Arrive at the airport for your flight to Olbia or Alghero. On arrival, we transfer by coach to the coastal town of Cannigione, where we stay for three nights with dinner at the four-star Hotel Baja. Nestled in the Gulf of Arzachena on the Costa Smeralda, the hotel is a short walk from the beach and close to a number of cafés and shops.
Today we explore the dazzling Costa Smeralda, perhaps the best-known corner of Sardinia and yet completely unlike anywhere else on the island. In the 1960s, the Aga Khan hand-picked this very spot to carve out a corner of paradise. Today its main town, Porto Cervo, is an exclusive playground for the fabulously well-heeled and famous, and its pristine appearance and pale colour palette are a result of strict building regulations. There’s a fascinating juxtaposition between the rugged and refined – the naturally rocky coastline is populated by gleaming yachts and designer boutiques. To discover Costa Smeralda’s more serene side, we pass through a selection of its most charming towns and villages, where we’ll see locals going about their day in attractive squares and green spaces.
This morning we drive to Santa Teresa di Gallura on the north coast to take the ferry to Corsica. A highlight of the 50-minute ferry ride are the marvellous views of the grand approach to Bonifacio, located at the southernmost point of Corsica. Much-photographed Bonifacio boasts an expansive citadel, which is perched atop a limestone promontory poised over the glittering harbour and chic marina. Although Corsica has been a part of France for centuries, there’s a unique local identity with strong Italian influences and Bonifacio certainly has a distinctly Italianate feel, with narrow streets flanked by Genoese tenements. Listen closely to the local dialect, which is based on Ligurian and a legacy of the days when Corsica was under Genoese control. The island’s most famous son, military general Napoleon Bonaparte, was born to a family of Italian origins. To gain a better understanding of Corsican history and culture, we have a guided tour through Bonifacio’s old town. Afterwards there is free time to soak up the atmosphere and admire the picture-postcard views before we return to Sardinia by ferry. Please note: ferries between Santa Teresa di Gallura and Bonifacio do not run in adverse weather conditions. In such an event, an alternative itinerary will be offered.
Today we head inland to experience a vastly different side of Sardinia. The landscape is a sun-baked stretch of ‘macchia’ grassland and jagged granite mountains reminiscent of the Dolomites. The air grows ever cooler as we ascend hills covered in dense forests of cork trees – during harvest season, you may notice many have been stripped of their bark for cork production. As much of Italy’s cork is produced in Sardinia, we visit a cork museum to learn about the fascinating production techniques and the many uses of this versatile material. The museum is housed in a beautifully preserved 18th-century building, which was once a monastery built by Franciscan monks. Our next stop is Tempio Pausania, an enchanting town known for its attractive granite buildings, namely the grand medieval cathedral. You have time to wander the tree-lined streets and seek out one of the many cafés for lunch and a spot of people-watching. Later we continue to Alghero in the Coral Riviera, where we stay for four nights at the four-star Catalunya Hotel. The hotel is well-located just a short walk from the historic centre, filled with lively restaurants serving local specialities and fresh seafood for which Alghero is renowned.
One of the island’s most beautiful cities, Alghero is a medieval jewel with an independent spirit and intriguing history. It was founded in the 12th century by the Genoese and seized in 1353 by the Aragonese, who left an indelible mark. Much of the old town’s handsome architecture bears a Spanish appearance and a dialect of Catalan is still spoken here. Our guided tour takes us the through labyrinthine alleys of remarkably preserved old Alghero, defended by robust walls and four bastions dedicated to famous explorers. We’ll see the 16th-century cathedral, which is primarily Catalan-Gothic apart from its Aragonese portal. You have free time after to wander, enjoy lunch and browse the many shops in the vibrant centre. This afternoon we take a scenic drive along the coastline of Alghero to the stunning cliffs of Capo Caccia. Nothing prepares you for the staggering beauty of the gleaming limestone cliffs plunging dramatically into turquoise waters. We stop to take in the incredible views over Porto Conte bay, the sparkling sea and the surrounding natural reserve. This protected area shelters mysterious caves and underground grottoes, home to mesmerising lifeforms such as red coral. We tear ourselves away from the spectacular scenery for the drive back towards Alghero, but it won’t be long before we experience another highlight. The undulating countryside is part of the finest wine-growing areas in Sardinia, producing the prestigious Cannonau and Vermentino wines. Winemaking is an important part of the local economy, so we visit a family-owned wine estate for a tour of the vineyards. Naturally, we enjoy a tasting afterwards.
The entire day is at leisure to continue your discovery of magnificent Alghero. Stroll along the lovely beachfront promenade or browse the many shops in town for souvenirs. Alghero is known for its coral, which is harvested off the coast and transformed into striking jewellery. Perhaps watch the world go by in a café-lined piazza over a delicious ‘seadas’, a cheese-filled pastry drizzled with honey, and a ‘mirto’, a unique Sardinian liqueur made with myrtle berries. This evening, we are treated to a feast for the senses during dinner at a family-run agriturismo, a converted farmhouse that serves hearty traditional meals made with produce fresh from the farm. The rustic surroundings, eye-catching displays of ancient farming equipment and crackling open fires create a wonderfully authentic atmosphere, perfect for enjoying course after course of Sardinian dishes made with local ingredients – the smells alone will ignite your taste buds!
Today is another highlight as we explore part of Sardinia’s alluring western coast. We wind our way along the coast high above the dazzling sea, across a rocky landscape carpeted by Mediterranean plants, and are rewarded with a superb view of the beautiful coastline. Our first stop is Bosa, a picturesque hillside town at the mouth of the Temo, Sardinia’s only navigable river. You have free time to discover this quintessential Sardinian town, which exudes great charm with its colourful houses, cobbled alleys and scenic setting. Old Bosa is of Roman origin but the present town was founded in 1122 by the noble Malaspina family, whose castle crowns the hill overlooking the town. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse skilled lacemakers sitting outside their homes, deftly crafting Bosa ‘filet lace’, an intricate style of needlework outlining pretty motifs of flowers and vines. Along the river are ancient buildings that used to house tanneries established by the Savoys in the 19th century. Next we visit the ancient ruins of Tharros, extraordinarily situated in the gulf of Oristano with tremendous views of the sea. During our guided tour, we uncover thousands of years of absorbing history dating back to the 8th century BC. Originally a Nuragic village, Tharros became a Phoenician hub, a Carthaginian fortress, a Roman town, a Byzantine city and then capital of the Kingdom of Arborea before it was abandoned to avoid Saracen attacks. Today it is an open-air museum with the astonishingly preserved remains of thermal baths, temples, and the foundations of homes and workshops. Then we drive back towards Alghero through the Valley of the Nuraghi. Dotting the verdant countryside are striking conical stone structures called ‘nuraghi’, left by the mysterious Nuragic civilisation. Much is left to the imagination as little is known about them – perhaps these Bronze Age structures were palaces or forts, or simply domestic dwellings. We stop to examine the impressive Nuraghe Santu Antine with its 17-metre high tower protected by three bastions. Built between the Middle Bronze Age and the Iron Age without any bonding using basalt blocks, the structure may seem like it could collapse at any moment, but it has miraculously endured the test of time. You may wish to explore its interior and ascend to the upper floors for views of the surrounding countryside, or marvel at it from the outside. After a wonderful day of sightseeing, we return to the hotel for our final night on this incredible island.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.