Are you traveling to Sardinia? Great! It’s the right thing to do – and I promise you will fall in love with it.
But if you think you already know everything about it to have a memorable trip, you may be mistaken. Sardinia is nothing like you may have imagined. This mythical land hides many a secret and you definitely need someone with local knowledge to see what it is all about. Lucky for you, I am here and I will share everything you need to know before your trip to Sardinia. Mind you though – there’s more, but I leave the rest up to you to discover.
Continue reading to find out everything you need to know before traveling to Sardinia.
25 Things To Know Before Traveling To Sardinia
I suppose that if you are planning to traveling to Sardinia, you do know it is part of Italy. You probably think it is ridiculous that I mention it in this post, but trust me, not everyone knows. In fact, some think it belongs to France. Others quite simply ignore it exists. In fact, after many dominations, Sardinia became part of the Reign of Piedmont in 1847 and one of the first regions to be part of united Italy in 1861.
Still unsure about Sardinia? Check out my post “Where Is Sardinia?”
But not quite so
Most people traveling to Sardinia will say so – and as a Sardinian, I can say this is actually true: despite being part of Italy, Sardinia isn’t quite Italian. In fact, the overall vibe, as well as the landscape is quite different from the rest of Italy. After all, Sardinia is an island that is quite far from mainland Italy and that for the longest time was much of a forgotten province. In fact, for the most part we Sardinians still feel that the central government of Italy tends to ignore our existence.
But let me not get political here…
The local language is Sardinian
We all obviously speak Italian in Sardinia – it’s the official language of the country.
But the local language is Sardinian, which is one of the 12 officially recognized minority languages of Italy, and it is spoken by more than a million people, including yours truly. Known to be the neo-Latin language that mostly resembles Latin, and by many deemed to be more similar to Spanish (after all, the island was under Spanish rule for centuries), Sardinian is a language proper and it bears its own dialects too – which at times vary dramatically one from the other.
I come from Cagliari and my mother comes from a nearby village, and I understand all the dialects of Sardinian spoken on the south of the region; but talk to me in the Fonnese variety of Sardinian and chances are I won’t get more than a few words.
But some speak Catalan
Should you visit Alghero you will soon realize that the local language isn’t Italian, and not even Sardinian. This lovely town is a small Catalan enclave and most locals speak Catalan, in a variety that is actually quite similar to the one spoken in Catalonia. It’s one of the 12 minority languages of Italy.
It’s a large island
One thing that cracks me up every time is people who ask me if 3 days are enough to visit Sardinia.
Seriously guys: Sardinia is a huge island. It’s almost as big as Sicily, and a tiny bit smaller than Israel. This is to say that 3 days aren’t enough to explore it.
It’s up to you whether you think that traveling to Sardinia is worth it when you have so little time. I still think you should – but instead of expecting to see the entire island, just stick to one place and visit it thoroughly (I recommend starting with Cagliari). I am pretty sure that you will fall in love with it and end up planning a second trip anyways – and the second time around, it will be for longer.
But scarcely populated
This is one of the thing I love the most about Sardinia. There’s very few of us here. Sardinia has the lowest population density in Italy. We are 1.6 millions in a land that is almost as big as Sicily, which has 5 millions, and Israel, which has 9 millions. Sardinia hardly ever gets crowded (well, the beaches do, in the summer), and at times you can drive for quite some time and hardly spot other cars or people. It’s bliss.
In fact, there are more sheep than people
If you are traveling to Sardinia, chances are you will be renting a car to roam around the island (it honestly is a much better way to explore, as public transportation won’t reach everywhere). Chances are that at some point during your trip, you will end up in a small country road where you’ll encounter a traffic jam (ok, this is an exaggeration) caused by a herd of sheep. If that happens, you will have to stop and give them right of way.
GOOD TO KNOW: Although this hardly happens anymore, I still occasionally spot herds of sheep roaming about in empty fields in the city. I know, it’s crazy – and yet so cool!
Food is delicious
One thing you will soon realize when traveling to Sardinia is that you will never go hungry. Sardinian food has a focus on the use of local, seasonal ingredients so what you will be eating here is fresh and usually prepared to order.
