Sea and beyond.

Sardinia in Spring: 8 Inland Itineraries

Artwork by Stefania Saragoni.

Article first appeared on Gambero Rosso Year 21 -number 116 – march 2018 pag. 70

In the name of landscape, of culture, of gastronomy, of wines and of traditions, eight Sardinian towns and their surroundings have come together in a common initiative aimed at promoting around Europe the region’s culinary specialities and artisan foods. Focus on an island that is also land and not just beautiful sea.  by Giuseppe Carrus

Aggius, Atzara, Baunei, Cabras, Nuoro, Orosei, Sant’Antioco and La Maddalena: these are the eight protagonists of the “Eno-tourist itinerary of the villages of excellence” project promoted by Laore, an Agency for the Development of Agriculture of the Sardinia Region. The goal of the project is a noble one: divulge eno-tourist itineraries as much as possible and with them share the oldest gastronomic traditions. There is more to Sardinia than the sea , in fact this is an island where the biodiversity linked to microclimates and soils really makes a difference: yes, there are beaches and coasts, but also a huge inland area that is still undiscovered. This is immediately apparent by simply looking at the landscape. it’s equally incredible how this diversity can be found in local wines, cheeses and cured meats, in recipes as well as in dish names. That’s right: the Sardinian language finds its dialectal inflections in the various sub-regions, here too names of similar preparations present differences depending on the town in which they are made even if – and this happens often – the distance between them is minimal.

We travelled around Sardinia visiting towns that joined the project, exploring  historical centers and the places of culture. We also scouted the surrounding landscape, with agriculture and pastures or unspoiled nature, beaches, woods, rocky bluffs and flat expanses of flowers and wild herbs.  We found perfectly preserved Nuragic settlements, giants’ tombs, domus de Janas (witches dens); Romanesque churches and museums paying homage to the great personalities of the island known all over the world . But also a place boasting immense gastronomic heritage products, recipes very often privy only to locals. The list of types of traditional bread present on the island alone: dozens and dozens, different in shape, baking methods and customs associated. Many breads are linked to ancient rites, loaves are still crafted by skilled hands and preparation techniques still handed down for generations. It’s furthermore no coincidence that many historical Sardinia recipes originate precisely from bread. A true symbol of an island that, for this reason too, can undoubtedly be considered an “almost continent”.


Aggius and Inland Gallura

artwork by Stefania Saragoni

Aggius is a small village of 1500 inhabitants. It is located inland in the Gallura area, not far from Tempio Pausania.

The village is dominated by Mount Limbara in a unique context of dry stone walls, nuraghe and promontories about 700 meters above the sea level. The landscape is characteristic of Gallura: Mediterranean maquis vegetation, granite rock, elm, oak and cork trees (this part o the island is the most suitable for high quality cork stoppers) that alternate with flocks of cows and sheep, and vineyards. From the highest points of the small chain called Aggius Mountains, you can see breath-taking views that reaches the Costa Smeralda. The town centre is characterized by houses boasting exposed granite walls; the village is furthermore enriched by four historic churches. Nearby, don’t forego visiting the artificial lake of Santa Degna, the Valle della Luna an the Izzana nuraghe dating back to the XVI-X century BC and among the best preserved of the whole island. Also worth seeing is the museum dedicated to banditry that collects artifacts dating back to the smuggling period during the Piedmontese domination (1718-1861) and the Oliva Carta Cannas ethnographic museum dedicated to everyday objects and the ancient art of weaving.

The Wines

Cantina Mancini – Vermentino di Gallura Spumante Brut              

Mancini in Gallura is synonymous with quality and tradition and among the first to bottle wines of excellent quality. In addition to still wines, we recommend their spumante Brut, made exclusively from Vermentino di Gallura grapes. Good aroma on the nose and a dry, yet fresh and fragrant mouth. Ideal with seafood appetizers.

Consorzio San Michele – Vermentino di Gallura Sinfonia ’16

Ten hectares of vineyards, near the rural church of San Michele, a group of friends-producers with a penchant for quality founded the Consortium in 2012. Sinfonia, a white with great olfactory complexity boasts notes of loquat, almond and citrus in evidence. Excellent palate, fresh and savoury, with a clean and deep finish. Perfect with vegetable or seafood pasta courses.

Cantina del Vermentino – Vermentino di Gallura Aghiloja Oro ’16

The cooperative cellar unites donors hailing form Monti and its surroundings. The vermentino Aghiloja Oro is of excellent quality, with fruity and herbaceous bouquet; on the palate it is sapid and enveloping. Perfect with medium-aged cheeses or with fish entrees.

Cantina Tani Vini -Serranu ’14

The winery was founded in 2008 and includes an Agriturismo farmhouse called Vermentino. Of particular note is the Serranu label, an excellent red wine obtained from traditional grapes: the 2014 vintage offers perfumes of scrub and red fruits; the palate is thick, with silky tannins and a fresh and fragrant taste. Excellent with stewed red meats.

A Word from the Chef

“A veritable treasure chest o ingredients.”

Gallura is a unique area where I worked for many years and that gave me the opportunity to grow, learning many different recipes from the rest o Sardinia; plus learning about many ingredients and exclusive local crops. Gallura cuisine is rich in aromatic herbs and incredible contrasts between sweet and savoury. Among the dishes that I remember most are Li Ciusoni (artisan gnochetti) Li Brullioni or Bruglioni (ravioli filled with ricotta or cheese) and the very special Mazza Frissa, fresh heavy cream whipped with semolina and used with fresh fava beans to shape gnocchi, or eaten on its own with only a little honey or sugar.

Then there is the traditional dish par excellence, the Zuppa Gallurese: a soup made with simple and local ingredients normally present in every household, such as stale bread, bone broth, pecorino cheese and wild herbs. A real treat! And let’s not forget the wines: think Vermentino or Moscato whites ( also produced in a sparkling wine version) and the red native grapes, offer fresh and enjoyable red wines. Manuele Senis ( Sa Scolla a Baradili

To be continued…………………….

Article first appeared on Gambero Rosso Year 21 -number 116 – march 2018 pag. 70 onward.











The Costa Smeralda May Be Sardinia’s Playground but Alghero Is Its True Soul

Article by John Mariani  first appeared on Forbes Magazine May 15th 2018 .

View of the promontory of Capo Caccia, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy. Photo by Forbes

When I arrived in Sardinia after a Transatlantic flight to Rome and a connection to Alghero, my first stop was at the fish market for a late morning lunch. It was eleven o’clock, yet the simple stark cement structure was nearly empty, the floors washed down and still wet, the fish stalls cleaned out, leaving only a faint briny smell of the sea.
I turned to one of the locals and, feeling like I was in a Monty Python cheese shop with no cheese, asked where all the seafood had gone. The man shrugged and said, “It was all sold this morning.” The boats had pulled in under the fading stars and their catch was sold soon after daybreak.

