Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, there are three airports, Cagliari (south), Alghero (North West) and Olbia (North east). Olbia is closest Naples, Alghero is closest Sassari where we stayed and Cagliari is a 3 hour drive south, guess which port we flew in to? Crazy I know but it’s about flights, cost and flight dates. Our friend Massimo drove 3 hours to pick us up (what a legend)!
We met Massimo in 2015 becoming fast friends from the first moment we were introduced. After extending repeated invitations for 4 years we have finally come to his beautiful island.
Our friend had the perfect plan for us given the fact he had just driven 3 hours. We kicked off visiting one of the 10,000 sites where ancient structures known as ‘nuraghe’ were developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900 B.C.and 730 B.C. They are unique to Sardinia and indicate a distinctive culture.
Our visit to the largest nuraghe was followed by the Giara Gesturi, a park considered an island within an island. It’s the natural habitat of the Giara horse, a small breed freely roaming the park thought to have been introduced during the Nuragic or Punic periods. Sardinia is semi arid, and in much need of rain the three waterholes we saw over the one or two kilometres we walked were dry which will make it hard for the livestock.
Sardinia is an exporter of cork too, the path right around the 10 kilometres park is well lined with cork trees. Interestingly the cork is harvested only every nine years and only up to 1.2 metres from the base of the tree. At the following two restaurants we were served food creatively displayed on curved wide bowls of cork. I want one! Maybe two!!
By the time Massimo dropped us off at the hotel in Sassari we were pooped but our dear friend still had an hour of driving to get home. He must have driven close to 800 kilometres and that was just day one. Massimo lives in a little ‘paese’ of six churches and 1000 inhabitants. He lives in his mother’s house and helps her though an independent woman. Mass had offered us his own home just 1km from the beach, I’m slapping myself for not staying there having now seen it. It’s on the Smeralda Coast known for it’s crystal clear green waters and sandy beaches, around the top north eastern area of Sardinia. You can bet we will return another time and take advantage of the beauty of this area, we did however visit Isola (island) Rossa a headland made up of a jaggered rocky outcrop, terracotta in colour.
Massimo worked as a prison officer for 30 years, I guess it’s natural that he should take us to Isola del’Asinara, it’s accessible only by boat, you’ll be proud of me going on a boat smaller than the Manly ferry. The only cars on the island are authorised park vehicles. Asinara gets its name from the asses (donkeys not the other) that roam freely but it’s better known for it’s long penal history, POW internment camps from the two world wars and tuberculosis rehabilitation settlement. Forty five thousand people were displaced from the island and restyled on the main island in order to establish the penal colony. Only prison officers were allowed to live here during that time. If I remember correctly twelve jail blocks cover the island, Fornelli the first we visited was a maximum security cell block for the very worst offenders including the ‘mafiosi’. No one ever escaped from Fornelli unlike Alcatraz, and the only two who reportedly escaped were day release prisoners from an agricultural block who tended the farms by day returning to their cells in the evenings. They were recaptured, they had nowhere else to go the Strait between the Asinara and the mainland is unforgiving.
There’s not much more we could have seen in the three days and four nights we had in beautiful Sardinia. Massimo treated us to a feast at his friend’s restaurant in Castelsardo. Carmelo and Massimo worked together in the prison system for many years until Carmelo retired setting up a family restaurant at the top of a cliff where he also leases out space to a parasailing club for a launching ramp. The best spot though is reserved for diners who have a perfect view of the aerial display. It’s like the dance of a thousand sails up in the sky above us.
We also discovered that the area where the restaurant has been established was the territory, I suppose it still is, of a vixen and her cub. When Carmelo set up his restaurant the fox and her cub would sit back at a distance and watch, smelling the aromas of grilling meat, the restaurant staff began to feed them at the end of the night. And so it came to pass that each evening mother and cub came for dinner waiting patiently to be fed, eventually the guests began to hand feed them also. It’s a sad thing when an thoughtless person kills a fox in its own territory but that’s what happened, now the male fox comes alone. Who knows one day he maybe he will turn up with his new family too.
Italy is not just about pasta. In Sardegna, donkey and horse is a favourite on the menu. I was a slow starter having caught some sort of virus that kept me in bed for a day and am still trying to recover from it. I would have liked to try donkey. Horse is fantastic too I’ve read, everything equine is available, grills with garlic and parsley oil, salami, sausages plus much more. I’ve had sausages but I doubt it was horse or donkey, delicious regardless. We’ve had amazing steak and roast pork, pork ribs, lamb cutlets, the most delicious veal with orange sauce, the best 200gm beef burger (no bread), scaloppine with wine sauce, with orange sauce and that’s just the beginning. Vegetables…… grilled eggplant and zucchini, spinach with pine nuts and plump golden sultanas is my favourite, roast potatoes, parmigiana of eggplant…… yum, yum, yum! I think between four of us we’ve tried almost all the pasta types, filled, flat, round and with hole.
Come to Italy even if it’s just to eat!
Rome next, see you there!