What to see in Sardinia beyond its beaches
I have always thought of Sardinia as a tourist beach destination so I have never really been attracted to this island. But, during these recent months, I have met several people living here or simply in love with this region so my curiosity has started to grow and I have discovered there are so many things to see in Sardinia beyond its beaches!
Last September I have decided to visit Sardinia asking for suggestions on what to see to my local friends.
I have spent two weeks with two girlfriends driving around the island exploring unusual places, magic woods, mystic prehistoric sites, waterfalls, and natural pools.
I have marvelled at the clear blue sky and shooting stars, enjoyed a rainbow each day (that’s because unfortunately, the weather was a bit moody), and experienced powerful energy visiting some ancient sites.
This trip happened in a very transformative moment of my life, that’s probably the reason why I have lived everything so intensely, but I am also sure that each trip happens when it is the right moment to lead you through your transformation (read more about transformative travel.
Sharing this experience with two special girlfriends has been something completely new to me as I was used to travelling with my partner or on my own. I have realized how much sharing is crucial to see things from a different perspective that makes the experience even more transformative.
In this article, I will give you suggestions on what to see in Sardinia if you are interested in exploring beyond its beautiful beaches, discovering the mysterious prehistoric settlements of the Nuragic civilization.
Hope this will help you to change your image of Sardinia as I did.
What is a nuraghe?
Nuraghi are circular towers typical of Sardinia built during the Bronze Age by the so-called Nuragic civilization who lived here during the prehistoric era.
The use and meaning of these dry-stone towers are still unknown but researchers think they may have been used for defensive and/or religious reasons.
Whichever the purpose they were built for, their crucial social and economic role in the Nuragic village is witnessed by the presence of more than 7000 nuraghi findings all over the island, making them an absolute must-see if you are visiting Sardinia.
Su Nuraxi and Casa Zapata (Sud Sardegna Province)
One of the things to see in Sardinia is undoubtedly the archaeological complex of Su Nuraxi in the small village of Barumini. This Unesco World Heritage site is one of the best-kept examples of the Nuragic architecture.
Built with basaltic stones dug from the nearby Park of Giara, the complex features a 18-metre tall central tower and four smaller towers at each corner.
All around you can see ruins of the ancient village featuring circular huts, with some interesting examples such as the “meeting room” and the “rotonda”, where a stone basin used for water rituals is.
Few kilometres from the complex, located in the historic centre of Barumini village, is another example of a nuraghi tower called Casa Zapata because the noble villa of the Zapata family was built in the 16th century on top of the nuraghi ruins. Today the villa has been turned into a museum where many archaeological findings from the Su Nuraxi area are kept.
Looking at the villa from the outside you would never imagine what you see when you step in. Walking on a glass flooring over these ancient ruins, you feel like stepping back in time.
Nuraghe Losa (Oristano Province)
The Nuraghe Losa complex is located along the highway connecting Cagliari to Olbia. We stopped here by chance because we saw the sign along the way and we were positively surprised to discover this well-kept tower dating back to the 15th-16th century.
The name Losa derives from “nuraghi of the tombs” referring to the roman tombs dug into the rocks at the borders of the archaeological area.
You can climb the main tower up to the first level (13 metre tall) and enter the two side towers too. All around the complex some ruins of an ancient hut village are still visible.
Tharros archaeological area (Province of Oristano)
Another interesting site to visit in Sardinia is the archaeological area of Tharros in the Sinis peninsula.
This ancient settlement overlooking the sea dates back to the 8th century but was inhabited since the Nuragic era as witnessed by the ruins of a nuraghe at the base of the S. Giovanni tower and those found at Capo San Marco and Sa Naedda.
A system of fortifications, a necropolis, and the columns of a temple overlooking the sea belonging to the ancient Phoenician town are still visible.
You can also see some ruins dating to the Roman age such as the aqueduct connected to a squared building probably used to collect water, and ruins of the thermal baths.
What are the tombs of the giants?
The tombs of the giants are megalithic burial structures dating to the Nuragic era. A legend says that unusually big human bones have been found inside these tombs belonging to giant people. These tombs were used as a collective burial space where only the bones were placed.
More than 300 tombs of the giants have been discovered all over Sardinia.
They usually feature a corridor that can be up to 30 metres long and 3 metres tall. At the front of the tomb, there is usually a semicircular space encircled with stones.
Apparently, these tombs were built in powerful energetic sites, for this reason, today they attract more and more people interested in mystic places.
I have visited three very different tombs and I can confirm that you can feel very special energy so I highly recommend you to add them to your list of what to see in Sardinia.
Is Concias tomb of the giants (Cagliari Province)
Known as “Sa Domu e S’Orcu”, this tomb is located on the Monti dei Sette Fratelli in Quartucciu (40 min drive from Cagliari downtown). You can park your car on the main road where you see a small and not very visible sign and continue on foot for a few hundred metres.
