Should you ever visit Oliena and its surroundings, you will feel as you were seeing a beautiful painting.
Oliena is a small town in the province of Nuoro, an area known as Barbagia, which is full of natural beauties. This area is called “the heart of Sardinia”, because it is the very center of the island. Here you will find the main mountains of the island, among which the Gennargentu stands out.
To be more precise, Oliena is located at the base of mount Corriasi, the main mountain of Supramonte. This place is full of trekking paths, which makes it a paradise for hikers, and for people who love being in the nature. For instance, the area surrounding Oliena is full of breathtaking places, from the astonishing Su Gologone spring, to the mount Tiscali, where the remains of a Nuragic village were found.
Another reason to visit Oliena is the food. Oliena is in fact one of the several towns that is involved in the festival “Autunno in Barbagia” – fall in Barbagia – where people open their houses and offers typical food and wine to visitors.
If you’re curious to know more about this enchanted place, you just have to keep reading!
The History Of Oliena
The origins of Oliena are still uncertain. It is very likely that its origins date back to prehistoric times, because several remains have been found in this area. However, there is a legend which suggests it was founded by a group of Trojans, who fled after the war to find safer places to live.
Despite the several evidences of human life in prehistoric times, the first real settlement we know of dates back to the Roman period.
An important part of the history of Oliena was made by the monks, who arrived to Oliena mostly from Pisa. They brought new techniques for the agriculture and also new cultivations. Construction of Santa Maria church, the most ancient and main church in town, dates back to this time.
When the Aragonese arrived, the Pisans left the island, and a difficult period began for the native people. The trading business was diminishing, and people began to become poorer every day.
Come to think of it, the history of Oliena is similar to the history of the entire island, with the Spanish occupation and then the Piedmontese reign marking the main historical periods in the modern era.
Nowadays Oliena is a lively town, and its economy is based on the production of wine, oil and dairy products. Also, craftwork is a very important part of this town’s economy and culture.
What To See And Do In Oliena
Located more or less 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Oliena, Su Gologone is the main spring in Sardinia. It appears as a small lake, located between two high rocky walls, with waters that range from emerald green to turquoise and dark blue. The spring is surrounded by lush trees, and if you listen carefully, you will hear the sound of water and the wind between the tree branches. It is a dreamlike scenario.
The spring is actually quite deep, and this peculiarity attracts several diving speleologists. The exact depth of Su Gologone remains unknown – in 2010 the Italian speleologist Alberto Cavedon reached 135 meters (almost 443 feet).
The waters coming from Su Gologone feed the river Cedrino, one of the largest in Sardinia. You can kayak along the river, starting from Su Gologone spring, or even better trying to get there.
Its cold deep waters and the natural surroundings make this place an important tourist destination and one of the most visited natural sites in Sardinia.
Tiscali is a small mountain located between the Supramonte of Oliena and the Supramonte of Dorgali. This mountain is a renowned destination for hiking lovers, as nature there is gorgeous and there are lots of archeological sites that can’t be reached otherwise.
However, the hike to Tiscali is not the easiest. You will need a guide, bring lots of water (especially if you decide to go during the summer), and wear appropriate hiking gear.
On the top of this mountain, you will see the remains of a Nuragic village, probably the last stronghold of the Nuragic societies against the Roman invaders. This village is a unique example, both for is geographical position and for its architecture. It is indeed set into a cavity, which was created by the collapse of the mountain’s top.
The village was later used by the Romans. However, it is possible that the most ancient remains predate the Nuragic period.
For a guided tour of Mount Tiscali and the archeological site departing from Oliena, click here.
Make sure to also read my post A Complete Guide To Supramonte.
Sa Oche ‘e Su Bentu Caves
Sa Oche and Su Bentu are two caves, among the largest in Europe.They are characterized by cavities which are several kilometers large, and big halls with walls up to 100 meters (328 feet) tall, with lots of stalactites and stalagmites. The two caves are connected to each other by a sump.
