Some days in Sardinia
Recently, we did a nice journey on a smaller cruise ship during which we had the chance to visit two of the most scenic places in the mediterranean sea. One of the benefits of a cruise travel is that it allows one to find targets which may be worth a longer stay at some future point in time. During the cruise, you will rarely stay longer than one day in a single location, which is of course totally insufficient, but even a single day can give you a good idea about the place.
The strait of Bonifacio
We crossed this narrow water strait (about 11km, 7 miles) between Corsica and Sardinia twice on our journey. The first time in darkness between our stops in Corsica’s capital Ajaccio and Olbia scheduled for the next day, and the second time on our way back from Rome (Civitavecchia) to the Balearic Islands. This was during daylight and all the pictures were taken on that day.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily, before Cyprus) with an area of slightly more than 24.000km² (about 9.300 square miles). That’s a bit smaller than Albania or about the same size as the U.S state of Vermont. It is located south of Corsica from which it is divided by the Strait of Bonifacio (see above). Its northernmost latitude is just a bit south of Rome and together with Corsica, it defines the western border of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is in itself a part of the Mediterranean Sea. Sardinia has a population of about 1.6 millions, so it’s rather sparsely populated with only 70 inhabitants per square kilometer (180 per sq mi). Approximately 1/4 of the population lives in the metropolitan area of Cagliari, which also serves as the capital city and is the hub for all administrative matters of the autonomous region Sardinia.
On the contrary, more than 4 million sheep are living on the island, resulting in a sheep density similar to some regions in New Zealand. Breeding of sheep is an important cornerstone of the agricultural sector as Sardinia lacks high-performance soils for efficient growing of agricultural products and despite all the struggle and progress that has been made in water management, it is still a relatively dry island. Consequently, the growing sector is highly specialized nowadays and produces mainly some vegetables, wine, olives and cork, which is one of the most important export products on the island as Sardinia contributes more than 3/4 of the overall Italian cork production.
Sardinia’s topography is flatter than Corsica’s and while the north is generally more rugged and higher elevated, the highest peak of Sardinia is located just a bit southeasterly of the geographical center. The Punta La Marmora is slightly over 1800 meters high and on a clear day, it offers a generous panoramic view of the entire island.
The climate of Sardinia is varied and can be seen as quite complex for the relatively small area, depending on the region. Overall, a typical mediterranean climate with long and hot summers and mild winters predominates. Major rainfalls occur in autumn and winter, while the summers are dry and many weeks without a single drop of rain are not uncommon, particularly from June to August. Temperatures can frequently reach 35℃ (95℉) during the summer season and even 40℃ (104℉) are not so rare. Winters are mild and temperatures below the freezing point are extremely rare in the coastal areas, but higher elevated regions get some snow every year.
Politically, Sardinia has the status of an autonomous region with its own statute (can be understood as some form of constitutional law) and the right to create local laws governing many different domains.
While the official language is Italian, most people in Sardinia also speak a local language, known as Sardinian (or Sardu). Sardu is not an Italian dialect, but its own language that is a direct descendant of the Latin language and thus a member of the Romance language family. It is closer to Latin than the modern Italian language.
A total of 8 different languages are spoken on the island, but Italian is the common denominator and is understood by everyone. On the opposite, almost no one outside Sardinia understands their indigenous languages.
To make that even more complex, some regions do have their own language variant. Gallurese is widely spoken in the northern part of Sardinia and is a close relative of the Corsican language. In the westernmost regions, a Catalan dialect is common in some smaller areas. Finally, Ligurian, another branch of the Romance family of languages, is spoken on some smaller island in the far southwest.
Sardinia’s Economy is actually doing quite well, better than all other regions in southern Italy. It is hindered a bit by high prices for resources, which are a result of high transportation costs. Everything that isn’t naturally available on the island must be ferried in by ship or airplane.
Porto Cervo / Costa Smeralda
This is an interesting place. It was founded and built artificially during the the 50’s and 60’s of the 20th Century after the then richest man on earth fell in love with the Costa Smeralda region in the northeast of Sardinia - which is perfectly understandable given the wild beauty of the region. He invested millions into the region to fulfill his dream of creating a holiday resort and a yacht club.
Today, Porto Cervo is a small village with only about 400 residents, but it’s said to be the most expensive area in Europe. Billions worth of luxury yachts can often be seen in the marina which is larger than the village itself. About 1/3 of the 15 most expensive hotels in the world are located in or near Porto Cervo in the Costa Smeralda region. A night in one of the most expensive suites can cost up to US$35.000.
The region has preserved its beauty, because there is little to no mass tourism - it’s simply too expensive. Every now and then, tourist groups, mostly from cruise ships visiting nearby Olbia, come to the village for a short visit, but otherwise, there is little activity, except for the jet-set people who party on their yachts and in the many clubs that are often well hidden and inaccessible for us normal people.
This little village is located a couple of miles to the northwest of Porto Cervo - a 10 to 15 minutes drive and yet it appears to be a completely different world. While the scenic beauty of the surrounding landscape is stunning as usual - as it is in most coastal areas of Sardinia - the village is completely different. It is a destination for us “ordinary gals and guys” at an affordable price level, yet it does not attract mass tourism, because this is something which thankfully has not yet found its way onto this beautiful island. There are no huge hotels or apartment complexes in Baja and everything, including the cafes, restaurants and bars, do not look as being built for huge crowds.
If you ever come there, I suggest you try the ice cream. There are multiple opportunities in the village and you might get an opportunity to try Corbezzolo flavor, made from fruits of the Strawberry tree. It’s something you won’t find very often elsewhere and it’s delicious.
There are lots of nice beaches all around the island. The one pictured below is called Spiaggia La Cinta and is located about half an hour drive from the city of Olbia in the northeastern part of Sardinia, south of the famous Costa Smeralda.
We had only one day, but that convinced us we want to see more of that wonderful island that has not yet been exploited by mass tourism. Our guide told us, the Sards do not want this - they certainly could earn billions with tourism like they do in mainland Italy, but so far, they preferred to stay off the radar of big-scale touristic activities. They do have the jet-set destination in the north east (the Costa Smeralda) which co-exists nicely and more or less friction-free with the locals and certainly does bring in some good cash, but for the rest of the island, tourism does not play a major role in Sardinia’s economy.
With Porto Cervo, we have seen a place that looks interesting at the first glance, but is definitely not the place where I would want to spend a vacation - even if I had the money (which I do not), I wouldn’t be sure whether it would be the right place. It looks artificially (that’s exactly what it is) and a bit cold.
Baja Sardinia, I liked a lot better. It feels just right - a small village on the coast with some tourism and lots of opportunities in the close neighborhood. Hiking, biking, and sea-related activities like diving, surfing, boat trips are all possible here, so one would not get bored to easily. I’m sure though, there are many more interesting and breathtakingly beautiful places on this mediterranean island, particularly in the southern part.