Located in the beautiful Isola di San Pietro, in the Sulcis Archipelago in southern Sardinia, Carloforte is easily one of the most beautiful, unique places to visit in Sardinia. Recently become nationally famous thanks to a TV Series (L’Isola di Pietro), the island has managed to retain all of its local character.
Blessed with beautiful sandy beaches, small rocky coved, transparent waters of a million shades of blue, a barren landscape with scenic rock formations, hiking trails, and the lovely small town of Carloforte, Isola di San Pietro should definitely be on your radar for your next trip to Sardinia.
If you are wondering how to make the most of Carloforte and Isola di San Pietro you have come to the right place. I happened to spend quite a bit of time there last September, and roamed the island thoroughly. Continue reading this post to discover everything you need to know about Carloforte and Isola di San Pietro and to better plan your visit.
Some Background Information On Carloforte And Isola Di San Pietro
With a total population of around 6200 people, Carloforte is the only town on Isola di San Pietro – or San Pietro Island, in English – which measures just 51 square km.
Locally known as U pàize, Carloforte is a Ligurian enclave in Sardinia, having preserved throughout the centuries the language and culture of its founders – coral fishermen from Pegli, near Genoa, in Ligura, who had moved to Tabarka (a small island off the coast of Tunisia) where they had lived since the 16th century.
It was 1738 when the around 30 families from Tabarka – the Tabarchini – were granted King Charles Emmanuel III’s permission to colonize San Pietro Island, which was then uninhabited – although archeological remains prove that people had lived there in the Phoenician times (8th century BC). Remains of a Carthaginian settlement – with a temple and a necropolis – were also found.
Carloforte, the name of the only town in Isola di San Pietro, is a clear reference to the Piedmontese king – meaning “Charles the Strong” but also “Charles’ Fort.”
GOOD TO KNOW: The Tabarchini also founded the nearby Calasetta, in Sant’Antioco Island, in 1778.
Nowadays, Carloforte still has some very strong connections with Pegli and Genoa, in Liguria, and Tabarkine – a language that resembles that of Liguria and is at odds with Sardinian as well as Italian – is still widely spoken. Upon visiting you will see that the town resembles those you may have seen in Liguria – colorful buildings, narrow streets, fortifications. It really is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Finally, continue reading to discover more about the beaches in Isola di San Pietro, and the many things to do in Carloforte and on the island.
The Best Beaches In Isola Di San Pietro
Isola di San Pietro is a great place to visit year round, but it certainly is at its best in the late spring and summer months, when vegetation is in full bloom and you can enjoy the many beautiful beaches. You will find sandy beaches as well as small rocky coves, each with clear waters and offering unique experiences.
GOOD TO KNOW: Maps of the island are available at the best hotels. Not only will maps point out all the best beaches, but also indicate whether they are a good spot on windy days.
Continue reading for more information.
At 2 km from Carloforte, Il Giunco is the longest beach in Isola di San Pietro. The beach takes its name from the many rush (giunco, in Italian) plants found there.
The beach is characterized by shallow waters that are protected from the currents, and as such it’s perfect for families with children, who can safely play there.
GOOD TO KNOW: Il Giunco is accessible to disabled visitors, and part of the beach is also accessible to dogs.
There is no kiosk and no lifeguard on duty.
Girin is a sandy beach that is beautifully sheltered from the mistral wind. You will find clear, shallow waters waters and Mediterranean vegetation – macchia and pine trees – around it.
Perfect for families with children, the beach is located at about 3 km from Carloforte. You can get there following SP7.
Keep in mind that there is nothing in the way of services on Girin beach.
Immediately after Girin and overlooking Sant’Antioco Island, Punta Nera is one of the best beaches in Isola di San Pietro for families with children.
It’s a nice, sandy beach divided in two by a water-breaker meant to protect it from the waves on windy days
On the beach you will find a kiosk serving quick meals and drinks, but no lifeguard service.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is a wooden trail leading to the beach, which is thus accessible to disabled visitors.
Guidi is another small beach characterized by the presence of white sand and tuff rocks and with perfectly transparent waters. The shallow waters have a sandy seabed that gives way to posidonia – which, contrary to common belief, is a sign of how pristine the water is.