Do factor in gaining some weight during your trip. If you end up having lunch at a local family, they will feed you as if you had been starved for weeks before – and you won’t be allowed to say no if you are offered food. And if you go to a local agriturismo, you can expect a meal that can last for up to 3 hours. I say – embrace it! Eat today, diet tomorrow.
Make sure to read my post “The Most Delicious Sardinian Food: Everything You Must Try.”
If you want to try preparing a local dish at home, check out my recipe “How To Prepare Malloreddus Alla Campidanese (Gnocchetti Sardi).”
And so is local wine
Where there is food, there also is wine, and Sardinia makes some excellent ones. Local grapes include Vermentino and Nurargus for the whites, and Cannonau, Bovale and Carignano del Sulcis for the richest of reds. If you are traveling to Sardinia, make sure to factor in enough time for a wine tasting experience and plan to have some room in your suitcase to bring back a bottle or two. If you want to book your wine tasting experience online, you can consider this one here.
Check out my post “A Guide To Sardinian Wines.”
This is an interesting one. Although Sardinia is a great wine producing region, locals seem to have a real passion for beer. Sardinia is the Italian region with the highest pro-capita consumption of beer.
Off the counter beer in Sardinia means Ichnusa – we love the unfiltered variety. The consumption and production of craft beer is increasing too. The one to try is Pozzo, produced in Guspini. The best varieties are Pozzo 9 and Pozzo 16.
Casu Marzu is actually not rotten
Casu Marzu is Sardinia’s most famous delicacy. Literally translated as “rotten cheese,” this very strong pecorino isn’t rotten at all. It is made with unpasteurized sheep milk and no chemicals at all, so as to attract a cheese fly (the Philiophila Casei), that lays its eggs on the cheese so that they form little cocoons and the larvae feast on the cheese giving it that distinct, very strong flavor. In fact, as the larvae tend to sit mostly in one area of the cheese, all close one to the other, you can easily avoid them when eating the cheese (that’s what locals do, anyways).
Its production was declared illegal a while ago, but this hasn’t stopped local shepherds from making it. The main reason it’s really hard to come across is that this cheese is actually very hard to make. The best time to produce this cheese is between April and July, as the flies thrive in the mild heat. So don’t come in August and expect to find it on the counters of supermarkets. If you want to try it, it will be a word of mouth kind of experience.
Many will tell you that Casu Marzu is one of the most dangerous foods in the world – but considering the very high life expectancy in Sardinia (more about that below), I hardly believe that is the case.
It’s one of the very few blue zones on earth
Together with some parts of Japan and a handful of other places in the world, Sardinia has one of the highest percentages of people who live to be 100 years old or older. It’s one of the ew blue zones in the world. This high life expectancy is due to a combination of factors which include a healthy diet, with a small dinner and a larger lunch; regular exercise (don’t think anything drastic: Sardinians love walking); a glass of red wine; strong family bonds (elderly live at home for as long as possible) and overall happiness.
There’s always some festival happening
The word for village party or festival in Sardinia is “sagra” and if that is something you want to experience when traveling to Sardinia you have nothing to worry about, as there is something planned pretty much throughout the year.
The biggest celebrations are on May 1st, with Sant’Efisio Parade, during which representatives of various villages in Sardinia walk across the city and all the way to the nearby Nora wearing traditional costumes, and singing to traditional local music, to accompany the Saint that is famous for having saved Sardinia from the plague. This festival is older than 350 years, and one Sardinians are very attached to!
Other festivals to look for are I Candelieri, the Cavalcata Sarda, S’Ardia and San Simplicio. If you want something more food or wine oriented, look for a good sagra such as Girotonno, a celebration of tuna, that takes place in the lovely village of Carloforte every June; or Calici Sotto Le Stelle, which takes place each August in Jerzu.
If you are interested in learning more about local traditions, fall is the time to come as that’s when Autunno in Barbagia – a series of village festivals taking place every weekend throughout the fall – take place.
