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Sardinia Travel Guide

Cala Coticcio, Caprera Island, Sardinia (© beppe76 - Fotolia.com)
Cala Coticcio, Caprera Island, Sardinia.

Introduction

Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian, Sardigna in Sardinian) is one of the five an autonomous regions of Italy, and the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily. With 24,090 km˛ (about the size of the US state of New Hampshire), it is the third largest Italian region, but also the third most sparsely populated, with only 69 inhabitants per km˛.

Sardinian people are fairly unique genetically, having been isolated from the rest of Europe since the Neolithic period. Lacking the Indo-European gene flow from the Bronze Age, Sardinians have nearly 100% of black hair and brown eyes. Remains of the pre-Indo-European Nuragic civilization (1800 BCE to 1st cenury CE) can be seen at several locations around the island, the most famous of which is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, a World Heritage Site.

Roughly three quarters of the population speak Sardinian, the most distinctive of all Romance languages, more distant from Italian than Italian is to French or Romanian. Sardinian language is noted for its substantial Paleosardinian substratum (words surviving from the pre-Indo-European Nuragic language). There are three Sardinian dialects: Campidanese, spoken in the southern half of the island, Logudorese in the north-west, and Nuorese in th north-east. In the northern tip of the island, Corsican dialects are spoken, from Sassari to the Emerald Coast. Catalan is also spoken around Alghero, and Ligurian on Isola de San Pietro and Isola de Sant'Antioco.

Sardinia has one of the most singular culture in Europe. It is home to one of the oldest forms of vocal polyphony, generally known as cantu a tenore, which has been recognised by the UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Local festivals are a major attraction, such as the Sa Sartiglia equestrian tournament in Oristano, or the Sagra del Redentore in Nuoro (on 29th August).

For most tourists, Sardinia is first and foremost superb beaches with crystal-clear water. The most beautiful of them are located in the north-east corner, near Corsica, including the Maddalena archipelago and the Emerald Coast (Costa Smeralda).

Famous people from Sardinia include (chronologically): the writer Grazia Deledda (Nobel Prize), the Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, the politician Antonio Segni (Prime Minister then President of Italy), the politician Francesco Cossiga (Prime Minister then President of Italy), and the entrepreneur Renato Soru (founder of Tiscali).

Cuisine

Sardinian people enjoy an exceptional longevity, which can be attributed to the climate, relaxed pace, and healthy diet of its people. Seafood (rock lobsters, sea urchins, octopus, clams, mussels, and squid) in coastal areas, pork, goat meat and game inland, and fresh vegetables and herbs everywhere are what best define Sardinian cuisine. Saffron was introduced to the island by the Phoenicians, and has been grown extensively ever since. It is one of the commonest spices in Sardinian cuisine.

Bread is heavily consumed. Sardinian bread was traditionally made dry so that it could be kept for days by herders. It often comes in crispy paper-thin flatbread like the pane carasau (a.k.a. carta da musica or "music sheet", similar to the Indian papadum) or pistoccu (often rectangular, like lasagna sheets). Round loaves also exist, like the civraxiu. The most peculiar of all breads is coccoi, a hard crusted soft inside bread which comes in dozens of decorative shapes changing from village to village. The most famous Sardinian cheeses are the pecorino romano and pecorino sardo, both made from ewe's milk.

Typically Sardinian dishes include butŕriga (or botargo, cured mullet roe), carne a carraxiu (suckling pig, lamb or calf buried in the ground with myrtle leaves on top, upon which a fire is lit and left to cook the meat for hours), and porceddu (roast suckling pig). There is a number of pasta specific to Sardinia, like fregula (similar to the Israeli couscous), culurgiones (ravioli folded like braids, filled with potato and pecorino), or malloreddus (small shell-shaped gnocchi).

Beer has been produced since the Copper Age in Sardinia. The island has the highest beer consumption per capita within Italy, with 60 litres per person per year, against an Italian average of 28 litres. The highest consumption is in the province of Nuoro, with an average of 100 liters per capita, as much as in Ireland or Australia. The most widespread Sardinian beer is Birra Ichnusa, a pale lager. Sardinia produces 1 million hectolitres of wine annually. It has one DOCG (Vermentino di Gallura) and 19 DOC wines. The Sardinian varieties of Vernaccia grapes are used to make the Sherry-like wine Vernaccia di Oristano. Sardinian red wine is said to contains 5 to 10 times the procyanidins (antioxidants with cardiovascular benefits) than other varieties. The Sardinian digestif par excellence is the Mirto, a myrtle liqueur that is either red or white.

Attractions

North

Maddalena archipelago
Caprera island, Maddalena archipelago, Sardinia (© Susana Guzmán Martínez - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Maddalena archipelago.
Alghero
Alghero, Sardinia (© JF Gicquel - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Settled since the Neolithic, Alghero evolved into an important centre of the Bronze-Age Nuragic civilization. It later became Phoencian, Roman, Genovese, then Spanish, and Catalan is still spoken by a quarter of the population. This quiet seaside town is especially famous for the 4km long Neptune's Grotto.
Stintino
Stintino, Sardinia (©  The Factory - Fotolia.com)
very good Stintino.
Costa Smeralda
Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda, Sardinia (© crazy82 - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Costa Smeralda.
Castelsardo
Castelsardo, Sardinia (©  Pixelshop - Fotolia.com)
very good Castelsardo.

Other attractions

very good Sassari

Centre

Bosa
Bosa, Sardinia (© diego cervo - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Bosa.
Nuoro
Redentore Festival, Nuoro, Sardinia (©  Giacomo Altamira - iStockphoto.com)
very good Nuoro.

Other attractions

good Tharros
Su Nuraxi di Barumini ※
Su Nuraxi di Barumini, Sardinia (© Webpictureblog.com - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Su Nuraxi di Barumini.
Oristano
Sartiglia festival, Oristano, Sardinia (© kiwiadv - Fotolia.com)
very good Oristano.

South

Cagliari
Cagliari, Sardinia (© Gerardo Borbolla - Fotolia.com)
very good Cagliari.

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Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

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