ITALY: 8 North-West Sardinia Highlights

Well, hello there! It’s been a while! It’s just over a year since my last posts all about the beauty of our garden during lockdown. Since then, we’ve had several British adventures: Devon, Cornwall, Oswestry, Bridlington and Norfolk, teaching Indy the fun of holiday homes and exploring. 

Our last trip abroad was to South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini when I was about 11 weeks pregnant with Indy. We had grand plans of maternity leave travels but, despite the cutest optimistic 2-month-old passport photo, they weren’t to be. This April, 14 weeks pregnant with number 2, we finally felt ready to brave the post-Covid world to visit Sardinia. Toddler travel was certainly different! We learnt a lot!

Why Sardinia? Well, to be perfectly honest, we found some super cheap flights first then a small amount of research revealed all the island promised in terms of its natural beauty and tasty food so we were easily convinced. Initially, we’d booked a week but we fell victim to Easy Jet’s Easter flight cancellations so ended up with 5 days. It wasn’t all bad though since our compensation almost covered the cost of the whole holiday!

Italy turned out to be a great first international trip for Indy. It was only around 2.5 hours on the plane (which she loved but absolutely did not sit still on at any point!). The food was not too alien with it featuring a lot of bread, pasta and pizza. Whilst we didn’t particularly find any activities specifically designed for toddlers, the numerous beaches and quiet old towns all relatively close to each other meant we weren’t short on ways to fill our days. A pool-side all-inclusive with a kids’ club would presumably have been easier – and I wouldn’t rule it out when number 2 arrives – but we wanted to try and do something closer to our usual DIY kind of trip.

Young children were welcome everywhere in Sardinia; even the immigration man was a big softie with Indy. Older Sardinians regularly watched and smiled at her antics, calling her ‘bella’ and other things I didn’t understand but which I can only assume were pleasant! Despite probably appearing a little stand-offish given she doesn’t really know how to respond to being talked to her in another language yet, children attempted to befriend Indy constantly, even from the moment we joined the baggage drop queue at Bristol airport! It’s exactly what we’ve always wanted for her – to meet all kinds of different people and to feel as though she is a citizen of the world. Can’t wait to take her to even further flung places.

Below are our highlights of things to do with a 2.5-year-old in tow and then you’ll find the logistics – flights, car hire, weather and accommodation – at the end.

Castelsardo

This is a very picturesque town, especially as you approach it. Rising out of the crystal-clear water is a view of the colourful patchwork of houses topped by the ruins of the ancient castle.

There’s a modern town first with cafes and shops but the main attraction lies at the top of the hill. The walk up to the castle and its surrounds was steep but offered stunning views of the coast and countryside.

Once up there, there were narrow, winding cobbled streets to explore; improbably tiny cars parked on improbably tiny streets; ancient churches to wander round; the museum in the Doria Castle itself; city walls and watchtowers; and signs sharing the town’s history (which I’m sure would be very interesting to read if you weren’t chasing a toddler!).

There was only a handful of restaurants to choose from, most with tables spilling out on the streets. We opted for Il Piccolo Borgo di Cimino, partly because the older ladies sitting outside took such a shine to Indy! It turned out to be one of our favourite meals of the trip – simple but seemingly authentic. 

After lunch, we wandered a little more but then Indy, initially quite enthusiastic and energised by the enormous flat crisp bread she’d pinched from the restaurant, decided she’d had enough walking and sat down in the middle of a (very quiet) road. Ignoring all our encouragement to move on, and not wishing to be picked up, eventually we decided to walk a little distance away. This didn’t work either. But then an older lady came out of her shop, approached Indy, said something to her (presumably not in English) and up she got and happily trotted back over to us! Magic!

We visited on a busy Sunday (Palm Sunday actually), so parking was challenging but not impossible. I imagine at peak times it would be much busier.

La Pelosa Beach

Proudly claimed by locals to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, La Pelosa is blessed with fine white sand and clear, shallow waters. On a beautiful day like the one we had, I’m pretty sure they’re correct.