The beach is located at about 5 km from Carloforte. You need to park your car at the parking lot of the restaurant on the other side of the street and then walk there.
There is a kiosk where you can get a sandwich and a drink, as well as beach equipment. Lifeguards are on duty only during the peak months of July and August.
One of the few sandy beaches in Isola di San Pietro, La Bobba is surmounted by rocky cliffs on both its sides, covered by Mediterranean vegetation and from where you can enjoy nice views that span all the way to Guidi. It is nicely sheltered from the mistral winds.
The beach has a kiosk where you can get food and drinks and rent all sorts of beach equipment, and there is a lifeguard on duty. You have to pay a small fee for the parking lot.
GOOD TO KNOW: La Bobba is accessible to disabled visitors.
At a short distance from La Bobba you will find Punta delle Colonne, one of the most popular landmarks on the island where you can see two massive trachytic rock columns emerging from the water. A Natural Monument since 1993, you can get there along road 103 from Carloforte. From La Bobba, just follow the well marked trail – it’s accessible to disabled too.
This tiny cove of no more than 50 meters is located on the south of the island. It has a mixture of fine, white sand and clear granite rock formations, and clear and shallow waters which however give way to deepest ones perfect for diving and fishing. If you are into swimming, you can easily reach the small islet located in front of it.
There is nothing in the way of services at the beach.
La Caletta is by far the nicest beach in Isola di San Pietro. Located on the southwestern coast of the island and accessed via a very short trail that starts in the parking lot, this beautiful sandy cove has incredibly clear and shallow waters, making it a perfect place for families with children.
Located at the beach you will find a kiosk that serves light meals prepared to order and where you can rent umbrellas and sunbeds for the day.
GOOD TO KNOW: La Caletta is accessible to disabled visitors.
On the northwestern coast of San Pietro island, north of Capo Sandalo where the lighthouse is located, Cala Fico is a tiny beach with large pebbles in what looks like a fjord, surmounted by steep cliffs and with incredibly transparent waters.
A perfect spot for diving, snorkeling and underwater fishing, the surroundings are a protected oasis since 1991, for being a refuge for Eleonora’s falcons. The beach is managed by the LIPU – Italian League for the Protection of Birds.
There is a parking lot and a small kiosk.
Not exactly a beach, but definitely worth mentioning. La Conca is located in the Mezzaluna Gulf and is famous for its cliffs from where many love jumping directly into the clear waters. There are several underwater caves – for those who like diving.
You can get there following SP102 from Carloforte. There is a parking lot but no other services. There is no lifeguard on duty.
One of the smallest beaches on the island, it’s protected by a beautiful forest and only known to locals. It’s located 5 km north of town. You can park the car near the Museo del Mare. The beach has nothing in terms of services.
What To See And Do In Carloforte And Isola Di San Pietro
Explore the village
For as small as it is, Carloforte is a lovely place to explore and you will have no shortage of sights and photo opportunities. A simple stroll around town will take you to the most important landmarks, along the narrow alleys with the colorful buildings, and gift you with a quaint, friendly atmosphere.
The following are the main sights in Carloforte and Isola di San Pietro.
Located in Via Solferino and locally known as “archiottu,” this small arch was built at the end of the 18th century as the door to the garden of Rapallo family, which back then was one of the wealthiest in town. It’s one of the most photographed spots in Carloforte.
City Walls and Lion’s Gate
The city walls were lifted after the last invasion by Tunisian Corsairs who, in 1798, captured and enslaved around 1000 locals. They started being built in 1806 and were completed in 1813, and back then surrounded the entire village. Nowadays, you can only spot them in the western part of town.
You can still see the three main forts – Santa Cristina, Santa Teresa and Beatrice, and the Lion’s Gate, whose name is due to a lion head carved in the rock.
Giuseppe Cavallera Cineteatro
Located on the waterfront of Carloforte, this large building is also known as “Casa del Proletario” or “U Palassiu” (in Tabarchine language). It was built between 1920 and 1922 and used as a meeting area for the trade union, which were led by Giuseppe Cavallera.
