Thinking of visiting Sardinia’s North, but not sure where to go? Wanna understand how the destination ticks and experience how’s life like? Taste the food, take in the atmosphere and get to the people? I’ll give you a taste of the best things to see, taste and experience.
From island hopping in the Maddalena Archipelago, hiking in the mountainous landscape to discovering rural villages, old traditions and local delicacies, Sardinia’s North offers a great variety.
Admittedly, to me, Sardinia is special. Since I’m a child I’ve spent countless birthdays, Easter and Christmas holidays, and New Year’s Eves on the island. My family fell in love with the island some time ago and built a summer cottage. Although I’ve come to Sardinia many, many times, there is always more to discover.
Things to experience
Visit a rural village for the simple way of life
Making your way through the island’s interior, you’ll get a sense of Sardinia’s origin. Sardinia originally was an island of shepherds and still today a majority lives as sheep farmers or shepherds. Life in Barbagia, that’s how the island’s interior is called by Sardinians, is more slowed down and traditional.
Isolated from coastal areas interior communities often speak their own dialects and celebrate own festivities. Also, life is simple. People get up at dawn, plant, water, harvest, cook meals, hoe the vineyard and look after the kettle. Although everyone is busy, no one overworks or obsesses over careers.
Tips for rural villages
Hop onto Trenino Verde for slow travel through Sardinia
Jump on the little Trenino Verde, grab a seat and enjoy views of Sardinia’s wild landscape. The train winds in serpentines through the mountainous terrain. It’s perfect to get a taste of the island’s raw and untouched nature. You’re surrounded by maccia, olive trees, granite rocks, meter-high limestone’s and stonewalls. Watch out for some wild donkeys or flocks of sheep.
If you can, hang out the window and soak in the air. Sardinia has a really unique and spicy smell of wild flowers, juniper and maccia. Traveling with the Trenino Verde is perfect to capture Sardinia’s atmosphere and landscape. Luckily, it drives really slowly as if it had all the time in the world.
The train covers several routes through Sardinia’s interior. For information on the different routes see here.
Visit an Agriturismo and savor some Cannonau di Sardegna
Agriturismos are farms located in the quiet and rural interior. If you’re looking for an oasis of peace to stay, this might be for you. Amidst oak woods, olive groves and sheep pastures with the sound of gentle sheep bells in the background, you’ll quickly be in a zen-like state.
Alternatively, come for a typical Sardinian lunch. Agriturismos have an incredible cuisine as they produce a lot of ingredients on their own. For lunch Sardinians start with antipasti, followed by a primo, the first main meal which is pasta, risotto or soup, a secondo, another main meal of fish or meat, finishing with cheese and a digestivo.
Do it like the locals and have a small glass of Cannonau di Sardegna with it. The locally produced red wine from sun stressed grapes is famous for it’s strong flavor and is said to contribute to the population’s longevity.
For a list of farm stays and agriturismos throughout Sardinia see the post here.
Chase paradise in the Maddalena Archipelago
Maddalena archipelago is a nature reserve of more than 60 islands located off the northeast coast. Soft white sand, water so clear you can see the seabed, rugged granite rocks formed by wind and water to natural sculptures, this environment has been called Europe’s Tahiti for a reason.
Discovered by Costa Smeralda yacht scene it gets really crowded during July and August. Fortunately, as only La Maddalena and Caprera are inhabited there is opportunity to find remote beaches and coves and discover a piece of paradise on your own terms. Sailing, snorkeling, island hopping, disconnecting on the dreamy beaches is the default mode on the archipelago.
Stroll through artsy San Pantaleo and its hippie market
I love San Pantaleo. It’s a cozy and charming little village located under granite rocks in the island’s interior. With masterly restored houses, art galleries and stores of artisans, it has an artistic and unique atmosphere. Strolling down the streets, you’ll see that every house appears as a piece of art on it’s own.
Generally, it’s little touristic. During the day it seems quiet and dozy. Perfect to wander through the narrow streets and check out the boutiques. Whereas in the evenings, when locals gather in the restaurants and on Thursdays with the rush on the market, it comes to life.
Every Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. you’ll find a market with beautiful, high quality, a bit high priced though, hippie clothes, art pieces, coral jewelry and local delicacies.
Tip: For the market come early (best before 9 a.m.) and park on the streets right before San Pantaleo. Opportunities to park in the village, especially on Thursdays, are rare. Have breakfast in one of the lovely cafés with mountain view and soak in the atmosphere.
Taste Pecorino Sardo at Porto San Paolo’s Market
Every Sunday morning there is a market on Porto San Paolo’s piazetta next to the harbor where honey, all kinds of cheese, coral jewelry and Italian linen fashion are sold. Stroll through the market and discover the variety of traditional delicacies.
With about 4 million sheep Sardinians produce a lot of goat’s and sheep’s milk and cheese. Did you know, 80% of Italy’s pecorino stems from Sardinia? Taste some delicious pecorino sardo, fiore sarde, a strong cheese made of sheep milk or some formaggio marcio, a blue cheese. This is also a great opportunity to buy some food souvenirs.
Tip: Have breakfast in the café on the harbor with views to the opposite island Tavolara. Opt for a local breakfast, consisting of a brioche (croissant) and an espresso.
