Sardinia : not just beaches….
This year, at the beginning of September, we took the plane to Olbia, and landed early enough to hire a car at the airport (Europcars) and drive to Cala Gonone, on the East coast of Sardinia. It was probably about the furthest we were prepared to drive from Olbia in one go, after a flight. Before leaving, we had chosen this place because it promised beautiful beaches, pure unpolluted sea water, and beautiful scenery. We also hoped it might be more ‘remote’….. as Cala Gonone had only been a fishing village, until the recently opened tunnel through the mountains meant that it was ‘discovered’ by holiday makers more recently than other ‘resorts’. The tunnel proved to be quite short. My only request was for a hotel with pool, in case there was any reason the sea was unavailable- mainly jelly fish, strong winds, sand storms or pebbly beaches The hotel Brancamaria was lovely, and I’ve written a separate review of that. I can’t write reviews of restaurants, as we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse: of full board for the price of half board, so someone else will have to oblige…although from the menu boards outside them, they seemed o.k. !
Cala Gonone is a sweet little village, hardly a town, with a couple of mini supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, a post office, book shop and a port. There appeared to be no souvenir shops, although the hotel had a beautifully illustrated folder regarding all the local crafts, including filigree jewellery, woodwork and ceramics with addresses in nearby towns. There are two little beaches, along the waterfront of the ‘town’, with gravely sand… I didn’t attempt to check the third one we could reach from the land, because there were, I was told, 89 steps down to the sea…or, more importantly, you have to climb 89 steps back up the cliff to reach civilisation again ! All along the sea front, there was an impressive ‘passeggiata’ every afternoon and evening, and little cafés you could sit at and gaze at the water while indulging in ‘gelato artigianale’ and coffee, impressive drinks and ice-cream menus …or a lunch menu. There was also a ‘trenino’ – a little train, beloved of the visiting children, that came through the town at intervals and seemed to head off towards a large camping site on the edge of the village…. I don’t know if anyone could get on, or just people from the campsite.
We missed out on boat trips, because, beautiful as I could see the ‘cale’ (coves) to be, from the postcards at the hotel… I’m not comfortable in boats. But when we first arrived all that was on offer was an 8 hour mini-cruise to all the ‘Cale’ (coves) along the coast….stopping at each for an hour at a time. They are popular, because you can’t reach any of the other beaches from land, we were told. Each ‘cala’ has its own natural attraction, one of them being the ‘home’ of the nearly extinct ‘bue marino’ the monk seal – so presumably one isn’t allowed off the boat at that one. The rest seem to be special in their own way (colour of the cliffs / sand / special name etc.) We also heard from another person at the hotel, how the mini-cruise she had been on was a nightmare, as all the boats dropped people off for an hour at each beach, and there’s no way of getting ‘off’ the beach – you were trapped there for an hour. So the beaches were very crowded. I wasn’t very well at first, so I didn’t enquire further. But on my second ‘off’’ morning, when we stopped down at the port in a café, and I was left sitting there for a bit on my own… I asked at one of the boat reservation ‘kiosks’ … and found one company arranged for you to take their series of boats with tickets, like a bus…so you caught whichever one you wanted and hopped as far as you wanted and for as long as you wanted, between the ‘cale’, so you could do a four hour tour, or a morning or afternoon tour, instead of a full day… but you still had to wait an hour for the next boat ! Nobody else had mentioned this ‘water bus’, and it wasn’t on any of the distributed leaflets. Obviously, all the boat companies wanted tourists to book the full 8 hour tour.
The disappointment was that the local beaches were sharp gravelly sand and cut my feet, it got into my swimming shoes so they were no help – and we had a 20 min bendy drive to get to any other beach, unless we went on the boats. But that was my own personal problem, and others will probably be quite happy with the beach there. I didn’t mind too much, because I’d asked for a hotel with a pool,. We spent our ‘off’ mornings by the pool. It was around 30 to 32 degrees every day. The only windy days were still hot.