Chiesa dei Novelli Innocenti
Located a bit outside of town, this is the oldest church in Carloforte, built around 1230 upon wishes of Pope Gregorio IX to pay respect to the young crusaders who died on a shipwreck just outside San Pietro island. What’s notable about it is that the church was built well before the arrival of the Tabarchini in the 18th century, thus proving that there were people living and working on the island well before their arrival
The church was completely renovated in 1984. During the renovation works, traces of the foundations of a pagan temple were discovered.
Multimedia Museum of the Sea
This interesting museum is entirely dedicated to the history of the Island of San Pietro. The museum is located in the three floors of San Vittorio Tower, which dates back to the 1768 (when it was built in honor of King King Vittorio Amedeo III), and first opened in April 2016. Each floor explores a different time period in the history of the island.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: During the winter, the museum is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. During the summer months, it is open daily except on Mondays. Make sure to double check the opening hours and book your visit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; or calling +3007818589260 or +3907818589200.
Carloforte Salt Pans
Located just outside of town, the Salt Pans are a great place to admire some of the most unique bird species of the Mediterranean, including pink flamingoes and corse seagulls.
The area was used for the production of salt since Punic times, but it was only in 1770 that extraction began on a larger scale. They went out of use in 1998.
This is one of the nicest squares in Carloforte, whose main sight is the Monumento ai Caduti, built in the 1930s in honor of those who died in World War I. At the top of the monument there is a statue of the Winged Victory, which was placed there in 2009.
Swim in the Piscine di Nasca
This is one of the most unique places on the island – a series of natural pool carved in the volcanic rock by the wind and the sea and that gets regularly filled with sea water. Getting there isn’t exactly easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to the Piscine di Nasca, you have to drive all the way to the north of the island. You will reach a final spot on the road where you can park your car and from there follow the signs leading to the pools. The trail is not marked, but it’s easy to find your way. It’s a steep downhill on the way there.
Good walking shoes or hiking shoes are recommended, even to walk on the rocks (which are very sharp!).
GOOD TO KNOW: On the way to the Piscine di Nasca you will find the remains of the Fortino di Guardia Mori, which was built in 1850 for defensive purposes. It’s currently abandoned.
San Pietro Island isn’t exactly mountainous (the highest peak is little over 200 meters), yet it is a great place for hiking and there are several trails.
One of the most challenging hikes is the one to Cala Vinagra, in the LIPU Oasis near Cala Fico, on the northern coast. The trail is fairly easy to begin with, and mostly downhill, but it quickly becomes harder as you get close to the shore. The views once you get to the cliffs are splendid. Hiking shoes are required.
Go on a boat trip around the island
One of the best ways to enjoy Isola di San Pietro is on boat tours that go around the island. Several companies have daily departure from the harbor in Carloforte, but keep in mind it is not recommended to go on windy days.
You can opt for a sailboat or for a zodiac, depending on how big the group you are traveling with is. Prices are in the range of €55 per person. For information and bookings, enquire locally at your hotel.
San Pietro island is one of the best diving destinations in Sardinia, though keep in mind it is best for expert divers as the diving spots often have strong currents. You will find a couple of diving centers on the island. The best known are Isla Diving and Carloforte Diving.
Make sure to check out my post A Complete Guide To Diving In Sardinia.
Admire sunset from the lighthouse at Capo Sandalo
Located in Isola di San Pietro there is Italy’s westernmost lighthouse, which was built in 1864. This is a fantastic spot to catch sunset. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to drive there from Carloforte. Once there, there is a large parking lot from where the trails to the viewpoints start.
GOOD TO KNOW: There are several sunset spots around the island. Make sure to grab a map from your accommodation, as this will point out the sunset spots.
Attend Girotonno Festival
Carloforte most famous yearly event is a festival called Girotonno, which is a celebration of its delicious, high quality tuna.
The festival takes place every year between the very end of May and the first two weeks of June and lasts 3 days. During the festival, you will be able to taste delicious tuna in all sorts of forms, and will be entertained with music concerts and other activities.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another cool festival in Carloforte is the Tabarchino cous cous festival, which takes place every year in April and – as the name recalls – focuses on the local (delicious) version of cous cous.
