Sardinia is one of the most beautiful islands in Italy and is mainly visited by Italian and European tourists. It is one of those places where local life has remained intact (within the more rural and countryside areas, of course) and where you can truly experience Italian sea life. The people are friendly, the fish is fresh and the views are stunning. To completely experience Sardinia in its entirety, I would recommend at least a month long stay. If you’re working with limited time and you only have a weekend to spend in Italy or Sardinia is part of your 2 week European itinerary, you can still make Sardinia work into your itinerary, you just have to limit your time to one major city.
SARDINIA TRAVEL GUIDE
- Consider Sardinia’s size
Before I ever started planning for Sardinia, I remember thinking the island was small, about the size of Milos (Greece) and that due to its size, we would be able to tour it in its entirety. I was completely and utterly wrong. I spent a few weeks tweaking our itinerary, narrowing it down to places we could actually visit without feeling like we were on the go the entire time. Sardinia is quite large and takes a few hours to travel from north to south (Before I knew any better, I was thinking along the lines of an hour or an hour and a half). So when I first started planning for our 4 day trip, I had mapped out an itinerary from Capo Caccia to La Maddalena to the eastern beaches and finally ending in the capital, Cagliari. Crazy. Totally unrealistic. Impossible. We ended up sticking to the southern and eastern ends.
- Research all airports for the best price
Sardinia has three main airports: Alghero (northwest), Olbia (northeast) and Cagliari (south). All three airports have regular flights going in and out depending on the destination and original departure city but they can differ drastically in cost (I’m talking a $35 flight versus a $250 flight). When the vacation planning was in its initial stages, I ran flight estimates for all three airports (this helped us decide which area we were going to stick to). Since we were flying in from Florence, Cagliari was best for us. Our first flight was an arrival and departure out of Cagliari but unfortunately for us, our airline cancelled the flight out of Cagliari and to the Amalfi Coast last minute. I had to find all 7 of us a flight a few weeks before the trip and ended up having to choose Olbia for timing reasons. It ended up being a much cheaper flight but it was a 3.5 hour drive from our villa. Completely doable but irritating nonetheless.
- Choose lodging in the right location
There are a bazillion places to stay in Sardinia. I was actually impressed with how many hotels, B&Bs and owner-managed rentals there were scattered across the island. But one thing to consider is that much of the island is rural. There are only a select few cities with typical amenities and plenty of restaurants but the remaining portions of Sardinia are countryside homes with peaceful surroundings and water views. We ended up renting a villa (see photos the villa below) near the town of Villasimius – it was a gorgeous villa that more than adequately fit all 7 of us and it had the most stunning views of the sea. From the villa, we were able to reach Villasimius and major grocery stores in about 20 minutes and the closest beach was a quick 10 minute scramble over rocks (the less adventurous could reach said beach by car in about 5 minutes). A slightly larger beach (with a bar) was located 5 minutes by car as well as a small grocery store with basic essentials and more. It was perfect for us as my parents and aunt were looking forward to spending a few relaxing days taking it easy and dozing off in the hammock under the sun. If you prefer to be in the middle of it all, be sure to choose a location in any of the main cities like Cagliari, Alghero, or Olbia.
- Rent a boat to see the famous beaches
One of my favorite parts of our time in Sardinia was the day we rented a boat from Arbatax. Unlike the USA, an inexperienced driver can rent a boat (Americans would think of it as a large dinghy) to take around the sea. The owners of the marina gave my husband a brief lesson on how to maneuver it and what kinds of rules he had to abide by. After he received his briefing, we were off on our way to visit the beaches alongside the east coast (Cala Luna, Cala Mariolu, Cala Goloritze…) The boat runs you about $175 and up (fuel extra) depending on how large a boat you need. IMO, very reasonable for a full day of adventure.
- Take advantage of towers with views
If you’re in the Cagliari area, the Elephant Tower (Torre dell’Elefante) is a must. With sweeping views of Cagliari and perfect spots to photograph, this tower will not only give you your daily dose of exercise but will also leave you with lasting memories. The entrance fee in 2016 was 3 euros per person. There is another tower in Cagliari but we didn’t get a chance to climb it so I can’t speak for the views there. I recommend doing one as the views won’t differ quite enough to be worth it.
- Cook your own meals
I say this hesitantly because I realize that not many people like to cook on vacation. But I recommend making your own meals for two reasons: 1. Sardinian restaurants are expensive. 2. Fresh fish is available everywhere and local produce is cheap.We found it super easy to head to the market or local pescheria for various kinds of fresh fish. Our villa had an amazing kitchen with all the amenities to throw together a healthy and delicious meal. To be honest, it was a nice break from all the pasta and pizza we had been eating (and would eat in the days to come). I will suggest this, however. If you want a unique experience and you’re insistent on eating out, be sure to look up agriturismos (all inclusive meal hosted by a local farm) near the town where you are staying. I had planned to go to one of these but couldn’t convince anyone else to go with me (they were all craving fish every day). They’re scattered throughout Sardinia and are a must try if you want to dine out.
- Rent a car
I would say that you need a car to travel in Sardinia. Public transportation isn’t the greatest and if you’re thinking of exploring outside the main roads, a car will be your best friend. We rented two small cars for our family of 7. Driving around wasn’t that difficult – be sure to heed all signs and pay attention to ZTLs. Luckily ZTLs aren’t as strictly enforced (though police will pull you over if you are caught entering one of these) in the small towns of Sardinia as they are in major cities like Florence and Rome, where you can get fined up to $300 for entering one of these zones.
- Consider Sardinia’s size
*A big thank you to the villa in Villasimius for providing us with a discounted stay.