Laconi is a fascinating mountain town sheltered in a fold of the hills on the fringes of the grand massif of Gennargentu.
This charismatic small hamlet shows a fresh and bucolic feel with views of green, magical ponds and swinging streams. It is a fantastic place to explore full of traditions, archaeology and Cristian devotion.
The Aymerich Park in Laconi is a lovely and peaceful 22-hectare heaven ideal for an unusual excursion in the centre of town.
You will be amazed by an array of streams, springs, and waterfalls overlooking calm ponds, all around woods of oak trees, olive and locust groves and a big variety of plants from all over the world….. read more
Article by Rob Waugh first appeared on Daily Mail online 29th February 2012 .
The 5,300-year-old ‘ice mummy’ known as Otzi suffered from the world’s first-known case of Lyme disease, a bacterial parasite spread by ticks, according to new DNA analysis.
Otzi, who was 46 at the time of his death and measured 5ft2, also had brown eyes, had relatives in Sardinia, and was lactose intolerant. Otzi was also predisposed to heart disease.
The new research focused on the DNA in the nuclei of Otzi’s cells, and could yield further insights into the famous ‘ice mummy’s life.
The ancient natural mummy was believed to have died 5,300 years ago when he was hit by an arrow during a hunting trip, or possibly in an accident.
The new analysis found genetic material from the Lyme disease parasite while investigating Otzi’s own DNA.
Albert Zink of the University of Bozen said that the new analysis also showed that Otzi has relatives. Earlier analysis of his mitochondrial DNA, passed down through the maternal line, found no living relatives.
”His ancestors came from Europe originally from the East and spread over most or part of Europe,’ says Zink. ‘His original population was somehow replaced by other populations, but they remained quite stable in remote areas like Sardinia and Corsica.’
He was unearthed in September 1991 by a couple of German tourists trekking through the Oetz Valley, after which he was named.
He was about 46 years old when he met his death.
The iceman has been crucial to our understanding of how prehistoric people lived, what they wore and even what they ate.
Researchers examining the contents of his stomach worked out that his final meal consisted of venison and ibex meat.
Archaeologists believe Oetzi, who was carrying a bow, a quiver of arrows and a copper axe, may have been a hunter or warrior killed in a skirmish with a rival tribe.
Researchers say he was about 159cm tall (5ft 2.5in), 46 years old, arthritic and infested with whipworm, an intestinal parasite.
His perfectly preserved body is stored in his own specially designed cold storage chamber at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy at a constant temperature of -6°C. Visitors can view the mummy through a small window.
Alongside his remains is a new Oetzi model created using 3D images of the corpse and forensic technology by two Dutch artists – Alfons and Adrie Kennis.
Article by Rob Waugh first appeared on Daily Mail online 29th February 2012 .
From kicking back on baby-friendly beaches to exploring meandering caves with teens, Sardinia’s family-friendly options are staggeringly diverse
Article by Helen Warwick. Published on 28th February 2019 on National Geographic Traveller Magazine.
Travel with… toddlers
Like any self-respecting Italian region, Sardinia excels when it comes to spot-on kiddie staples. Pizza, pasta and gelato are all on the menu to keep everyone happy at mealtimes. But it’s not just food that will enamour toddlers. Don’t miss a trip on the Trenino Verde: a diesel train that rambles through miles of serene Sardinian countryside. There are six different routes to choose from, depending on how long your little ones will stick it out for, but the Mandas to Seui line is probably your best bet with young ones. Animal-loving tots will also fall head over heels for the island’s agriturismi (farm stays), where they wake to the sound of cockerels, eat freshly picked oranges on shady terraces, and pet farm animals before letting off steam in miles of rural space. Alternatively, decamp to BluFan Aquatic Park with its epic water slides and pools — always a winner with toddlers. Travel with… babies
There are two universal truths about Sardinia. Firstly, it’s fringed with beaches that look more like the Maldives than the Med. And secondly, Sardinians adore babies. Combine the two and your bambinos will be smitten. Babies love a good beach. And the thing about Sardinia is that many of its curves and coves are spectacularly calm and shallow. Head to Tuerredda on the southern coast to nab a spot on its buttery sand, where little ones can potter under the shade of umbrellas and paddle in gin-clear waters for hours. When your little ones need a snooze, load up the buggy and trundle beyond the beach and along the resort’s promenade: most are incredibly buggy friendly and backed with playgrounds. Many hotels have thought of everything for baby travel, with all the gear on demand — cots, changing mats and baby baths — but anything you’re missing, you can hire from Italian firm MammaMamma.
