Located in the lower Sulcis region, about one hour drive from Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari, but a million miles away in spirit, Narcao is a small town of no more than 3000 people and with a very distinct character. The village is surrounded by mountains covered in thick vegetation – Mediterranean scrub, but also oak trees, pinewoods, eucalyptus trees. The road to get there is incredibly scenic – if only on the windy side!
First inhabited around the year 1000 and flourishing until about the 14th century, the village was abandoned until a new community of shepherds settled there again at the end of the 17th century. Since then, the village continued to grow, reaching its peak when it became one of the mining centers of Sardinia.
Off the beaten path compared to many other places on the island, Narcao has yet to be fully discovered by international tourism, though it has started receiving increased attention as it is a place locals love. A quick trip there will have you hooked and you will want to go back for more – visit Narcao and you’ll find a piece of the real Sardinia!
Curious to find out more about this unique destination? Continue reading to discover everything that Narcao has to offer, and to better plan your visit.
What To See And Do In Narcao, Sardinia
Rosas Mining Village
Much like the rest of the Sulcis region, throughout history Narcao was a relatively important mining site. The mines were officially opened by King of Sardinia (and later on the first king of unified Italy) Vittorio Emanuele II on July 11, 1851 – the third mines to be opened on the island. They were actively used until 1979 for the extractions of lead, copper and zinc.
Rosas Mining Village is the most famous attraction in Narcao. A fantastic example of industrial archeology, the mines are surrounded by the Turrabia Mountains and are part of the Geomineral Park of Sardinia.
After extraction of minerals ended and the mines were closed, they were completely renovated to make them accessible to visitors, who can browse the area during guided tours which go to the main square of the village, used as the washing area. That’s where there also are the former post office and mines’ headquarters (now a restaurant), the former bakery, the miners’ dwellings (now a small hotel). During the visit, you will be guided through the tunnels, the shafts and the mills. Don’t miss the multimedia rooms that documents the life of people living and working in the mines.
You can visit Rosas Mining Village every day from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm, from 25 October to 31 May; and from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm from 1 June to 24 October. Guided tours depart at 9:30 and 11:00 am throughout the year; at 2:00 and 4:00 pm in the winter months; and at 3:00 and 5:00 pm in the summer months. Admission is €8.
Make sure to read my post 9 Mines In Sardinia You Should Visit.
Rosso in Miniera Event
Taking place each summer for the last 6 years, and on July 10 and 11 in its 2021 edition, Rosso in Miniera is one of the most interesting summer festivals in Sardinia. The event celebrates the opening of the mine with a historic reenactment and – for the 170th anniversary of the mines – the launch of a book which is a collection of interviews to and testimonies of the people who used to work in the mine.
After an evening visit of the mines led by its former workers – who will take you around the Santa Barbara tunnels and the washing areas, you will join in the celebrations with live music, lots of local food and delicious Sardinian wine from the region.
Booking your attendance to the event is recommended. For more information, exact dates and to book your visit, check out the official website of Eco Museo Miniere Rosas.
Narcao Blues Festival
One of the most famous festivals in Sardinia, Narcao Blues has been taking place every year at the end of July since 1991 and brings in world famous performers for a few days of concerts and more. If you are passionate about blues, soul, gospel and R&B music, you have yet one more reason to include this small town in your itinerary!
Make sure to read my post The Best Events And Festivals in Sardinia.
Su Bucculu Caves
There are many caves scattered around Sardinia, and you will find some in the territory of Narcao, though lesser known compared to many others in the area and only open to speleologists. Su Bacculu caves are known for their flawstones and stalactites, and were actually inhabited in the Neolithic period. Su Maiu cave is the most interesting one as relics – now kept at the Archeological Museum of Cagliari – were found there.
The territory of Narcao is scattered with ruins dating back to prehistoric times – among them a nuraghe, known as Nuraghe Atzei, which you’ll find about 1 km from the village, beautifully immersed in a pine forest.
If you read my post about nuraghe in Sardinia you will know that there are two kinds of nuraghe found on the island – protonuraghi, which have a corridor and date back to the bronze era (between 1800 and 1600 BC) are much older than tholos nuraghe. There are very few protonuraghe remaining in Sardinia, so if you have the chance to see Atzei, make sure to go!
