Secret Sardinia: hot spots only the locals know

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Beyond the glitz and glamour of the Costa Smeralda, off-the-beaten-track beaches and rural villages that often get overlooked by travellers await you. Starting in the walled city of Alghero, where a handsome waterfront invites evening promenades, this route towards the southern capital of Cagliari takes in some of the island’s most secluded and serene sights.

Old-world charm in Castelsardo

Heading northwest from Alghero, the cobblestone streets of Castelsardo are arranged around – you guessed it – a castle. With its historic watchtowers, crumbling fortifications and attractive waterside Piazza del Novecentenario, the town invites exploration. And, thanks to its location inside the Asinara Gulf, you don’t have to venture far to reach secluded beaches and curious rock formations – be sure to take in the Roccia dell’Elefante and the pretty shells that wash ashore at Spiaggia San Pietro.

The white-sand isthmus of Capo Testa

Continuing to Sardinia’s northernmost point, this striking peninsula extends towards the Straits of Bonifacio and is connected to the rest of Sardinia by a narrow isthmus. Rugged walking trails crisscross the peninsula and many lead to the lighthouse, which was built in 1845. Rising out of Capo Testa’s jumble of ginormous granite rocks, it’s easy to see how the area earned the nickname the Valley of the Moon.

Island-hopping the Maddalena Archipelago

The island of Maddalena – the largest in this beautiful archipelago – might not be the best-kept secret, but many of the surrounding, smaller islands are much-less visited. Take a boat to Spargi and enjoy a dip in the crystal-clear water of Cala dei Corsari. Spend a day uncovering one sandy stretch after another on Santo Stefano and, as you return to the mainland, pass by Budelli. While it’s not possible to step foot on the island, you can spot its striking pink beach – Spiaggia Rosa – from the water. 

Cala Brandinchi’s turquoise waters and white sand

The locals refer to it as ‘Little Tahiti’ and this 700m-long beach certainly is a tropical paradise sitting pretty on the northeast coast of Sardinia. Walk along this sandy stretch with towering pine forests on one side and sparkling turquoise water on the other. Pack your snorkel and paddle out into the shallows, or take it easy and hire a sunlounger for a day’s sun-bathing. 

Street poetry and atmospheric piazzas in Posada

Leave the beach behind and head a few kilometres inland to the medieval hilltop village of Posada. Perched on a towering limestone cliff that’s dominated by the ruins of a 12th-century castle, it has an atmospheric, fairytale feel and has long been associated with poets and poetry. Expect to see lines of verse painted on ancient walls as you explore its winding alleyways and atmospheric piazzas. Just as you think you’re lost in a maze, the path leads to a terrace that offers stunning panoramic views of the sea.

Exclusive access to Bidderosa

With a limited number of cars allowed to access this sprawling nature reserve that’s situated at the northern part of the Gulf of Orosei, you can be sure to escape tourist crowds. Covering 860 hectares, the quiet roads are lined with centuries-old juniper trees, pines and oaks, and lead to a number of white-sand coves as well as ​​Sa Curcurica lagoon, where you might just spot flamingoes and a host of other local and migratory birds. 

The water wonderland of Cala Gonone

The route to Cala Gonome takes you slightly inland and through a mountain tunnel at Dorgali, where you’ll glimpse a spectacular taster of what’s to come. A quaint seaside town on the east coast of Sardinia, Cala Gonone is the jumping off point to the region’s beaches and a host of outdoor adventures – from sea kayaking to rock climbing. Hike or hop on a speed boat to the enchanting Grotta del Bue Marino and spend an afternoon snorkelling at Cala Fuili and Cala Luna.

Political statements and murals in Orgosolo

Have your cameras at the ready for this unusual and inspiring detour. Navigate switchbacks and narrow mountain roads as you make your way to the rugged region of Barbagia and the isolated town of Orgosolo. It might be a small place, but it has always made its voice heard. In the 1960s, locals started expressing their thoughts and hopes for the future on the walls of its buildings and piazzas, as a result, the place is filled with eye-catching depictions of everyday life and large-scale historic murals. 

Italy’s Grand Canyon – Gola di Gorropu

Located in a vast chasm in the Supramonte region, Gola di Gorropu is a mile wide and flanked by limestone walls that are almost 500m-high. Follow hiking trails to the bottom for the chance to clamber and crawl over the boulders that line the Rio Flumineddu riverbed and stay on high-alert for a potential sighting of Sadinia’s version of Bigfoot – Sa Mama de Gorropu.

Soak up the rays in Porto sa Ruxi

At the southeastern edge of the island, just an hour from Cagliari, Porto sa Ruxi and its four sandy crescents are just waiting to be discovered. The coves here are rocky and rugged, but the sun-dappled, shallow water is ideal for snorkelling and you’ll rarely find more than a handful of sun-worshippers spending time here. 

Coastal cruising on the Costa del Sud

Continue a little further past the capital for a road-trip, Sardinia-style. The 15-mile coastal drive from Chia to Teulada makes for an off-the-beaten-track adventure. Follow the Strada Panoramica della Costa del Sud (SP71), stopping off to explore ancient ruins, wildflower meadows and mesmerising views of the coastline. 

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