An hour before those stalls were full of flapping fins and tails, crawling crabs and claw-waving lobsters, every one now gone. Nothing could better illustrate the kind of fresh bounty that Sardinians have access to six days a week, both in restaurants and at home.

Inside Alghero’s seafood market La Boqueria serves the morning’s catch. Photo by John Mariani

There was a little trattoria called La Boqueria in the corner of the barren market, with signs ticking off the seafood offerings of the day. We ordered, sat down at a crude table, and I feasted on some of the finest fish and crustaceans I’ve ever had—platters of grilled mullet, fried calamari and moray eel, prawns, San Pietro, scungilli, branzino, and much more, all washed down with a Sardinian white wine called Nasco. There was not a strand of pasta anywhere on the menu.

SARDINIA, ALGHERO, SARDEGNA, ITALY – 2017/10/05: Harbor boats. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This was my first trip to Sardinia, the large amoeba-shaped island in the dark blue Tyrrhenian Sea, a land known for its rugged, craggy perimeter and its international playground Costa Smeralda, developed in the ‘60s on the east coast by Prince Karim Aga Khan and now home to some of the most expensive real estate on the globe. Which was reason enough for me to avoid it and visit instead the city of Alghero, which is a far less trafficked but quite beautiful location on the west coast.

Alghero is on the West Coast of the rugged island of Sardinia. Photo by John Mariani

Alghero has always had a raucous history, having been occupied since the 14th century by Spanish troops whom the locals cut to pieces in an uprising, which in turn caused King Peter IV to expel most of natives and, as did the British with Australia, re-populated the town with Catalan convicts and prostitutes.
In 1720 the House of Savoy out of Turin took over Sardinia and it became part of Italy with the Unification in the next century.
Nevertheless, the Catalonian history and influence abides-Catalan had long been the official language, and a quarter of today’s citizens still speak it; the rest speak a local dialect. You see the Catalan influence, too, in the city’s architecture and walled fortifications. Some of its people like to refer to their city as Little Barcelona.
Walking around the city, at a leisurely place, will bring you back where you began in little more than an hour, along the way visiting the newly cleaned and restored Cathedral of Santa Maria Immaculata di Alghero in a Catalan Gothic style and along the thick limestone ramparts above the lapping seashore, which, as in most of Europe, is largely rocky, although the beautifully named La Speranza beach is long and wide, with golden sand and wonderful sunsets.

Nuraghe Palmavera interior, near Alghero, Sardinia, Italy. Nuragic civilization, 15th-10th century BC. Forbes

I highly recommend a drive out of town to explore the prehistoric Nuraghe Palmavera stone towers built over centuries in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Spread out over a hillside like squat Stonehenge monuments, the structures give one an idea of just how primitive lodgings were 3,400 years ago–basic areas for cooking, sleeping and worshipping, set far from other tribes and all other civilizations.

Sardinian winemaking has come very far very fast, so a visit to the modern cooperative of 326 growers who comprise Cantina Santa Maria La Palma, just outside Alghero, is a good way to get a quick education. The winery makes a wide variety of labels, from sparkling to red and wine, based on indigenous grapes like Cannonau, Vermentino di Sardegna and Monica di Sardegna. The company’s red wines share the notion that youth, not long aging, has its own charms, depending on the grape. Sardinia, south of France and west of Italy, has a very hot, very dry land, so irrigation of the vineyards is allowed; you taste the flintiness of the soil and the brininess of the surrounding Tyrrhenian Sea. One of the winery’s bottlings, Akènta Sub, is actually lowered into the sea for a while to age.
Founded in 1959, at a time when Sardinian wines had no reputation and little availability outside the island, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma’s vintners realized that by central control of co-operative growers, the wines could be made better and with more consistency, fresher, less prone to oxidation, and at price points that have made them appealing in a global market flooded with bland varietals.

Article by John Mariani first appeared on Forbes Magazine May 15th 2018 .





For Sardinia’s Wild Side, Head to Sulcis

Article by Kyre Chenven  first appeared on Conde Nast Traveller Magazine on 12th October 2018 .

Sulcis may be one of Sardinia’s poorest regions, but it’s rich in isolated beaches, ancient archeology, dense forest—and people whose daily craftsmanship keeps the past close at hand.

A house at Rosso Porpora, a fishing village turned farmhouse rental property.
photo by Paola & Murra

These days, to get to my home, you must drive a winding two-lane road through mountains covered in scrub oak, myrtle, and wild lavender. It feels like an act of purification, 20 minutes of twists and turns through clay-colored stone passes that deliver you from one world—airports, highways, and cruise ships—to another: Sulcis, in Sardinia’s southwest. This remains extraordinary to me, because I was raised in a mid-century modern home in the canyons of San Diego, then spent years in various walk-ups in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn before living, most recently, in a Milanese apartment whose lobby is decorated unabashedly in red velvet carpeting. I was, quite plainly, a city girl. But three years ago I moved to Santadi, a tiny town in one of the poorest and most enigmatic provinces of Italy.

Drawing by Peter Oumanski

Geographically isolated from the rest of the island by steep peaks, Sulcis is half-abandoned, as decades of emigration to find work in Sardinia’s resort towns and European cities have whittled away the population. But this impoverishment is countered by the area’s bucolic beauty, with sheep grazing among scraggly almond and pear trees and lush citrus groves lining the riverbanks. Stone farmhouses crumble by the roadside, abandoned greenhouses are overgrown with wildflowers, and more recent imitations of brutalism, left over from a burst of optimism in the ’90s, stand starkly amid wheat fields. There are plenty of empty open spaces in which to feel lost and alone.
When I was first getting to know Sulcis, I was consistently thrown by these contradictory images. It was not the mild, man-made beauty of Tuscany and had none of the ruffled decadence of Sicily. It was its own quiet world—wild and skittish, compassionate and unaffected. “Do you really think anyone would want to come visit this place?” I was asked repeatedly by locals when I moved here. “Well,” I’d reply, “we have incredible wines and one of the largest forests in Italy, the Gutturu Mannu, at our doorstep. We’re 15 minutes from an array of beaches, in an area that produces olive oil, artichokes, bright tomatoes, lamb, and cheeses. We have archaeological sites, a mild climate. So maybe.”

I first came here in 2005, with Ivano, who would soon become my partner in all things work, life, and home. He was born and raised in Milan, but his family is from Sardinia. He told me about his summers as a child spent at his grandmother’s small stone house: no streetlights, no paved roads, olive trees, and heat. As a boy, he would tag along when the shepherds brought their flocks into the low mountains for water. Later, we were married in a sheepfold overlooking the ribbon of river that winds through small agricultural plots and quiet towns huddled up against the road.
In 2015, Ivano and I finally decided to move here. We wanted to research the particularities of Sardinian craft and culture, and to help connect outsiders (designers, journalists, investors) with local entities that interested them. We bought a cluster of late-18th-century derelict farmhouses and settled in with our two young children as the resident aliens of Santadi, 10 minutes from where Ivano had spent his summers.

