The eternal question: is Italy in the summer worth the crowds? On the island of Sardinia, the answer is a resounding YES!
Last summer, in the middle of August, we went for 10 days to the northwestern coast of Sardegna (Sardinia for English speakers.) Sardegna is Italy’s second biggest island after Sicilia, located in the middle of the Tyrrenian Sea to the west of the mainland.
Throughout history it has been an agriculturally rich island, and a favorite target of many conquerors. The island is now divided into four different provinces named for their largest cities. Cagliari (written as CA), Nuoro (NU), Oristano (OR) and Sassari (SS) are in turn comprised of smaller regions characterized by their own traditions and even their own dialect.
Sardegna is most famous among travelers for one of its stretches of coastline: the Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast, in the northeast Sassari district. It offers pristine beaches, the perfect mistral winds from the northwest for sailing and windsurfing, and very high prices for everything.
You may read that Sardegna has a very long season, from April to November. The truth is that any part of the coastline can be very windy and cold, so if you want to enjoy the water, the best time to be there is between June and September.
The initial anxiety of traveling to a very popular Italian seaside spot during the most popular time of the year was both confirmed and proved wrong during the first couple of days we were there. The place was filled to capacity and it was wonderful. In August, Sardegna is crowded mostly with Italians and their extensive families, all on motorscooters, all on vacation. The food markets, of course, are open all day and part of the night, and the weather is at its best: sunny, dry and hot.
Our family group consisted of two boys (ages 10 and 13) and four adults. Our son, Luca, stayed with my sister and her family in a small two-bedroom apartment belonging to her husband, a native, in the Old City of Alghero in the northwest of the island. My husband Harvey and I stayed nearby in the lovely, highly recommended Hotel dei Pini at the Bombarde (pini means pine trees and the nickname Bombarde, the myth goes, originates from fishermen using underwater bombs to catch fish on that beach.) The hotel stands in a wonderful forest by the sea, and has a private beach, tennis courts, restaurant, boat and mountain bike rentals.
The nearest main town is Alghero, which has its own airport and is about 40 minutes from the nearest port, Porto Torres. All kinds of ferries and fast ships dock there daily; it takes six or 12 hours from Genova depending on your ship.
New Beach Every Day
Because space had forced us to split up the family, we felt that we were able to offer the kids (and ourselves) the best of two worlds: hang out on our hotel’s private beach during the day, where there was a small seaside restaurant with great sandwiches, fresh salads and packaged ice cream, and go to town for dinner at night.
We had two cars and were able to take day trips to several different beaches, both north and south of Alghero. Although on Italy’s mainland, Tyrrenian, and Adriatic beaches it is expected that you will rent a chaise and umbrella from one of the many concessions, here the rustic beaches are free and parking is permitted. They are well marked and as you drive north, you’ll pass some favorites: Le Bombarde, Il Lazzaretto and behind Capo Caccia, Porticciolo, Portoferro, Pineta ai Mugoni. The beaches are all beautiful and the water is so clean that snorkeling equipment is a must.
Boats can be rented to go offshore. The fish aren’t tropical looking, but they are plentiful (dorade, octopus, sole, branzino), and the rocks beautiful to see. There are no organized watersports, but kids always find other kids to play soccer with, and professional sailing lessons can be taken on the small boats in the port. One school that comes highly recommended is Velamare; email them with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North of us on a point facing the Golfo dell’ Asinara was the old fishing village of Stintino, very popular with tourists for its charm and its picturesque tower of La Pelosa, which overlooks the small island of l’Asinara.
Alghero’s Old City is a Catalan enclave, where the local dialect is a mixture of Sardinian and Catalan, and the architecture remains unaltered by time. It is one of the most homogenous historical centers on the island. We did little other sightseeing, but many families enjoy the seeing the old Medieval churches, the main Piazza d’Italia and the archeological museum in Sassari, and the island’s small farming villages with their historic basilicas and family castellos
Strolling & Dining
The Old City is a pedestrian zone. It is surrounded by broad, restored stone Medieval walls which are also free of traffic, making them perfect for an evening or pre-dinner family stroll. There is a permanent Luna Park (small amusement park) by the port, and dozens of beautiful docked yachts to admire.
The restaurants are all good, but I especially recall Il Pavone, La Lepanto da Cecchini and Al Tuguri. The food in western Sardegna uses locally grown ingredients and it is delicious: special pastas (gnocchetti, malloreddu), the freshest fish and, for dessert, children will love seadas, enormous sweet ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and covered with powdered sugar and honey. There are two open-air markets in the center of the Old City, with everything needed to pack a great picnic for the beach.
Web surfers can get general Italy information at the government tourist office site, www.italiantourism.com, and Sardinia information at www.sardinia.net or (less useful) www.regione.sardegna.it/. Once in Sardegna, the local Tourist Board has an office in the center of Alghero’s Old City to service every possible need.
Getting to Sardegna is easy, though not always inexpensive. By air: you can fly to Alghero from Milano Malpensa or Rome Fiumicino airports, which have direct flights from the United States and from many European cities. By boat: you can take the high speed Navi Veloci (Tirrenia Lines) from Genova to Porto Torres which takes six hours, or the regular ferries, which take about 12. (If you are delayed in Porto Torres, walk into the Basilica of St. Gavino, visit the Roman bridge and see the other archeological ruins). The advantage of the large regular ferries is that you can go on deck. The fast boats don’t offer any outdoor space; therefore you feel as though you had been underwater instead of on top of it by the time you reach the island. Once on the island, you can easily rent a car.
For information and reservations at our wonderful three-star hotel, contact the Hotel dei Pini Le Bombarde, 07041 Alghero (SS) Italy; (01139) 079.930.157 or fax (01139) 079.930.259; email: email@example.com.
Also, agriturismo, or stays at local farms (which are inexpensive and introduce you to farm chores) is a popular vacation choice with families. Many possible locations can be seen on these websites.
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