This tomb dates back to the Nuragic era and features a series of granite stones placed in a semi-circular shape and an 8 metre long dark corridor that you can access from a small entrance.
Sa Pruna tomb of the giants (Sassari Province)
Sa Pruna is located in Bultei (province of Sassari) immersed in a beautiful forest of monumental cork oaks. You can either walk here from the forest rangers station or drive along a dirt road.
Imberthighe tomb of the giants (Nuoro Province)
Located in Borore, this tomb of the giants is characterized by a 3-metre tall monolithic stelae and it is easily accessible by car from the village centre.
The Pozzo di S. Cristina (Sacred Well)
The sacred well of S. Cristina is an absolute must for those interested in magic and mystical sites.
In fact, it is the main architectural example of the Nuragic era dating back to 3500 years ago!
This archaeological complex is located in Paulilatino in the province of Oristano, easily accessible by highway.
Dedicated to the worship of water, the well boasts a perfectly geometrical staircase shaped like a triangle pointing towards the inner of the well if you look at it while walking downward whereas when you are climbing back you will see the point towards the sky. This double shape represents the balance between day and night, light and darkness, feminine and masculine energies.
The Pozzo di S. Cristina has been my first encounter with the nuraghi architecture in Sardinia and I immediately fell in love with it, though it is very difficult to describe the strong energy that you feel here.
I have entered barefoot the sacred area encircled by a basalt stone wall before walking down the 25 steps that led me into the belly of Mother Earth where the level of water is constant thanks to a natural spring. When you look upwards you see a 7 metre tall dome towering over your head with a small hole from where you can see the sky.
During the equinox in spring and autumn (when I was there) the light enters perfectly perpendicular inside the well, a very special moment but unfortunately, this is also when most of the tourists come to visit.
I have been lucky because we visited the well on the previous day and came back the day of the equinox very early in the morning so we managed to enjoy it at our own pace, soaking in all its vibes before the arrival of the tourists.
Next to the Nuragic complex, you can find a Christian village with the tiny church of S. Cristina and the well-kept stone houses called “muristenes”, pilgrimage houses for novenas.
A walking path continues from here to a nuraghe featuring a 1500 BC tower, the oldest part of the complex.
What to see in Sardinia beyond its beaches
I know it’s not possible to talk about Sardinia without mentioning its wonderful beaches for which the island is popular. I have spent two days at the beach myself in the province of Oristano and I was surprised how wild they still are. Traveling to Sardinia in September allowed me to visit each place without the crowd and fully enjoy them.
Driving along a dirt road and continuing on foot for 5 minutes among sand dunes I found myself at Sa Mesa Longa, my first ever beach in Sardinia. It felt so different from what I expected after seeing pictures of crowded beaches in travel magazines. Here we spent the day with some friends and a bonfire under an unforgettable starry sky.
A few days afterward I was sitting on the popular Is Arutas beach with my feet into the quartz sand while I was intertwining my Ojos de Dios (God’s Eye), a traditional mandala that according to the native Americans represent a wish, a project you intend to develop over the following year. That mandala is hanging in my living room reminding me each day of my dream and what I need to do to make that happen.
I keep wonderful memories of this beach, meditating at sunrise while the first sunbeams painted the sky in pink and a rainbow appeared over our heads.
Another wonderful beach we stopped for a swim in is S’Archittu, so-called for the natural limestone arch resulted from the rock erosion caused by the sea and wind.
Waters of Sardinia: fountains, springs, wells, and thermal baths.
For some reason my image of Sardinia has always been of a dry almost deserted island but when I visited I actually found that beyond the rugged eastern coast there are many places where water is abundant. That’s why you can find waterfalls, springs, thermal baths, and why some sacred architectural monuments dedicated to the worship of water have been built here.
I am deeply fascinated by this topic and I have learnt more by visiting some of these unusual places.
San Leonardo village and the “seven fountains” (Oristano province)
Santu Lussurgiu is a small village located at 700m asl. Here the San Leonardo 12th-century church is immersed in a lush wood a few hundred metres from the so-called “seven fountains” (although today they are no longer seven).
The first documentation about these fountains is in Latin books where they were referred to as Ad Septem fontes, and later in Spanish documents as Siete Fuentes.
Thanks to the vulcanic rock the water runs over during its quick journey from the spring to the fountains, the water of San Leonardo features a very low percentage in minerals, making it good for your health.
For this reason, many people come here to collect the water to drink at home.
Village of San Salvatore di Sinis (Oristano province)
This quaint village boasting colourful houses seems suspended in past times, looking like a movie set. At the centre of the village, there is the 17th-century church built on top of a pagan burial chamber dating back to the 4th century AD.
From the church, you can access an underground corridor featuring wall paintings of classic deities, Christian symbols, and engravings in Greek, Latin, and Arab language.