The cherry festival at Terraseo.
photo by Paola & Murray

Now I’m standing in our new home, looking out at the wild carrot flowers and the wall of prickly pears, waiting for the photographers Paola Ambrosi De Magistris and Murray Hall to arrive. I haven’t seen Paola in 10 years. I have children she doesn’t know; she has married Murray, an affable, sincere, and talented Australian. Paola is tall and slender, with a soft, sweet voice and steely blue eyes. We bonded immediately upon meeting in New York years ago but fell out of touch. To welcome her and Murray here is, to me, one of the deep pleasures of middle age.
Our plan is to show them Sulcis as insider-outsiders, who know a place intimately but still register its uniqueness. We’ve arranged for them to photograph a pair of dark-eyed sisters from our town, each in elaborate traditional dress. We’ll visit a woman who weaves golden byssus, or sea silk, from the solidified saliva of protected mollusks, 30 miles west of us in the town of Sant’Antioco, then sneak into an abandoned nuraghe, the giant prehistoric stone buildings that resemble fortresses and pepper the entire island. We’ll explore the crumbling mines up the southwest coast that—active for thousands of years but now defunct—attest to both the area’s past importance and its current decline. We’ll tour the winery of the Cantina di Santadi and roast a goat with my father-in-law, then drop in on artisans and drink the potent native carignano del Sulcis wine, talking about aspirations new and old. But for now, they pull up in the graveled drive and we usher them inside and marvel at being in the same room.


A Sardinian version of ravioli filled with potato, pecorino, and mint.
photo by Paola & Murray

“Attention, tourists! Sardinia is not Italy!” exclaims Murray, and we all laugh: He is referring to the graffiti on the side of a nearby ruin that serves as a welcoming, if forward, missive for anyone arriving in Sulcis by car. Yes, we nod, that is also true. Even if Sardinia has been part of Italy for more than 150 years, it has its own traditions, its own mythologies, its own languages and dialects. Sardinians refer, without irony or meanness, to other Italians as continentali, and still feel a deep connection to the native Nuragic civilization from the Bronze Age. The omnipresent prehistoric sites (more than 7,000 of them) on the island are a source of much pride, as well they should be.
And so we start by taking Paola and Murray to the ancient burial site of Montessu, above the town of Villaperuccio, a few minutes away. At first, Montessu looks like a plain hillside, but it gradually opens into a natural horseshoe of a valley with numerous stony pockmarks on its grassy face, caves that were gouged directly into the volcanic rock around the third millennium b.c. to serve as communal graves. They have intricate carvings on the walls and include wide, damp chambers. The larger ones have the appearance of giant staring skulls.

A view from Porto Flavia, at the opening of a mine.
Photo by Paola & Murray

Sardinians used to believe these domus de janas (fairy homes) were the dwellings of mythical sprites. Paola, though she’s Italian, has never heard of the janas and is interested to know about the island’s legends. So I tell her some of the stories I’ve heard. My father-in-law says we’re not supposed to go to the forest springs in the evening so as not to anger the fairies—that is the time for wild animals to drink in peace. And a friend, a young businessman, recounted how a powerful jana could be heard beating the weft of her loom in a nearby cave. We walk slowly along the ridge where the empty graves sit stonily, and I tell her about brebus, prayers and rituals that Sardinians use to rid themselves of the evil eye. It isn’t hard to imagine the caves filled with spirits, remnants of our shared ancestry. We’re the only ones in the immense basin, and the sun begins to slant to its golden hour.
A few mornings later, we head west to the whitewashed town of Calasetta to board a friend’s vintage wooden sailboat for the island of San Pietro. Carloforte, its only town, has a complicated history. It was founded in 1739 by coral fishermen from outside of Genoa who had spent the previous 200 years off the coast of Tunisia. When the coral there was depleted, King Charles Emmanuel III gave them this island in order to repopulate the western coast of Sardinia. We pull into the small, shining port and set out to explore the tiny island.
Murray worked as a boatbuilder’s apprentice when he was younger, so we find one of the last shipwrights here, walking up the coastline to the industrial part of town, seven minutes from the center. Tonino Sanna welcomes us into his cluttered, sawdusty workshop, which holds the enormous skeletons of multiple vessels. Some are here for repairs, but Sanna smilingly shows us one hulking frame he began building from scratch in the local style. Sure, it’s for sale if anyone wants it, he says, but he expects it to sit in his workshop for a while. Carloforte was once famed for the skill of its boatbuilders, but the industry has declined drastically in recent years. There is a small crowd of men gossiping and sipping coffee. As the group explodes into chuckles, Murray looks over at us to translate. “They speak a completely different language,” Ivano says, shrugging. “I don’t understand a word.”

Osteria del Doge in Cagliari.
photo by Paola & Murray


Sardinia contains many worlds: the glitzy Costa Smeralda; the Catalonian retreat of Alghero; the wild mountain coastlines both east and west; practical, insular Barbagia; the rice fields of diligent Oristano. The island is like a miniature nation, Ivano always says. And truly the differences in language, food, and temperament between lively Carloforte and the rest of Sulcis are a perfect example. In Sulcis, we talk about our isolation. But Carloforte has become a haven for vacationers, despite being a small island off the coast of our own island.
We move on to a languid lunch of local tuna and cascà—a dish that resembles couscous, a holdover from when the Carlofortini lived in Tunisia—on the sunny terrace of the endearingly shabby Al Tonno di Corsa. The tuna is prepared six different ways—boiled, braised, dressed, smoked, salted, cured—and gets progressively more intense as you work your way up the plate, culminating in a last sliver of tuna so powerful I slip mine stealthily onto Ivano’s dish. Afterward, we drive to the far side of the island and visit the natural reserve where Eleonora’s falcons breed on cliffs of ragged sandstone before they head back to Madagascar for the winter. It’s getting late, and we’re due back at the ferry in town. But Paola and Murray stay on, sitting under the shade of four enormous ficus trees, watching the locals and tourists mix noisily in the main piazza.

