Poetto is Cagliari’s main urban beach. Yet, it is much more than that – at least to us living here.
Known as the “Spiaggia dei Centomila” (the hundred-thousand beach, which refers to the supposed amount of people it can hold), Poetto is hardly the most beautiful beach in Sardinia, but we in town love it through and through. It’s where we go for a quick beach getaway in any season; it’s our escape from the buzz and stress of city life – right in the city; it’s where we go to exercise at any time of day and throughout the year.
In other words, we cherish it and we wouldn’t exchange it for any other place.
One thing I have to admit though, Poetto holds many a secret – and most of us in town know actually very little about it. Last week, I had the chance of taking a guided night tour with the lovely guides of Arasolé, a local tour company, and I learned a wealth of information about it. I decided to share it here, along with other useful information that will help you make the most of it.
A Brief History Of Poetto
There are several theories as to the name Poetto that indicates Cagliari’s main beach. The first theory associates it with the “Torre del Poeta” – Poet’s Tower, an Aragonese watchtower which can be seen on Sella del Diavolo (Devil’s Seddle), the promontory overlooking Poetto Beach.
Others believe that the name comes from the word pohuet, which in Catalan – as you may know the island of Sardinia was under Catalan influence centuries ago – means well or cistern. The name would refer to the many cisterns used to save rain water located right under the Sella del Diavolo.
The last theory suggests that the name is an evolution of the Sardinian word puertu – harbor, port. In fact, for centuries Poetto was actually a port.
How did Poetto beach come about?
Poetto wasn’t always the main urban beach in Cagliari. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Cagliari aristocrats and rich people would travel all the way to Giorgino for a day in the sun and to take in the benefits of the waters of the Mediterranean. They’d travel all the way there on their coaches. Once in Giorgino, they’d spend their time at Bagni Carboni (Carboni bathhouse), where they found changing facilities – although they would get in the water fully dressed, and at set times so that men and women would never meet.
The working class beach used to be Sa Perdixedda.
When in 1912 the area of Giorgino started being polluted with the sewage of the nearby beer factory (which later on became Ichnusa, Sardinia’s trademark beer), the need to move away from Giorgino and find another suitable beach became pressing.
GOOD TO KNOW: Giorgino beach still exists but virtually nobody goes there anymore, as much better beaches exist near Cagliari.
The most suitable area was deemed Poetto, which however back then was a military zone (and still partially is).
It was only thanks to the interference of Ottone Bacaredda, the then major of Cagliari, that locals were given permission to spend the summer months at Poetto beach, and that two different bathhouses were built – Stabilimento Balneare d’Aquila, inaugurated in 1913, and the Lido, which opened in 1914.
INTERESTING FACT: Local media regularly dedicated articles to Poetto and the local beachgoers, particularly interested in the dress-code, always keeping an eye on women for they had to be fully covered not to raise any suspicion of being improper.
D’Aquila bathhouse immediately proved to be suitable for all kinds of people – though it was quite expensive to own or rent a changing room there, so mostly rich people would go. Lido, on the other hand, attracted aristocracy and the “new rich” – the local bourgeoisie.
Both of them had changing facilities; bathrooms; a platform on the sea; restaurants; a coffee shop; shops selling all sorts of things and there even was an orchestra and a ballroom to entertain guests.
GOOD TO KNOW: Both D’Aquila and Lido still exist today and are very much part of the landscape of Poetto beach, not to mention local institutions. You can access them paying an €8 euro fee. Umbrella rental is €15 and sun-beds cost €15 each. This is more or less the same fee you can expect to pay at any kiosk along the beach where equipment is available for rent.
With time, more bathhouses were built along the shore so you will find them scattered along Poetto. The best kept one is the Lido dell’Esercito, where changing rooms are more spacious and umbrellas more distanced one from the other. Unfortunately, this is only open to members of the Italian army and their family.
Together with the construction of the two bathhouses, it became clear that there needed to be a way to reach the beach. That’s when the electric tram line connecting Via Roma, at the center of Cagliari, was built to make several stops along Poetto. Stops were differentiated by their number (first, second, etc.). The tram was finally dismantled in 1973, when they were substituted by a more modern bus system.
GOOD TO KNOW: We still use the tram stop (or, nowadays, bus stop) system to indicate a circumscribed area of Poetto beach, so it is not uncommon to hear locals setting to meet at the “Prima Fermata” (first stop) at Poetto. It makes little sense to visitors, but we are perfectly used to it!