To get to the caves, you will need to hike. However, the cave of Su Bentu is not accessible to tourists, but only to speleologists.
If you put together their names in Sardinian, they mean “the voice of the wind”, and it is a perfectly fitting name, given the fact that after heavy rains, the waters inside Sa Oche push the air in the cavity, causing strong roars which resemble voices.
Especially Su Bentu is a unique cave, characterized by the presence of different lakes, big halls and many slopes, and it is a favored destination for speleological studies.
Corbeddu Cave and Lanaitto Valley
This cave is located in the Lanaitto Valley (sometimes also called Lanaitho), in the area of Oliena. The valley is a wonderful place for a hike, an easy walk, and family time ie a picnic and it’s one of the best places to visit in Sardinia in the fall. The cave itself is 130 meters (426.5 feet) large, and it has three big halls.
In one of these halls, researchers discovered some of the most ancient remains of human life in Sardinia. The excavations made by archeologists brought to light many remains dating back the Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras, but also human bones which date back 13,500 years ago, and a phalanx dating back 20,000 years ago.
An interesting thing is that they are the most ancient human remains in a Mediterranean island, but even more interestingly, these remains are different from all the other European populations of the same period.
A fun fact about this place is that its name “Corbeddu” comes from a famous outlaw, Giovanni Corbeddu, who, in the 19th century, took refuge in this cave for a long time.
Sa Sedda ‘e Sos Carros
Sa Sedda ‘e Carros is a magnificent Nuragic complex which dates back the Bronze Age. This village was built without any main nuraghe, as many other nuraghe complexes in Barbagia.
What’s important about it is that it provides evidences of how Nuragic societies used to cast metals, mainly bronze and iron.
In one of the houses a round well was also found, originally used during rituals. Is indeed known that Nuragic societies worshipped water deities.
Check out my post The Most Impressive Archeological Sites In Sardinia.
Chiesa di Santa Maria
Santa Maria is the most ancient church in Oliena. It was built between the 13th and the 14th century. Throughout time, the building was renovated several times, and its original appearance has totally changed since then. However, in the 1990s the church was renovated again, with the purpose to restore some of the original parts. For instance, the original brick was fully restored.
Autunno in Barbagia Festival
Autunno in Barbagia, which in English could be translated as “fall in Barbagia”, is a festival which takes place every year between September and December in the Barbagia region of sARDINIA. There are around 30 small towns and villages that each fall participate o the celebrations of Autunno in Barbagia, and Oliena is among them.
During the festival, locals open their houses’ courtyards to visitors – for this reason it is also known as cortes apertas – and they cook typical dishes and offer local wines. Should you ever visit Oliena during Autunno in Barbagia, you could try their delicious Nepente (more about it in a bit), and eat homemade pane carasau or homemade pasta.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Autunno In Barbagia.
Oliena is famous for its local wine Nepente, a great red cannonau wine (cannonau is a grape endemic of Sardinia), which was also praised by several poets in history, among them the Italian Gabriele D’Annunzio. All restaurants and cafés in Oliena will have a choice of Nepente wines (it’s actually found everywhere in Sardinia), and if you do attend Autunno in Barbagia, it will be flowing!
Head over to my post The Best Wines In Sardinia.
S’Incontru Settimana Santa
S’Incontru is the most important event of the Holy Week in Oliena – during which several religious events take place. This one occurs on Easter Sunday. The name of this event literally means “the meeting”, and it is indeed a celebration of the meeting that happened between Jesus and the Virgin Mary, after his resurrection.
Celebrations start with two different processions that begin in the morning and pass through the entire town. During one of them, people walk around following in procession the statue of the suffering Virgin Mary; in the other procession people walk along following the statue of Jesus Christ.
When they reach Santa Maria church, the two procession are united, and when the two groups meet, the people who physically carry the statues have to kneel. If they kneel at the same time, it is considered a good omen.