The author, on the boat to Carloforte.
photo by Paola & Murray

Back in Santadi a few days later, we meet up with a group of women at Sa Domu Antiga, a small ethnographic museum. The low-slung, modest home with river canes lining the roof and thick mud-brick walls is a sort of living museum—everything inside has been donated by local families, and as such the town views it as a communal space. At times, someone will host a lunch there, and during the Matrimonio Mauritano (a wedding staged in the traditional local style) the bride is dressed at Sa Domu Antiga. Today, we’ve asked to use the typical round oven to make a bread called coccoi; the dough is trimmed with scissors and baked into extravagantly decorated shapes. This is the bread offered to brides and made for religious occasions, one that often feels too beautiful (now that bread is abundant) to eat.
Murray is worried about the light, since the low-ceiling room is painted a dark pink and crowded with baskets, ceramics, and linens. The women are fretting over the dough, afraid the harsh Sulcis heat will dry it out before they can work it into rounds and points. “If we could just move outside,” Murray suggests. “Then it won’t come out beautifully,” the women counter. This moment feels emblematic of my life here: We often act as cultural translators, as the bridge between two worlds, attempting to explain on each side the richly cultural presumptions we all unknowingly hold.

Sardinian breadmaking at Sa Domu Antiga in Santadi.
photo by Paola & Murray

When I first began coming to Sulcis, I could not reconcile the richness of the various crafts—brightly colored, complexly patterned textiles; minutely over-decorated ceramics; hand-shaped knives that seemed to be in everyone’s pockets—with the region’s all-too-apparent poverty. Attention to detail was something that I associated with the luxury of free time and wealth. But there is a pride here in making things beautifully, and a need to honor the past. For these women, this bread is sacred because it is the bread they baked with their mothers and grandmothers in years that now seem lifetimes away. Many Sulcitani in their 60s grew up without shoes or running water; now their grandchildren have smartphones and Nikes, and almost no one bakes their own bread. So, for these women, this is a ritual that brings them back to the years in which a loaf of bread was still a precious commodity. And they have invited us to be there with them, which is the most decent gift of humanity.

Vineyards near Porto Pino.
photo by Paola & Murray

We begin to understand each other. I convince the women to move a table into the shade on the side of the house. They knead the dough, blushing, self-conscious of the photographers at first. But Paola peppers them with questions, and soon they begin to relax and trade quips, all the while muscling the white dough over the old wooden tabletop. They gather plump pieces and industriously snip them into intricate designs. The molded loaves sit dutifully in the large flat baskets, shrouded by a linen cloth. The day is shockingly hot; even standing in the shade of a large oak tree we are all subdued and sweaty. The women use bunches of dried rock-rose branches to light a fast-burning fire in the oven, and the fragrant smoke that fills the courtyard will let everyone in town know that someone is baking bread today.
Now they load the oven. One woman steps forward with a handful of flour. She says a prayer and crosses herself, kissing her fist, and then throws the grains into the hot oven. Turning to us, she laughs mirthfully, and I hear Paola whisper to no one, “That was amazing.” They move quickly, scraping out the ashes from the fire and loading the oven with the heavy wooden paddle. In just a few minutes, the bread is ready and they pull out the loaves: first a horseshoe decorated with little nesting hens, then a doll-shaped loaf, and next a puffed-up loaf with a tiny star shape on its middle. The women cluck humbly about how clumsy each loaf looks, but they’re merry and proud. They divide the loaves between us and deliver them each with a kiss on our cheeks and a warm squeeze of our hands.

The Lowdown on Seeing Sulcis

When to come: It’s no use saying not to visit in July and August—the heat is grueling and the beaches are crowded—but all of Sardinia is best at any other time. Winter is mild, the countryside a lush green; spring is filled with wildflowers; and autumn has a soft evening light. Look out for local festivals—there’s the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in September, the Narcao Blues Festival in July, and Settimana Santa a Iglesias before Easter.
Getting there: You’ll need a car to get to and around Sulcis. Cagliari, the largest city on Sardinia, is only 90 minutes from most of Sulcis’s towns, which makes flying in and renting relatively easy. Roads are in good shape, though the signage isn’t. Don’t be deterred—get lost and ask a shepherd for help.
Where to stay: Sulcis is only starting to open to tourists. However, the area more than makes up for this lack of accommodations in hospitality and authenticity. Local architect Francesca Manca has renovated her family home, Antica Casa Manca, in the town of Masainas, with its large garden and original tile floors. Thirteen miles northwest, the old fishing town of Is Loccis Santus has been painstakingly rebuilt by Antonello Steri and family, and christened Rosso Porpora. The village has seven simple farmhouses, most with access to an organic veggie garden. And the refurbished Villa Santadi offers simple rooms in an early-20th-century Spanish building.
Where to eat: There’s a surprising range of cuisine in this small area, and most restaurants offer excellent food at great prices. Osteria Vineria Cibus in Santadi prides itself on serving strictly local products and classic dishes like sappueddus, a roughly cut durum-wheat pasta served with a rich tomato sauce. Mario e Pinella is a wonderfully rustic beachside shack offering ultrafresh fish: There are no frills, but the food is fantastic, and the lovely cove of Cala Sapone is across the road. The island of Carloforte is off the western coast and can be reached by ferry from either the industrial port town of Portovesme or the charmingly whitewashed Calasetta. It shows its Liguria–meets–North Africa roots in its food: Expect tuna, pesto, and cascà (a local version of couscous) in endless variations. Or just grab a delicious cheese-filled focaccia from a bakery. And don’t forget to visit one of the many wineries, which all specialize in native carignano and vermentino varietals. The winery Cantina di Santadi produces the world-renowned Terre Brune, which is intensely flavorful, just like any true carignano. Book a tour ahead, or just stop in for a tasting (and marvel at the table wine that’s dispensed to local farmers from a sort of gas pump). Cantina Mesa is a newer winery, founded by the publicist Gavino Sanna and located by the marshes near the beach of Porto Pino, 10 minutes southwest of Masainas. They make excellent vermentinos that are dry, fruity, and floral all at once.

What to see
If you are interested in prehistory, there are many sites to check out, including the vast necropolis of Montessu in Villaperuccio. In the town of Santadi is the recently opened site of Pani Loriga, which contains the remains of a large Phoenician-Punic town that was abandoned before the arrival of the Romans. There are also many nuraghe on the island that can often be spotted from the road. These huge conical structures can vary in size, condition, and accessibility. Nuraghe Seruci is a beautiful one that is open to the public (hours change by season, so check before you go). The history of local mining—for obsidian, iron, copper, silver, coal—also goes back thousands of years. Book a visit to the Montevecchio mines in northern Sulcis, with four guided tours. Or visit the mines at the stunning Porto Flavia, which opens onto the Tyrrhenian Sea. Rosas, a 20-minute drive from Santadi, contains recently restored mines dating from 1832. The town of Carbonia is less than charming but is home to a fascinating museum dedicated to the local coal mines, built by Mussolini.
If you are looking for nature, walk two hours into the mountains of Villacidro to the waterfalls of Piscina Irgas, which cascade from a granite cliff, or visit the forests of the Gutturu Mannu (just outside of Santadi). Up the western coast, Arrampicata Sardegna leads rock-climbing tours along oceanside cliffs, or deep ravines farther inland. For a less strenuous outing, check out the marshes near Is Solinas. Many flat, easy trails wind around canals, vineyards, and the coastline. There are a few simple towers for bird-watching, where you can peek at white egrets, wild flamingos, and herons in the marsh. And be sure to stop by any one of the area’s well-tended ethnographic museums to learn more about Sardinian traditions—you can find them in Santadi, Nuxis, or Sant’Antioco.

