Sardinia is known for its spectacular coastline and hidden beaches, but it is also one of the most ancient lands in Europe and its rich archaeological heritage can be seen in the interior of the island, too. Sardinia has many fascinating places still waiting to be explored...
Top Secret Cuisine Fusion
Sardinian with Catalan. Alghero’s Catalan past is evident in its street names (such as Carrer del Bisbe) its cultural heritage, its traditions and its cuisine. Even the Town Hall proudly flies the red and yellow striped flag to announce its allegiance and the ‘Sardinian’ dialect of Alghero is officially recognized as a variant of Catalan.
Among Alghero’s foodie treats, don’t miss the Aragosta alla Catalana (lobster served with tomatoes and onions) Cassola de Peix (a rich fish soup) and Polpo alla Catalana (a refreshing octopus salad). These dishes are all descended from Catalan specialities but have a Sardinian twist, just like the crema bruciata – a puff pastry roll filled with cream and covered with burnt sugar, reminiscent of the more famous Catalan crema catalana. For wine lovers, there are interesting local white wines produced with grapes brought by the Catalans such as Torbato and Vermentino. Try out the fabulous restaurants in Alghero’s old town – the maitre d’ is sure to be happy to advise.
Top Secret Frescoes
Bosa is a delightful town on the west coast. It’s a surprise to the senses when you first come across its brightly-coloured houses on the riverbank and beyond. But the real secret in Bosa is a little harder to find. Take your time wandering the narrow cobblestone streets (Bosa is a town founded by the Phoenicians) where you may well come across a decorative festa or the popular local market featuring artisan crafts of the area. Then walk through the olive groves and blue jasmine up the winding stone steps to the castle, which offers spectacular views of the church of San Pietro, the Temo river valley and the red roofs of the Sa Costa quarter. But the secret lies within the small fourteenth century Nostra Signora di Regnos Altos chapel. Restoration in the 1970s has brought to light the most stunning cycle of Catalan school frescoes – unexpected, vivid and truly beautiful to behold.
Top Secret Beach
Although there are some stunning secluded coves on the southern coast between Chia and Teulada, my choice would be Cala Domestica in the west. Head for the old mining town of Buggerru, where you can still see some of the caves, tunnels and buildings used in this industry, now crumbling and abandoned. Beyond Buggerru, take the SP83 into the mountains (a spectacular drive and you will see more deserted mining villages on the way) then take the signposted right turning down to the secluded beach of Domestica overlooked by a solitary Spanish tower. Park on the grass and walk the boardwalk past deserted mining buildings over the dunes to the beach. Its fine white sand is peppered with bright mineral specks and the water is blue and clear as glass. This is a perfect place to snorkel as the waters of Sardinia abound with flora and fauna. But you will also see a path that leads intriguingly around the rocky promontory. Follow this until you reach a tunnel through the rocks and on the other side you will find the tiny bay of Caletta, invisible from both the sea and Cala Domestica, lying at the mouth of a river surrounded by myrtle and juniper-scented maquis.
Top Secret Catacombs
Further down the coast towards southern Sardinia you can visit another island –Sant’Antioco, which is connected to Sardinia by a causeway. Here the remains of a Roman bridge are still visible from the road. This ancient town was also founded by the Phoenicians (in the eighth century BC) and was a flourishing port until pirate raids in the Middle Ages led to its gradual decline. The town itself is very pretty, but climb up to the church and look for the man with the key who will be pleased to let you in to see the catacombs through the transept. The catacombs are underground caverns, in which the first Christians met clandestinely to celebrate rituals and to bury their dead. The chambers are less than six feet high and some are decorated with frescoes. If you sense a slightly ominous vibe, this may be because the martyred patron saint of Sant’Antioco is said to have floated here after he was killed by the Romans in Africa... In fact, you can still see the altar-sarcophagus, which apparently held his relics once upon a time.
Top Secret Sculpture
This has to be the elephant sculpture on the Torre dell’Elefante in the Castello district of Sardinia’s lovely capital city of Cagliari. Cagliari is a great place for history – you can visit the old Roman amphitheatre, the elegant houses and arcades of the Via Roma on the promenade and walk around the old City Walls. As you do this, why not visit the Romanesque Santa Maria Duomo which boasts a fine multi-coloured marble interior, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Porta dei Leoni.
If like me, you can’t find the Torre dell’Elefante at first, let alone the secret sculpture, it’s a mediaeval tower made of limestone bricks, 31 metres high and is situated right by the City Gate at Via Universita. It was built by local architect Giovanni Capula in 1307 and for 4 euro you can walk up the 120 steps for a magnificent view of the city, the harbour and the distant mountains. The tower was once used as a prison and the heads of the executed were put on display. Nice. But the secret lies in whether or not you can spot the elephant on the tower – the reason why it was so named.
The Little Theatre by The Sea by Rosanna Ley is out on 9th March (Quercus, £20.99).
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