TIP: Carloforte canned tuna is mighty expensive compared to the typical stuff you can get off the shelf in stores. There’s a reason it costs so much: it is really top quality. Make sure to stock on some before departing!
Take a day trip to Calasetta and Sant’Antioco
Much like Carloforte, Calasetta is a Tabarkine enclave. Located on Sant’Antioco island, it’s at a 30-minutes ferry ride from Carloforte. Ferries depart regularly throughout the day, so you can take advantage of that for an easy day trip to a lovely village and.
Calasetta has some lovely beaches – Sotto Torre is right in town, and it’s gorgeous. You will find viewpoints, museums and charming little alleys with lots of sleepy, friendly cats.
If you wish to explore a bit further, the town of Sant’Antioco used to be Phoenician-Punic colony, and later on a Roman City. It has a lovely waterfront, and a well curated museum of archeology and a museum of ethnography.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Museo Archeologico Ferruccio Barreca – is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Admission is €7.
TIP: If you intend to explore Sant’Antioco Island rather than just Calasetta make sure to take your car.
Make sure to check out my post A Complete Guide To Calasetta, Sardinia.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Carloforte And Isola Di San Pietro
How to get to Carloforte
Carloforte is located on Isola di San Pietro, in the Sulcis Archipelago. You can get there by ferry from either Porto Scuso, on mainland Sardinia, or Calasetta, in Sant’Antioco Island.
Delcomar runs several daily ferry rides between Porto Scuso and Carloforte, and between Calasetta and Carloforte. You can check the schedule here. Ticket prices vary depending on the season, but are in the range of €8 and €9.50 euro per person, roundtrip. If you have a car, there is an additional cost of €20 roundtrip.
Advanced bookings are only necessary during peak season (August).
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that, if you get a roundtrip ticket, you can travel back to a different port other than the one you departed from. For example, if you reached Carloforte from Portoscuso, you can use your roundtrip ticket to travel to Calasetta on the way back.
Depending on the departure point and the weather conditions, traveling time is between 30 and 40 minutes.
How to move around Isola di San Pietro
The easiest way to move around Isola di San Pietro is by car – I recommend renting one directly in Cagliari (best if at the airport, as soon as you arrive) or whichever other is your port of entry.
If you are the sporty type, you may want to take your bike to San Pietro Island. There isn’t much traffic, and it is a great place to bike around – but keep in mind that it’s very hilly. Add to that the summer heat, and you may easily be discouraged. The village is very bike friendly.
Guided tours of Carloforte
If you don’t have much time to visit Carloforte and Isola di San Pietro during your trip to Sardinia, you may want to opt for a full-day guided tour departing from Cagliari. This guided tour of San Pietro Island and the nearby Calasetta. You can book it here or here.
Where to stay in Carloforte
You will find many great places to stay in Carloforte and on the island. For prolonged period of times, you may want to rent a holiday home. Otherwise, I recommend staying in Carloforte. These are the best places:
LU’ HOTEL RIVIERA – With a gorgeous terrace overlooking the harbor and comfortable, spacious rooms, this remains one of the best hotels on the island. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Where to eat and drink in Carloforte
There is no shortage of great restaurants and bars in Carloforte. The following ones are my favorite:
DA NICOLO – The Pomata family manages some of the best restaurants in Sardinia, and this is one of them. Great food, generous portions, and spot on service make paying the more-expensive-than-average prices completely worth it. Reservations are recommended.
DA ANDREA – There are two Da Andrea restaurants in town. One is a trattoria style one, and the other a more refined restaurant. Both are good, but the fine dining restaurant is truly an incredible dining experience. It’s definitely worth the price. Reservations are recommended.
LO SCUGNIZZO – The best pizzeria in town; it dishes out mouthwatering, fragrant Napoli-style pizza prepared with seasonal, fresh ingredients.
BARONE ROSSO – The most popular pub in Carloforte, it’s a great place to grab a beer in an easygoing atmosphere.
Make sure to read my other posts about Sardinia:
- 10 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Calasetta
- The 15 Best Beaches In Sardinia
- The Most Incredible Day Trips From Cagliari
- The Nicest Small Towns And Cities In Sardinia
- Where To Stay In Sardinia
- What You Should Know Before Traveling To Sardinia
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