Article by Kyre Chenven first appeared on Conde Nast Traveller Magazine on 12th October 2018 .



Challenge Sardinia 2018

Challenge Sardinia 2018 is fast approaching. 


Article first appeared on on September 20, 2018
by John Levison .

Challenge Forte Village Sardinia 2018
27-28 October 2018 – Forte Village Resort, Sardinia, Italy

As we hit mid-September, thoughts may be turning towards the off-season and taking your foot off the gas for a while. However, if you are still feeling strong, started your season late or would like to combine a late-season holiday with a race in a stunning location, then there are still options out there.
Now in its sixth year, Challenge Forte Village ( will be the final race of the 2018 Challenge Family European season. That will certainly ensure a top quality professional field as one of the last opportunities to secure points in the Challenge Family World Ranking and earn a share of the $165,000 bonus pool.
The event has always attracted British athletes, with Susie Cheetham winning in 2015 and Laura Siddall second in 2017. Laura will be racing again this year – and has this message to British athletes out there considering joining her.

The venue for the event if the 5* Forte Village Resort and the event is renowned for its great organisation and attention to detail. Competitors who choose to stay at the resort will benefit from a discount on their race registration, while staying at the venue also means having transition only seconds away from their rooms. Importantly, your carbo-loading will be aided by breakfast served being served from 4.30am on race day!
To get more of a feel for the event, check out these great images from the 2017 edition, courtesy of José Luis Hourcade.

Chia Stunning coastal views on the bike course photo by John Levison .
A big field of Age-Group athletes photo by John Levison .
Italy’s Giulio Molinari, winner of IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire 2017 photo by John Levison


Social Media for the event:

Nearby of a great interest: 



Cala Cipolla II
Cala Cipolla beach – Chia

Article first appeared on on September 20, 2018
by John Levison .


How Sardinian Weaving Nearly Became a Lost Art

There are some traditions that are universal. Here, we highlight a single craft — and how it’s being adapted, rethought and remade for the 21st century.

Rugs courtesy of Laboratorio Tessile Artigiano/Isabella Frongia.
Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Styled by Theresa Rivera

Article by By Deborah Needleman, first appeared on Sept. 13, 2018 The New York Time Style Magazine.

WHEN ISABELLA FRONGIA, 61, perhaps the most gifted weaver in Samugheo, the Sardinian town best known for its textiles, was a little girl, she would watch her mother, Susanna, work for hours at her loom. Located in the entry hall, the loom had been built of oak and chestnut by a local carpenter, and its squared edges had long ago gone smooth to the touch. Susanna, who is now 86, would sit before it, raising alternate strings attached to bamboo poles by pressing on the wooden pedals at her feet. She would send a bobbin of weft thread gliding across the horizontal surface of the remaining strings, strung taut in the loom’s belly, before yanking a heavy hinged wood batten with metal teeth toward herself, locking each new row into the others. This simple gesture — passing a weft thread through a base of stable warp threads — is the same for every piece of cloth ever woven. And on this loom, Susanna made everything the family needed, from bedcovers, blankets and towels to the wool textiles laid atop wood chests and the saddlebags slung over the backs of donkeys or men to transport things. Each piece was crafted according to designs and patterns stored in an unwritten repository of techniques and styles, many unique to the island, which over centuries had been passed through the hands of Sardinia’s women.
None of this accounts, however, for Isabella’s decision to make her life as a weaver, because at that time every woman in Samugheo wove what her family needed, and every daughter was expected to do the same. In fact, until the early ’80s, all girls were taught to weave. Samugheo is remote, in the island’s center, and separated from its closest neighbor, Allai, by steep hills. All islands are, by definition, isolated, but Sardinia, afloat on the Mediterranean like a puzzle piece gone missing from the coastline of southern France and northern Spain, was more so than most, and for longer. “As if here where the world left off” is how D.H. Lawrence described it in 1921, in his book “Sea and Sardinia.” Having fought a nonstop string of marauders lured by its strategic location — including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs — and having endured long stretches of Roman and Spanish rule, Sardinians moved inland, forming small towns to protect themselves against conquerors and the harsh landscape. The people were poor but self-sufficient, and wary — for good reason — of outsiders.
Samugheo (population 3,018) is an unremarkable-looking town that sits snug against breathtaking cliffs and gorges, forests of cork oak and olive trees and fields fragrant in spring with asphodel and poppy. From a young age, girls began the laborious work of weaving the items for their own future dowry (corredo), which took the form of all the linens they planned to bring with them into marriage. When a girl married, the corredo would be paraded down the street, held aloft by relatives in a celebratory procession marking the girl’s move from her family’s home to her new one. The procession was of course an expression of culture and community, but it was also a ritualized form of showing off. According to Kyre Chenven, the co-founder of the Sardinia-based design company Pretziada, this competitiveness is partially responsible for the extraordinary level of skill and expertise found in the work here. “These woven items,” she says, “were a reflection not of outward beauty but of one’s refinement, skill and dedication.” One of the most special things the women would make — a finely woven linen bedcover with its design picked out in raised loops using a technique called pibiones (or “grapes,” which they resemble) — is unique to the island and has been practiced since antiquity. In addition to the technical prowess, the pattern language here is unusually rich. There are brightly colored “naïve” figures of people and animals familiar to European folk textiles, but also florals evocative of Persian textiles, abstract geometrics and heraldic symbols that feel distinctly Byzantine. And yet, for all their diversity and sophistication, Sardinian rugs and textiles are virtually unknown outside of Sardinia.

A Sardinian woman from around 1910 dressed in decorative clothing native to the island. The patterns and style of dress are specific to each town. Traditional Sardinian weavings are patterned with small raised bumps of thread, called pibiones.
United Archives/Carl Simon/Granger

THE MODERN WORLD didn’t arrive in Sardinia until after World War II, when it was as if the Middle Ages had turned a corner and collided with the 1950s. Recognizing the local treasure buried on the island’s surface, advocates and organizations, often with government backing, sprang up to educate local craftspeople (weaving is just one of many traditions) and promote their work abroad.

