Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, characterized by a jagged and rocky coastline, interspersed with marvelous beaches of very fine sand. The past fifty years have seen Sardinia become a hotspot for tourism, with the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) in the northern area becoming a favorite retreat of Italian celebrities. There are numerous Bronze Age remains throughout the islands, the best known being the Nuraghi - circular (sometimes conical) stone dwellings left by an otherwise unknown people.
80km (50 miles) north of Cagliari. The Sardinian coast may be dedicated to tourism, but the interior still belongs to native Sardinians who still hold onto their customs, food and unique language (Sardinian is a direct descendant of classical Latin and is considered an official language). A trip along the shore makes a fantastic getaway, but exploring away from the beaches will give the traveler a glimpse of real Sardinia.
Sardinia: HistoryThe history of Sardinia is long and with mysterious beginnings. The first settlers were the enigmatic Nurag people of the Bronze Age, known for their beehive live structures that can still be seen throughout Sardinia. Not much is known about the Nuraghi except that they did achieve a level of sophistication that included sea trade. Both the Nurag people and the Greek colonies of Sardinia's coast were annexed by Carthage in 537 BC, which started the Sardinian people's tradition of leaving the coast to invaders while keeping to themselves in the mountains. After the Punic Wars, Rome took over Sardinia and left their mark before invading Vandals and Byzantine Greeks attempted to rule the island.
In this power vacuum, Sardinia became semi-autonomous with the island divided among Giudicati (kingdoms), all the while the ever present threat of Moorish pirates loomed on the horizon. With the help of the maritime powerhouses Genoa and Pisa, Sardinia remained free of the Moors, but the Genoese and Pisans quickly took over instead and became a colonial holding. In 1297 Pope Boniface VIII created the Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica for James of Aragon, which led to over one hundred years of strife on Sardinia before being annexed to the new Kingdom of Spain in 1493. Spanish rulership of Sardinia ended after the War of the Spanish Succession, with a new Kingdom of Sicily and Sardinia given to the house of Savoy as part of the Congress of London in 1718. This new kingdom (later called the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia) was part of the central holding of the House of Savoy, later to become part of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 1948 Sardinia became an autonomous region and two years later the Malaria virus was completely wiped out - setting the stage for the popular tourist destination Sardinia has become today.
Sardinia: Regional Food and Wine
The traditional cuisine of Sardinia is in some ways a contradiction: An island civilization that did not utilize seafood in its diet. Since Sardinia's coast has always been victim to invasion, the Sardinian people found refuge in the mountainous hinterland of the island. Therefore the traditional foods of Sardinia were always more influenced by the land than the sea. Today much has changed and now seafood has been embraced by Sardinians, no longer having to fear invaders or pirates and thus creating a truly unique gastronomic experience. Spicy fish soups called Burrida and Cassola along with lobsters, crabs, anchovies, squid, clams and fresh sardines are all very popular along the Sardinian coast.
Favorite Sardinian pasta dishes include Spaghetti con Bottarga, with dried gray mullet roe shaved on top, Malloreddus is a gnocchi flavored with saffron and served with a tomato sauce. Culingiones are round ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese. Sardinian is known for its rustic sheep and goat cheeses like Pecorino Sardo and Fiore Sardo, which can either be served fresh or aged. The Sardinian interior produces some of the best lamb in all of Italy and known for being very lean. Sardinians enjoy their meats roasted and Porceddu, (Sardinian version of Porchetta) suckling pig or kid (suckling goat) is a favorite roasted outdoors over aromatic woods.
Sardinian wines have been influenced by the successive waves of invaders, with the Spanish leaving the most indelible mark. The full-bodied red Cannonau is the wine of choice when serving Sardinia's excellent lamb. The Spanish imported Monica di Cagliari (DOC) can be found in dry well-aged varieties as well as a sweet dessert wine known as Liquoroso Dolce. The most well known Sardinian white is Vernaccia di Oristano (DOC), a golden dry wine that that is popular with fish and Sardinian lobster. The well balanced Vermentino di Gallura (DOCG) is the perfect accompaniment to the seafood of the Costa Smeralda. Spirits include the aperitivo Liquoroso Secco (made from the Monica grape), and the Myrtle flavored digestivo Mirto. There are also various types of Grappa and Fil'e Ferru, a Sardinian Aquavitae and infusions of citrus fruits such as Limoncino and Arangiu.
Sardinia: Regional Highlights
Situated among salt marshes and fish-rich ponds at the center of the broad southern gulf that extends from Cape Spartivento to Cape Carbonara, Cagliari is the main harbor and one of the gateways to Sardinia. The French author Auguste Bouillier, who visited it in 1864, wrote movingly of the view, with "cupolas glittering in the setting sun", the "castle with its belt of grey walls", and the "spectral towers". Dotted with Pisan towers and a Spanish castle, Cagliari has other Spanish touches, such as its flower-lined patios, decorated with ceramics not unlike Portugal's famed azulejos. Travelers interested in Sardinia's mysterious past should visit the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, which houses an unequalled collection of ancient Sardinian, Phoenician, Minoan and Roman artifacts.
La Costa Smeralda or "the Emerald Coast" is a new feature of Sardinia, created nearly forty years ago to transform a formerly wild and isolated coast into world-class tourist destination. La Costa Smeralda occupies the northeast corner of Sardinia from Olbia to Santa Teresa Gallura and follows the dramatic coastline of inlets and gulfs. Besides the fashionable resorts with its trendy beaches and yachts, La Costa Smeralda also has unbelievable natural beauty, with some of the clearest waters in the entire Mediterranean. Away from the coast the road travels into the ancient lands of the Nuraghi, with ruins of their distinctive structures as well as even older prehistoric dolmens known as the Tomb of the Giants.
Alghero was once a bastion of the Spanish Viceroy and even today is nicknamed "Barcelonetta" (little Barcelona) because of a dialect of Catalan that is still spoken. At the bottom of Via Umberto stands the sixteenth-century Cattedrale, where Spanish viceroys stopped to take a preliminary oath before taking office in Cagliari. A walk around the old town should take in the series of seven defensive towers which dominate Alghero's center and its surrounding walls. Outside the old quarter, most of the tourist activity takes place around the port, its wide quay nudged by rows of colorful fishing boats and bordered by bars. Short trips outside Alghero lead to the impressive ruins of the Palmavera Nurag as well excellent beaches at Porto Conte.
Sardinia: Regional Festivals
Cagliari - Festival of San Efisio in May
Oristano - Sartiglia Joust in February
Nurachi Tempio - Feast of Santa Lucia in December
Aritzo - Chestnut Festival in October
Gesico - Snail Festival in October
Alghero - Fishermen's Festival in September
By Justin Demetri