The paintings apparently are connected to the worship of water, in fact, the corridor opens into a circular room where an ancient well is.
Unfortunately when we visited the access to the underground chamber was forbidden, what a pity!
The Fordongianus hot pools (Oristano province)
Romans were known for their appreciation of thermal baths and in fact also in Sardinia, they have built some spas. In the village of Fordongianus, you can find two thermal settlements dating back to the 1st and 3rd century AD.
The most ancient building is inside an archaeological area and features a pool naturally supplied with 54 °C hot water. The other building offers a healthy program passing from one room to another at different temperatures.
Faby and I opted for a dip into the outdoor natural hot pools where the fresh water of the river cools down the boiling water coming out directly from the soil.
I am never been particularly interested in hot pools but when I find one immersed in nature I like to take a rest, especially after all these days of driving around the island 😊
Cagliari: what to see (and eat)
Despite being a seaside city, Cagliari is mainly uphill because in past times fortifications were built to defend its harbour.
I have spent here only one day but I am happy to share with you what to see in this lovely city if you have little time.
The first thing to keep in mind are the two main streets: Via Garibaldi which is the pedestrian road that from the harbour connects to the castle area, featuring many shops and bars; Via Roma, a portico street stretching along the marina area and into small lanes where you can find a variety of typical restaurants (trattoria).
What to see in Cagliari
Cagliari Castle area
The Cagliari Castle is one of the oldest parts in town, this area was built by the Pisan people in 1300s featuring towers, bastions, and defensive walls you can access still today by means of medieval gates. Here noble residences and administrative offices have always been hosted, so is the case today. In fact, the main institutions and even the university are located in this area.
We have accessed the castle neighbourhood through the St. Remy bastion that offers a gorgeous panoramic terrace overlooking the marina.
Despite its recently renewed look, this church dates back to the gothic romanesque period and was later restored in baroque style. I found the 1600s crypt very interesting, dedicated to the martyrs of the city.
Many people think this church is the cathedral of Cagliari due to its importance and imposing architecture dominating the town from the hill of Bonaria.
The sanctuary was built in 1300s by Alfonso da Araona, the Spanish lord who conquered the city and decided to build here a fortification to defend what he declared to be the first capital of the Reign of Sardinia.
The basilica was built later on and took almost two centuries to be completed (1700s-1900s).
When you climb the flight of stairs and reach the main square where the complex is, you are struck by the imposind façade and the two bronze sculptures, one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the other one a representation of a boat floating in the wind.
This 8-km long sandy beach is a must-see of Cagliari. From here we have walked to the Marina Piccola at the far end where we started a short hike (approx. 45 minutes) to reach the ruins of the tower built in the 16th century by the Spanish ruling the city at that time.
From here your gaze lingers towards the horizon where the blue of the sea meets the sky.
Sella del Diavolo (Devil’s Saddle)
The Devil’s saddle is a panoramic lookout over the Gulf of Cagliari.
We hiked here on our first day in town at sunset time. The path starts from the beach of Calamosca just in front of the hotel and is fairly easy to walk (approx. 40 minutes one way). In the first part you walk on limestone rocks before entering the typical Mediterranean bush from where you can enjoy spanning views over the Poetto’s beach and the Molentargius lagoon.
According to a legend the devil wanted to conquer the Gulf of Cagliari (also known as the Gulf of the Angels) and during a battle against the angels, he flew away on horseback. His horse saddle fell and turned into a stone giving this place its special shape.
Here you can also admire some ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Astarte goddess to witness that this place was frequented already in very ancient times.
Cagliari on a sailing boat
If you want to explore the beautiful inlets of the Cagliari Gulf in a sustainable way you can opt for a sailing tour with the local sports association Colore del Mare Asd.
I have met Costantino the skipper who has hosted us on his sailing boat (that is where he lives all year round) for a sunset aperitif. I highly recommend him to explore this gorgeous natural area while learning more about sailing, a unique experience!
Where to eat in Cagliari
Excellent and abundant dishes, very kind staff, and good quality/price balance. We have been so satisfied with it that we chose to come here again on our last day in town.
Some local specialties you can taste at Su Cumbidu:
Su Pani Frattau (fried egg on the typical pane carasau bread seasoned with sheep sauce and pecorino cheese, very tasty!), Fregola with veggies (artisan bran pasta), Malloreddus a sa Campidanesa (typical Sardinian pasta with sausage sauce), Culurgiones (ravioli filled with potatoes and seasoned with butter and sage or tomato sauce), Sebadas (typical pastry filled with pecorino cheese and honey).
Don’t worry I haven’t eaten all of them at once, sharing is caring 😊
If you feel like something different from the traditional Sardinian cuisine I highly recommend this small cafè specialized in salads and farm-to-table dishes. I have tasted a chicken basmati salad that was really mouthwatering.
Each ingredient is selected paying attention to the season and as local as possible. The cafè serves also breakfast and aperitifs.