Sardinia is a very unique and enriching island. Incredible nature, beaches, food and people. Also, it’s a HUGE island, and it takes time to get from one place to another. I decided to stay in the East near the coast of Orosei. It’s the most mountainous region of Sardinia, and it’s absolutely stunning. Here is how I spent my 8 days there:
I landed in Cagliari in the afternoon and immediately rented a car in airport. I used EuropCar, as I needed an automatic transmission and was told they don’t require the I international drivers permit (relevant for those outside of EU). I just used my US Driver’s License and was on the road in no time. In truth, this was my first time to rent a car in Europe! In retrospect, I overpaid for a one-week rental by at least twice as much, especially the insurance, so I think other companies can give you a better rate when booked in advance. Note I didn’t need a GPS, because I have an international data plan on my phone that has GPS. I definitely recommend saving your accommodation’s address in advance as some places have no signal, and you’re stuck until you find reception. You definitely need a car to travel around Sardinia! No buses between some towns and it’s just too vast to cover via public transport alone.
I decided to base the first half of my trip out of Baunei, a beautiful and quiet mountain town overlooking the sea. It’s about 2.5 hours from Cagliari and most of the time on hairpin, winding mountain roads if you drive inland. Incredible views and adrenaline rush for the speed demons, but not for the faint of heart! I sped like a grandma…
Baunei is split into the mountain part and the coastal part which is called Santa Maria Navarrese. Both are very charming, just whatever you prefer more: mountain air or sea breeze. They are 17 minutes apart by car.
I stayed in a super cute Airbnb called B&B Art House Giaminera, with my lovely host MariaLaura. It’s a really nice stay for good prices, delicious breakfasts and a gracious, helpful host. Only downside was no AC (common in Europe). However in the nights, the mountain is cool and pleasant, plus there’s a fan.
I drove down to Santa Maria Navarrese (hereby referred to as SMN) and began a hike to Pedra Longa, a stunning rock that juts out over the water, offering magnificent panoramic views. You can park your car at Ostello Bellavista, then begin the trail from there. Bring plenty of water; the hike one way is about 1 hour and 20 minutes, and it is HOT!
Once you get to Pedra Longa, you can buy more water or refreshments, there’s even a restaurant. Or you can take a very welcoming dip in cool waters on either side of Pedra Longa. Note it’s all stone, no sand or pebble beach there. I spent a good hour or so swimming and relaxing before heading back. The way back for some reason was harder, but I think it’s because I hadn’t eaten and felt exhausted. That’s also when I learned that my Nike Free TR6’s just didn’t cut it for hiking, and I should have brought my proper hiking shoes! Biggest lesson learned here. Note, you can drive and park at Pedra Longa in case you’re short on time and don’t want to hike. It’s about 18 minutes driving from SMN.
And hey, don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Not a cloud in sight, and the Mediterranean sun is unforgiving, although the views are stunning.
In the afternoon, I was quite hungry after the hike, so I drove to Bar O’livastro in SMN for some delicious local pizza with super thin crust and dough made with potato. It’s typical in Sardinia and tastes delicious. You have a pleasant view of the sea as your heart rate comes down and you replenish your hunger. Then I basically walked right onto the beach in front of the restaurant and face-planted into the sand, passing out for a good hour.
I spent the evening exploring Baunei, which you can walk through in like 20 minutes, it’s so small and quaint. A great spot to watch the sunset. A wonderful and relaxing way to end the day. You won’t have energy to do more!
I decided to do a full day’s worth of boating across the Orosei coast. I booked a ticket for 55€ through my host. The boat is actually a motor yacht, fits just the right amount of people and feels so spacious. It’s clean, service is great – the company is called Fuorirotta Charter aboard the Federica. You meet in the marina of SMN, which has plenty of parking.
We visited and got off at Cala Meriolu, Cala Sisine and Cala dei Gabbiani. They provided a good lunch onboard and aperol spritz, among other snacks. The sea on the way there was very calm, but a tad rough on the way back; it just depends on weather patterns. We had to turn in an hour earlier due to unsafe sea conditions.
You have the option to visit a cave if you wish for an extra fee. I didn’t do this, just relaxed on the beach in Cala dei Gabbiani instead. We returned to SMN around 5pm, and I was pretty tired from being in the sun all day. So what did I do? I face-planted on the beach once more, this time on Spiaggia di Tancau in SMN. Had dinner nearby there while watching the sea (pizza again, because why not?).
I woke up not too early and had no plan for the day. I felt like I had maximized my activities for that area, so decided to do a quick day trip to Cala Gonone and hike to Cala Luna, and just return in the late afternoon. The drive from Baunei to Cala Gonone is around 1 hour on twisting mountain roads, but holy moly are the views amazing! Once in Cala Gonone, I explored the town for a short bit, grabbed some food and water for my hike, and was on my way.