This particular nuraghe has an elliptic shape, being around 30 meters (98.4 feet) long and with a diameter of 22 meters (72 feet). The main building is currently 4 meters (little over 13 feet) tall, while around it you will be able to find various smaller buildings thought to be houses – which leads researcher to believe this was a rather large village in its time.
For other nuraghe in Sardinia, read this post.
Demetra and Kore Temple
Located in the area of Terraseo, close to Narcao, you will find the remains of a Punic temple dedicated to Demetra and Kore. The site dates back to the 3rd century BC. Demetra was known as the goddess of the harvest and fertility.
The ruins were discovered by pure chance in 1971, by some local farmers who were plowing the land. Inside the temple you will be able to see the well and the sacellum that was used for sacrifices.
Various remains were found in the area, including small statues of Demetra, various small vases, and coins which are now visible at the Archeological Museum in Cagliari.
Another interesting site you may want to visit in the area is the Roman tombs of Ollastra Frogheri.
For more archeological sites in Sardinia, read this post.
San Nicolò Church
The only thing that now remains of the original building of San Nicolò church is the bell tower, which testifies of the presence of Benedictine monks – the first that established themselves in the area, around the year 1000. To date, San Nicolò is the patron saint of Narcao and celebrated each August. The original church was demolished in 1971 and a new church built in its place.
Narcao Train Station
No longer in use since 1974, the train station of Narcao was first inaugurated on May 13th, 1926. The building, which is now mostly derelict – though restoration works are ongoing to bring it back to its former glory – is known for the decorative murals painted by Stanis Dessy, one of the most prominent Sardinian artists of the 20th century.
While hiking in Sardinia during the summer months is out of the question, you should definitely make room for one or more hikes if you visit during the fall or spring months.
There are plenty of good hikes in the surroundings of Narcao, and while the trails are normally well marked and the hikes in the area aren’t too challenging, you will be significantly better off hiring a guide or joining a group for your hike. One of the best hikes will take you along the old Sulcis railway and all the way to Rosas Mining Village. Another great hike follows a circular trail around Riu Perda.
For hikes in the area, enquire locally with your accommodation or get in touch with Sardegna Trekking – they have regular guided hikes.
Make sure to read my guide on the best hikes in Sardinia.
Practical Information To Plan Your Visit
How to get to Narcao
With scenic mountains and incredible coastal drives, Sardinia is the ultimate place for a road trip. Having a car will help you discover more places around the island, including hidden gems such as Narcao.
Check the prices of car rental in Sardinia here.
From Cagliari, you’ll have to take SS130 to Siliqua, and from there SS293 all the way to Narcao. It will take you about one hour to drive there. The road is very scenic and you’ll often want to stop for the views and to take photos, so keep your camera ready. However, it is not very trafficked, it’s windy, and there’s little in terms of services (ie gas stations) along the way – so fill up your tank in Cagliari before leaving!
By Public Transport
Public transport in Sardinia is somewhat lacking, but you can get to Narcao by a combination of train and bus if that’s what you prefer.
From Cagliari, take the train to Villamassargia – Domusnovas; from there, hop on a quick train ride to Carbonia and finally on bus 815 to Narcao. Factor in around 2 hours and 45 minutes for the overall journey.
Where to stay in Narcao
There are a few places to stay in Narcao, and those available will offer you a top notch experience for a more than reasonable fee.
The best place to stay is by far Antiche Case dei Minatori, which is actually directly located in Rosas Mining Village, in a beautiful setting surrounded by nature, and which can host up to 110 guests. Rooms are decorated in classic mining style and – albeit having all modern appliances – try to resemble the traditional houses in which people working in the mines lived.
You will find a selection of private rooms and dorms, and can book half board packages which include breakfast and another meal – usually dinner – for a very reasonable price. You will have the option of eating at either the restaurant connected to the mine, or the pizzeria.
Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Things To Do In Sardinia
- The Best Events And Festivals In Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Renting A Car In Sardinia
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with Eco Museo Miniere Rosas and Fare Digital Media. All views expressed are my own.