Inland Sardinia

Inland Sardinia 

Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo IV
Orgosolo Mount Novo San Giovanni -Inland Sardinia photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2017


Gavoi I
Gavoi typical houses photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2017


Mamuthones mask Sa Bisera I
Mamoiada Carnival ” Sa Bisera” Mamuthones Mask photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2017




Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo I
Orgosolo Mount Novo San Giovanni -Inland Sardinia photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2017




Gavoi Gusana Lake
Gavoi Gusana Lake photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2017



Issohadores I
Mamoiada Carnival Issohadores detail of Mask photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2017




Orgosolo Murales II
Orgosolo Town Murales photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2017


Gavoi landascape photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2017



Orgosolo Murales
Orgosolo Town Murales photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2017



Pani Guttiau Gavoi
Gavoi Pani Guttiau Traditional Sardinian inland bread photo by F.F.Sakanatravel 2017


Path to Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo
Orgosolo path to the mountain photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2017

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South Sardinia


Cala Cipolla II
Cala Cipolla Chia South Sardinia photo by  Stefano C. Sakanatravel


Sa Colonia IV
Sa Colonia beach Chia South Sardinia  photo by Stefano C. Sakanatravel


Sa Colonia V
Sa Colonia view of the Spanish Tower Chia South Sardinia photo by Stefano C. Sakanatravel


Sa Colonia
Sa Colonia Beach beautiful sea Chia South Sardinia photo by Stefano C. Sakantravel


Capo Spartivento
Capo Spartivento Il Faro The Lighthouse photo by Stefano C. Sakanatravel


Dallo stagno verso monte Cogoni
Chia from the Lagoon towards Mount Cogoni photo by Stefano C. Sakanatravel


Su Portu
Su Portu beach Chia South Sardinia photo by Stefano C. Sakanatravel 2017


Sa Tunda Teulada Typical Bread A.F.
Sa Tunda Teulada traditional bread South Sardinia photo by A.F. Sakanatravel


Su Giudeu beach 4 AF
Su Giudeu Beach Chia photo by A.F. Sakanatravel 2017


Su Giudeu beach 5 AF
Su Giudeu Beach Chia South Sardinia photo by A.F. Sakanatravel














The Perfect pasta dish Sardinians refuse to share

Article first appeared in BBC Travel Magazine 19th October 2017 by David Farley .

Malloreddus alla Campidanese can only be found on the Italian island, making it the quintessential pasta dish of Sardinia – and the one dish every visitor must try.

Malloreddus is not a malady. It just sounds like one. This I learned when I was perusing the menu of Arco Café, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Soon enough, the affable Daniel Fiori, co-owner of the Sardinian restaurant, was sitting at my table explaining to me just what malloreddus is.
“It’s our national dish,” he said, if by ‘national’ he means Sardinia, and if that Italian island were an autonomous nation.


Malloreddus is a dumpling-like pasta ubiquitous in Sardinia (Credit: David Farley)


This dumpling-like pasta is ubiquitous in Sardinia, Fiori told me. “We make it with a breadbasket.” I cocked my head like a confused dog and Fiori went back in the kitchen, returning with a small wicker breadbasket and a fistful of dough. Rolling a small piece of dough to a string-like shape, he then flattened it out and curled the two sides together to create a dumpling. Then he rolled it down the back of the basket and showed it to me in the palm of his hand: the once-smooth dumpling now had grooves in it.

“The grooves capture the pasta sauce,” he said.

A few minutes later, I had a bowl of the malloreddus in front of me, slathered in a ragu of tomatoes, sausage and saffron. This is Sardinia’s most traditional dish: malloreddus alla Campidanese, a pasta dish named for Campidano, the fertile plain in the island’s south-west. “There are different types of pasta all over Italy, but this dish is unique. It’s 100% Sardinian.”

And he’s right: how many Italian dishes are laced with saffron? The spice, some food historians believe, was brought to Sardinia by the Phoenicians who arrived on the island from the Middle East a couple of millennia ago, revealing just how unique Sardinia and its cuisine is.

Mention Sardinia to any mainland-dwelling Italian, and they’ll swoon the second the name leaves your lips. To say that Sardinia has captured the imagination of Italians from the tip to the top of the boot would almost be an understatement. And just from a few bites of malloreddus alla Campidanese – the unctuous sausage, the chewy pasta, the tangy tomatoes and the hint of saffron poking through on my palate – it’s easy to see why. By the time I walked out of Arco Café, I decided I had to try the dish in its native land.


Sardinia has captured the imagination of mainland Italians (Credit: Montico Lionel/ Images)

After a little research, I discovered that all is not well in Sardinia in terms of its malloreddus production. Specifically, the state of Sardinia’s wheat. Italy has always relied on Sardinia for its high-quality durum wheat (from which malloreddus is made). In fact, the island – particularly Campideno – is utterly fertile, its wheat fields considered to be golden by generations of Sardinians and the empires that have swept through the island. The fields are so prized, in fact, that they’re one of the reasons the island has been occupied by foreign invaders through the centuries. The Carthaginians, for example, had a rule that ensured the wheat fields stayed in full sunlight by threatening to kill anyone who planted a single tree. A few centuries later, the Romans exploited the land and imported its goods throughout the empire: the island wasn’t called ‘Rome’s granary’ for nothing. From the 3rd to the 1st Century BC, the Campidano’s seven people per square kilometre produced half of all the grain that was used to feed the Roman army.

So, herein lies the problem: durum wheat production is dwindling. In the early 2000s, Sardinians cultivated 90,000 hectares of it. Now there’s less than 35,000. Farmers on the island still feel like they’re being exploited by Rome, as the government subsidies they receive are scant compared to farmers on the mainland. In November, a union of grain farmers in the Campidano and neighbouring region launched La Banca Etica dei Cereali, an organisation that demands no ‘foreign’ (read: mainland Italian) grain be used in the production of anything being labelled as Sardinian.
Is Sardinia’s most traditional dish under threat? I had to find out.