I parked my car in Cala Fuili, which is actually a really gorgeous small beach with exquisite views. Nonetheless I began my hike going down steep stairs and onto a rocky path. This one was tougher than the Pedra Longa hike, with a lot of vertical movement, slippery stones and even a few metal handles to help you up and down the steep boulders. However this wasn’t mountain climbing, just medium-level hiking. Again I regretted not having my hiking boots, and my toes paid dearly for it. Several people go this route, so you will run into folks now and again. It took me about 1 hour 20 minutes one way. Once I arrived, I enjoyed the crowded beach and beautiful sea caves. Cala Luna was PACKED with people, even though I didn’t see that many on my hike. How? Well there are boat transfers that go regularly between Cala Gonone and Cala Luna. And what I did after my hike, realizing there’s no way I’d have the energy or time to hike back, I just purchased a one way boat trip back for 10€ in Cala Luna at the small tent. The boats come every 20-30 mins or so. Super convenient. In 10-15 min you’re back in Cala Gonone after a pleasant speed boar ride. My transfer even included a complimentary shuttle that took me to my parked car not far from the marina at Cala Fuili, where most people leave their cars to hike or swim at Fuili.
After a very rewarding day of hiking, swimming and beautiful views, I drove that afternoon back to Baunei. I had a nice dinner watching the sunset at Pisaneddu a few minutes walk outside of Baunei. Delicious food and yummy rose. Let’s just I slept like a rock.
Early morning, I checked out of my B&B in Baunei and decided to do a hike to the pristine Cala Goloritze before heading in the afternoon to the next town where I’d be based out of. Cala Goloritze is only accessible by hiking, no boat or car road can reach its shores. But it’s a relatively easy hike down, about 45 minutes, and the reward is worth it. It’s €6 to hike and enter the beach, and it includes parking on the mountain. Early in the morning (9-9:30am) there’s practically no one there, and you have this beautiful beach and azure water all to yourself. Everyone else begins arriving closer to 11am. I headed back up at noon, and it was already crowded. Many boats, though they can’t dock at the beach, would have their passengers just swim to shore… so there’s that trick if you’re a good swimmer. Also since there’s no food or bar at the beach, bring a panini and plenty of water with you for a nice picnic there. The hike back up was a bit harder as it’s quite an ascent and by then much hotter. But nothing compared to the Cala Luna hike! Also I can’t stress the importance of hiking shoes, enough WATER and sunscreen! You’re welcome.
I then set out for my next base, which was the lovely town of Dorgali. It’s a 15-minute drive from Cala Gonone, and it’s nestled in a sort of valley of Supramonte. I wanted a place close enough to reach everything within a few minutes but for a much more affordable accommodation price than staying on the coast. I stayed at B&B da Zietto, with my host Antonio, which I found on Airbnb. Again an outstanding accommodation, host and breakfast for a great price. I settled in and explored the town, got dinner (possibly pizza again..) and then went to bed.
I had a relaxed day, went to the local beach in Cala Gonone at Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles. In the late afternoon I decided to try something different and headed to nearby Lago Cedrino for a scenic horseback riding adventure. I did it through Agriturismo Neulè, and it’s about 1-2 hours guided horseback tour for €30. They don’t speak English, only Italian, so there’s not much of a tour just a guide. It’s quite nice and relaxing ride, albeit very hot. Also as I’m not a seasoned horseback rider, my legs were very sore after and it hurt to sit. Just keep in mind to wear pants and sneakers if you can (I woke jean shorts and sorely regretted it). You go at a nice trotting pace with a few gallops to keep things interesting. They only accept cash, as many places in small towns do, so make sure you have enough whoever you go. At night, I watched the peaceful sunset over Dorgali and finished off yet another pizza.
I explored nearby beaches and took the day at a leisurely pace, as it was my last full day. I stopped by the town of Orosei, which I must admit I wasn’t very impressed by. The beaches nearby were finally sandy, after a week of pebbles and rocks. One in particular I liked that was sandy was Spiaggia di Cala Ginepro. Lots of families and a very relaxed vibe. To finish the day off, I returned to Cala Gonone, spent some time in Cala Fuili where the pebbles were too large to be comfortable unless you bring a lounger or mat. Finally, I headed back to Dorgali to have a nice dinner on my B&B’s terrace as the sun set.
As my flight was in the late afternoon, I decided to head to the west coast, which was on the way back via the main highway E25. There are ancient Roman ruins called Tharos on a narrow strip of land overlooking the sea. The beach just below, Spiaggia di Capo San Marco, is absolutely wonderful. In the morning hours, it is tranquil and not crowded.
As a final stop, I headed just a few kilometers out to Mari Ermi, a beautiful beach with sparkling water to match the sky, and fine, soft pink and white quartz pebbles, which are so soft to walk on for pebbles. It’s worth visiting and spending the day there. Parking costs just a couple of euros. These pebbles don’t heat up like the sand, so it’s pleasant to walk on even in the middle of a hot day. It’s a good stop before the airport in Cagliari, which is only about 1:15 away.
In summary, if you’re looking for beautiful beaches, mountains, local culture and delicious food, but want to break way from mainland Italy – then Sardinia, particularly the East, is where you should go. What other places have you been to in Sardinia?