Susanna went to work for a wealthy woman in town who, recognizing that the local women’s textiles could become a source of income for them, started a workshop. Suddenly, these women were being paid for work they had always done; it brought a measure of freedom and independence and a sense of self-worth. When their benefactor married and gave up her business, Susanna and another worker started a cooperative. When that partner also married and gave up work, Susanna created her own company.
The 1960s were a period of great exuberance and expansion in Samugheo. The town’s ever-multiplying workshops were beginning to acquire mechanized looms to make the work easier, faster and cheaper at roughly the same moment as the Aga Khan was developing the world’s most luxurious resort for the global jet set — a sophisticated and excellent customer base — on the coast at Porto Cervo, about 90 miles away. But Susanna Frongia held fast to her manual loom, working in a way unchanged for thousands of years. Why bother? she thought. The pleasure and point of weaving is weaving, not running a machine — even if that decision essentially priced her work out of the market.

A colorfully woven rug, or tappeto, from 1925. This one is adorned with cherubs.
Museo MURATS, from the book “Tessidura,” Imago edizioni, 2017 (Photograph: Ludovico Mura)

But the trajectory of booms is all too familiar, and by the ’70s there was a glut of product, much of it mediocre, a flagging economy and competition from abroad as well as from more industrialized Italian cities. In 1996, Isabella, who trained as a teacher, took over the business. Today, the company, Laboratorio Tessile Artigiano Isabella Frongia, is just Isabella, her cousin Anna Maria and Susanna, working and living in the home where Isabella grew up. In Samugheo, there are only 12 other workshops left, the tradition all but destroyed by the very promise of expansion. Some of the shops are like ghosts of a better time. Marcella Flore, 38, works alone in a vast workshop of five hulking industrial looms acquired in the flush years by her parents, both now dead. Some are modern and innovative factories, like Mariantonia Urru’s, now run by the 74-year-old Urru’s four sons, who gracefully mix manual historical work with high-tech Jacquard machines and cutting-edge designs. Isabella Frongia’s business is singular in its commitment to the skills and techniques of handcraft, and the time and passion that it requires.

The bedcovers that once upon a time every girl made for her future life are today too valuable, and too labor intensive, to have a commercial market. Every so often, Isabella will get a commission for a linen bedcover of that kind, heavily embellished with pibiones, which takes her about three months of work. A business like hers can only be sustained by private clients who appreciate what she does and are willing to pay for it: They value the tradition and dedication to making a beautiful object entirely by hand, an effort one cannot always see.
What you can see is Isabella through the window of her workshop, at the entry of the home where she has lived all her life. Here, she and her cousin sit, still working, pressing the pedals, shooting bobbins across and pulling back the comb. In familiar silence, they weave.

Article by By Deborah Needleman, first appeared on Sept. 13, 2018 The New York Time Style Magazine.

One Of Europe’s Best Destinations Off The Beaten Track: Portixeddu, Southwest Sardinia

Article by Joanne Shurvell first appeared on Forbes Magazine on 31st May 2018.

View of Portixeddu from the hilly coastal road to Buggerru photo by

Sardinia with the lure of mountains, beaches, sunshine and seafood has been on our hit list for a while. The Italian island is sparsely populated even though it’s the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (Sicily is larger), covering an area of 24,100 square kilometres (9,305 square miles). But unlike Sicily and mainland Italy, Sardinia isn’t earthquake prone.

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Beach Retreat – the infinity pool at dusk, Portixeddu, Sardinia photo by

While most visitors to Sardinia tend to head north east to the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) and its main resort, Porto Cervo, the summer playground for Italy’s elite, we decided to venture to the unspoiled area in the south west. Not geared up for tourists by any stretch of the imagination, our holiday destination, Portixeddu, has no hotels, no shops and only a couple of restaurants. If you’re looking for a peaceful, stunningly beautiful vacation spot and you love outdoor pursuits, Portixeddu is just the ticket.

View of Portixeddu from Beach Retreat photo by

Portixeddu is about 85 km from the airport of the capital city Cagliari and accessed by one of two roads, a coastal road or a mountain road. The mountain route is slightly faster but both provide beautiful routes to the southwest.

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Dining with a view at Beach Retreat, Portixeddu, Sardinia photo by CV Villas

Although visitor accommodation in Portixeddu is fairly scarce, it’s such a lovely place that no doubt once word about the area’s obvious charms spreads, there’ll be more choice. For now, there are several villas available to rent and CV Villas manages the Beach Retreat, one of the best villas in the area.

Beach Retreat, Portixeddu, Sardinia photo by

We stayed in the lovely Beach Retreat, an eight-bedroom villa in a spectacular position perched on a hill with panoramic views of Portixeddu beach and the surrounding mountains and farmers’ fields.

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Barbecue area at the Beach Retreat, Portixeddu, Sardinia photo by CV Villas

In addition to bright, modern interiors with interesting artwork and eight bedrooms, most with ensuites, the three floor villa offers a well equipped modern kitchen with everything you could possibly need, an outdoor barbecue with a shaded dining area, a games room and fantastic outside terraces. A long shaded terrace, facing the sea, runs the length of the villa with a long table for alfresco dining.

The infinity pool at the Beach Retreat photo by CV Villas

Outside, a large (15 metre long) private infinity pool sits among lush lawns and expansive gardens. There are plenty of deck chairs and loungers to relax on while taking in the panoramic views of mountains and sea. Guests are welcome to pick and eat from the fruit trees in the garden at the Beach Retreat – oranges, figs, kumquats and on the ground are blackberries which start ripening in July. Slightly more challenging to pick but delicious are the prickly pears (fichi d’India/cactus fruit).

Beach view from Ristorante L’Ancora, Portixeddu  photo by

If you stay at the Beach Retreat, barbecuing outdoors or using the well-equipped kitchen are good options. There isn’t a supermarket in Portixeddu but the nearby villages, Buggerru and Fluminimaggiore both have small supermarkets. Fruit and vegetable roadside stalls also offer local olive oil. For an authentic experience where you can drink, dine and socialise with the locals and feel like a local yourself, there are a handful of restaurants all serving hearty, tasty food sourced locally and very reasonably priced.

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Typical Sardinian pastry served at Ristorante L’Ancora, Portixeddu photo by

Sardinians eat from the sea so most menus include squid, clams, prawns and white fish. Lambs join you for lunch at Bar Ristorante L’Ancora where you’ll drink and dine with the locals. This laid-back family run trattoria overlooks the beach at Portixeddu. The farmer who supplied the goats cheese in one of our dishes was eating behind us while a local shepherd brought in a cute duo of lambs while we had lunch. Clams in a spicy tomato sauce were perfectly prepared by chef Maria Pinna. The seafood is fantastic as is the dessert, a baked “ravioli” pastry stuffed with sweet ricotta – sort of like a Sicilian cannoli but lighter. We washed it all down with a rather lethal shot of home made Mirto, a liqueur made from the myrtle plant.

Trattoria del Sole e della Luna near the Beach Retreat, Portixeddu photo by

At the bottom of the road from the Beach Retreat is the brilliant Trattoria del Sole e della Luna run by Luca who cooks a different menu each night, using only seasonal and local ingredients. For 25 euros we had a fine feast of antipasti, roasted lamb, free-flowing wine and liqueurs and dessert.