Mainland Italy has always relied on Sardinia for high-quality durum wheat (Credit: REDA&CO/Getty Images)

A few weeks later, I was standing in front of Michele Bacciu, executive chef at Cala di Volpe, inside a hotel of the same name, on Sardinia’s Costa Smerelda. He had agreed to show me how the dish is made. He rolled the balled-up pieces of dough down a ciurili, a rectangular board vertically beset with ridges and grooves (thus creating the shallow lines in the pasta), and explained the importance of malloreddus alla Campidanese to Sardinia. “It’s all Sardinia,” he said. “The tomatoes and wheat are grown here. The sausage is made here. And the saffron comes from here, too.”
He held out his hand, much like Fiori did back in New York, to show me the just-rolled malloreddus, looking not unlike a butterworm. Then he placed the small mound of malloreddus in a pot filled with bubbling, saffron-spiked tomato ragu’. “The problem,” Bacciu continued, “is that the wheat we produce – not to mention the pecorino cheese we make here, too – big corporations from the mainland want to come and pay our farmers a low price for it, and ours is the highest quality.” He stopped and looked off into the distance. “We should keep our great products for us, for Sardinia!”


Daniel Fiori: There are different types of pasta all over Italy, but this dish is unique (Credit: David Farley)

Depending on who you ask, the name ‘malloreddus’ either comes from the local word malloru, which means ‘bull’ because the finished pasta looks like a small bovine, or from the Latin word mallolus, meaning ‘morsel’. It’s unclear when malloreddus all Campidanese first appeared, but in many ways it makes sense that the island’s most popular dish is a hearty pasta made of beef (or lamb) and not seafood: because constant fear of invasion, Sardinia’s population retreated inland, turning its back on the sea, leaving the coasts largely unspoiled. Instead, farmers and shepherds cultivated their wheat fields and herds of lambs and cows far inland, thus developing a cuisine that largely relied on meat and not fish. Hence, a meaty ragu and a unique pasta shape became the most traditional dish of Sardinia. There are other Sardinian dishes that incorporate this pasta shape: for example, in the northwest of the island, populated by descendants of Catalonia, malloreddus ends up in a paella-like dish. But the ragu-topped version is the most popular.
A few days later, I met up with my friend and fellow BBC contributor Eliot Stein. Having lived on Sardinia for two years and written a couple of guidebooks on the island (plus countless travel articles), he’s nearly an honorary local. “Not only is it smart for the local farmers to want their ingredients for themselves, but it reflects a recent trend of Sardinians proudly embracing their Sarditá – their Sardinian identity,” Stein said as we dug into bowls of malloreddus at Il Pescatore restaurant in the small town of Cervo. “You have to understand that the island has been invaded and mistreated by most everyone who has ever sailed through the Mediterranean. And even today, many Sardinians feel like they’re not receiving adequate subsidies from their latest landlords: Italians.”


Malloreddus alla Campidanese is made with a rich ragu made from tomatoes, sausage and saffron (Credit: David Farley)

Stein, who was on the island for an assignment, said of Malloreddus: “It just tastes like Sardinia to me. It’s a hearty, rugged dish whose beauty lies in its simplicity. Every ingredient tells a story of the island’s history. It’s as Sardinian as Nuraghi, mamuthones and canto a tenore. It’s the one thing people from all corners of this amazing island will agree on.”
And with that, we sat in silence for a few minutes, savouring the last few bites of our malloreddus alla Campidanese, the tomatoes, lamb sausage and saffron lurking in the grooves of the pasta, conspiring to create a taste explosion with each bite. I took a sip of wine hoping that next time I’m back in Sardinia there will still be plenty of malloreddus to eat.

Article first appeared in BBC Travel Magazine 19th October 2017 by David Farley

Sardinia’s less-traveled southern coast

article by Jim Yardley first appeared on Travel and Leisure Magazine 6th May 2017

The quiet side of the Italian island has an outrageous number of pretty little beaches, a surprising and nourishing local cuisine, and centuries of fascinating history to get lost in. Best of all? It’s one of the least crowded parts of the Mediterranean.

Costa del Sud,  Road Chia-Teulada photo by D.Fenu Sakanatravel 2017

I was sitting at one of the small outdoor tables at Pani e Casu, a restaurant near the ancient battlements of Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, high above the city’s busy port. The blue waters of the Mediterranean twinkled in the distance. I could smell salt in the air. Surely, I thought, those waters must hold some fish.

Before I visited, I had never thought of Sardinia as an island of shepherds. I had thought of it as an island where fabulously rich people baked in the sun, flitted between stylish restaurants and hotels, and sailed along the pristine coastline in yachts outfitted with discos, hot tubs, and other blingy accoutrements. Which, to a point, is true of the Costa Smeralda, where Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, held his infamous “bunga bunga” parties at a 68-room “retreat” that reportedly has six swimming pools and an artificial volcano.

But that is the northern coast, which, if undeniably beautiful, is also a bit crowded. The southern coast, while hardly undiscovered, is still remote enough to be largely unspoiled. For centuries, most Sardinians lived inland, fortified against potential marauders and subsisting on agriculture and livestock. The resulting mind-set prevails to this day among people like my waiter. On the two-lane roads that led away from the coast, I passed farmers working fields, as they have for generations. The steep switchbacks that twisted through the inland mountains were laced with old vineyards.

I had come to Sardinia’s southern coast with my sons, Eddie and George, whose primary agenda was an inspection tour of the area’s beaches. We were living in Rome then and had been talking for years about visiting Sardinia. We passed so many coves while spooling along the narrow coastal route that my younger son, Eddie, was kept constantly jabbing at the window. Both boys shouted every time they saw a new beach, each more perfect than the last.

Even more exciting to them than the endless stretches of sand was our resort, Forte Village. Imagine you are 13 or 11, and you find yourself surrounded by a soccer school, countless pools, an outdoor concert venue, and a long beach with guys who fluff your towels and deliver drinks. Yes, they were ecstatic. I was a little dazed. I had thought we might find ourselves roughing it, but Forte Village turned out to be a pocket of luxury in what was otherwise a pretty isolated region. Just outside the front gates, I had driven past a farmer puttering on his tractor, not far from fields of saffron and harvested hay. Flowering bushes and cacti laden with prickly pears lined the roads. One day I walked along the beach, past the boundary of the resort, to a place where trees pressed to the edge of the sand. Italian beaches are often jammed with private swimming clubs, but beyond Forte Village I saw no development.

For the next several days, we went beach-hunting. Eddie likes to quantify things, including happiness, so as we tested different ones, he invariably asked, “Which is your favorite?”