Poetto became even more popular after 1923, with the construction of the first beach huts – locally known as casotti. Anybody could buy one of the small, colorful wooden huts. Entire families would move there in the summer season – men still going to work; women traditionally taking care of the house (or the casotto!) and children enjoying more freedom than usual, having direct access to the beach. It was a bit like a town within the city, with its own social system.
The casotti were first demolished in 1943, when the Nazi troops arrived in Cagliari. The wood that had been used to build the casotti was now being used as firewood. The Nazis and Fascist also occupied the bathhouses.
It was only in 1946 that the casotti were reinstalled along Poetto beach, save for the “prima fermata” (first tram stop) area.
With time, the number of casotti grew to be more 1400. However, the lack of electricity in them gave way to issues of security, as they became the target of vandals at night. That, with the lack of a proper sewage system, adequate showers and toilets along the beach, and the presence of many improvised restaurants along Poetto, caused serious hygiene issues. Eventually, after the 1985 snowstorm that hit Cagliari, the local municipality decided in 1986 it was time to dismantle them all – much to the disbelief of their owners.
PERSONAL STORY: I have very vague memories of the colorful casotti – I was only a child when they were dismantled for good, but I can still remember trucks with casotti loaded on them, moving them who knows where. This article is in Italian, but at the bottom you will find a whole set of photos that will give you a good idea of what Poetto used to look like with the casotti and the electric tram going about.
The Ospedale Marino
The new hospital, locally known as Ospedale Marino, started being built in 1934. Its construction went on uninterrupted until 1939 and throughout WWII, but the hospital – right on the beach – was finally inaugurated in 1947, only to be moved to a nearby building – the former Hotel Esit – in 1982 and completely abandoned 6 years later.
Today, the old Ospedale Marino still stands on Poetto Beach, abandoned. Local administrations can’t seem to agree on how to restore the building and what to use it for.
There isn’t much information about Ausonia, to which many elderly locals refer to as the shantytown of Cagliari. This was created spontaneously in 1943, when locals started flocking back to town after the bombardments and established themselves in the area of the old hippodrome, close to Poetto Beach.
The entire district was demolished in 1959 and nothing remains of it today – just a Via Ausonia (Ausonia street). Currently, Poetto is in fact one of the most expensive areas of town in terms of housing, with gorgeous villas and fabulous gardens directly facing the beach.
With a view to face the constant erosion of Poetto – due to the heavy winds, the currents and the many beach goers – in 2002 local authorities gave way to a project – locally known as ripascimento – to drag sand from the deep seas and spread it along the beach with a view to increase its surface.
That sand – darker than the powdery white one locals were used to – changed the face of Poetto. So much so that the local administration who approved the project ended up being sued for damages.
Only now, some 18 years later, Poetto sand is finally starting to look like what it used to before.
Poetto Beach Today
Fast-forward to 2020 and locals in Cagliari still love Poetto beach deeply, as they did from day 1. We love hanging out there at any time of year. Go in the summer months and you’ll see them basking in the sun, swimming, practicing water-sports. Visit in the winter and you’ll see them walking on the shores, running on the trail, or sitting at one of the local cafés sipping their morning coffee. We like to think that this is the best place to get away from the chaos of the city – without even having to get out of it.
A few facts
Located at 5 km from the center of Cagliari, Poetto is a 10 km long beach that spans across the municipalities of Cagliari and the neighboring Quartu Sant’Elena.
The beach is characterized by fine, white sand and clear, very shallow waters. It’s highly exposed to the winds – especially Mistral and Scirocco – so you may want to avoid it when the wind blows, or risk literally chewing sand!
Spending a day at the beach
Poetto Beach is free to access, so if you have your umbrella and towels all you have to do is finding a suitable spot to place it.
Alternatively, you will find a few bathhouses scattered along the beach. The only two that allow access to visitors who don’t have an annual subscription are Lido and D’Aquila.
A great alternative to them are the many kiosks you will find along the beach, where you can usually rent an umbrella, chairs or sun beds for a fee – it usually is €15 for the umbrella and €12 for the chair.
The most popular places are Emerson, Golfo degli Angeli, Altamarea and Marlin. You are better off calling in advance and reserving a spot, especially if you are visiting in the peak months of July and August and / or at the weekend. Most of them don’t have websites but a quick Google search will put out their Facebook pages, to which they are responsive, and their phone numbers.