It was a bit on the windy side but we found a sheltered spot and set up camp for the morning. Indy was in her element despite the lack of bucket and spade (we thought we’d be able to buy some but off-season meant that wasn’t an option) and enjoyed looking for jellyfish, playing with big sticks, watching the kite surfers and making up jumping games for Dean to play with her! 

I’m very pleased we went; we’d almost been put off by what we’d read about the insane busy-ness, reservations, parking charges, and the list of strictly-enforced rules to preserve the beach such as putting straw mats under your towels in case you accidentally remove sand. However, off-peak, it was really quiet and parking was free. The nearby café/restaurant, Il Gabbiano, was good for ice cream and cold drinks with a lovely view.

Despite disastrously losing my glasses, we all ended up deciding it was our favourite day of the trip.

Alghero

The city of Alghero has a quaint old town, steeped in history, and is known for its city walls, stretches of which offer beautiful sea views. Forts and towers are dotted along the ramparts and there are numerous churches and a cathedral to visit.

This is the impressive dome of St Michael’s church. 

We weren’t there for long and spent most of our time chasing Indy along the streets, trying our best to absorb some of the sights at the same time! Refreshments at one of the many pavement cafes were a welcome break!

Grotta di Nettuno

This is an ancient marine cave of vast chambers, saltwater lakes, stalagmites, stalactites and karst formations. There are two ways to get there. I was adamant we should take the nice relaxing boat trip however Dean had other ideas and decided that the 654 hand-cut steps of the ‘stairway of goats’ would be a better option! Begrudgingly, I have to admit that he was right! It was completely exhausting, especially in the heat, but offered such impressive views and a real sense of adventure on the approach, that it was definitely worth it. 

If you’ve never been to a massive cave before, it’s well worth the visit. Children a little older than Indy would probably love it. Indy took a little convincing because caves are places you find Gruffalos, trapped highway rats and big brown bears which could be a bit scary in real life. We won her round though and she seemed to quite like it in the end. If you have been to big caves before, it’s impressive but is tainted by being part of a huge tour group led by a slightly stroppy (or perhaps I should just say passionately protective) guide who you can only sort of hear. 

Drive

Sardinia’s countryside is absolutely beautiful – in this north-west area at least. It’s pretty undeveloped for the most part. There’s a little farmland, often given over to sheep, and the odd factory from time to time, but otherwise there is often just miles and miles of uninterrupted lush green hills and an impressive range of trees and wildflowers.

Added to that are the coastal roads with convenient laybys for you to pull over to take in the view or indulge in a picnic. Although it was off-peak, I can’t really imagine the roads ever really feeling congested. It was free and easy driving for sure and perfect for facilitating 2-year-old naps!

Bosa

Another picturesque little town we paid a brief visit to was Bosa. It boasts colourful buildings, a hilltop castle and several churches and museums, all along a river.

Again, we explored at high speed, following Indy’s pace as she ran puppy-like back and forth through the long, cobbled streets. Washing hung from windows and, as with everywhere we went, the locals cooed indulgently at our little blonde whirlwind. She did finally sit still long enough for us to enjoy lunch at Bacco Bistrot which we’d highly recommend.

Spiaggia Cumpoltittu

This tiny, blissfully secluded cove seems a very well-kept secret.

It was a longer day trip than others but driving the stunningly scenic SP105 between Algehero and Bosa was an activity in itself. We parked in one of the laybys and accessed the beach by a winding path hewn into the rocks, bordered by wildflowers and frequented by sunbathing lizards. It’s quite easy to miss a key turning on the walk down – if the route seems to get dangerous, you just need to turn back and look for an alternative as there is a safe route which we only found due to some people coming back up. We were poorly prepared with no food and not much time so we only stayed about an hour but it was incredibly tranquil and you could easily spend a day there if you were more organised.

Porto Torres

We chose this town as our base – partly because the accommodation appealed more than any other and partly because its location meant that our day trips didn’t ever need to be more than about 40 minutes’ drive away.