Sa Colonia Beach – Chia -photo by Sakanatravel 2017

How to choose?
Some were hidden at the ends of little roads, where you would find cars crowded into $5-per-day parking lots. Others were rocky inlets just beneath the coastal road. The biggest had Italianized tiki bars and restaurants dishing out Sardinian cuisine (including some seafood). But rarely did we encounter crowded resorts like those of the Costa Smeralda.
We spent a morning at Chia Beach, a long curl of sand beside water clear enough that I could see my toes in it. A 16th-century stone watch-tower rose from a nearby outcropping, looming above the lines of rainbow-colored umbrellas.
When I stood still at Su Giudeu Beach, not far away, I felt tiny fish begin to slip around my feet. I fretted for all those long-ago generations of Sardinians penned up in the hills, surrounded by this enticing ring of blue water but fearful that slipping down for a dip might mean being impressed into slavery, or worse. Now the biggest hazard anyone faces here during the summer is finding a safe spot to park.
On another day, we went to Tuerredda, near the village of Domus de Maria. Famous for its snorkeling and stunning views, the beach has a broad sandy area where the mostly Italian sunbathers were crowded so tightly together that I found myself stepping between bodies. We worked our way down the rocks at one end of the beach, where we found a tiny cove we could have all to ourselves. Kayakers paddled nearby as we strapped on goggles and snorkels and dove down into the reefs and vegetation on the floor of the sea. Silver, green, and yellow tendrils swayed in the gentle tide, as schools of small fish moved around us, along with a few tuna. Afterward, tired, we walked over to the beachside restaurant and sat in the shade eating plates of gnocchi.
Again, Eddie asked, “Which is your favorite beach?” In southern Sardinia, it seemed, you really couldn’t go wrong.

After all the beach-hopping, I wanted a little alone time out of the sun. So I left the boys to their own devices at Forte Village and drove to the city of Cagliari to go exploring. Sardinia’s strategic position as a key Mediterranean port made the city a prize for numerous empires throughout history. Originally a Phoenician settlement, Cagliari has been ruled by everyone from the Carthaginians to the Romans, the Vandals to the Byzantines, the Aragonese to the Pisans to the House of Savoy, each wave of conquest pushing more of the island’s natives up into the mountains. Today, you can still feel the layers of cultures left behind — the vibe is as Spanish and North African as it is Italian.

D. H. Lawrence was also struck by Cagliari’s eclecticism when he came through nearly a century ago. “The city piles up lofty and almost miniature, and makes me think of Jerusalem: without trees, without cover, rising rather bare and proud, remote as if back in history, like a town in a monkish, illuminated missal,” he wrote in 1921, in Sea and Sardinia. “One wonders how it ever got there. And it seems like Spain — or Malta: not Italy.”
Lawrence’s Cagliari was surely more remote and inaccessible than the city I was approaching. I passed a refinery, driving along potholed highways that would feel familiar anywhere in Italy. But soon I turned onto narrower, older streets and continued up the hill described by Lawrence until I reached the Castello, the ancient district that rose centuries ago inside ramparts constructed as a fortification against invaders. I walked into Piazza Palazzo and immediately realized that it is a place where time has stopped.
It was a lazy morning, and a few tourists loitered outside the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was built in the 13th century but has been renovated through the eras and now bears an opulence similar to that of the grand Baroque churches in Rome. I dropped a few coins into a donation box and descended the marble steps to the crypts, where relics of the martyrs of Cagliari are kept and members of the House of Savoy are buried. An acquaintance in Rome had warned me that Sardinia could not match Sicily as a repository of history, but I found the opposite to be true in Cagliari, where the lack of tourist foot traffic meant that walking the byways felt more like it must have centuries ago.
It was a cloudless, sunny day, but all I could see was a skinny strip of blue between the rows of old stone buildings pressing in on me. The shops were closed for the midday siesta, save for a grocery that sold fresh vegetables. The languor of the Castello made it easy to forget that this was once a formidable military installation. I climbed the steep steps of the Elephant Tower, the stone structure used by various empires to spot invaders coming into the port. Today, all I could see were tour boats, huge wind turbines in the distance, and the marshes at the edge of the city that are a refuge for flamingos and migratory birds.

Nearby, in Piazza Carlo Alberto, the sun drove a young couple onto a marble bench in the shade, where they devoured gelato and entangled themselves. None of the handful of people sipping cappuccinos outside a coffee bar seemed to pay them any attention, everyone basking in the timelessness of this place where laundry lines stretch above labyrinthine lanes. As much as I wanted to while away the afternoon here, I needed to see whether the boys had rampaged and pillaged Forte Village. When I returned I was relieved to find it still standing.


Chia photo by Sakanatravel 2017


As I was swimming in the perfect Sardinian water one day, I realized that the electronic key to my rental car was in the back pocket of my trunks. Before it was destroyed by salt corrosion, I managed to drive the boys down to the southwestern tip of the coast, to the island of Sant’Antioco. There, the key died, and the rental company sent a guy named Massimo with a tow truck. He looped heavy straps around the car, hit the gears of his winch crane, and drove off into the sunset. It was early evening on a Saturday. No other rental cars were available anywhere until Monday. Luckily, we wouldn’t need one.
In the Byzantine era, Sant’Antioco was surrounded by fortified defense walls, but today its coastline is best known for its picturesque inlets, like the breathtaking Nido dei Passeri, with stony brown cliffs that tumble down to the sea. There are beaches everywhere, including isolated coves like Cala Lunga.

And there is the fish. For centuries, the waters around the island have been famous for their tuna. Though over shing has diminished the stock, the annual mattanza, or tuna slaughter, in May and June is still an important local event.

As I was swimming in the perfect Sardinian water one day, I realized that the electronic key to my rental car was in the back pocket of my trunks. Before it was destroyed by salt corrosion, I managed to drive the boys down to the southwestern tip of the coast, to the island of Sant’Antioco. There, the key died, and the rental company sent a guy named Massimo with a tow truck. He looped heavy straps around the car, hit the gears of his winch crane, and drove off into the sunset. It was early evening on a Saturday. No other rental cars were available anywhere until Monday. Luckily, we wouldn’t need one.
In the Byzantine era, Sant’Antioco was surrounded by fortified defense walls, but today its coastline is best known for its picturesque inlets, like the breathtaking Nido dei Passeri, with stony brown cliffs that tumble down to the sea. There are beaches everywhere, including isolated coves like Cala Lunga. And there is the fish. For centuries, the waters around the island have been famous for their tuna. Though over shing has diminished the stock, the annual mattanza, or tuna slaughter, in May and June is still an important local event.

article by Jim Yardley first appeared on Travel and Leisure Magazine 6th May 2017


S4C (Channel Four Wales) Show remembers Trefeglwys Man Benjamin Piercy.