TIP: Smother yourself in sunblock and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Getting sunburnt and sunstroke is easier than you think!
How to get to Poetto
Poetto Beach is incredibly easy to reach by public transportation. If you are staying in the center of Cagliari you can opt for buses PF or PQ which depart from Piazza Matteotti – right off Via Roma. The service is available throughout the year.
Other services available are:
- 5ZeEUS – it goes from Parco di San Michele to Poetto (last stop is Ospedale Marino).
- QS – it connects the outskirts of Cagliato to Poetto via Quartu Sant’Elena.
- 11 – it goes from the corner of Via Cagna all the way to Calamosca beach.
- 3P – it goes from Piazza Giovanni XXIII to Poetto.
On Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months you can also count on the Poetto Express Bus, which connects Piazza Matteotti with the Ospedale Marino, making several stops along the way.
GOOD TO KNOW: Bus tickets can be bought in any “Tabacchino” and are occasionally available at vending machines near the bus stop or even on board – but don’t hold your breath on that. At the time of writing, a ticket costs €1.20
In case it isn’t clear already, Poetto isn’t just a beach. The following are just some of the main landmarks in the area.
Torre di Mezza Spiaggia
The Torre di Mezza Spiaggia is a Spanish watchtower located close to the old Ospedale Marino. It was built before 1591. It is almost 8 meters tall, and has a diameter of 6 meters. There used to be a room inside, but the entrance has been sealed. From there you can easily spot the nearby Tower of Poetto, the one of Carcangiolas, on the stretch that belongs to Quartu Sant’Elena, and all the way to the towers of Foxi and Cala Regina.
Molentargius is a large nature reserve that can be accessed from several places in Cagliari, one of them right along Poetto. It’s a great place to observe local wildlife, and in particular for birdwatching – it’s one of the various pink flamingoes nesting spots in the area.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Molentargius is free to visit. You can rent bikes right by the entrance for a small fee. The best time to visit is early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when birds become a bit more active. Bring your binoculars and a camera with a good lens!
Before Poetto’s Prima Fermata (first stop), Marina Piccola is – as the name says – a small marina right at the foot of the Sella del Diavolo (more about that below), where many locals dock their private boats. It’s a place where we in Cagliari go for walks – especially in the summer; to hang out; to grab a drink or a bit in one of the local restaurants (there is a main one and a couple of kiosks); and to admire the sunset. There is an amphitheater where there are occasional live shows.
Sella del Diavolo
The Devil’s Saddle, or Sella del Diavolo as we call it, is one of the most important landmarks in Cagliari. This promontory that surmounts Poetto Beach and separates it from the nearby Calamosca and Cala Fighera beaches is one of the subjects of a local legend according to which demons, lead by Lucifer, were so impressed by the beauty of the Gulf of Cagliari that tried to conquer it. When God sent his troops led by Archangel Michael, Lucifer was thrown off his horse and lost is saddle which landed on the water. Once petrified, the saddle formed the promontory.
Another version of the same legend says that Lucifer fell off the horse and on the promontory, giving it its shape.
The gulf facing the Devil’s Saddle is called Golfo degli Angeli – Gulf of Angels.
There are a few trails to hike Sella del Diavolo. One of them starts in Marina Piccola; the other starts in the nearby beach of Calamosca. Both are easy to follow trails (though the one starting in Marina Piccola is a more challenging hike) that lead to a viewpoint from where you can get breathtaking views of the gulf.
Another fun way of enjoying Sella del Diavolo is on a kayak – that way, you can really understand how clear the waters are, even in this part of town!
These are a couple of good guided tours that go to Sella del Diavolo:
- Cagliari: The Devil’s Saddle kayak tour – a top-reviewed 4 hours tour that will take you to some of the best hidden gems in Cagliari. It departs from Poetto.
- Guided tour to the Devil’s Saddle – a good guided hike to get to the viewpoint of Sella del Diavolo. You also visit a few historical landmarks located within.
Other nearby landmarks
On the other side of the Devil’s Saddle, there is Cagliari’s second urban beach, Calamosca. It’s a good beach to go to when the wind blows as it is more protected compared to Poetto.
Following the road from Calamosca, you can also get all the way to a parking lot from where the trail to Cala Fighera starts. This tiny cove is a local nudist beach blessed with incredibly clear waters. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but worth it.
