In other words, we had the feeling that Sardinia maintains its roots and traditions faithfully, and has not sold any of that such as in certain areas of Spain or Greece, where even entire neighbourhoods seem taken by tourists and foreign cultures.
The best itinerary to discover Northern Sardinia
The following itinerary was meticulously selected and executed in order to discover the best towns and beaches, maximising our time on the island. We included 2 nights in an agriturismo-style hotel and we avoided some posh and expensive areas such as Porto Cervo.
Day 1 and 2: Alghero and Stintino
Discarding the main city and airport of the island, Cagliari, because it is on the south of the island, the 2 other options to fly to are Alghero and Olbia.
We decided to fly to Alghero and it was probably the best decision of the planning, as it was one of our favourite towns. Flights also tend to be cheaper, as the Olbia is in the posh area of the island, the East.
Poseidon B&B was our choice of accommodation. Bear in mind that in general people stay a lot in bed and breakfasts, more than hotels. It is well located, clean and tidy. The rooms are spacious, the staff (thanks Severine!) is friendly and knowledgable, and the breakfast is tasty.
We arrived in the evening, but the airport is small and you can be at your hotel in less than 30 minutes. Poseidon B&B is also surrounded by restaurants and pubs.
In the way back you can also visit more beaches, one of the main ones is Spiaggia Le Saline. Once back in Alghero, we went out for an aperitivo and dinner, but before we saw the stunning sunset in the port and walked around the old town and Ai Bastioni.
Day 3 and 4: Bosa, Cala Gonone and Golfo di Orosei
So our plan was to go as South as Cala Gonone and then head back North, and so we did. But we added an additional stop, Bosa, just before crossing the whole island to the East coast.
This is a small but cute town, and it is only an hour drive from Alghero. It has a special character and it’s somehow different to the rest of the towns on the island. So we walked all the way up from the River Termo to the castle that sits on top.
We then had an espresso and headed to the East coast. This was the longest drive, and it took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Cala Gonone.
B&B Le Ginestre was our accommodation choice this time. It is a modest but comfortable and convenient bed and breakfast. There is plenty of parking space, a supermarket around the corner and a petrol station (offering also food and refreshments) 2 minutes away. The breakfast was very Italian (sweet croissants, fruit, bread, cheese and ham). The downside is that the town is 10 minutes away, and downhill. However; you can just drive or take a bus that stops almost right next door.
Cala Gonone is a small but lively town. Tourists are mostly Italian, as with the rest of the island. There a few car-reachable beaches such as Spiaggia Centrale, Palmasera and S’Abba Meica; however, most people take boat tours that take you to the non-car-reachable beaches of the Gennargentu National Park (Parco del Golfo di Orosei e del Gennargentu). These ones include Cala Mariolu, Cala Goloritze, Cala Luna, the cave of Bue Marino and others.
We also have a few recommendations here. For food, we really liked Ristorante Pizzeria La Poltrona and Pizzeria Zio Pedrillo. The former has plenty of options besides pizza but it is outside the town, closer to B&B Le Ginestre. The latter is known as the best pizza restaurant in town, and their pasta is also great. For after beach/tour drinks and aperitivo, Garden Bar was our favourite. Last but not least, when it comes to ice cream Gelateria Fancello is the place to go. There are also various events during summer so better to check online.
Day 5 and 6: Costa Smeralda, San Pantaleo and Golfo Aranci
After Cala Gonone and its stunning gulf we headed to Costa Smeralda, which is the most exclusive area in Sardinia, and one of the most exclusive ones in Europe. The main towns and villages are Porto Cervo, Liscia di Vacca, Capriccioli, and Romazzino.
House prices in this area reach up to 300,000 euros ($392,200) per square meter. With white sand beaches, golf clubs, private jet and helicopter services, and exclusive hotels, the area attracts celebrities, business leaders, and other affluent visitors. Development of the area started in 1961, and was financed by a consortium of companies led by Prince Karim Aga Khan and Spiaggia del Principe, was named after him.
So how can you afford this? Don’t worry, there are plenty of towns inland with B&B and affordable agrotourism options. Ca’ La Somara was our choice here, right next to San Pantaleo. This town exceeded our expectations completely. Tiny but beautiful, and not as posh as others. There are good restaurants such as Trattoria Zara Cafe, and a few great aperitivo options such as Caffe Nina. Every Thursday there is a lively street market, which I recommend visiting. But you will need to be patient to find a parking space.
We were also greatly surprised by Ca’ La Somara. It’s a peaceful and beautiful B&B with a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, a bar and a garden. There is also a shared kitchen, a sun terrace and a barbecue. It is an excellent point to visit all the places you want in Costa Smeralda, such as Capriccioli, Spiaggia Poltu Di Li Cogghj, Cala Liccia, Spiaggia Cala Granu and others.
Day 7: La Maddalena
We then headed to Palau, which is the town where the ferry to La Maddalena departs from. It is quite small and the port is very easy to find, so the journey is super fast and convenient, even during high season. It takes only 15 minutes to cross and the price is per car and per person. We were two with a small car and we paid €35 with the return.