It’s not particularly a holiday destination in itself but has everything you need as a jumping off point. There’s a lovely little local beach called Balai and, in fact, a very long promenade leading from the apartment to it.

On a Sunday evening, it feels like the entire town comes out for a walk, a sit, a talk and maybe an ice cream. Talking of which, La Cialda Gelateria is a couple of minutes from the apartment and does marvellous gelato, pastries and drinks. Two restaurants which we tried and enjoyed were La Rosa dei Venti and Piazza Garibaldi. Lido Bar looked really nice but their kitchen opened far too late for us in the evening.

The good thing about staying in a normal town is the normal town amenities such as playgrounds for kids. We visited one at a busy after-school time and were befriended by an 8-year-old girl called Guia (with very impressive English actually) and her grandmother. It was one of those lovely interactions where communication consisted of just gestures, shared play (for the girls), tiny snippets of a mixture of languages and a lot of smiles!

So that’s it. International adventure #1 with a toddler ticked off. Not sure we’re ready to repeat it with two! Maybe that all-inclusive next time…!

The logistics:

  • We flew into Olbia, a small airport in the north-east, convenient for the Costa Smerelda which is where a lot of people head, to the resorts. (Our first two cancelled days would have been more in that direction but that wasn’t to be.) We were allowed to bring two extra child-related items for free on the flight and opted for a travel cot and a rucksack child carrier.
  • We hired a car from Only Sardinia which worked out smoothly. They were popular so getting to their desk promptly worked in our favour. Everyone seems to drive tiny cars on Sardinia and, even though we paid for the third or fourth size up and it had 5 doors, it was still pretty small so be prepared for that! It wasn’t prohibitively expensive to book a child’s car seat.
  • Our accommodation – Sundinia Home in Porto Torres – was booked through Airbnb. We had exclusive use of the bay view apartment and the owners, Laura and Antonio, were very welcoming and accommodating. Because it wasn’t quite tourist season, the weather wasn’t nice enough to use the balcony so they’d not put the furniture out. Something to bear in mind if you were to book it.
  • The weather in April was surprisingly nice. It was windy at times, particularly in Porto Torres, but we didn’t get any rain and temperatures were pleasantly warm during the daytimes. The locals didn’t seem to be on the same page though – they were all still dressed in their thick winter coats! The sea wasn’t warm enough for a swim but fine for a little paddle.
  • Sardinia has a lot of Easter week parades in the evenings but, due to our toddler-centric schedule, we didn’t try to catch any of them. We saw similar a few years ago in Sorento.
  • Everyone was very accepting and welcoming of Indy but one challenge we found was that restaurants’ dinner service began at 8pm or later in most places. When we managed to find somewhere that opened a bit earlier, we were usually the only people in there. Take-out pizzas exist but you have to spot a sign for them as there’s no online presence. Homecooked Aldi pasta in the apartment was our go-to alternative solution and we tried to balance out with a few nice lunches out instead.

5 thoughts on “ITALY: 8 North-West Sardinia Highlights

  1. Baby number 2? Congrats!! We really need to catch up soon!
    Ahh the world of travelling with children a lot of Fun and great memories.. it’s so key for children to travel and have their world view expanded, loved reading this!

  2. Love the blog as always – you write so beautifully! Not enough photos of you though!
    And massive congratulations on Baby no.2!!!
    Hope you are all keeping well – sending you lots of love xx

  3. Lovely to get this post, Steph. Thank you! Sardinia looks great. I can’t get over how much you fitted in to five days. And yes, small children are a real go-between with the locals in Italy and Greece.

    Ilse and I are off to Wales on Tuesday morning with Alison, who’s returning home from her trip to Croatia with Gordon. We’ll be back on 30th May, and Ilse flues home to Austria on June 2. Could Dean deal with my garden bin, please? And if there’s a heat wave(!) – and if you’re around – could you water the pots in the yard? Thanks, I hope you’re keeping well, and the cough clears up soon, it must be so tiring. Lorna.

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