Travel with… teens
Teenagers can be hard to please, but even they can’t ignore the pull of the island’s good-time vibes. The surf scene is cool and friendly and will welcome newbies to the west coast’s pounding waves with a pro lesson. Still in the water, the north coast’s resorts of Palau and Porto Pollo are big on watersports: kitesurfing, diving and windsurfing are all on the bill. A trip to Sardinia’s largest national park, meanwhile, is a must: the Gennargentu National Park is a playground for off-road biking, caving and canyoning, and a chance to discover the island’s craggy beauty. An all-round crowd-pleaser is a horse ride along the beautiful Piscinas Beach on the island’s south-west coast, with its dunes of orange sand and trails lined with fragrant juniper, beach grass and olive trees.
Travel with… tweens
Keep tweens happy with a trip to Laguna di Nora — a fascinating lagoon on the western side of the Nora promontory where pink flamingos stride through the lake’s shallows. Spot these creatures on a canoe trip — don’t forget your camera — and dip into the visitor centre for a wildlife lesson in the area’s aquatic fauna. But to really grab their attention, book a snorkelling tour in the dreamily clear water — a perfect place to introduce novices to the sport. Back on land and out of the blasting sun, Capo Caccia’s Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune’s Grotto)— an enchanting and cavernous cave network — will fire up young imaginations with staggering forests of stalagmites and stalactites. To make them feel like true pioneers, descend into the caves via the Escala del Cabirol — a hair-raising staircase that has around 650 steps — before clambering along narrow walkways and into the darkness. Travel with… multi-generations
Plot a course to the Capo Carbonara promontory,a protected marine park which will charm your entourage, where sweeping bays sit cheek-by-jowl with dunes and coves. Take it in turns to watch the tots craft sandcastles and pad about, while you dive its knockout waters or wander along the walking trails beneath chalk-white cliffs, or pile the whole family into a boat for a trip along the coast. Away from the water, sensational scenery and wildlife pops up in every direction at La Giara di Gesturi— a high basalt plateau that’s home to Sardinia’s indigenous wild ponies. Walk among its scrubland and ancient woodland, which is smothered in heather and wild orchids come spring, and head towards one of the area’s paulis (pools), where it’s possible to spot the charming ponies pausing for a drink.
Ask the experts
I’m travelling alone to Sardinia with my three-year-old. Is it easy to find babysitting services and other solo-parent families?
Many single parents who travel to Sardinia, especially those with small children, opt for family-friendly resorts where the market for single-parent holidays is well developed. You could choose an all-inclusive resort that caters to families, with playgrounds, paddling pools and all sorts of entertainment options for children. Many resorts offer childcare resources too, from playground monitors to babysitters. The family-friendly environment makes it easy to meet other parents and have some time with adults.
Sardinia is incredibly child-friendly; locals dote over children — especially little ones — and welcome them in cafes, restaurants and hotels. One of the best things about Sardinia is its sandy beaches, where children can run and play freely; the area around Alghero, especially, has shallow, clear and calm waters. Car rental companies across the island can provide child seats, opening up more destinations like the wild beaches on the western coast of Sardinia, which stretch for miles — if you decide to go exploring further afield. Vesna Maric, Lonely Planet writer
Published in the Sardinia 2019 guide, out with the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Article first appeared on Fresh Plaza magazine online on 15th November 2018
Giovanni Pess is the owner of the company that bears his name, located in the Sardinia region. It is a business that produces large quantities of vegetables, but it is specialised in the Sardinian spiny artichoke, “For more than 40 years, we have been farming artichokes, to the point that today the production of Sardinian spiny artichokes represents the company’s core business”.
