Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, right after Sicily. But did you know there are many islands of Sardinia that you can also visit?
Some of the smaller islands of Sardinia are inhabited – you will find charming, quaint villages: that’s the case of Sant’Antioco and San Pietro islands. Others are completely uninhabited, and natural, pristine and highly protected, and are home to some incredibly interesting sites – that’s the case of Asinara and some of the islands of La Maddalena Archipelago (both are national parks!). Some have also been the object of political disputes until very recently.
What the islands of Sardinia have in common is a truly breathtaking beauty. Are you curious to find out more about them? Continue reading!
The Most Beautiful Islands Of Sardinia
La Maddalena is a sparkling archipelago just off Sardinia’s northeastern coast. Set in the azure seas of the Strait of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and Corsica, the collection of seven main islands – and other islets besides – is actually a national park. Inhabited since prehistoric times, today this protected area is lapped by clear waters and is a haven for wildlife and holiday makers alike. Its glistening yet rugged islands include:
The largest in the archipelago, the eponymous La Maddalena is home to the largest town in the area – somewhat confusingly, the town is also called La Maddalena. Here you’ll find charming restaurants, small boutiques, and stylish hotels to stay in when you’re not exploring the multiple beaches, one of the many picturesque pathways.
One of the best ways to get around La Maddalena is to hire a car. This way, you can explore at your own pace and uncover some of the island’s hidden gems for yourself. Most of the time, this means finding beaches.
Some of the best on the island include the secluded Cala dei Francesci, tucked away in the south; the popular Spiaggia di Tegge, close to the town center (a perfect spot for sunset); and Capocchia du Purpu – or Octopus Head Beach – known for its peculiar rock formation.
This island may be very attractive, but Santo Stefano is actually mainly known for playing host to a NATO Naval Base, as well as the Italian Navy too. Because of this military connection, most of the island remains uninhabited, aside from visitors to the tourist resort and the military.
Situated to the south of La Maddalena island, Santo Stefano is a beautiful place to discover, despite the naval presence – think winding roads, historic fortifications, a jagged but charming coastline, and crystalline waters. It’s only reachable via private boat too, meaning it never gets too busy.
The funny thing about Budelli is that you’re not actually allowed to set foot on the island. All you can do is admire this 1.6 square kilometer slice of paradise from a boat on the water. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – this unspoiled haven is a wonder to behold, especially because of its striking pink beach – Spiaggia Rosa. Due to its protected status, any construction is banned on the island, leaving visitors to admire this beauty from afar.
The third largest island in La Maddalena archipelago, Spargi is also uninhabited. It boasts a rugged, granite landscape that juts dramatically out of the turquoise seas. As yet undeveloped, Spargi is a relaxing spot that’s perfect for a day trip during your time in La Maddalena. You can visit on a private boat or tour.
There’s also its sister island – Spargiotto. Much smaller than its neighbor, Spargiotto is home to rare birds, making it a good place for bird-lovers.
Linked to La Maddalena via a bridge, Caprera is the second largest island in the archipelago. More rugged, less populated, and more remote-feeling as a result, Caprera’s claim to fame is being the place where Giuseppe Garibaldi spent his final years (he actually bought half the island). Pivotal in Italy’s unification, you can learn all about his life and legacy in his former home, now a museum and memorial.
Possibly named for its wild goat population (capra means “goat” in Italian), the island is interesting to explore thanks to much of its coastline being inaccessible by driving. That means hiking through the rocky interior to find white sand beaches and taking a refreshing dip in crystal clear waters. In the south of Caprera, you’ll find Punta Rossa, an outcrop that’s home to an old fort among other coastal spots to relax and take in the scenery.
To make the most of La Maddalena Archipelago, you may want to join a guided boat tour such as one of these:
- La Maddalena archipelago full day boat tour from Palau – if you are tight on time, this tour departing from Palau, in mainland Sardinia, is the best option.
- Full day boat trip to the Maddalena archipelago – departing from either La Maddalena or Palau, it’s one of the best reviewed tours.
- La Maddalena archipelago catamaran tour – a perfect option if you want a smaller boat and especially a smaller group.
Make sure to read my post The Best Boat Tours To La Maddalena.
Situated off the coast of the northwestern tip of Sardinia, Asinara Island spans over 50 square kilometers. The island is entirely protected, and mostly uninhabited. Though humans have lived here since the Neolithic age, due to its prominent position, Asinara was known to the Phoenecians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
Made up of four mountainous sections, Asinara comes from “sinuara,” Latin for “sinuous.” Nowadays it is home to a population of wild albino donkeys. But once upon a time, Asinara Island was actually a prison colony and remained so up until 1997. For over a century, prisoners and the staff at the prison were the only inhabitants of the island.
Today it’s a protected area where tourists can visit through organized and guided tours, to experience its wild setting, steep rocky coasts and Mediterranean scrub. A wide variety of animals live here, from the donkeys to wild horses, boars, and peregrine falcons.
