Above: Cala Cipolla and Su Giudeu, white-sand beaches near Faro Capo-Spartivento

Exploring Unspoiled Sardinia

Whenever I return to the Costa Smeralda, with its wave-sculpted boulders and steep cliffs alternating with white-sand beaches backed by azure sea, I not only fall in love with Sardinia all over again, but also feel a powerful urge to explore Italy’s second-largest island more thoroughly. For some reason, however, though I’ve appreciated this dramatic northeastern shore for decades, the rest of Sardinia has remained a mystery.

So finally, this past spring, I undertook a 10-day driving tour of the island. We began on the southern coast in Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city, and finished in Alghero, a beautiful medieval town in the northwest. The island we discovered remains wild and spectacular, with small hotels of comfort and character, delicious food, unexpectedly excellent wines, fascinating archaeological sites, intriguing little towns and miles of empty beach. Sardinia has a resilient identity and has jealously preserved its distinct dialect and culture.

Flamingos in Notteri pond, Villasimius - © Luca Moi/iStock/ThinkstockAfter two days in Cagliari, where the Museo Archeologico Nazionale provides an essential lesson in Sardinia’s long and complex history, we drove southwest out of the city over the bridges and viaducts crossing salt pans that have been in use at least since the Romans arrived on the island. Flocks of pink flamingos punctuated the mirror-like waters, and the air was scented by the white and pink oleander lining the well-maintained roads. Our destination was the sunken Phoenician city of Nora, which is best known for its superb mosaics. Little else has survived, and it requires an active imagination to conjure a thriving city from the ancient stones. The setting on a strategic peninsula, however, affords magnificent views of the coast and its sturdy guard towers and lighthouses constructed by successive civilizations.

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Above: Cala Cipolla and Su Giudeu, white-sand beaches near Faro Capo-Spartivento

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