“At the beginning of this 2018/2019 campaign, we experienced some issues related to the unusually high temperatures. For a few days, temperatures here in Sardinia have been reaching 20°C – this is not an ideal situation for this kind of crop. Climate change causes several problems to the production of artichoke. Even though the campaign has started for a few days, we will start the big part of the harvesting only within ten days thus leaving to the market all the decisional power”.
“We produce almost 40.000 flower heads per hectare. If the weather will be as it should, we will be able to ship our volumes within 3-4 months. Yet, if the weather will not be good, we will produce 40.000 flower heads within not even two months thus resulting in an offer overlapping and in a market saturation which will inevitably affect the prices”.
“This type of artichoke is mostly consumed in Genoa, Milan and Turin. We market 6 millions of flower heads through different sales channels. We rely on a renowned distributor for our placement within many distribution chains such as MMR, Auchan and Esselunga”.
“This produce has very important organoleptic characteristics. It is rich in iron, potassium, minerals and fibres. This vegetable can be tasted raw if it has been carefully cleaned”.
A superb scenery entices the photographer on this secret part of Sardinia.
Located only a few miles from Cabras lies a pretty and mysterious small town: San Salvatore of Sinis.
The hamlet was built around the Sanctuary of San Salvatore a 17th-century church and one of Sardinia’s “Chiese Novenari” usually open only for the town main country festival.
Nine days long celebration (Festa di San Salvatore) at the beginning of September.
The cumbessias – small village unadorned dwellings – are opened to guests pilgrims from nearby towns that attend the religious gathering.
The peak of the commemorations commences at daybreak on the first Saturday of September with the barefoot race challenge, Corsa Degli Scalzi, a re-enactment of a frenetic salvage mission set about four centuries ago to rescue the statue of San Salvatore from Moorish repeated assaults.
The procession involves over 800 town boys ( curridoris) barefoot and clad only in white shirts and shorts that run along dirt road following the statue of the saint from the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cabras to the township. The simulacrum is then returned to safe custody in Cabras the following day.
It is an amazing sight lived with full enthusiasm by the locals and tourists alike.
The Church hides a beautiful and interesting past: just under the church left aisle lies a stone hypogeum (underground vault)part of a prehistoric pagan sanctuary carved into the rock which dates back to the Neolithic period, joined in Nuragic times with a water cult in a series of rectangular and circular rooms, where it is still visible a well and a spring source in the main chamber.
Later in the centuries, the sanctuary was dedicated to Mars, Venus, Cupid and Hercules as still visible graffiti and faded frescoes can be admired.
There are also drawing with black ink from a number of sources, most fascinating repeated “RF”, probably a Carthaginian prayer for healing that reads RUFU in their language. Greek and Arabic writing adds to the cultural melting pot, thanks to its proximity to the important port of Tharros and possibly dating back to attacks from Islamic marauders in the Middle Ages.
The chamber was also used as a prison in the Spanish period.
Of great interest are the ruins of Roman Baths (called “Domu ‘e Cubas) dating back the Imperial age (2nd century BC) with a beautifully colored mosaic floor and signs of the presence of a granary.
During the 4th century, the pagan shelter was transformed into an early Christian sanctuary, in fact, two rooms with rough altars and a large Nuragic basin to the sides were reused as a holy water source.
Most of the year this beautiful hamlet is almost deserted, the sixteenth-century church surrounded on all sides by the shuttered cumbessias.
This magical town was used as a set for various spaghetti Western in the 1960s and 1970s. due to the similarity to the landscapes of the American borders so with expert hands of famous film directors became a village of Arizona or New Mexico like the film “Garter Colt” in 1968.