Article by Barry Jones first appeared in County Times magazine on Saturday 14th October 2017.

One of Mid Wales’s greatest men who has been forgotten in his own country but remains a hero in Italy was featured in an S4C (Channel Four Wales-in welsh Welsh Sianel Pedwar Cymru) programme .


Benjamin Piercy


Benjamin Piercy, of Trefeglwys near Caersws, who was responsible for some world famous railway designs in Wales and Sardinia, was included in the Welsh travel and history series Dylan at Daith which will be shown again tonight at 11:30 pm.

Piercy is remembered in Italy, where he is still praised for transforming life in Sardinia by designing and building the island’s railway system almost 150 years ago.

In the programme he is praised by the President of Sardinia, Francesco Pigliaru, who is amongst the Sardinians appearing in the programme “O Drefeglwys I Sardinia”. link to video

It follows the great engineer’s journey, from his pioneering work on early Welsh railroads to see how his rail network is still a vital part of Sardinia’s transport system.

“The development of the railroads in those days was similar to the development of the internet today, and Benjamin Piercy was a major player, “said the series presenter, the journalist Dylan Iorwerth.

“The strange fact is that very few people in Wales have ever heard of him, but people in Sardinia – including the President – keep his name alive”.

On his own journey, Dylan visits houses where Benjamin Piercy lived and sees some of his engineering masterpieces. As well as railways, he helped modernise farming in Sardinia and became a close friend to Italy’s charismatic military leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi.

“Benjamin Piercy was responsible for some world famous railway designs in Wales and Sardinia, but he was far more than just a designer”, says Dylan Iorwerth.

“He had a great ability to get projects off the ground and he was very determined, overcoming a financial crash and even a war of independence”.

“Benjamin Piercy was responsible for transforming Sardinia and his influence can still be seen there- it was exciting to find places where he’d lived and pieces of his work”.

After his time in Sardinia. Benjamin Piercy came back to wales and bought the Marchwiel estate near Wrexham where few know of his achievements.


villa piercy
Villa Piercy, foresta di Badde Salighes photo by Manunza Bruno


In contrast, Dylan and the television crew from the production company Unigryw, were invited to a ceremony on an estate in Sardinia – where a country  mansion is now a museum to remember the Welshman.

Further chances to see the programme will be at 11:30pm on October 14 in an audio signed version, and at 10:45 pm on October 25. It is also available online on demand for some 30 days.

or here

Article by Barry Jones first appeared in County Times magazine on Saturday 14th October 2017.



Inside an Ancient Pagan Ritual That Makes Men Become Monsters

article by Austa Somvichian-Clausen first appeared 6th October 2017 on National Geographic Magazine.


Mamuthones Mask in Mamoiada photo by F.Fenu 2017



An ancient ceremony in the heart of a wild country celebrates the rebirth of spring.

A mysterious, ancient tradition takes place each year in Mamoiada, a small village tucked into the middle of wild and mountainous Sardinia.

On the day of Saint Anthony, the saint protector of animals and fire, the men of the village transform to become Mamuthones and Issohadores. Complementing one another like yin is to yang, mamuthones echo the darkness, while issohadores rope in the light.
Bonfires roar across not only the village, but all of Sardinia in observance of the holiday. One of the most popular festival days in the country, the occasion is meant to banish the cold chill of winter in exchange for the sweeter invitation of spring. It is on that day that the villagers of Mamoiada share their uniquely haunting procession of song, dance, and solemnity.
The stars of the show, the Mamuthones, represent the inhabitants of the kingdom of the dead, as well as the shepherd’s strong connection between man and his beasts. They don anthropomorphic, grotesque masks created by local artisans—accentuated by jutting features and slick black paint. Heavy copper cowbells sewn onto thick straps of leather hang tightly from their backs like tortoise shells, threatening to drag their bodies to the ground. Thin hoods of fabric drape over their heads, and darkly colored sheep pelts hide their shoulders, backs, and torsos.
In contrast, Issohadores parade around in red tunics and black bandoliers, a bell-adorned sash hanging across their bodies.
The procession begins in front of the largest church in the village. Led by an Issohadore, twelve Mamuthones begin their solemn, rhythmic pace forward. Lurching under the weight of up to 60 pounds of copper bells, they do not pay the public any attention.


Mamhutone traditional Copper Bells photo by F.Fenu 2017


Lively issohadores twirl thin reed ropes, catching young women in the crowd. They continue like this from early afternoon until late evening, until each of the bonfires in the village have been reached.
Dating back over two thousand years, the true origin of the pre-Christian tradition is heavily disputed by scholars. Some argue that it dates back to the indigenous Nuragic civilization and was originally intended as a gesture of reverence for animals, and to serve as protection from evil spirits.

Filmmaker Andrea Pecora (short film) feels a deep connection to these traditions thanks to Sardinian ancestry on his mother’s side. He hopes to share Sardinian culture with the world and says experiencing the tradition of the mamuthones was especially meaningful.
“The tension was clearly visible in the men’s eyes, and the creeping fire and holy atmosphere was something magical,” says Pecora. “I hope I’ve captured all of this into my work.”

The last surviving sea silk seamstress

Article by Eliot Stein first appeared on BBC Travel Magazine 6th September 2017

Byssus, or sea silk, is one of the most coveted materials in the world – but after more than 1,000 years in the same matrilineal family tree, this ancient thread may soon unravel.


The loom Chiara Vigo weaves on has been in her family for more than 200 years (credit Eliot Stein)


Each spring, under the cover of darkness and guarded by members of the Italian Coast Guard, 62-year-old Chiara Vigo slips on a white tunic, recites a prayer and plunges headfirst into the crystalline sea off the tiny Sardinian island of Sant’Antioco.

