Alghero sunset © Emma Sparks
I gripped the wheel at the standard 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock position I always assume when in control of a moving vehicle, knuckles only slightly whiter than usual this time.
Navigating one’s way out of a European airport isn’t the gentlest introduction to driving abroad; unwieldy roundabouts, incomprehensible road signs, equally snail-paced fellow foreigners jerking and weaving up ahead, impatient locals up your arse – all this coupled with the fact that you have to operate your vehicle as if you’re in some back-to-front mirrored universe means your trip is likely to begin on a stressful note, with (in my case at least) a few high-pitched squeals and the odd ‘practice’ emergency stop.
The journey wasn’t all hellish, of course. For a start, the sun was high and bright in a cloudless sky – and I was exactly where I’d been dreaming of for months: Sardinia. The roads, albeit winding and occasionally narrow, were quiet, and the steep green hills through which our route was carved were gawp-worthy. It helped that my passenger was a beloved friend, who is so supportive and tactful that no matter how hairy some of my manoeuvres were, her words were never more panicked than: ‘that was a little close darling’.
The two-and-a-half hour journey from Olbia airport to Alghero took us from the northeast of the Italian island to the northwest. Everything we’d seen in between – solitary churches, overgrown ravines and sweet-scented fields – had swelled our anticipation with each mile. Swinging by Alghero airport to pick up our third and final musketeer (read: we took a 30 minute ‘detour’), we eventually found our accommodation for the next three nights: Il Sogno di Alghero.
The pool at Sogno di Alghero © Emma Sparks
The entrance to Sogno di Alghero © Emma Sparks
I could describe our digs in great detail - the spacious apartment, giant communal BBQ, squeaky clean pool and gorgeous surrounds were just what we wanted - but the real stars of Il Sogno di Alghero were our hosts, Alessandro and Monica. Upon arrival, we were presented with a giant ciambella cake by the shy, smiley Monica and whisked around the property by the eternally charming Alessandro, a warm, quintessentially Italian character (he’s originally from Rome) for whom no request was too large and no compliment of Sardinia too emphatic;
‘Ah Emma, you must go here to see the sunset; it is simply wonderful - fantastico’ he claims, pinching his thumb and forefinger together in typical Italian fashion before furiously scribbling directions onto our map and shooing us into the car. We were convinced. And rightly so; every suggestion Alessandro made over the course of our weekend was spot on.
Here are my top recommendations for things to do in and around Alghero, Sardinia. With a little help from Alessandro.
Take the time to watch the sun set.
Check out the 8th floor bar at Hotel Catalyuna for fantastic views of the old town and marina. Wine is reasonably priced, there are free nibbles, and surprisingly, it wasn’t at all crowded (although I can’t speak for high season). Get a sneak preview of the view here.
If you have a car, make sure you pay a visit to Padro Mare. Once a dairy farm, the building has been converted into a laid back bar with ample outdoor space; the view is unbeatable. I can find no trace of Padro Mare on the interwebz so the only directions I have are to follow the signs to Bosa for approximately 20km until you see a sign… the drive itself is stunning, so you’ll need three eyes; one for the sign, one for the scenery and one for the road.
Stroll around the old town.
Once under Catalan rule, Alghero’s old town and its cobbled streets echo with hundreds of years of history. The narrow side streets are particularly fun to explore; you’ll see freshly washed clothes hung up to dry above you, the peeling-paint kind of doors instagrammers dream about, and mopeds zipping past, perilously close. It’s a must.
Eat. Eat. Eat. Repeat.
Being a coastal town, Alghero is all about the seafood. Try seafood fregola - a salty soup with the island’s version of pasta, fregola, along with clams, prawns, squid - you name it, it’s probably in there. Follow it up with gelato, naturally.
For the less adventurous, try the pizzas at La Botteghina. They come double size, intended for sharing (but totally doable solo…if you’re anything like me).
Being the budget traveller I am, a visit to the supermarket was of course on the cards. A friendly gent spotted us hovering helplessly in the cheese aisle and kindly handed us the region’s own pecorino. We weren’t disappointed with the result, as you can see from Emily’s face:
An al fresco feast © Emma Sparks
Gelateria Alghero © Emma Sparks
Visit the Grotta di Nettuno.
Again, best if you have a car for this one (apparently there’s also a bus route, which may or may not be reliable). You could take the boat from Alghero, but that costs €15 on top of the actual entry fee (€13), and you won’t get to experience one of the best bits: the 654 steps etched into the cliffs.
Grotto Nettuno © Emma Sparks
The entrance to Nettuno © Emma Sparks
The entry fee includes a multi-language guided walk around the caves, which are rather awesome. My iPhone unfortunately does not do them justice.
Inside Nettuno © Emma Sparks
In my opinion, car rental is a must in Sardinia. So many sights are found in rural spots, high up in the cliffs and out of the way that you simply wouldn’t experience the best the island has to offer without your own set of wheels. If you’re nervous, take a deep breath, a couple of good friends, a GPS and you’ll be grand.
A meteorological malfunction meant we couldn’t make it to the beach at Stintino in the north, which I’d heard was beautiful. I guess I’ll have to return to Sardinia one day.
Flights from London Gatwick to Olbia Airport with easyJet cost £60rtn in April 2014 (booked in Jan 2014).
Car rental with Dollar car rental (via Holiday Autos) cost £86 for three days and a three night stay in a one-bedroom apartment (plus sofa bed) for three people cost £241, which means I paid £226 for my long weekend in Sardinia.