Another of Sardinia’s islands situated in the northeast – specifically off the coast of Olbia – Tavolara is a small but striking slice of limestone massif rising out of the water like a mountain. Characterized by steep cliffs, the island spans five kilometers, and reaches an altitude of 1,854 feet (that’s at Monte Cannone).
Though much of the island is made up of a NATO base and restricted only to military personnel, the island is home to a small number of local families who live in its west port area. It’s a popular scuba diving spot, with beaches and a nice seasonal restaurant to sate your hunger.
The nearby Molara Island is also a great place to visit!
Spanning 160 square kilometers, the Sulcis Archipelago is situated a short distance off the southern coast of the Sardinian mainland. Many of the inhabitants of the archipelago are descendants of a coral fishing colony established by Genoese immigrants in 1741, having left a previous colony in Tunisia. This is noted in the Tabarchino dialect of the Ligurian language spoken here.
Made up of just two islands, there are also several small islets dotted around, too. These include:
With a population of just under 12,000, the municipality of Sant’Antioco boasts the largest community of the Sulcis Archipelago. It may seem relatively small at 109 square kilometers, but in the whole of Sardinia it’s second in size only to Sardinia itself, and is the fourth largest island in Italy.
You’ll find it 87 kilometers from Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. It’s conveniently connected via bridge, meaning it’s easily accessible from the mainland. There are towns situated on the island, none quite as charming as Calasetta. Situated on the northern coast of Sant’Antioco, it’s a small fishing village with a sweeping arc of white sand beach, a quaint marina, and plenty of places to enjoy local delicacies.
Sant’Antioco boasts plenty of history, since it was first settled in the fifth millennium BC. There are mysterious nuraghe to discover, Roman bridges, a Roman fountain, and Phoenician necropolis, to name a few. There’s also a more remote coastline in the south to explore, too.
San Pietro Island
Known as “Sparrowhawk Island,” San Pietro is located north of Sant’Antioco. Home to around 6,000 people, it’s easily accessed via frequent ferry services from Calasetta and Portovesme on the Sardinian mainland.
The main town on San Pietro is called Carloforte, a small fishing town and holiday resort. Here you’ll find beaches and seafood restaurants, a small marina and charming, historic streets to wander. It’s a good base to use for exploring the rest of the island, where days can be spent scuba diving, hiking or simply relaxing on one of its several compact cove beaches.
Malu Entu Island
This is one of the most interesting islands of Sardinia! Known in Italian as Mal di Ventre – literally “belly ache” – its name in Sardinia is actually translated into “bad wind” and is a reference to the sudden changes in the weather and the winds. The island is part of the Protected Marine Area of Sinis and highly protected.
A popular day-trip destination during the summer – boat tours usually depart from Mari Ermi beach – the island is completely uninhabited and home to wild garlic and sea turtles, whereas the marine life is thriving. There are also shipwrecks.
Malu Entu island was at the center of attention in local and national media in the past, when the Partito Paris, guided by Doddore Meloni, claimed its independence, adopting a new monetary system, giving it its own government, and aiming at becoming an independent state fully recognized by the United Nations. With the death of Doddore Meloni in 2017, the project has been abandoned.
Isola dei Cavoli
Located in southern Sardinia, opposite Capo Carbonara and less than one kilometer away from it, Isola dei Cavoli is a small granite island perfect for a day trip from the lovely Villasimius. Though the Italian name translates into English as “cabbage island” and is a reference to the presence of wild cabbage plants on the island, its Sardinian name is “cavuru” – crab and is a reference to the shape.
Nobody lives on this 43 hectares large island, which is part of the Protected Marine Area of Capo Carbonara. You can visit it on boat trips departing from either Villasimius or Costa Rei, and you can dock in certain points to be able to see Pinuccio Sciola’s statue of the Virgin of the Sea (which was placed underwater in the late 1970s), the lighthouse (which incorporated a 1591 Spanish Tower) and the thriving marine life – this is one of the best diving spots in Sardinia.
The conformation of this island, which is also part of the Marine Protected Area of Capo Carbonara in southeastern Sardinia, is similar to that of Cavoli Island – granite rock and Mediterranean vegetation. Known for its snake-like shape, like many other islands of Sardinia, it is completely uninhabited – but thriving with marine life and wildlife. It’s a great spot for birdwatching, with colonies of herons, Corsican seagulls, cormorants and tufty gulls. But you will have to admire them from the sea, as nobody is allowed to disembark there.
You can however swim in the Variglioni, three large granite rocks emerging from the sea in the northern part of the island, which help forming stunning natural pools.
If you are into diving, you will also be able to spot the remains of a Roman galley; an Aragonese sailing ship dating to the 15th century; the Egle steamship which drowned in 1943; and the Elba Ferry.
Surmounting the island there is the Spanish Tower of San Luigi.