Using the moonlight to guide her, Vigo descends up to 15m below the surface to reach a series of secluded underwater coves and grassy lagoons that the women in her family have kept secret for the past 24 generations. She then uses a tiny scalpel to carefully trim the razor-thin fibres growing from the tips of a highly endangered Mediterranean clam known as the noble pen shell, or pinna nobilis.


Chiara Vigo prays twice a day facing the sea, once at dawn and again at dusk (credit Eliot Stein)


It takes about 100 dives to harvest 30g of usable strands, which form when the mollusc’s secreted saliva comes in contact with salt water and solidifies into keratin. Only then is Vigo ready to begin cleaning, spinning and weaving the delicate threads. Known as byssus, or sea silk, it’s one of the rarest and most coveted materials in the world.

Today, Vigo is believed to be the last person on Earth who still knows how to harvest, dye and embroider sea silk into elaborate patterns that glisten like gold in the sunlight.


Chiara Vigo has an encyclopedic knowledge of 124 different natural dye variations (credit Eliot Stein)


Women in Mesopotamia used the exceptionally light fabric to embroider clothes for their kings some 5,000 years ago. It was harvested to make robes for King Solomon, bracelets for Nefertiti, and holy vestments for priests, popes and pharaohs. It’s referenced on the Rosetta Stone, mentioned 45 times in the Old Testament and thought to be the material that God commanded Moses to drape on the altar in the Tabernacle.


Sant’Antioco is a quite, salty fishing town on an island of the same name (credit : Eliot Stein)


No-one is precisely sure how or why the women in Vigo’s family started weaving byssus, but for more than 1,000 years, the intricate techniques, patterns and dying formulas of sea silk have been passed down through this astonishing thread of women – each of whom has guarded the secrets tightly before teaching them to their daughters, nieces or granddaughters

After an invitation to visit Vigo’s one-room studio, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with the last surviving sea silk seamstress, watching her magically spin solidified clam spit into gold.


Sea silk comes from thin fibres growing from the tips of a highly endangered Mediterranean clam (Credit Eliot Stein)


I slowly approached the small wooden table where Vigo worked, walking past a 200-year-old loom, glass jars filled with murky indigo and amber potions and a certificate confirming her highest order of knighthood from the Italian Republic cast aside on the floor.

If you want to enter my world, I’ll show it to you,” she smiled. “But you’d have to stay here for a lifetime to understand it.”

Vigo learned the ancient craft from her maternal grandmother, who taught traditional wool weaving techniques on manual looms to the women of Sant’Antioco for 60 years. She remembers her grandmother paddling her into the ocean in a rowboat to teach her to dive when she was three years old. By age 12, she sat atop a pillow, weaving at the loom.


Chiara Vigo uses her fingernails and a nail to embroider a small piece of sea silk cloth (Credit: Eliot Stein)


“My grandmother wove in me a tapestry that was impossible to unwind” Vigo said. “Since then, I’ve dedicated my life to the sea, just as those who have come before me.”

Vigo is known as su maistu (‘the master’, in Sardo). There can only be one maistu at a time, and in order to become one, you must devote your life to learning the techniques from the existing master. Like the 23 women before her, Vigo has never made a penny from her work. She is bound by a sacred ‘Sea Oath’ that maintains that byssus should never be bought or sold.

In fact, despite weaving works for display in the Louvre, the British Museum and the Vatican, Vigo doesn’t have a single piece of byssus in her home. She lives in a modest apartment with her husband, and they live off his pension as a coal miner and donations from visitors who stop by Vigo’s studio.


When held into the light, sea silk transforms from a brownish colour into a golden hue (Credit Eliot Stein)


Instead, Vigo explained that the only way to receive byssus is as a gift. She’s created pieces for Pope Benedict XVI and the Queen of Denmark, but more often than not she embroiders designs for newlywed couples, children celebrating a christening and women who come to her in hopes of becoming pregnant.

Byssus doesn’t belong to me, but to everyone,” Vigo asserted. “Selling it would be like trying to profit from the sun or the tides.”

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. According to Małgorzata Biniecka, author of The Masters of Byssus, Silk and Linen, until the 1930s the only other place besides Sant’Antioco where the tradition of sea silk harvesting and embroidering continued was the city of Taranto, Italy.

“A woman there forsake the Sea Oath and tried to establish a commercial byssus industry,” Biniecka said. “A year later, it went bankrupt and she mysteriously died.”

More recently, a Japanese businessman approached Vigo with an offer to purchase her most famous piece, ‘The Lion of Women’, for €2.5 million. It took Vigo four years to stitch the glimmering 45x45cm design with her fingernails, and she dedicated it to women everywhere.

I told him, ‘Absolutely not’,” she declared. “The women of the world are not for sale.”

Neither is the painstaking process behind her pieces, which she slowly revealed during my four-day visit.

After harvesting raw byssus from the depths of the sea, she desalts the fibres by submerging them in fresh water for 25 days, changing the water every three hours. Once they dry, she cleans the threads with a carding brush to remove any remaining sediment.

Then comes the hardest part: separating each strand of pure sea silk from the tangle of raw byssus. Because sea silk is three times finer than a strand of human hair, Vigo peers through a lamp with a magnifying glass as she delicately plucks each thread of silk using a pair of tweezers.

“It may seem easy now,” she said. “But my fingers have been practicing this for 50 years.”

On several occasions after Vigo extracted a thick tuft of fibres, she ordered me to close my eyes and extend my hand. Each time I felt nothing. After about 10 seconds, I’d open my eyes to see Vigo rolling a weightless cloud of sea silk back and forth on my palm.

Next, she twists the silk manually around a small wooden spindle, usually singing in Sardo – the closest living form of Latin – during the process. When the fibres form a long thread, she grabs a jar of cloudy yellowish liquid from the shelf.

“Now, we’ll enter a magical realm,” she said, dropping the thin thread into a secret concoction of lemon, spices and 15 different types of algae. Within seconds, the thread becomes elastic and she excitedly ushered me outside to show how it shimmered in the sunlight. Vigo has an encyclopaedic knowledge of 124 natural dye variations made from fruits, flowers and seashells.