There is also a particular tradition related to this festivity: when the two groups arrive at the church, the people of Oliena will light a fire celebrate.
Make sure to also read my post How To Celebrate Easter In Sardinia.
The beaches of the Gulf of Orosei
Oliena is actually a short drive (around 35 minutes) from Cala Gonone, so if you are visiting in the summer months between mid May and mid September you should definitely plan a day in the Gulf of Orosei area and visit stunning beaches such as Cala Luna, Cala Mariolu and Cala Sisine. These beaches can only be reached via a long (and sometimes strenuous) hike or by boat, so make sure you book a boat tour for the day.
Make sure to also read my posts A Short Guide To The Gulf Of Orosei and The Best Gulf Of Orosei Boat Tours.
Oliena street art
The entire region of Barbagia, where Oliena is located, is famous for its street art. Don’t expects graffiti and tags though – these are proper murals done to express pressing social, political and cultural issues.
While the best murals are found in Orgosolo or Fonni, Oliena is home to a few very interesting ones. My favorite? My – the old lady with a shotgun. It feels threatening but at the same time a message about the strong spirit and temper, as well as of the independence of Sardinian women.
Make sure to read my post Where To See The Best Street Art In Sardinia.
Practical Information To Plan Your Visit
How to get to Oliena
The easiest way to arrive in Oliena is by car – this will also give you the chance to explore the gorgeous surroundings. It can indeed be rather time consuming to reach Oliena by public transportation.
Check out my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Sardinia.
The closest airport and harbor are in Olbia, but it is not difficult to reach Oliena from other places in Sardinia.
From Olbia, follow State Road (SS) 131DCN and then take SS129 towards Oliena. It will take you about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get there.
From Aghero, you need to take SS129 to Sassari, then enter E25 and follow the road for approximately 30 kilometers. Take the exit towards Bonnannaro / Torralba, then, you have to take SP21 to Burgos from where you’ll have to follow directions to Bono. Once there, take SS129 all the way to Oliena. It will take you about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
From Cagliari you need to take E25, and then SS131 towards Nuoro. From there, take SP22 and follow the road all the way to Oliena.
Where to eat and sleep
Known to be one of the best restaurants in the area, Masiloghi has an ample selection of the best local dishes all prepared with seasonal ingredients and with attention to quality. Given what you actually eat, it’s very reasonably priced! Advanced bookings are recommended.
There’s a good reason this restaurant is recommended by the Michelin Guide: it’s simply excellent! If you are in search of delicious local cuisine which isn’t too expensive, this is definitely the place to go. Make sure to reserve a table in advance.
Immersed in the beautiful Ogliastra mountains not far from Oliena, Su Gologone Hotel is one of the best boutique hotels in Sardinia. It offers gorgeous rooms completely immersed in nature and from where you can easily access the best hiking trails in the area; a restaurant to taste the best traditional regional food, and other amenities for guests such as a tennis court and free WiFi. It’s pet friendly!
Located less than 10 minutes by car from Oliena, this Agriturismo offers the chance to get away from everyday life and live moments of pure peace in the midst of the nature. Each room has a private bathroom. You will enjoy free Wi-Fi, free parking, and an airport shuttle service for an extra fee. In the morning a fresh breakfast is prepared, and in the summer months it’s served in the garden.
Gli Olivi B&B
Located inside Oliena, this B&B will offer you a beautiful view of the town. You will find a beautiful garden where you could spend your nights when you don’t want to go out, or quiet moments during the day. Its rooms have air conditioning, a TV, and a private bathroom with toiletries. In the morning, when you wake up, you will find a buffet breakfast.
This nice B&B is located in the center of Oliena. Its position is perfect if you want to discover the town, but also if you want to see the surrounding area and the many natural beauties located here. Rooms are plain but comfortable. They all come with private bathroom and toiletries. In the morning you will find an Italian style breakfast waiting for you. The reception desk helps you organize guided tours of Supramonte and boat trips in the Gulf of Orosei.