The Italian isle isn’t just a beachy wonderland. There are plenty of pockets and nooks of adventure. Here’s my top five Sardinian adventures…
Diving in Sardinia
Sardinia is carving out a reputation as one of the best places to dive, not just in Italy, but in the Med. Why? Beginners can slip straight into the sea from the shore, with miles of calm and clear waters to keep novices at ease; shipwrecks – from German WWII ships, to a Japanese tanker which sank in 1982 – are always a hit with more experienced divers; and its warrens of caves are an enticing underground playground for technical divers to poke around. Head to the east coast, away from the west’s choppier waters, where a host of PADI-approved dive centres with English-speaking guides take you closer to the exceptional marine life. An adventure through the coves of Tavolara and around the underwater hump of Secca del Pappa are both highlights, where barracuda and grouper dart back and forth, and sightings of stingrays, conger eels and shoals of tuna are all possible. But for a dive that’ll leave you dumbfounded, behold the Grotto del Nereo (Nereo Cave) – one of Sardinia’s must-see dive sites and the largest underwater grotto in the Med. A bewildering network of caves and tunnels draws divers from all over the world, and bewitching forests of stalagmites and stalactites keep regulars coming back for more.
Hiking in Sardinia
Out-of-this-world at any time of the year, this extraordinary gorge is said to be Sardinia’s answer to the Grand Canyon; and a hike through its dramatic chasms will really push the limits. This is an area of whimsical monoliths, caves and sheer cliff faces; where golden eagles circle on high, wild goats mooch around, and prehistoric Nuragic villages jostle with the striking wilderness. The entrance to the gorge is submerged below ground, and having trudged from the starting point at Genna ‘e Silana pass on route SS125, through Mediterranean scrub, blooming juniper trees and ancient oak trees, and along the boulder-strewn Flumineddu river, the path dips down to reveal its opening. You can dip into its warren of rocks without a guide, following painted marks to steer you inside; but hiring an expert can take you further along this three-mile gorge, and for technical climbers, to the near-vertical cliff, Hotel Supramonte. It is said, according to local legend, that at the point where the gorge is at its narrowest – around four metres – and the vertiginous rock faces rise to 450 metres, it’s possible to see the stars whilst the sun shines above. You may not see the stars, but you will be blown away by its magnitude and natural drama.
Cycling in Sardinia
Those seeking the quiet charms of Sardinia will relish cycling its tracks, amid rolling hills, ancient woodland and valley roads, with cooling dips in the ebbing sea. Riders are permitted to cruise on footpaths as well as the island’s well-maintained roads, but with many steep hills to conquer, don’t hop on expecting an easy ride. Traffic is light, the scenery is magnificent and there’s no need to bring your own wheels as hired bikes are available in most resorts from as little as €10 a day. There’s also a handful of bicycle tour companies offering guided and self-guided trips, and you can go as extreme as you like: from light family rides, to hardcore schelps in the Sulcis and Iglesiente mountain ranges where serious cyclists climb up to 1,000 metres before shooting down dicey descents that’ll make your hair stand on end.
Sardinia’s southern coast (Costa del Sud) lures the novice cyclists or those looking to take it slow with a landscape to conjure up all the travel clichés: flour-soft sands, glittering seas, chalky cliffs and never-ending blue skies. Plot a course along this coastal stretch, from Porto Pino, stopping by at the pretty bay of Cape Malfatano for a refreshing dip, before pulling up at the fun-centric hangout of Chia: you’ll have clocked up an impressive 22 miles and confronted some breathtaking scenery.
Rock climbing in Sardinia
Canny adventurers are already aware of Sardinia’s immense climbing potential. As luck would have it, there are limestone cliffs to scale and towering mountains to clamber up: and this being Sardinia, it has a knack for catering to every level. Punta Pilocca has made a name for itself as the island’s unofficial HQ of climbing. Its limestone crags are flush with routes, whose multi-pitch rock climbs were restored in 2016; beginners can test their nerves on some easy stretches, whilst technical climbers have a raft of hair-raising routes rising up to 70 metres. But it is Ogliastra – in eastern-central Sardinia – that’s starting to attract more climbers from overseas. Come afternoon, great shadows dominate large sections of the cliffs that reach to a thousand metres, so even on long, hot summer days, trekkers can scuttle up enormous heights away from the heat’s intensity, and with hundreds of pitch routes, there’s little chance of covering the same ground. A day’s climbing will intoxicate any traveller, but for those looking for elevated adventure, its sheer vertical cliffs tumbling in to the ocean have heralded the introduction of deep water soloing (DWS) on the island. The concept is simple: climbers scale tricky routes without using ropes; instead they rely on water below to break their fall. For those with a strong stomach and the skills, head to Cala ‘e Luas – accessible only by boat – where a bright breed of climbers have tested out the sport.
Kayaking in Sardinia
Sardinia’s coastal drama is beckoning to be explored by kayak. There’s nothing quite like launching a vessel straight from the shore, amongst salty-haired swimmers and surfers on lazy, hazy days. Those itching to cruise its coastline should head to the north-eastern buzzy resort of Palau: a hub of surf shacks, drinking dens and restaurants that seduces everyone from beach bums and adventure-seekers to go-getting families. Paddling in and around the shores of this town on the Costa Smeralda – the very picture of paradise – will win anyone over: the beaches seldom look better than when gazing from your kayak, back to the shore. But cross the cobalt blue sea to the Maddalena Archipelago, and you’re in grasping distance of some of the Med’s most incredible beaches. Several kayaking outfitters take punters on multi-day kayak trips around these pinprick islands. But you could always base yourself on the main island of La Maddalena, with just a few thousand inhabitants. It’s pristine, quiet and isn’t short of spectacles: hidden coves, empty lagoons, charming waterside hangouts. Rise early for a day exploring the archipelago’s shoreline on the sun-dappled surf, past weathered granite rocks, to beaches and spectacular seascapes only accessible by boat, before winding up in one of La Maddalena’s trattorias. Elsewhere, the northwestern Porto Conte National Park is another superb launch point for kayakers, along the cliffs of Capo Caccia, to Dragonara Bay and the island of Foridadda.