Article first appeared on Gambero Rosso Year 21 -number 116 – march 2018 pag. 72
La Maddalena and Coastal Gallura
La Maddalena is the largest island of an archipelago in the northeast of Sardinia. In all it consists of 60 islets that face the Gallura coast. There is only one inhabited centre by the same name and a coastal road of less than 50 km runs along the perimeter of the island. The coastlines are jagged, and characterized by granite rock walls that in some cases plunge straight into the sea. These rocky bluffs alternate with beaches and delightful coves boasting white sand that is reflected in the crystalline sea. For a long time La Maddalena was a base of the Italian Navy, proof of this is the Nino Lamboglia naval museum. Within the village, reachable form Palau with a 20 minute ferry ride, are beautiful eighteenth-century dwellings and the church of Santa Maria Maddalena.
It’s wonderful to tour the hills, and explore the woods and the granite quarries; even more sensational is discovering the hidden bays, white sand dunes, breathtaking sea floor habitat and visiting the other islets. This unique insular environment gave life to the National Park of the Maddalena archipelago, born in 1994 and which includes about 18 thousand hectares of surface ( of which 13 thousand are the marine extension).
Cantina Vini Mura – Vermentino di Gallura Cheremi ’16
Siblings Marianna an Salvatore Mura passionally lead the family business which is located in one of the most suitable areas for Vermentino. The Cheremi is a white wine of great elegance and flavour, fresh and pleasantly acidic: excellent with seafood risotto.
Cantina Zanatta – Vermentino di Gallura Sup. le Saline ’16
The Zanatta winery produces two reds and two whites. Among the latter, Le Saline represents the highest selection of Vermentino di Gallura. A part of the mass ages in oak and the result is a riot of olfactory complexity; savoury and of good depth. Perfect when paired with a bitter vegetable flan.
Cantina di Masone Mannu – Zurria ’15
It is not just the white wines that star in the production of Masone Mannu. The goodness of some labels makes it clear that Gallura is also the ideal territory for traditional red wines. A fine example comes from Zurria, a wine made form carignano grapes vinified in steel: perfumes of Mediterranean scrubland, myrtle, but also of spices, blackberry and cherry. The mouth is rhythmic and juicy. excellent if enjoyed alongside roasted veal fillet.
Cantina Tondini -Moscato Lajcheddu
The winery produces Karagnanj, a great Vermentino di Gallura But within the range we also find Lajcheddu, a splendid passito wine made from muscat grapes. The bewitching olfactory notes are all based on strawberry tree honey, ripe peach, apricot and dried fruit. The mouth is sweet, but never cloying, rather sapid and fresh. Well-paired with traditional desserts or with Fiore Sardo sheep’s milk cheese.
A Word from the Chef
“Ode to La Maddalena always in my heart”
I was born 34 years ago in the Sinis peninsula, a land with long history: home to Monti Prama giants and great traditional products like Vernaccia and bottarga. But first experience was in Gallura, at Baia Sardinia for 6 months of seasonal work. It was the year 2000 when Costa Smeralda was a magnet. Quality ingredients were sadly not a priority in hotels back then, the preference was using products of large distributors. Then something changed. Over time, thanks to a vision acquired around the world, the search for quality ingredients finally started, no shortage of which in Gallura. la Maddalena is an island in Gallura with granite rocks and crystal clear beaches. Inland are mushrooms, wild herbs and farms; and then the sea’s bountiful catch: molluscs, crustaceans and other marine life. Besides ingredients, Gallura owns great gastronomic history, result of a peasant cuisine that blends elements of sea and land. Zuppa Gallurese or Chiusoni ( hand-stretched pasta with a beef ragout) are sculpted in y memory, as well as Sa Mazza Frissa Gallurese, clotted cream made with the remains of fermented milk and cooked aith wheat: umble yet tasty. The memories of this cuisine are alive and I bring them with me for inspiration – Salavatore Camedda chef at Somu n San Vero Milis https://www.somu.it/
Article first appeared on Gambero Rosso Year 21 -number 116 – march 2018 pag. 72
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
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.
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
Article by John Mariani first appeared on Forbes Magazine May 15th 2018 .
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.
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.
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 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.
I highly recommend a drive out of town to explore the prehistoric Nuraghe Palmaverastone 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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 .