Gorgeous, windswept, deserted beach at Portixeddu, Sardinia photo by

Portixeddu has a wide sandy 3km long beach equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire from kiosks that also sell drinks and rent pedalos, during the season (approximately end-June to mid-October). Boat excursions are also possible from the harbour in Portixeddu and in Buggerru.

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View of Buggerru, Sardinia from mountain coastal path photo by

This area is ideal for outdoor activities. Beach Retreat offers a selection of good bikes and wetsuits for guests’ use. The villa is just a short walk or bike ride from a long sandy beach at Portixeddu. Or, if you’re feeling more energetic, cycle about 7km along the mountainous coastal road to Buggerru.

Video by

Buggerru, a village about 7 km from Portixeddu, makes an excellent daytrip by car or bicycle. The coastal route is hilly but gorgeous so our hard work peddling was rewarded by stunning views along the way. And Buggerru also has a lovely beach with clear water, deserted when we visited in May and likely never busy, even in peak season. The area around Buggerru is also famous as the location for Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane.

Staying and Getting there:
There are direct flights from London to the closest airport, Cagliari, on British Airways, Ryanair and Easyjet. From there it’s advisable to rent a car as public transport to southwest Sardinia, while fine, isn’t frequent. From North America, fly via Rome where there are numerous flights to Cagliari. We stayed at CV Villas’ Beach Retreat, Portixeddu, which sleeps up to 16 people but discounts are given for smaller groups and prices vary according to season. Phone +44 (0)207 261 5402 or visit to find out more.

Article by Joanne Shurvell first appeared on Forbes Magazine on 31st May 2018.



The centenarians dominating one region of Sardinia

Article first appeared on CNN online on 12th February 2018 by Vivien Jones CNN.

Tonino, the son of the world’s first man to live to 110 years old, reflects on pictures of his late father. Photo by CNN online

Antonio Todde was the first man in the world to live to 110, and he resided in Tiana, a village on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Born in the late 1800s, he died in 2002, having lived to the age of 113. “His life spanned three centuries!” said his son, Tonino, 84, who also hopes to live to 100.
Tiana is just one village within an extraordinary region in which the proportion of centenarians has been found to be three times greater than in the rest of Sardinia — and mainland Italy.
Although good genes, diet and exercise are often cited as crucial to living a long life — which they are in most places — research in this Mediterranean region indicates that social interaction may be just as influential.
Here, observations suggest that care and attention from family members and being closely involved in community activities help maintain a healthy mental state, which is critical to overall well-being.

The Sardinian “Blue zone”

In the early 2000s, demographer and physician Dr. Giovanni Pes found remarkably low mortality rates and high life expectancies among several villages in central Sardinia. He marked each settlement onto a map, eventually creating a cluster of blue marks.
He labeled the region a blue zone, a term now used to refer to any area with extraordinarily long-living populations. Five have been identified, including Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Ikaria, Greece.
What makes the Sardinian region unique is its larger-than-average population of elderly men. “In most western countries, the sex ratio at 100 is 1-to-4 in favor of women,” Pes said. In this central Sardinian area, “it’s 1-to-1: We have the same proportion of men to women at advanced age.”

To find out why this is the case, Pes initially analyzed the population’s gene pool. He had subscribed to the idea that geographical isolation may have resulted in genetic variants that favor longevity to be kept among locals.
But genetic factors only explained “only 20% to 25% of the average lifespan,” he said.
Interviews with elderly people and historical data suggested that social and psychological factors are just as important.
Luigi Corda, author of “100 X 100: The Twentieth Century Through Portraits of a Hundred Sardinian Centenarians,” spent two years photographing and interviewing centenarians in the regions of Barbagia, Ogliastra, Trexenta and Middle Campidano, where he saw the important role played by family.
“Family has a fundamental role in the possibility of living such a long life,” he wrote in his book. “The fact of still feeling important, being the center of attention and head of a family, makes them active and gives them the strength to move ahead, underlying the importance of the family, in addition to genetic aspects, diet and religion.
He also noted that all of the centenarians he met were in excellent health, do not take much — if any — medication and are astoundingly lucid. They are “often read without glasses and continue to do what they have always done,” he wrote.

Salvatore Meloni born in 1908 is a farmer and a shepherd and goat herder Photo by Cnn online

Social Lives and Relationships

In contrast with many parts of Northern Italy, it is unusual for older people in this region to be put into institutional care, according to Maria Chiara Fastame, a psychologist based at the University of Cagliari in southern Sardinia.
Relatives and neighbors look after the elderly, she said, making the home a space of everyday contact between young and old. Older generations are not seen as a burden but rather as people transmitting values and local knowledge. “They are a resource for the community,” Fastame said.

Michele Falchi born in 1908 , is a barber who enjoys sewing and dancing. Photo by CNN online

“Where I grew up, I was surrounded by elderly people who worked and reared animals,” said Claudio Cabiddu, who was born in this region and is studying the psychology of centenarians at the University of Cagliari. “If we can’t learn from them now and pass on this knowledge to our children, we are losing out.”
In his village, older people are welcomed home and cared for by their families. Cabiddu has found that attitudes are very different in Caligiari, as older people live more independent lives. “When there’s an elderly person in the house,” he said, “a support network needs to be in place so that that person doesn’t feel alone.”
As well as being a core part of the household, older people maintain social networks in the community by organizing and taking part in local events, Cabiddu said. Fetes and sporting events in the main square of his village provide occasions for locals to gather.

Gavoi artisan
Gavoi , Craftsman open the door of his house to the people on a festival day. Photo by Sakanatravel 2018

“They also meet after lunch in the square to have a chat, enjoy a game of cards and socialize,” he added.
By staying embedded in the social life of the village, older people maintain an active and valued role in the community, Fastame said. This keeps their minds sharp. “If you are involved with many activities, physical or cultural, it means that your mind is more efficient,” she said.
Whilst there is a vast literature on the benefits of close friendships and family ties, it is the work of the psychology department at the University of Cagliari that found in a 2017 study that older people from the Sardinian blue zone are involved in more social and leisure activities compared to older populations of other areas.
This created a different psychological pattern that was tied to longer lifetimes.

The village of Tiana, in the province of Nuoro, central Sardinia, where Antonio Todde lived to 110. Photo by CNN online

Better mental health, better well-being

“From a psychological perspective,” Fastame said, “the social context is fundamental to get old well.”
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford in the UK, agreed that the social world people live in is significant to living a longer life. “We know that in many ways, this can have almost the same effect as living a good life, eating well, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol.”