Sardinian carnival is unique
Traveling to Sardinia in February? Then make sure to attend Sardinian carnival. It is completely different from what you’d imagine. First of all, it mostly lacks the pop of color you probably picture in your mind when thinking of carnival celebrations in other parts of the world (Italy included). Second, it hardly seems to be a merry business.
Sardinian carnival is all about scary, dark wooden masks (the most famous ones are the Mamuthones of Mamoiada) and black coats, fire and ritual dances. The most famous one is that of Mamoiada, a village in the mountains of Sardinia where the rituals are more than 2000 years old and meant to please the gods for a good harvest.
If you want something merrier, plan to attend Sartiglia in Oristano on Mardi Gras or on the last Sunday of Carnival. This centuries old tradition is meant to be a propitiatory ritual for a good harvest. It is an equestrian joust during which you will see all sorts of acrobatic stunts, though the most adrenaline filled moment is that of the race for the stars, during which men and women in traditional costumes, wearing masks and on horses race to catch as many starts as possible with a long lance.
Sardinia has its very own Halloween
Forget about trick or treat for Halloween. One thing to know if you are traveling to Sardinia between the end of October and the beginning of November is that we do have our own celebrations here, and you may be able to experience some ancient and very local rituals. Locally referred to as Su Prugadoriu, Is Animeddas, and a variety of other ways, the celebrations for the day of the dead in Sardinia include serving a massive dinner on the night of 31 October, with any possible food that the dead may enjoy and also lit candles outside the windows, to show them the way home.
If you are looking for a fantastic local festival for Halloween, go to Su Prugadoriu in Seui.
It’s a land of bandits
Ok – it was and you have nothing to worry about: traveling to Sardinia is 100% safe now, and even living here is pretty sweet, should you be looking for a place to live at least for part of the year.
But now, back to my point: for a long time, Sardinia was plagued by bandits, which mostly (but not only) lived and thrived in the mountainous region of Sardinia known as Barbagia, and especially in the small town of Orgosolo. For a long time, people from Orgosolo fought against the occupation of the Piedmontese Savoy (who later on became the sovereigns of Italy).
Other than visiting Orgosolo, where you will be able to see many beautiful and very political murals, you may also want to go on a hike called “Il Sentiero dei Banditi” which starts in the small town of Scano Montiferro. It’s a fairly easy 6 km circular trail which takes you around the forest where bandits used to operate. Although the hike is easy, the trail isn’t well marked and I recommend getting a guide. The local Associazione Turistica e Culturale Barbarighinu runs guided hikes where the guides will also share historical facts of the region regarding the bandits time.
I have already mentioned the murals of Orgosolo, but that’s not the only place you should visit in search of art. Pretty much any small town in Sardinia will have beautiful murals, but if you want to see the best ones, other than Orgosolo you should visit Fonni (which isn’t far from it) and San Sperate, which is at about 20 minutes drive from Cagliari.
The latter village is known as an open air museum and home to one of the most prominent Sardinian artists of the 20th century, Pinuccio Sciola, the sculptor who became internationally known for his musical stones. He sadly passed away prematurely in 2016, but you should still make it a point to visit his gallery.
Why not reading a bit of Sardinian literature before traveling to Sardinia? It will help you learn a bit more about the local history, culture and even way of life. Besides, you may not know it, but Sardinia is home of one of the very few female Nobel Prize in literature, Grazia Deledda. Her book Reeds in the Wind is a real masterpiece. Other prominent local writers and poets are Sebastiano Satta, to whom a square in Nuoro has been dedicated. More contemporary ones include Salvatore Niffoi, Flavio Soriga and Michela Agus.
Women cover their head
Or at least, they used to. I have very clear memories of my great-aunt and grandma never stepping outside without wearing their “muccadori” – a head scarf. Some elderly women in the villages still do this (especially when going to church), and they also wear long, preferably black skirts – though the colors and embroidery change from one village to the other. This custom was brought in Sardinia by the Arabs, who in fact ruled over the island for some time. So if you think you may have landed on a Middle Eastern country instead of traveling to Sardinia, you aren’t too far from the truth!