Finally, Vigo intertwines the spun silk into the linen warp using her fingernails. It takes 15 straight days of extracting and dying raw byssus to create enough threads to weave just a few centimetres. Some pieces, like a 50x60cm cloth of pure sea silk weighing just 2g, take six years to stitch. Others, like the larger tapestries draped atop her loom depicting Biblical passages and pagan deities, take even longer.

“There are 140 patterns in my family, eight of which will never be written and have been passed down orally from generation to generation,” she said.

But after more than 1,000 years in the same matrilineal family tree, this ancient thread may soon unravel.

According to tradition, the heir to the byssus secrets is Vigo’s youngest daughter, Maddalena. Like her own grandmother, Vigo began teaching her how to dive and embroider at an early age

The only thing she’s missing is the formulas for the dye potions,” Vigo told me.

But there’s a problem: “My mother and I are very different,” Maddalena said from her home in Dublin, Ireland, where she’s been living for the past two years. “People have always told me that I’d be a fool to allow this art to die, but I’m desperately torn. My life is mine.”

What’s more, after creating the world’s only museum dedicated to byssus in 2005, Vigo awoke one day last autumn to find that the government of Sant’Antioco had unexpectedly closed her free Museo del Bisso, citing that the building’s electrical system wasn’t up to code.

“The ‘electrical problem’ was me!” Vigo snapped. “The municipality tried to force me to charge entrance fees and write down my patterns and secrets. But I will defend this sacred oath with my fingernails as long as I breathe!”

The news drew national attention, spurring an online petition that garnered nearly 20,000 signatures – including that of the President of Sardinia – to no avail.

Recently, two young artists started a crowdfunding campaign to help Vigo rent the one-room studio where she now works. Ironically, it’s the same room where Vigo’s grandmother taught her how to spin sea silk 50 years ago. Unless they can raise €85,000 to purchase the rent-to-own property by November 2018, the town will evict her and the world will no longer be able to watch its last sea silk seamstress spin byssus into gold.

On my last evening with Vigo, she led me to a secluded cove where women in her family have prayed for as long as she can remember. As the sun melted into the sea, she stood at the edge of a tidal pool, closed her eyes and began a mystical, almost shamanic chant.

She then reached deep into a bag, pulled out a clump of 300-year-old byssus from a vial, and spun a long thread of sea silk.

“The secrets may die with me,” she said, tying the thread around my wrist. “But the silk of the sea will live on.”

Article by Eliot Stein first appeared on BBC Travel Magazine 6th September 2017



Wild and woolly with Sardinia’s shepherds

article by Stephanie Ravanelli first appeared on the Guardian Sunday 1st May 2010

There’s only one way to see Sardinia’s wild interior, and that’s with the shepherds who tread its ancient trails


Orgosolo Mountains  – Photo Sakanatravel 2017


“Shepherds are distrustful of new people – you have to earn their respect,” whispers Piero, my tour guide, as he introduces me to Toni, a weather-beaten pastore (shepherd) from the Sardinian highlands. “They may not say anything but they’ll be observing – to see if you pass their test.” Toni glares at me with wild hazel eyes as I, in turn, stare out nervously from the 1,020m-high Passo Silana on the limestone massif of the Supramonte.

Virgin forest stretches below us and underground rivers spew forth from the cliff face. Far to the south are the snow-capped peaks of the Gennargentu.
Less than three hours from the white-washed houses of the Costa Smeralda lies the rugged mountain wilderness of the Barbagia, in the province of  Nuoro.

Dominated by the vast expanse of the Supramonte, the region offers remote villages, endless flocks of sheep and, for those who want an alternative to the cosmopolitan ambience and expense of the coast, an immersion in the simple shepherd culture.
The best way to explore, Piero says, is along ancient trails, known only to generations of shepherds. And so he hands me over to Toni who is to lead me from the village of Urzulei through the wildest part of the Supramonte into one of Europe’s deepest gorges, the Gola di Gorropu.
At once, he bounds off down the mountainside, leaping from one rock to another – I stumble, off-balance like a toddler, behind him. So steep is the descent that even the ancient holm oaks and junipers dangle backwards into the ravine unable to resist gravity’s pull.

Determined to catch up, I slide down sections on my backside. After a gruelling hour I feel I have gained some respect. Toni picks up a handful of droppings and shoves them under my nose, showing me the different shape and texture of the sheep (hard and round) and wild mouflon (soft and long) excrement that marks our path. He points to a golden eagle as it soars overhead, then tugs at the spiny leaves of medicinal shrubs for me to sniff between his fingers: from wild mint to erba di gatto (catnip), used by shepherds to clear their sinuses. In me it sparks a 20-minute sneezing fit –
By the time we reach the bottom of the gorge three hours later, I am crawling on my hands and knees like a sheep faithfully following my shephered.


Panifiziu Santu Juanne Gavoi – photo Sakanatravel 2017


We pass an abandoned pinnettu – a circular shepherd’s hut made from stone and silvery juniper branches, one of many that were once inhabited for six months of the year when the shepherd led his flocks into the highlands for summer. We pause for lunch, and Toni produces a bundle of pecorino cheese, bread and chive-flavoured prosciutto from his leather satchel – all home-produced. The pastore once made ricotta cheese and smoked prosciutto in the mountains; they returned to the local village only once a month to renew supplies of carta da musica (paper-thin bread). The salty lunch leaves me gasping for water; instead Toni hands me a flask of deep red cannonau (local wine).
After lunch, Toni leads me to another near-vertical rock face and a 200m drop. My vision blurs (fuelled by a cocktail of alcohol and vertigo) and I lurch giddily on the cliff edge. After 30 minutes of my tearful protestations (my credibility is totally blown), we abandon the climb and trek back on ourselves for several hours to find an alternative route. This turns out to be equally arduous, involving leaps of faith over terrifying drops and being lowered by a piece of rope tied around my waist.
By the time we reach the northern side of the gorge, dusk has fallen. But the beauty of the limestone Gorropu Gorge overcomes me. We suck at handfuls of spring water, then, by moonlight, silently begin our 8km climb; scaling giant boulders that line the canyon bed.