Olbia Market 2
Weekly Food Market in town – Special thanks to La Casa del Formaggio Porto San Paolo photo by D.F. Sakantravel 2018

In this region in central Sardinia, the older population “is very unusual in that they have very low levels of depressive symptoms,” said psychologist Paul Hitchcott of the University of Caligari. He is also part of the team examining the minds of Sardinian centenarians.
Although they don’t lead idyllic rural lives, they have “a resistance to the normal knocks that older people have later in life.”
Sardinia is known as an island with low income and endemic disease, Pes said, as well as a “not-exceptional health situation.” It is their tight-knit relationships that have helped residents cope with difficulties in their later years, he said.
Hitchcott’s research has also found that older people here have a better working memory than subjects in Northern Italy.
“Because they were more involved in activities, they were less sedentary, more physical activities; these aspects all together promote well-being, physical and psychological,” he said.

In the search for the answer to longevity, there is no single explanation, Pes believes. “It is rather the interaction of many different factors.”
Social components are important to avoid isolation and depression, but they are intertwined with other factors to enable people to live to (and past) the age of 100, Pes said. Additional research is still required to deepen our understanding of successful aging.
“We are witnessing an exceptional situation,” he said — one that needs to be explored further.

Article first appeared on CNN online on 12th February 2018 by Vivien Jones CNN.

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Italy: Sardinia and the grand canyons of Europe

Article by John Willmott first appeared in The Telegraph –Travel Destinations- on 2nd January 2015.

There’s plenty of tourist information in Sardinia that tells you the Gola su Gorropu is the deepest gorge in Europe. It’s not (see below).

Su Gorropu Gorge photo by The Telegraph.

But that doesn’t really matter when you’re standing at the bottom of an almighty vertical wall of rock and there’s a climber dangling from a precarious handhold high above your head.
Did I say vertical? At this point, the wall – all 1,300ft of it – leans oppressively inwards. Just a few yards away, the opposite cliff soars skywards and in between is a traffic jam of car-sized boulders, as white and smooth as pebbles.
Looking up, the cobalt sky is a narrow ribbon between the rims.
Folklore says that you can see stars during the daytime. Unlikely, but not as fanciful as the legend that tells of evil creatures creeping out of the gorge at night to steal away men and animals.

Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo II
Orgosolo Mount S.Giovanni view over Su Gorropu Gorge photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2008-2018

I love these tales; they sit nicely with my own vivid impressions of Sardinia’s natural poster boy. Viewed from both the other side of the valley and down in the gorge’s dungeons, Gorropu looks like it was cut with a broken hacksaw blade. It splits apart the formidable Supramonte limestone massif that dominates the east of this great oblong of an island.
Actually, it was the Flumineddu river that did the damage. Fortunately for hikers such as myself, the river runs underground through the ravine unless there has been heavy rainfall, after which a mass of water rages through the slot before it soaks away.
That’s what the lady at the gorge’s mouth explained to me when she took my €5 (£4) entrance fee and gave me a detailed briefing on what lay ahead. But the story starts before here, because getting to Gorropu is very much part of the adventure.


Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo X
Orgosolo view over the plain and Supramonte photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2008-2018

A half-hour drive from the sweet little seaside resort of Cala Gonone, through the small farms of the lower Flumineddu valley, brought me to the rough car park. From here it was boots on, stick in hand and a two-hour yomp to reach Gorropu, which remains deliciously hidden until the last steps.
A Jeep service from a different access point cuts the trek down to 40 minutes, but I’d recommend the whole walk. On the right is the gigantic grey wall of the Supramonte – up there somewhere, in a concealed cave, is one of the most intriguing of Sardinia’s nuraghic settlements, the 2,500-year-old Tiscali. On the left is the valley, smothered with dense Mediterranean macchia – a jumble of mastic trees, oleander and myrtle.


Strawberry tree -Mediterranean Macchia photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2008-2018

The route roughly parallels the river, which is littered with boulders and green pools. Sometimes the path rises to give glimpses of the ever-narrowing valley ahead, then dips down to the water’s edge.
Just a few minutes after I spied the top of the gorge through the trees, I was scrambling down to the entrance. It’s not an easy excursion inside; painted spots mark the best way through the maze of rocks but I still found myself using hands as much as feet.
For all its spectacle, Gorropu is a baby in terms of length – barely three miles – and unless you have a guide and rope skills, only about a third can be penetrated. I scrambled as far as possible, mindful of spraining an ankle with a four-mile walk back to come, looking up to search for the wild goats and golden eagles that call this wilderness their home and feeling the silence close in on me.


Cork tree detail – photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2008-2018

Getting the measure of a gorge

So why do I refute claims that Gorropu is the deepest canyon in Europe? Because it’s a measurement that’s almost impossible to define. Gola su Gorropu in Sardinia could, at one precise point, be the deepest gorge in Europe in relation to its width. The problem is, the height of the wall on one side is greater than that on the other, so the measurement doesn’t quite stand scrutiny. That’s the conundrum with measuring gorges.
Another problem is defining the top of a gorge, because it may not have a clearly defined rim. Taken from the summit of an adjacent mountain, the depth of Tara in Montenegro, for example, could exceed 5,000ft.
Almost always, a gorge will be narrower at the bottom than at the rim, so it’s difficult to estimate its width. The narrowest point will probably not be in the deepest section. Length, too, is hard to gauge because many canyons peter out into a wide valley at the downstream end.
Vikos in Greece is deeper than it is wide for a good stretch and, being fairly straight, affords possibly the greatest visual impression of any gorge in Europe.

As for the difference between a gorge and a canyon, National Geographic defines a canyon as a deep valley and a gorge (or ravine) as smaller and more narrow, but the two are generally interchangeable.
But enough of the facts and figures. Get out there, or preferably in there, and explore these extraordinary slices of nature.

Article by John Willmott first appeared in The Telegraph -Travel Destinations- on 2nd January 2015.



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High, rugged and not always easily accessible, the wild and beautiful interior is where to find the Sardinia’s soul.

Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo IV
Orgosolo Mount  San Giovanni -Inland Sardinia photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2008-2018

So, if you are adventurer enough, deep into the mountains in the heart of Supramonte area, following a winding road less than 20 km from Oliena, you will encounter the town of Orgosolo quite fascinating sight of an ancient and mysterious Sardinia.

Monte Novo San Giovanni Orgosolo X
Orgosolo Mount San Giovanni view over Supramonte photo by Daigo Sakanatravel 2008-2018

Orgosolo narrow streets have been decorated since the 60s and 70s with a radiant display of murals (murals) covering the little stone houses and businesses main entrances, enriched by these beautiful paintings with a deep political and social meaning.

Orgosolo Murales
Orgosolo Murales photo by F.F. Sakanatravel 2008-2018

The enchanting murals tell the stories of the people, their traditions, culture and deep social dissent and of course bring forward the ancient desire of Sardinian Independence.

Orgosolo Murales II

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