Others, like medieval Bosa in the west, are impossibly picturesque with their pink-and-golden buildings flanking the river. Alghero, in Northern Sardinia, has a fascinating Catalan history (the language is still spoken here) and a delightful old centre; the lively town of Iglesias also retains an appealing Spanish legacy. Calgliari is historic and cosmopolitan at the same time, while the equally historic Oristano is quietly elegant. Traditional culture thrives most vigorously in the heartland where the elderly women are still draped in black; here tourists are rare – stared at – but ultimately welcomed.
Across the landscape are scattered 7000 nuraghi, strange conical stone fortresses seemingly built by a Sardinian Fred Flintstone. Curious temples, tombs, mysterious menhirs and remains of entire Bronze Age villages complete the prehistoric cartoon.
Sardinia distinguishes itself in the kitchen with hearty pastas and a love for pungent local cheeses, like pecorino and smoked ricotta. Sardinians also produce notable wines and a head-splitting firewater, filu e ferru.
Avoid visiting during broiling, crowded July and August, as well as in winter when the island goes into hibernation and many restaurants and hotels are closed. The best times of the year to visit are in the spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom, and during the early autumn when the temperatures are still pleasantly warm and most of the tourists have left.
Activities & Sites in Sardinia
The countryside around Bosa is a pretty crisscross of vineyards and rivers. To explore it, contact Marcello at Anfibia, who can arrange some wonderful ecotours including kayaking, cycling and visiting local vineyards. The organisation aims to put travellers in touch with local people in an effort to create a more happy and sustainable form of tourism. Tours require a group of six. Anfibia also hires out bikes and kayaks so you can do your own thing.
Outdoor pursuits are big here and there’s excellent diving, snorkelling, mountain biking and hiking. Argonauta offers a range of water-based activities, including snorkelling tours (€25), dives (from €35) and canyoning excursions (€40). For climbing information contact Prima Sardegna, which also rents out mountain bikes (per day €24), kayaks (per day €30), scooters (per day €48) and cars (from €75).
Consorzio delle Bocche
At the bottom of Via del Porto you'll find operators running excursions to the Maddalena archipelago. The biggest outfit is the Consorzio delle Bocche, which also has an office in town. It runs two excursions, one to the Maddalena islands and the other down the Costa Smeralda (summer only). Trips include lunch (served on board).
A tour operator that specialises in excursions to the Grotta di Nettuno, an enormous sea cave at the foot of the Capo Caccia headland. It runs several boats a day from April to October that allow you a fish-eye view of the coast from Alghero to Capo Caccia before depositing you at the grotto.
Morgan Diving can arrange dives to most sites and is also authorised to conduct dives in the marine reserve of Villasimius. It's based at the tourist port in the Marina Capitana, 14km east of Cagliari, although you can make arrangements over the phone.
Centro Sportivo Farcana
About 4km up Monte Ortobene from Nuoro, this sports centre is signposted off to the left. Its main attraction is the outdoor Olympic pool, a treat in summer if you haven't the energy to go to the seaside.
At Bosa Marina, Bosa Diving runs dives (from €35) and snorkelling excursions (€35), as well as hiring out canoes (double canoe €10 per hour) and dinghies (from €25 per hour).
Diving Centre Capo Galera
Diving Centre Capo Galera offers superlative diving in the Nereo Cave, the biggest underwater grotto in the Mediterranean, and cheerful accommodation in a big white villa.
Centro Sun Marina di Longone
The diving around Santa Teresa and the islands in the Bocche di Bonifacio is very good. Centro Sun Marina di Longone can help you organise dive trips and PADI courses.
If you tire of navel gazing on the beach then head down to the tourist port, where you'll find the deep-sea fishing outlet Bluefin Team.
On the seafront, Cartur Dea is one of several outfits offering boat tours. Bank on about €25 per person.
Dolmen runs 4WD tours into the Supramonte, and has bikes, scooters and dinghies for hire.
Outdoor pursuits are big here and there’s excellent diving, snorkelling, mountain biking and hiking.
Windsurfing Club Cagliari
The Windsurfing Club Cagliari offers a range of courses, starting from about €150.