Not many people outside Sardinia know this, but the island is a fantastic birdwatching destination, and one of the best places to do that is actually Cagliari, the capital. That’s where you’ll find the Parco di Molentargius – Molentargius Natural Park, in English; an incredible oasis where a variety of species live.
No trip to Cagliari is complete without a stop at Molentargius, also known as Parco delle Saline. Loved by locals, who visit on a regular basis throughout the year, many tourists find that visiting this vast park is the highlight of their time in Cagliari and learn to appreciate how such a pristine place is located in the very heart of the city.
Curious to find out more about Molentargius, and how to visit? Continue reading!
What Is Molentargius?
Molentargius was originally a saltworks and is located between Cagliari and Quartu Sant’Elena municipalities. It has historically been a salt extraction site since Punic times and has only ceased its activity in 1985, being later (1999) designated as a Ramsar Wetland thanks to the variety of species (especially birds), both permanent and migratory, nesting there.
The area is currently 1600 hectares wide and divided into several ponds with their own micro-environment: each environment has different features depending on the water’s salinity, which varies for every pond.
The main ponds are the Bellarosa Major, also called Molentargius (saltwater), the Bellarosa Minor and Perdalonga (freshwater), and the “Ecosistema Filtro” (Filter Ecosystem), an artificial basin that was built to purify the water meant to refill the main ponds, which then slowly became a nesting area itself. Other relevant areas are the saltwater ponds of Quartu and Perdabianca.
The Park’s name comes from the Sardinian name for the donkey (molenti) and the persons in charge of leading the animals (used to move the salt) in and out of the area, who were called molentargius, literally meaning “the men who lead the donkeys”.
If you’re wondering why donkeys were brought in such a dangerous, water-filled place, remember that, back then, the area was not a wetland, but a part of the territory that was appositely and artificially flooded in order to produce and extract salt. There was plenty of space for the people and animals to go back and forth – and no risk of drowning!
The area became permanently flooded only around 1950 when the urbanization in the vicinity started to cause a massive increase in the water flowing towards the salt works. The terrain wasn’t suitable for absorbing all that water and, year after year, the landscape changed drastically.
Many birds started to use the newly formed basins as a stopover during their migrations (their usual destination is the French Camargue), then several other species permanently settled there. Nowadays, Molentargius is considered one of the most important wetlands in Europe and is home to many endangered species and even some red-list ones.
What Animals Can You See In Molentargius?
As I just said, the park is a nesting area for both permanent species and migratory ones, and an essential stopover for the latter. Among the “residents”, it is possible to see several ducks and seagulls’ species, western swamphens, coots, kingfishers, and many others.
The most important of all birds living there, and the symbol of the park and Cagliari itself, is the greater flamingo – the pink flamingo. Famous for its pink plumage, the flamingo was first seen there in 1993 and has been spotted every year ever since. Its favorite nesting site is the Bellarosa Major pond, and it starts its mating routine around March: if you happen to be visiting from this month onwards, pay attention not to disturb the flamingo colonies.
Flamingos are extremely shy birds that only lay one egg per year; in case they get scared, they will likely abandon the nest and possibly not reproduce. Although they are very majestic animals and you might want to get a closer look, remember you are in their natural habitat and you might disrupt their usual mating routine by being too invasive!
Although the park is mostly famous for the numerous birds it hosts, there are also some other species that permanently live there, such as frogs and toads, turtles and tortoises, some variety of snakes, and common wild mammals (mostly rabbits and hedgehogs). The flora is quite rich as well and counts many Mediterranean plants, with several endangered species among them.
Practical Information For Visiting The Parco Di Molentargius
How to Get to Molentargius
The easiest way to get to Molentargius is to take the bus from Cagliari (line 3) and get down at the “Via Tramontana” stop. You’ll reach the gateway in five minutes by foot.
Alternatively, you can take PQ or PF buses, get off at Poetto and walk for about ten minutes till you find the gate right on the waterfront.
If you prefer going by car, it’s a ten minutes’ drive from Cagliari city center to the park’s gates.
Admission and Opening Hours
There is no entry fee to Molentargius, and the park is open from dawn until dusk.
When to Visit Molentargius
The best time to visit Molentargius is, in my opinion, spring or fall, but whatever season you choose to visit in, you will be bewitched by the park’s charms!
With regards to the time of day, you’ll find birds to be most active in the early morning hours, or around sunset, so try to schedule your visit around that time.
Guided Tours and Activities
There are plenty things to do in Molentargius. What you do once there is just a matter of personal taste!
Here are some options:
WALKING – There are several trails that suit every person’s need, from casual visitors to experienced hikers -although there’s not much to hike; you can however walk for several hours!
BIKING – If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent a city bike close to the entrance of the park in Viale Poetto (the waterfront). Bikes are the most comfortable way to explore the area in total freedom.
GUIDED TOURS – These are all structured in a way so as not to disturb the animals. You can go on a small bus tour, a bike tour or a steamboat tour. These two guided tour options will give you the possibility to discover the best parts of the park without ever damaging the environment or the animals. You will be accompanied by expert guides who will teach you everything you need to know in order to make the best of your time in the park.
During the tour, you will also see some of the structures that were used during the salt works’ times, such as dorms, workshops, dining halls, and all that was necessary to the workers’ life.
To book your guided tour of Molentargius, click here or here.
What to Wear and Bring When Visiting Molentargius
If you are into birdwatching, it’s recommended (but not mandatory) to bring or rent some binoculars, so to have a better look at the animals without getting too close and to generally enjoy the experience even more.
A camera is highly recommended too: you are visiting a beautiful natural park, so you might as well take some nice pictures, right? You will want a good lens to catch the beautiful birds.
Remember to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Choose natural colors so as not to stand out too much and scare the animals away. You can bring your dog, but it has to be on leash.
Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Things To Do In Cagliari
- The Best Natural Parks And Nature Reserves To Visit In Sardinia
- The Nicest Walks In Cagliari