|When it comes to Italian travel destinations that are off-the-beaten path, the Mediterranean island of Sardinia arguably tops the list. There is no particular reason for that, because it offers most of the attractions that make Italy such a popular vacation spot: a sunny climate and glamorous beaches, good food and antique culture. It also offers plenty for outdoor adventurers, as the island is a top notch European scuba diving destination, as well as being home to numerous caves and climbable cliff faces.
Old Sardinia is centred on the town of Bosa. Set on the only navigable river on the island, this little town of roughly 8,000 people is a maze of cobbled streets lined with pastel-painted medieval tower homes, 19th century palazzos with their wrought iron shops, and a cosy atmosphere that is far removed from the tawdry tourist bustle so common to Italy. Best of all, the beach of Bosa Marina is nearby. This lovely seashore spot is regularly designated the cleanest beach in Italy, making it a real gem for anyone looking for some sun and surf.
Another ancient curiosity is the ruined village of Tiscali. This is a settlement of Sardinian people who predated the Roman invasion, retreating onto a remote mountain side. The village was rediscovered in modern times when the mountain's roof collapsed.
Of course, one of the main reasons anyone goes to Italy is for the food. Sardinian food, much like the island as a whole, remains undiscovered by the mainstream. Breaking with the general rule that seafood in Italy is terrible, the island of Sardinia offers excellent choices, and every town seems to have its own way to prepare the bounty of the local seas. Lobster, for example, is prepared with tomatoes in Bosa, oranges and lemons in Alghero, and with white wine in Santa Teresa di Gallura. Where the coast is in love with fish, the rugged interior loves its spit-roasted meats, artisanal cheeses and wild mushrooms. The island was also one of the original exporters of wheat to Rome, so it should come as no surprise that the bread and pasta are excellent.
Foremost among Sardinia's culinary experiences is Ristorante Gallura in Olbia. This is arguably the best restaurant in all of Italy, and therefore ranks highly among international fine dining experiences. Not going there during a visit to Sardinia is tantamount to a sin.
More than anywhere else in Italy, Sardinia seems to be the place to go for outdoor adventure. The town of Alghero serves as a good example of what is possible in Sardinia. The town itself is a popular tourist destination because of its beautiful beaches, as well as access to the ancient site of the mines of Argentiera and the palace of Nuraghe di Palmavera. However, this is also a centre for mountain biking, bird watching and hunting. Many of the islands over 330 caves are in the Alghero area, as are challenging cliffs for rock climbers. It is also near a marine park, making it a magnet for scuba divers. Among the dive sites is the top-rated cave system of the Grotta del Nereo. This underwater cave has three entrances, one at a depth of 30 m, and is reputed to require 4 to 6 visits to fully explore.
In addition to the marine park with its corals and sea life, Sardinia's waters are also littered with divable wrecks. The area around the main city of Cagliari, for example, is crammed with World War Two wrecks, suitable for all ranges of skill and experience. On the deep end is the Isonzo, with its spectacular engine room and intact anti-aircraft machine guns, which sits in between 40 and 57 m of water and is thus a demanding technical dive. At the beginner's end of the spectrum is the Entella, which was sunk by the same British submarine that torpedoed the Isonzo and sits on a bed of sea grass in 9 to 15 m of water.
Elsewhere are the wondrous beaches of Sardinia, which rival anything in Italy yet remains curiously underrated. The windy sands of Isola dei Gabbiani are a great place for windsurfers and kite-fliers. Beach lovers who need a posh resort can head for San Teodoro or Budoni, the latter of which is considered to be endowed with some of the most beautiful scenery found on any beach in the Mediterranean.
Sardinia is a little harder to get to than most destinations in Europe. For example, there are almost no direct flights from anywhere other than Italy or Spain. This semi-isolation is no doubt part of what keeps Sardinia outside of the tourist mainstream. However, the island offers at least as much or more to visitors as such well-travelled islands as Tenerife, Madiera, Ibizia or Mykonos, but sans the thick crowds and tawdry tourist trap atmosphere. With so much going for it, the real question is why anyone would want take their European island holiday anywhere else?
You can find a full list of hotels in Sardinia HERE