If you have to visit one village in the mountainous entroterra, make it Orgosolo. This village has an intriguing history — once known for its fierce bandits — in recent decades it’s become known worldwide for its murals. These political and historical scenes are painted by locals, across the whole town.
Oliena, a 30-minute drive from Orgosolo, is reached via a precipitous road slithering down a sheer cliff from Nuoro, the main city of the entroterra. As the gateway to Barbagia — the mountain area named by the Romans for its ‘barbarian’ inhabitants — it’s often overlooked, but it too has murals on its walls, as well as a rich tradition of bread making and olive oil production.
Around 40 minutes from Nuoro is Olzai, a granite-built town with about 900 inhabitants that was nicknamed ‘village of the graduates’ in the 19th century thanks to its high literacy levels. Culture is still strong here, with traditions in etching and choral music. Don’t miss the 16th-century church of Sant’Anastasio, whose gothic-Catalan structure nods to the island’s heritage.
Lollove, beloved of agriturismo owner Francesca Minaudo, is a tiny suburb of Nuoro. Not that suburb is quite the right word for this almost ghostly medieval village of just 25 inhabitants. The streets are cobbled with huge paving stones, sometimes smothered by weeds, there’s not a single shop, and the people who remain here are largely senior citizens. Locals say it was cursed by nuns who prophesied the village would never die — but would never grow either.
Sardinia has an astonishingly high number of inhabitants aged over 100, many of whom live in the entroterra. Intrigued? Head to Seulo, says Francesca. Deep in the ‘blue zone’ — one of five areas in the world with the most centenarians, credited to a mix of diet, lifestyle and environmental factors — it sits at the foot of Monte Perdedu and is overlooked by prehistoric remains, including a tomba dei giganti (giant’s tomb) and several nuraghi (tower fortresses).
To the beach
Sardinia’s interior is fascinating but be sure to leave plenty of time to hit the beach. Down in the far south of the island you’ll find Is Arenas Biancas, or, simply, Le Dune — ‘the dunes’. Part of the almost three-mile-long Porto Pino beach, it’s a straight line of thick white dunes rippling up and down along the water’s edge, with fragrant rosemary bushes scenting the air. Francesca Minaudo calls it the most beautiful beach in Sardinia.
A little higher — along the former industrial coastline around Carbonia — is Porto Paglia, near Gonnesa. It’s a vast crescent of golden sand (with a hint of pink, thanks to the minerals in it) and clear, slowly shelving water, right at the start of the mountainous cliff roads that lead to Porto Flavia. There’s history here, too — an old tuna factory, which dates back to the 17th century, sits on the shore.
Unusually for a Sardinian beach, Is Arutas, on the Sinis peninsula offshore from Oristano, doesn’t have sand. It makes up for the discomfort underfoot, however, with a shoreline of glittering quartz pebbles: rose, white, green and tan. Take a snorkel and a mask and dive into the water to see shoals of fish skittering over the green seabed.
Don’t be fooled by the map — Sardinia is enormous, with roads that are mostly good quality — the entroterra is a full day out from anywhere on the flat.
Kevin Sunch’s Top 5 beaches
Kevin Sunch is a tour guide and founder of Alghero Info app
1 // Cala Goloritzé
On the east coast is my favourite beach. Though quite difficult to reach, it’s worth the effort. It’s at the bottom of high karst cliffs and is fed by underwater springs — the water is wonderfully clear.
2 // Porto Giunco
This is a popular beach in the south in Villasimius, but for good reason. The sand has specks of pink in it from granite rock, the bay is sheltered from the wind by Mediterranean shrub and flamingoes can be seen nearby.
3 // Cala Luna
If I had to pick the prettiest beach in Sardinia, this is it — you only have to see a photo of it to see why. You’re in the mountains one minute, and the turquoise sea the next. It’s really long, and you can see Tavolara Island offshore, too.
4 // Tharros
This ancient city by the sea is a must-visit. Behind the beach is the archaeological site, which has remains from the Nuragic period, the Phoenician citadel and the Roman city.
5 // La Pelosa
This beach on the northwestern tip of Sardinia gets very crowded in summer — I’d never go there in August — but it’s the best beach in the area out of season. It has a long and wide shore facing a Spanish-built tower on a little island just off the coast. You have to pay to park; from there, you can either lay out your towels in the free area (as I do) or pay for a sun lounger and umbrella.
Published in the Sardinia guide, distributed with the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)