Molara is one of the smallest islands off the coast of Sardinia. Located right next to the larger and more famous Tavolara island, and with that part of the Protected Marine Area of Tavolara Punta Coda Cavallo. It is easy to reach from Olbia, and a really unique place, yet unknown to tourism – in fact, it’s virtually unknown to Sardinians too!
The island is actually private property, and not accessible to the public – you can only visit on guided tours, and only between late spring and early fall – when the weather conditions allow visitors to make the most of all that it has to offer.
This is a really special place! The kind of place you should visit if you want to get completely off the beaten path and away from the tourist crowds; but also a fantastic destination to admire pristine nature and sea, and to learn a bit more about the history of Sardinia and the traditional way of life.
I have recently visited Molara for the first time, and in this post I will tell you everything you need to know about it and how to plan your visit. This is only a short summary of what the guides will tell you in much more detail!
A Brief History Of Molara Island
Called “Buccina Insula” by the Romans, in reference to a large shell found on the island and which was used to extract a rich red color for fabrics, the only real documentation of life on Molara island starts from 235 AC. That year, Pope Pontian and Ippolitus, a Catholic priest, were exiled to the island.
In more recent times Molara was acquired by the Tamponi family (which now lives in mainland Sardinia) and became an agricultural farm, thanks to the presence of a source of water which provided drinking water to the inhabitants.
The island was inhabited by a handful of families who made use of their know-how to built dry stone walls enclosures (typical of Sardinia) that were used for animals – among them goat and cows – bred on the island to locally produce cheese. The very same shepherds were also sailors – they inevitably had to be able to sail the sea to get to mainland Sardinia for trade purposes, and to buy salt that they’d use for cheese production.
The farm continued working until the 1960s, when even the last guardian left to finally move back to the mainland.
To date, the island – which remains private property of the Tamponi family – can be visited strictly on guided tours run by the Associazione Molara.
What To See And Do In Molara Island
Hike around the island
There is only one narrow dirt road that goes around the island, and only a 4 wheel drive would be able to tackle it! The only car on the island is a vintage Fiat Campagnola, which was brought there in the 1960s and through decades has only accumulated roughly 7,000 km (little over 4,349 miles).
This is to say that the only way to explore the island is on foot. There are several hiking trails – all of them circular routes – that will take you to the main places of interest.
The hike is moderate, with some minor ascents and descents over easy terrain, but you need light hiking shoes for that. Different trails have different lengths – the one I did was around 6 km (3.7 miles). Longer trails also go to the defensive tower (located on the peak of the island, called Punta del Castello), built so as to warn mainland Sardinia of the possible arrival of invaders.
There will be plenty of stops during the hike – for views, for stories, information and more.
Visit the farm
One of the highlights of visiting Molara island is the possibility of exploring the ruins of the old farm and the annexed manor house, which date back to the 19th century.
Visible in the manor house are the remains of the bedrooms – all facing the sea; a large dining room; a kitchen with the traditional stove; and even an old toilet. Next to the manor house, and separated by a large enclosure that was used as a vegetable garden, there’s the cheese workshop where you can still spot the traditional instruments. Facing the house, there is an interesting small building – I could not guess what it was until the guide revealed it was used as a chicken coop!
And the church
Located in the northwest part of the island, close to Cala Chiesa beach, you’ll be able to spot the ruins of a tiny medieval church (San Ponziano church) in Romanesque style and with just one nave. By the church, there are some other buildings which testify of the presence on the island of a 15th century monastery. Unfortunately, a series of heavy rains and natural disasters caused most of the church to collapse and restoration works are needed.
Admire local flora and fauna
Vegetation on the island is the typical Mediterranean shrub you’d find in other places in Sardinia. There are centuries-old olive trees; mastic; cistus trees. A fire devastated the southern bit of the island in the 1970s but thankfully vegetation grew back.
Living on the island there are cows and goats that have been left behind by the owners, and whose population is kept at bay to preserve the delicate environment. For the same reason, the management of the Protected Marine Area ran a campaign to eradicate mice and rats.
Up in the sky you can spot the peregrine falcon; the rare Corsican seagull; and the shearwater minor.
Enjoy the beach
You won’t find long, sandy beaches in Molara – they are more like small coves, usually a mix of sand and pebbles. Visitors usually hang out at Cala Spagnola, the only one where the zodiac of Associazione Molara docks and which is the only access point to the island. It’s a tiny cove with incredibly clear waters where you can swim and snorkel. As the island is part of a protected marine area, there is a lot of marine life here so make sure to bring your goggles to snorkel around!
Other nice swimming spots are Punta Molara, Cala dell’Attacco, and Punta dell’Arresto and the gorgeous Piscine di Molara, natural pools with tremendously clear waters.
How To Visit Molara Island
Molara is a private island and can only be visited on guided tours that include a boat ride, a guided hike around the island to visit the most important landmarks, lunch (a simple lunch with local ingredients) and free time at the beach. These depart from the small tourist harbor of Cala Finanza, about 25 minutes drive from Olbia and just about the same from San Teodoro. Parking in Cala Finanza is free.
Tours are run by Associazione Molara – typically in Italian, but there is availability for tours in English. They depart for a group of minimum of 6 persons, but you can enquire with them to see what options are available.
For information, make sure to get in touch with Associazione Molara at [email protected] or to call them at +393333945162. Make sure to communicate any specific dietary requirements for the lunch and they will try to accommodate them!
What To Wear And Pack When Visiting Molara
As you will be going on a light trek around the island, it is recommended you dress appropriately and wear light hiking shoes. You will also be spending some time at the beach. Here is a list of items you should bring and wear:
- Light hiking shoes
- Sun hat
- Refillable water bottle
- Hand gel
- Quick dry towel
You may also want to bring a beach umbrella for shade for the chill-out time at the beach. You can drop it off at the shelter before you set to hike and take it once you are ready for some beach time.