There are two companies selling tickets: Delcomar and Maddalena Lines. The former seems to be much better, it is the one we used and we had no problems at all. We bought the tickets in advanced but you can also buy on board. Actually, if you buy in advanced you do not get a time, you only book for a specific day. You then just head to the port and drive to the ferry.
We stayed only one night and we felt we needed more. The Island is small but there are many places to visit. We stayed in Antica Forte 3, a beautiful place with breathtaking views of the coast. It is not very close to the port and the town centre but offers great views and more importantly, their hosts are great cooks. So you should book a dinner, which cost €35 and comprises a full Italian dinner -and experience-.
In terms of beaches, we recommend visiting at least Cala Coticcio, Spiaggia del Relitto and Spiaggia di Punta Tegge. The former is kind of hidden and not easy to reach, so you will need a boat tour or a hike. All the information needed for the hiking is available in our post “Hike to Cala Coticcio, a unique beach in La Maddalena“.
One of our favourite moments of the trip to Northern Sardinia was here. We swam from Cala Cotticio to the other beach (or other section of the beach), which is on the left. On the way, we passed in the middle of some other rocks, with plenty of fish below us and a few spots to dive, and we went all the way to the sandy area to rest, and then come back. This was really a moment for us.
Day 8: Santa Teresa Gallura and Capo Testa
After having an amazing time in La Maddalena, which felt not enough, we headed back East, and our next stop was Santa Teresa di Gallura. But there were also a few places to visit along the way.
Spiaggia Porto Liscia, Spiaggia di Porto Pollo, Spiaggia La Licciola and Spiaggia La Marmorata. They are four beatiful beaches worth visiting. The more you can see the better, for sure our favourite was the former, and we could not visit Porto Pollo.
Santa Teresa Gallura is another beautiful and lively town. It has a permanent population of about 5,000, increasing to 10,000 to 15,000 with summer tourism. The main town square has various tourist shops and restaurants; many of these close in the off-season. Immediately to the north of the town is Rena Bianca, Santa Teresa’s beach, which is very crowded during high season, especially August.
This town is where the ferry to Corsica departs, and actually its southern coast can be seen from the beach. So if you have more time and want to cross to France, this could be the opportunity.
It is also known as La Colba, is without a doubt part of our top 5 beaches in Northern Sardinia. Is it located on one side of the thin road (isthmus/strip of land) that connects the Sardinia’s mainland with the promontory of Capo Testa. On the other side you can find Rena di Saliente, from where you can see the sunrise, hence its name –Saliente– (opposed to Ponente, meaning sunset). Despite the crowds, sunsets are relaxing and peaceful. During our stay, there was no wind at all, as opposed to Rena di Saliente. If it is windy, you can still visit Santa Reparata beach, popular for being protected from the wind.
There are also two other beaches that are reachable after a 20 to 30 minutes hike. One is Spiaggia Cala Francese, a tiny and quiet beach surrounded by rocks. The other one is the beach belonging to Valle della Luna (Valley of the Moon). This picturesque valley that resembles a lunar landscape (hence the name) was a haunt of hippies who set up camps within the valley to enable themselves to connect with nature during the 1970s. We went there and there were still camps.
Day 9: Castelsardo and back to Alghero
There are a number of places to visit along the way between Santa Teresa and Alghero, and you will be able to choose according to your schedule and preference.
We first went to Cala Sarraina, which was a recommendation of our great host Gigi, from La Chicca di Francesca B&B in Santa Teresa di Gallura. It was a perfect break in our way back to Alghero, and it took us only half an hour to get there. It was less crowded than the average on the island, and we had a feeling of being in a more natural and “local” beach.
The beach consists of very small pebbles, and it is surrounded by a number of particular rock formations. The water is warm and clean, with plenty of fish. We missed the sunset due to our schedule, but it was recommended to us a couple of times.
We then continued our journey and we stopped in Castelsardo, which was in our original plan. It took us around 45 minutes from the beach.
Castelsardo is a historic town mainly known by its hilltop ancient castle, Castello dei Doria. But it is not just the castle, but also the historic centre surrounding it. Expect to see medieval alleyways, stone buildings, several cafes, restaurants, and charming handicraft shops. The basket weaving industry is particularly popular, as you will see if walk around. There is even a dedicated museum called Museo dell’Intreccio Mediterraneo.
I recommend driving up and leave the car on Via Nazionale, and then explore on foot the town and its main attractions, which are Cattedrale di Sant’Antonio, Castello dei Doria, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, Baia Ostina.
And besides the old castles and fortresses, there are a couple of beaches nearby that are also worth checking out, such as Lu Bagnu.
Our last night was in Alghero. We made this decision having some doubts, but we don’t regret at all. We walked around the town one more time and we had one more aperitivo in a restaurant/bar called Bar Focacceria Milese.
We spent our last night in a hotel next to the airport called Maris Agriturismo. This was handy because we returned the car that same night, and the hotel’s manager/host picked us up and drove us back the next morning after breakfast.