There are some creepy traditions
This is not something you will really come across when traveling to Sardinia, but you may still find it interesting to I thought I’d write about it.
Many people in Sardinia still believe in the evil eye. Known as “malocchio,” according to experts this manifests itself in many ways, including poor health or general misfortune. To remove the evil eye, a person with a call – usually a woman – will practice some ritual (usually involving coffee or stones). Money is never paid for these rituals – because this isn’t considered a job, but a mission.
One even creepier traditional occupation (though hardly a job again, as money was never involved) which however has been long lost is that of the accabadora. This would usually be an older woman who used to be contacted to help the terminally ill pass away peacefully and finally release them from their pain. There always was an aura of mystery about this occupation – to the point that some will say there is no proof that it ever existed. But this form of euthanasia became the subject of a beautiful novel by Michela Murgia. I recommend reading it.
Sardinian archeological sites are truly unique
Sites such as the Roman Forum and Pompeii are world famous and since it was under the domination of the Romans, Sardinia has its fair share of Roman sites. Yet, Sardinia has its own, unique archeological sites. Look out for the many nuraghe scattered around the island as these are only found here, and make sure to visit the archeology museum in Cagliari and the one in Cabras to admire the Giants of Mont’e Prama, giant stone statues that date back to the nuragic times and over which there still remains an aura of mystery.
You should also try to see the domus de janas (fairy houses) and giants’ tombs – I love S’Ena e Thomes, not far from Dorgali and Oliena, for it’s truly lesser visited.
Curious to check out the sites of Sardinia? Consider these guided tours:
- Half day tour of Su Nuraxi di Barumini
- Nuraghe tour of Sardinia with traditional packed lunch
- Full day tour to Well Temple and Cabras museum
- Archaeological tour of Nora from Cagliari
- Full day tour of prehistoric Sardinia
Make sure to read my posts The Most Interesting Archeological Sites In Sardinia and A Guide To Nuraghe In Sardinia.
The landscape can vary enormously
Travel to Sardinia and you’ll see that there is an incredible variety of landscapes. Sandy beaches and small rocky coves, vast planes and mountains, gorges, forests and even sand dunes in some parts of the island! It’s a bit like a small continent.
Sardinia has some unique wildlife
One thing to know before you travel to Sardinia is that here you will find some incredible wildlife. If you are into bird watching, you won’t have to go much further than Cagliari to admire many species. Molentargius Nature Reserve is a nesting area for pink flamingoes and it is not uncommon to see these elegant birds fly over the skies of Cagliari.
Other species found on the island are the wild boar, the moufflon and various species of turtles – including marine ones who often hatch their eggs along Sardinia beaches.
But did you know that the last wild species of horse on the continent can be found in Sardinia? Travel to the Giara Plateau, and you will be able to admire the tiny “cavallino della Giara.” These horses are tiny! Reaching at most 120 cm, they will resemble a pony more than anything else.
Sardinian beaches are amazing
I suppose this is the main reason you are traveling to Sardinia, and rest assured you won’t be disappointed. Sardinian beaches are even more beautiful than you can picture them in your wildest dreams. Come in early June or in late September if you want to have them all to yourself, or else be prepared to share them with many other people.
Curious about Sardinia beaches? Read my post “The 15 Best Beaches In Sardinia.”
But there are many more incredible things to do
Please, consider traveling to Sardinia in the off season too! There are many more things to do on the island than just going to the beach and whether you come in the summer or in the winter, you should make sure to explore it beyond the shoreline. I have already mentioned the interesting festivals, the delicious food and wine, the wildlife and the archeological sites, but other interesting things to do are climbing, hiking, diving, visiting the many beautiful villages and cities.
For more things to do, read my post “10 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Sardinia.”
Further readings about Sardinia
Make sure to read the following post to find out more about Sardinia:
- 15 Incredible Things To Do In Cagliari
- What To See And Do In Alghero Sardinia
- What To See And Do In Bosa Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Costa Smeralda
- The Nicest Small Towns And Cities In Sardinia
- The Most Beautiful Beach Resorts In Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Villasimius, Sardinia
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