Secret Sardegna

Forget the overexposed and celebrity-infested Emerald Coast of Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian). I've found three perfect beaches, each with its own style, far from the madding crowds

Sardegna is the part of Italy that feels foreign and exotic even to Italians. it has its own cuisine, traditions, stone-age villages, ancient ruins, even languages. The main tounge, Sardo is a full-fledged language of its own—not, as many assume, a dialect of Italian. (In the town of Alghero, settled long ago by Barcelona fishermen, they actually speak Catalan.)

Just west of the Italian peninsula, the Mediterranean's second-largest island is awash in glittering beaches, stone-age villages, and nature hikes in the the wilds of the Sardegnan interior, a region called "Barbagia" (barbarian lands) since the time of the Caesars, when not even the Roman legions were able to conquer it fully.

Sardegna also has ancient ruins from the Roman and Pheoncian eras and dozens of stone citadels from the mysterious Nuraghe people, a civilization that flourished 1,500 years before the Romans started their empire.

Sardegna's secret beaches

Sardegna has remained largely off the radar of international tourism. If it gets mentioned at all, it’s for the Costa Smeralda, an admittedly gorgeous string of beaches encrusted with overpriced resort hotels and multi-million-dollar gated villas that seem to breed scandal. (In 2001 the CEO of Tyco infamously sank $1 million of company funds into a bacchanalian birthday bash here for his wife; in 2009, Italian PM Berlusconi was photographed partying with naked women at his "Emerald Coast" villa.)

But I was convinced that, with 1,178 miles of shoreline, Sardegna had to offer plenty of beaches beyond the chichi shenanigans of the nouveau jet set on the Costa Smeralda—and I was determined to find the best. A lifetime of conversations with Italian friends had already narrowed my list down to three perfect candidates.

There was the promise of a bustling social scene on Stintino, its sugary sands guarded by a 500-year-old watchtower on a peninsula stretching from the island's northwest corner. 

There was the appeal of peace and quiet on the broad, gloriously isolated beaches of the Costa Verde on the southwest coast.

Most intriguing, there was the Gulf of Orosei on the island's eastern shore and its Cala della Luna, reportedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy…and accessible only by boat.

At first, I thought "by boat" must mean "by private yacht," because my map of Sardegna showed the gulf as a 30-mile-long curve of shoreline, most of it backed by a field of uninterrupted green indicating the National Park of the Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu Mountains. The only seaside towns were at the extreme northern and southern ends, there were no highways except an inland one, and, seemingly, no way to get to the gulf coast itself at all.

That's when I noticed, about halfway up the gulf, the little squiggle of a two-lane switchback road leading from Dorgali down to the shore and a dot on the map labeled Cala Gonone...

Sardegna beaches

» The Gulf of Orosei: For the Explorer
» Costa Verde: For the Solitude-Seeker
» Stintino: For the socializer

Tips & links


Sardegna tourism info:

How to get to Sardinia

Take a plane. Ferries from the mainland take 10 hours or more yet cost about the same as a 90-minute flight, either connecting via Rome on your Alitalia flight, or using a no-frills airline (Ryanair, Air One, Meridiana, easyJet, etc.).

You can use these low-cost flights to easily fit Sardegna into a wider Italy itinerary. For example, I flew from Rome to Cagliari on Meridiana, rented a car to explore the island, then flew out of Alghero direct to Pisa on Ryanair.

The fastest way to see all your options for flying to Sardegna is to go directly to the websites of Sardegna's major airports:

  • Cagliari airport on the south coast - Aeroporto Cagliari-Elmas (
  • Alghero airport on the northwest coast - Aeroporto di Alghero (
  • Olbia airport on the northeast coast - Aeroporto Olbia Costa Smeralda (

Getting around Sardinia

Trains aren't as widespread in Sardegna as they are in the rest of Italy; buses are slow, infrequent, and inconvenient. Definitely rent a car. » more

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Sardegna tourism info:

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