1 Rock climbing // Ogliastra
Who: All levels
When: All year round, dependent on location.
Tell me more: Canny climbers are already aware of Sardinia’s limestone cliffs and towering mountains, but even beginners will find something spectacular to scale here. Punta Pilocca has made a name for itself as the island’s unofficial HQ of climbing, its limestone crags flush with routes. Beginners can test their nerves on easy stretches, while technical climbers have a raft of hair-raising routes rising up to 230ft. But it’s Ogliastra — in eastern Sardinia — that’s starting to attract more climbers from overseas. Come afternoon, shadows dominate large sections of the cliffs that rise to 3,000ft, so you can scale enormous heights away from the sun’s intensity. With hundreds of pitch routes, there’s little chance of covering the same ground. For those with a strong stomach and the skills, head to Cala e’ Luas — accessible only by boat — where brave climbers have tested out the sport. And for those seeking elevated adventure, Ogliastra’s sheer vertical cliffs, which tumble in to the ocean, have brought deep-water soloing (DWS) on the island. The concept is simple: climbers scale tricky routes without ropes; relying instead on the water below to break their fall.
2 Hiking // Gola su Gorropu
Who: Walkers of all abilities can tackle at least a section of this hike; rope skills are required in some of the deeper pockets
When: Spring and autumn.
Tell me more: This dramatic gorge is Sardinia’s answer to the Grand Canyon, and a hike through its chasms is the ideal challenge for keen walkers. This is an area of monoliths, caves and sheer cliff faces; where golden eagles circle above, wild goats perch, and the wilderness is punctuated by prehistoric Nuragic villages. From the starting point at Genna Silana on route SS125, you’ll walk through the Mediterranean scrub, amid blooming juniper trees and ancient oak trees, and along the boulder-strewn Flumineddu river, where the path dips down to reveal the cave-like entrance to the gorge. You can dip into this warren of rocks without a guide, following painted marks to steer you through, but with an expert you can head further into the three-mile gorge.
3 Diving // Grotta del Nereo
Who: Experienced divers
When: During summer, the waters can be a balmy 26C, though they drop to 15C at around 40ft. May, June and September are the best times to dive here.
Tell me more: Sardinia is carving out a reputation as one of the best places to dive in the Med. While beginners can dive right from the shore, more experienced divers have an underwater playground to explore, from shipwrecks to warrens of caves. On the east coast, away from the west’s choppier waters, a host of PADI-approved dive centres will take you closer to the exceptional marine life. An adventure through the coves of Tavolara and around the underwater hump of Secca del Papa are among the highlights, where barracuda and grouper dart back and forth. But for a truly spectacular dive, head to the Grotto del Nereo (Nereo Cave) — the largest underwater grotto in the Med — a network of caves and tunnels.
4 Cycling // Costa del Sud
Who: Beginners and families
When: Spring and autumn. Avoid the baking hot months of July and August, unless you plan to ride in the early hours.
Tell me more: Those in search of Sardinia’s quiet charms will relish cycling amid rolling hills, ancient woodland and valley roads, stopping off for cooling dips in the sea. Riders are allowed on footpaths as well as roads, traffic is light, the scenery fabulous, and you can hire bikes in most resorts from around €10 (£9) a day. There’s also a handful of bicycle tour companies offering guided and self-guided trips. These range from light family rides to hardcore schleps through the Sulcis and Iglesiente mountain ranges, where serious cyclists can climb up to 3,000ft before shooting down dicey descents. For those looking to take it slow, Sardinia’s southern coast (Costa del Sud) is the place, with a landscape that fulfils all the clichés: glittering sea, chalky cliffs and blue skies.
5 Kayaking // Palau & Archipelago di La Maddalena
Who: All levels
When: Spring and autumn.
Tell me more: Sardinia’s coast can easily be explored by kayak, and those with a penchant for paddling should head to the buzzy, northeastern resort of Palau, on the Costa Smeralda. This hub of surf shacks, drinking dens and restaurants seduces everyone from beach bums to adventure-seekers. Beaches seldom look better than when gazing back to the shore from your kayak, but cross the cobalt blue sea to the Maddalena Archipelago, and you’re in reaching distance of some even more spectacular stretches of sand. Several kayaking outfits will take you out on multi-day paddling trips around these pinprick islands, or you can simply base yourself on the main island of La Maddalena. It’s pristine, quiet and not short of sights: hidden coves, empty lagoons and charming waterside hangouts.
Published in the Sardinia 2019 guide, out with the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)