The final stage of my 12-hour initiation test is a thigh-burning 3km vertical climb back up the mountainside to Urzulei. At the top, Toni rewards me with a hearty slap, a shot of filù e feru (local moonshine) and a sleeping bag on the floor of a pinnettu. Inside, fat hams swing from the ceiling as the juniper branches crackle and rustle in the wind, but I sleep without waking.
“A shepherd’s life is hard, eh?” says Piero the next morning as he drives me to the nearby village of Orgosolo.
Having earned some local respect, I am invited to a traditional shepherds’ lunch at Campeggio Supramonte, a campsite and restaurant run by local shepherds. My wooden plate is piled high with rosemary-scented lamb and potatoes, porchetta (a pork spit-roast over an open fire) and pecorino, washed down with a heavy cannonau. Afterwards shepherds Pietrino, Gaetano, Egidio and Martino huddle together in a tight circle as if in an intimate embrace. Suddenly their bodies vibrate in unison, summoning a low guttural hum in four parts (mimicking a cow, a sheep, the wind and a lonely human voice) – a primordial shepherds’ song – the canto a tenore.
That afternoon we go to Egidio’s house to make ricotta cheese, squirting milk from the sheep’s udders directly into metal pans to heat indoors on the fire. At dusk, Egidio demonstrates how to round up his flock on the hillside – using whistles, clicks and calls.

Next morning I rejoin the modern world in the fishing port of Arbatax, where I bask gleefully on a sunlounger on the terrace of Il Vecchio Mulino, sipping among the luxuriant banana palms. Later, I take a boat trip along the coastline, to where the limestone cliffs drop into the waves. But I am unable to forget my new-found training, even at sea. I spot a lamb teetering on the edge of a rock face straining to reach the laden branches of a fig tree. Alarmed, I shout out – but the stray sheep has already leapt backwards, called by its shepherd to join the safety of the flock.

article by Stephanie Ravanelli first appeared on the Guardian Sunday 1st May 2010

Jefford on Monday: Sardinia’s Secrets

article first appeared in Decanter Magazine 25th April 2016 by Andrew Jefford.

Andrew Jefford visits Italy’s ‘other’ wine island and discovers four reasons (or more) to take it seriously…

Suddura’s Stazzo vineyard, Sardinia. Credit: Dino Dini

Wines from Sardinia

It had been a dry winter, everyone told me, but the heart of Sardinia was still vividly green at the end of March. A chaos of hills rippled away in every direction (almost 70 per cent of the island’s landmass is hilly, with just under 14 per cent classified as mountainous), often scored by sheep tracks, echoing to the sound-mosaic of hundreds of sheep bells. Sardinia is home to four million sheep, roughly half the national herd and source of most of the milk for Italy’s Pecorino Romano PDO cheese. Some 80 per cent of the cork produced in Italy, too, grows on Sardinia. The airy cork forests, as the spring equinox passes, are golden with swaying broom flowers.
This is the Mediterranean’s second largest island – pipped only by a Sicilian whisker; its southerly neighbour is just six per cent bigger. In terms of wine production, though, Sardinia is only Italy’s fourteenth largest region (Sicily, for example, produces six times as much wine). Many Sardinian vineyards are tiny, almost hidden, especially up in the highest hills, around Nuoro and Oliena. Their fascinating wines deserve to be better known.

Let me give you four reasons why. The first is Vermentino: maybe the world’s best? That’s a question which merits a separate answer – which I’ll try to provide in a later blog.

The second reason is Carignano. Italy in general grows much less of this variety than does France (Carignan) or Spain (Mazuelo, Cariñena, Samsó), but I suspect that many Languedocien wine growers, at any rate, would be shocked to discover the rich textures and flavours which this variety can acquire in Sardinia. Carignan is often a piercing alto in Languedoc, and best blended; in Sardinia it can be warm and comforting bass, and works well on its own. Never better than in the sandy soils of Sulcis, in the island’s southwest, and especially on the large island of Sant’Antioco (Italy’s fourth largest in its own right), connected to the Sardinian mainland by a bridge. The soils in Sulcis are so sandy, in fact, that much Carignano de Sulcis is ungrafted. I’d be surprised if Sardinian Carignano didn’t feature somewhere in the top twenty of any serious competitive blind tasting of this variety.
The third reason is Cannonau. Once again, Italian plantings of this variety are dwarfed by Spain’s Garnacha stocks and France’s walletful of Grenache – but Sardinia’s efforts with the variety are of compelling interest, and comprise the island’s ‘noblest’ reds. The variety is grown in a number of different locations and different soils, but the best for me came from the granite uplands around Nuoro, and particularly the lonely village of Mamoiada.

Up here, at between 600 m to 800 m, the variety sheds its lowland sweetness and takes on an airy freshness and stony purity. This is not, though, the kind of mountain Grenache which tiptoes gracefully into Pinot territory. It remains strong, masterful and firmly structured, with often hugely impressive tannins. Cannonau, in other words, can be a wine of unusual completeness and authority for this variety.
And the fourth reason? That would be Sardinia’s own indigenous varieties (it claims up to 150) and specialities (including both sweet, dry and botrytised Malvasia di Bosa; as well as the complex, flor-affected Vernaccia di Oristano). Genetic intricacy is always of interest for its own sake, and I enjoyed the examples I tried of these rare varieties, often salvaged with great efforts (including the white Arvisionadu, Alvarega, Nasco and Semidano and the red Monica, Muristellu, Bovaluddu, Bovale Grande, Bovale Mannu, Bovale Sardo, Barbera Sarda and Cagnulari), even if some were, in the vinifications I tried, only shyly characterful.