Catch the unique architecture of Costa Smeralda villas
Porto Cervo is Costa Smeralda’s main center, the hub of luxury tourism, high-end dining and nightlife. During July and August Porto Cervo gets crowded. Really crowded. Exclusive restaurants, clubs, bars, designer shops and the yacht harbor are attracted by celebrities and tourists.
Arriving in Porto Cervo by car, the coastal scenery with emerald water and giant granite rocks is impressive. Honestly, I found more impressive than the village itself which mostly stands out with designer shops, real estate agents and extraordinarily sterile streets.
Anyhow, what stands out, is Costa Smeralda’s characteristic architecture. Pay attention in which way villas are constructed. Despite Costa Smeralda’s development to glittering jet set scene, villages appear laid-back and traditional. Hidden behind olive groves villas are perfectly integrated into nature. By using natural materials as natural stones and wood they blend in. Nature and architecture become one. It’s an unique and memorable style, which became popular as the tipo smeralda.
Discover the former smallest kingdom in the world on Isola Tavolara
From Porto San Paolo you can outline the prominent landmark of Isola Tavolara. It’s a wild and lonely island without any roads or hotels. However, it’s inhabited by 20 people and a bunch of wild goats. Did you know, Tavolara used to be the smallest inhabited kingdom in the world! Not long ago when dining in the only restaurant on the island, you were welcomed by the King!
Tavolara is in the Punta Coda Cavallo Marine Preserve that protects about 15000 hectares of sea and its rich sea life. It has a beautiful beach Spiaggia Spalmatore with white sand and transparent water. The ragged coves and the underwater mountain Secca del Papa have excellent diving opportunities. You can book dives at Tavolara Diving or decide for an open-water course.
How to explore
From Porto San Paolo you can cross by ferry. One way takes about 25 minutes and costs 15 €. It’s great for diving, hiking and disconnecting in the remote landscape offering wide views over the Mediterranean.
For more information on Isola Tavolara see here.
Sardinia Travel Information
How to get to Sardinia?
- By plane
You can fly to one of three international airports: Cagliari, the capital in the south, Alghero in the west or Olbia, located in the Costa Smeralda on the east coast.
- By ferry
You can take the ferry from Genoa or Bonifacio, Corsica. Crossing by ferry from an European country with your own car saves expenses for a rental car and provides opportunity to explore Sardinia independently.
Ferry operators are Moby Lines, Grandi Navi Veloci as well as Tirrenia, each of them operating several times per week.
How to get around?
- By train
Trains are quite reliable, departing on schedule, however, the network is limited. Trains are connecting most of the larger towns from where you can switch to buses to approach smaller villages.
Prices: Ticket prices are quite affordable in Sardinia. For the longest distance from Cagliaria to Olbia (3.5 hours) it costs 18,00 €.
- By bus
Bus lines in Sardinia are more widespread, covering almost every town, but happen to be unreliable. Bus lines are operated by ARST. The website can be hard to navigate when not speaking Italian, therefore, the moovit app might be an easier option.
Bus tickets are likewise affordable, for the longest distances costs under 20€ are charged.
Uber isn’t available in Sardinia.
If you want to explore Sardinia freely, I recommend renting a car. Lots of villages are still not connected by public transport, lots of beaches non-reachable. While it’s possible to travel by public transport, it limits you considerably.
Roads in Sardinia are safe and easy to drive. Keep in mind, you’re not driving in big cities. (Cagliari, anyway, is best explored by foot).
You can book online through autoeurope or rentalcars, however, sometimes they don’t show all the options. Therefore, check airports’ websites for complete lists which companies are operating.
Tip: When booking your rental car, check where the broker is located – some will be outside the airport where you have to pick up the car first after arriving. When prices don’t differ, it’s more convenient choosing an operator in the airport.
Also, when picking up your car double-check if there are any bruises or similar. They should be recorded in the condition sheet you’ll receive.
What is the best time to travel Sardinia?
The season goes from Mai to October, with peak season from July to August.
In my experience, the best time for visiting is June or September. Sardinia seems even more beautiful during those months. In September, water temperature has heated up, most of the crowds have left and localities are still open. June is also perfect as the island has opened up for tourism but it’s still quiet. If you don’t mind water temperature being slightly cooler (21 degrees), June is great for visiting! In both months, weather is hot but not too hot as it’s around 25 to 30 degrees.
July and August have temperatures up to 40 degrees and are the most crowded months. Italian families from the mainland (called Continentali by Sardinians) come to the island to spend their three-months long summer school holiday in Sardinia.
15 August is the most important public holiday (Ferragosto). It’s peak day in peak season. Supermarket queues, traffic jams, really crowded beaches. If you can, avoid visiting during Ferragosto.
Coming in May or October, is recommendable if you’re into cycling or hiking as temperature is cooler. Temperature will be around 20 degrees, there won’t be a lot of rain, however, water temperature will also be cooler (18 degrees).
Visiting off-season (November to April), I don’t recommend as it’s cold and a majority of localities, cafés, restaurants etc. will be closed. The whole island is like in hibernation and weather is unpredictable. It’s moist and due to the Maestrale, a strong wind coming from France, stormy and windy.
Have you been to Sardinia’s North? Did you like it or would you like to go? In case you have, do you have any further tips on things to do and places to go? Share your thoughts, I’d love to chat!