On a dull and windy day (there are a couple now and again) we drove round bendy narrow roads in the mountains for twenty minutes to reach two quaint little beaches with real sand on them, they were totally empty, one was called ‘Cala Cartoe’ and the other was Cala Osala nearby … apparently Cala Cartoe and Cala Luna were used in a film with Madonna, but I don’t know if they’ll be so quaint with crowds of people on them in high season ! We passed a ‘nuraghe’ (ancient, prehistoric, conical building) of some sort, entrance was in return for a fee and ticket, and we listened to a very erudite ‘archaeological guide/custodian’ who told us all about them, why this one was different from others we had visited before, and a happy half hour was spent wandering among the stones. Be warned though… some of the signs are at best, hopeful…. The distance between the ‘car park’ and the actual site was marked on a sign, but it was really nearer double the distance to actually reach the nuraghe, via sandy scrubby land, round a flock of sheep with their bells ringing and their watchful, but gentle, sheepdog….and it would be wise to wear more appropriate footwear than sandals – any elderly or disabled visitors would need to take note. I think it would be nigh on impossible to get to the nuraghe across rough ground, with a wheelchair.
On another occasion, we decided to try a day out, converting our ‘full board’ lunch at the hotel into a picnic – provided by the chef, complete with cooler bag, and, suitably equipped with beach towels and a sun umbrella from our hotel, we ventured out to explore. So, we drove sort of south, along the SS125 in the Baunei direction for about one and a half hours. You can’t drive down the coast, as there’s nowhere to get to the coast (which is why the boat trips are so oversubscribed), so you drive into the hills and mountains. Some of the Cale can be reached on foot, or horseback, or 4x4, down narrow dirt tracks and through Mediterranean scrub, but most of these are only accessible by boat. There were spectacular views of mountains and of the Gorropu gorge (the deepest in Europe, we read in the guide book) you could pull into a layby, or a specially made ‘panoramico’ spot to take photos.
You can take walking trips to the Gorropu gorge itself, down in the canyon, but a guide is recommended, you’ll need a full day, a picnic , stout footwear and some energy and fitness, to climb over rocks.
We stayed on the road in the mountains, and often had to stop suddenly as we turned a bend and were confronted by a pig, or goats, sheep wearing bells, little piglets on the road – and the odd cow with huge horns. This section was only one lane in each direction, so no overtaking ! Eventually, after Baunei, we could see a plain, a lagoon and the sea. We turned off the SS 125 to the little town of S.Maria Navarrese – again, really a village, that only comes alive in summer, but it was good enough for us in September, very quiet, peaceful. It’s very crowded in summer with Italian visitors who spend all day at the beach, but at this point, the coast is all sandy beaches backed by pine trees. We found a café that does marvellous home-made ice-creams (il nostro gelato artigianale) and good coffee… and a welcome ‘toilette’ after a long drive.
We did that trip on two occasions. On another day, we visited Nuoro, a town where, among other things, you can visit the house of the Sardinian Nobel Prize winner for Literature – Grazia Deledda. No fee was payable here, but tickets were issued, inexpensive souvenirs were available, and the ‘museum’ was very thoughtfully laid out. The house was where she was born and grew up, and lived until her marriage, when she moved to Rome. There were rooms fully equipped as they would have been in her time, with the correct style furniture and study, and the kitchen and storeroom, complete with copper pans and produce.
I couldn’t get over the thick stone walls of the stairwell.
We found a café in Nuoro, where the ‘gents’ was unlocked (and you couldn’t lock it, plus there was no toilet paper) and the ‘ladies’ appeared to have someone in there – it was locked… but after I had been standing around looking lost for a bit, the girl behind the counter noticed me and handed me the key on a chain and a pebble on the other end…the ‘ladies’ had toilet paper and you could lock yourself in. I don’t know what that says (if anything) about their usual customers ! What it does tell you, is that those little toilet rolls you can get with no cardboard inner tube are very handy to keep in your handbag or pocket. It may seem odd to refer to toilets in this sort of review – but they are important, for health and hygiene, and it’s quite nice that Sardinia has among the nicest and cleanest in Italy.
There were no jelly fish this summer – so swimming in the sea was fine. And, to my total relief…. There are no mosquitoes on Sardinia….so a biteless summer ! Oh joy ! But the rolling hills and mountains, the views along those routes to Nuoro and down to S.Maria Navarrese…well, I’ve never seen anything like it. Incredible ! I don’t know how to post photos on here … I could only post ten photos of views on the hotel review, see Hotel Brancamaria on the TA site for Cala Gonone.