At least I thought that the twelve just mentioned were all indigenous — but a little research after I got home in Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz’s Wine Grapes suggested that Bovale Mannu and Bovale Grande are in fact the same as Carignano, while Muristellu, Bovaleddu, Bovale Sardo and Cagnulari are identical to Graciano. Some of this is contested on the island, where Dr Gianni Lovicu, one of the island’s leading viticultural researchers, says that Bovale Mannu is in fact another synonym for Graciano, while Muristellu and Bovaleddu are not in fact Graciano but a different variety altogether.
Whatever the truth, Cagnulari certainly seemed to make the most interesting wines after Vermentino, Carignano and Cannonau – in a rather less stern and more voluptuous guise than Graciano can often assume, for example, in Rioja.
Canny readers will have noted just how much vine material Sardinia seems to share with Spain, and this is usually attributed to a long period of Aragonese rule in Sardinia (between the arrival of the Catalan army under Crown Prince Alfonso of Aragon in 1324 and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713). Catalan is still spoken in the northwestern Sardinian port of Alghero. The Sardinians themselves, though, point out that the trading Phoenicians may have been moving these grape varieties around before the Aragonese ever arrived – and they would dearly love to prove that Cannonau is in fact an indigenous variety which the Aragonese took back to Spain. There is, for the time being, no comprehensive genetic proof of this – though some 2010 research by Manna Crespan and others claimed that Cannonau is more genetically diverse than Spanish Grenache, suggesting possible anteriority. Other researchers cited by the Wine Grapes authors, though, have found the opposite. The question will be tussled over for a while yet.
Anything else? I haven’t mentioned the usual plethora of DO and IGT names since the island’s leading wines usually contain the variety name in the DO or IGT formula. You might be foxed, though, by the critically important, pan-Sardinian IGT ‘Isola dei Nuraghi’ — since no such island can be found in any atlas. It’s a cultural reference to the mysterious towers called Nuraghe which dot Sardinia, and which date back to 730 BCE to 1900 BCE. The problem, apparently, was that since ‘Sardegna’ already featured in a number of DOC formulae, it couldn’t be used for an IGT. Though why not? Using it on its own, perhaps, would have been more helpful to consumers than sending them scurrying off for an island which doesn’t exist.

A Taste of Sardinian Reds
Carignano del Sulcis (Carignan)
Bentesali, Carignano del Sulcis 2014
This wine, made from 100-year-old ungrafted bush vines on the island of Sant’Antioco and exposed to the ‘salty wind’ that gives the wine its Sardinian name, is dark in colour, with a rich aromatic mixture of scents, both fruity, floral and savoury. The palate is very deep and fleshy for Carignan, with ample tannic mass, concentration and rigour. 90 points

Carignano del Sulcis Esu


Nero Miniera, Enrico Esu, Carignano del Sulcis 2014
This is a much lighter wine than the Bentesali (50 year old vines and with 10 per cent Monica), yet it has superb concentration and tannic grip behind the rose, cherry and liquorice flavours. 90

Cannonau di Sardegna (Grenache)
Fòla, Cannonau di Sardegna, Siddùra 2014
A relatively lightly coloured but classy Cannonau with resonant and harmonious aromas combining stony and meaty notes, and a deep, searching, penetrating palate of considerable refinement and gastronomic aptitude. The month of maceration with the skins was time well spent. 91
D53, Cannonau di Sardegna Classico, Cantina Dorgali 2012
An older wine fermented and aged in large wooden vessels, this is translucent and recognizably varietal, with sweet spiced plum scents and rich, warm, generous plum and cherry flavours. Artless generosity of fruit – but the firm tannic support gives it an authentic Sardinian stamp. 89
Montanaru, Cannonau di Sardegna, Tenute Bonamici 2014
A Cannonau (grown at 750m) marked above all by saline, ‘mineral’ notes and rich tannins. There is plenty of sweet backing fruit but in a warmly subdued guise which allows the unfruity flavours and ample textures to take the lead: delicious. 90
Cannonau di Sardegna, Olianas 2014
A Cannonau mixed with 10 per cent Tintillu and amphora-fermented before being aged in both amphora and older barriques. Classy, refined, settled aromas and pure, drinkable, fine-grained flavours mark this mid-weight wine with a wider allusive repertoire than some of its peers (seaweed and blood orange). 90

Ballu Tundu, Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, Giuseppe Sedilesu 2010
The two superb 2010 Riserva-level wines produced by Giuseppe Sedilesu (one called Ballu Tundu and the other, top wine just a plain Riserva) prove just how exciting Sardinian Cannonau can be. This wine, grown in Mamoiada vineyards at an average altitude of 700m, has earthy, gruff, planty aromas with dense, exciting, almost shocking flavours which combine plentiful extract with intensely earthy, almost medicinal flavours and vivid plumskin acidity. 93

Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, Giuseppe Sedilesu 2010
This extraordinary wine, produced from selected Sedilesu bush vines of 50 years or more in the best years only, harvested in October and given a month’s maceration, is drama incarnate. Billowing scents suggesting red fruit, wild lavender, wild mint, crushed stone and perfumed plum skins is followed by a dense, dark, rich, chewy flavour which, metaphorically speaking, seems to explode in the mouth and send granite shards, dripping with herbal blood, splattering round your palate. It has bright, flavour-saturated acidity, packed with plum and cherry, too, invigorating its warm, swelling mid-palate, and it finishes lushly and richly. This elemental, force-of-nature wine is magnificent now but will surely see out a decade or two without trouble. 96

Cagnulari (Graciano)
Bàcco, Cagnulari, Siddùra, Isola dei Nuraghi 2014

photo Decanter

Some Sardinian Cagnulari can be very savoury, but the Siddùra version is full of peppery fruits. The wine has harmonious scents and vivid, enticing, smooth-textured flavours – yet it grows in complexity and stature with time in the mouth; the finish is stony, pungent, bitter-edged and thought-provoking. 92
Cagnulari, Chessa, Isola dei Nuraghi 2014
Smoky, earthy, spicy, even tarry: this Cagulari smells nocturnal and byzantine. On the palate, it is rich, weighty, dense, vivid and expressive, with both red and black fruit notes freighted with more exotic incense spice. Despite this generosity of style, the wine is very well-judged, and both satisfying and refreshing to drink. A masterful rendition of what can often be a difficult grape to vinify. 93
Cagnulari, Podere Parpinello, Isola dei Nuraghi 2014
Very dark in colour, with complex scents: both sweet and savoury, suggesting both plants and fruits. On the palate, it is another wine which seems smooth and rich when you first sip, but which acquires texture and flavoury grain as it lingers in the mouth, broadening and filling as it does so. Searching and complex to finish. 92


Cagnulari, Bagasseri, Enrico Melis, Isola dei Nuraghi 2015
An astonishing young Cagnulari: intoxicating primary fruit and flower aromas come storming from the glass, while in the mouth this is a very showy, lush and luscious wine of huge exuberance and impact. There is ample tannin to counterbalance its very sweet style of fruit (though the producer assures me the wine contains no residual sugar). A head-turner, best enjoyed in all its youthful glory. 91

article first appeared in Decanter Magazine 25th April 2016 by Andrew Jefford.