoken of the extraordinary sea and the paradisiacal beaches of Sardinia. In fact, what to add to what has already been said about the Sardinian sea? Caribbean beaches with very white sand and isolated coves in every season of the year, never too crowded.

Taking a dip in this sea means immersing yourself and getting lost in a riot of blue shades that degrade and intensify until they disappear and merge with the blue of the sky. A sea that bathes the tongues of white or golden sand, the hidden bays and those massive cliffs that soar towards the sky and sink into the precious seabed.

The sea that bathes Sardinia is a palette of colours ranging from blue to emerald green. Its waters are so transparent and crystalline that from here, it is possible to admire the underwater world, which is kept and preserved like a precious treasure. The same underwater world belongs to the protected marine areas that wind around the island.

Here, this is the sea of Sardinia and it is a visual poem that enchants the eyes and warms the heart.

© iStock / kekko73

After all this news I have given you, you will understand that a week's tour is not enough to get to know Sardinia, but most of the time, those who arrive in Sardinia for the first time return several times throughout their life, because Sardinia leaves a perennial reminder. Therefore, my advice is not to take a quick tour of the whole island, you risk not seeing anything. But instead, try to create itineraries to get to know a part of this wonderful island each time, which deserves to be experienced and visited.

Taking advantage of all these opportunities during the twelve months of the year is made possible and pleasant by its climate. According to weather statistics, Cagliari is the Italian city with the highest number of sunny days, and in the winter months boasts the highest minimum and maximum temperatures. Add to it the scents and colours of nature, which can only be attempted to describe but which can only be understood by those who try them, and you will have an idea of the beauty of this territory, its nature and its people, and of the surprises, it is capable of reserving for those who come to visit and experience it.

I can only give you a small taste of experiences not to be missed for a complete vision of this Paradisland: for example, a full-day sailing tour of the Maddalena Archipelago, with lunch on board. An exhilarating experience to discover the wonders of this fantastic archipelago, with stops to swim in the crystalline and turquoise waters. Unforgettable! Or get to know the city of Cagliari with a guided tour, which will also reveal the secrets and legends of this magical city. Or, again, to combine the naturalistic part with the archaeological and historical one, I recommend a Barumini and Giara Park Tour, which includes a guided tour of Su Nuraxi and a subsequent excursion to the Giara plateau. Three different experiences, which have in common the visit to wonderful places!

© iStock / mihtiander

There are many travel ideas in Sardinia, the Paradisland. It is a journey of continuous discoveries, wherever you start, to enchant with an ancient yet always new charm.

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