Guided tours of Poetto
Other than the night tour of Poetto run by Arasolé, there aren’t any specific tours that solely cover the beach. There are a few, however, that also go there. I have selected the best ones for you:
- Electric bike naturalistic tour – a bike tour of Molentargius Park that goes all the way to the Devil’s Saddle and to Calamosca beach.
- Cagliari half-day private sightseeing tour – a good guided tour that covers all the main landmarks in Cagliari, including Poetto and the Devil’s Saddle.
- Cagliari sightseeing tour – another very good tour that goes to the main places to visit. It’s short but sweet.
Running and biking trail
Running along Poetto from the Prima Fermata there is a running and biking lane where we locals enjoy running throughout the year. Go there at sunset or early in the morning and you will see many doing their best to keep fit. The trail runs all the way to Quartu Sant’Elena. You can follow your progress in distance easily as there are marks every 100 meters.
Scattered along the beach you will also find several water fountains – so you don’t have to worry about carrying a bottle of water.
Water sports at Poetto
Poetto is just about the perfect place for water sports. Depending on the wind and currents – usually in the winter time – this is an excellent surfing spot. Throughout the year, you will be able to enjoy wind surfing and kite surfing – Cagliari regularly hosts kite surfing competitions. Other available sports are kayaking and canoeing. Finally, it is not uncommon to come across people swimming along the beach.
INTERESTING FACT: The surroundings of Cagliari are home to various groups of dolphins and it is not uncommon to come across them. They often enjoy playing with people on wind surfs!
Check out my post Where To Go Surfing In Sardinia.
Where to eat and drink along Poetto
You won’t have troubles finding a place to eat or drink along Poetto. There are several kiosks along the beach that are perfect for a coffee, a sunset drink and a meal, as well as some restaurants tucked further from the beach.
These are my favorite places for a drink and a meal:
OTIUM – located at Prima Fermata, it’s an easy going place with welcoming stuff, very good service and good food at reasonable prices.
LE PALMETTE – right next to Otium, it’s a more upscale place very popular with a younger crowd. Chef Jacopo Lenza has turned what used to be a fast food place into one of the best restaurants along the beach.
LO SPIEDO SARDO – this is one of the best known restaurants, pretty much a local institution.
FRONTEMARE – it’s on the Quartu Sant’Elena side of Poetto, so a bit of a way from Cagliari town center, but the food is delicious: definitely worth going.
ANTICA CAGLIARI – one of the most famous restaurants in town, it recently opened a separate place right along Poetto Beach.
I CADDOZZONI – A local institution, the name refers to a series of food trucks that – for as far as I can remember – have always been parked right by Lido, along Poetto Beach. The best food truck is Baffo.
BOBOCONO – one of the best gelaterie in Cagliari, it has a hole in the wall at Poetto. Ice-cream there is simply heavenly.
Nightlife in Poetto
Up until a few years ago, Poetto was one of Cagliari main hubs for nightlife during the summer seasons, and literally each and every kiosk offered live entertainments with concerts, salsa dancing and what not. Poetto was also a festival venue – just imagine attending a festival with such a fantastic backdrop.
Following the many (legitimate, to be fair) complaints by local residents, concerts and big events have been discontinued, but Poetto remains a great place for a night out. When the heat is unbearable, head there for a drink, a walk along the waterfront, or a low-key concert in one of the kiosks.
Dogs at Poetto Beach
There is a dedicated dog-friendly beach at Poetto, at the Settima Fermata (seventh bus stop), where dogs can roam free, swim and there are fountains where they can drink and cool off.
GOOD TO KNOW: Along Poetto Beach there are several protected cat colonies. Depending on the time of day you visit, you’ll see them hanging out looking for attention, or you’ll spot a local feeding them.
Final recommendations to enjoy Poetto beach
Regardless of when you decide to visit, please be respectful of the beach and don’t abandon any garbage! Also, remember that taking sands, shells or stones from Sardinian beaches is forbidden and if caught you may be subjected to a fine.
Further readings about Cagliari
Make sure to read my other posts about Cagliari:
- 15 Great Things To Do In Cagliari, Sardinia
- The Most Incredible Day Trips From Cagliari
- Cagliari Nightlife: A Guide To Cagliari Best Bars
- The Most Delicious Sardinian Food: Everything You Must Try
- Where To Find The Best Pizza In Cagliari
- The 7 Best Beaches In Cagliari
- The Nicest Hotels In Cagliari