Week 23, part 1 (5–9 June 2023)
This first part of Weeknote #14 collects thoughts and memories about our very short trip through Sardinia on our way home to France, from Cagliari in the South to Porto Torres in the North.
Incidentally an ancient Roman road used to link the two cities, the via a Turris Caralis. Monuments on both ends still commemorate it.
It was a bit of a shock to stroll through the main walking street of Cagliari on the night we arrived. We'd just spent two weeks in Sicily and although many places we visited there were very, VERY touristy (especially the East coast around Siracusa, Taormina etc.), we still felt pretty immersed in local life: we heard comparatively little English (most tourists are Italian), restaurants serve mostly Sicilian/Italian food, and everything feels a bit chaotic (apparently typical of Southern Italy).
Our first impression of Cagliari was entirely different. On the same street, we walked past at least 3 hipster sourdough pizza restaurants similar to those found in Berlin or London, with English menus, English-speaking staff, craft beers and high prices. We heard more English than Italian (mostly with British accents). Everything was calm and orderly, no cars were parked in the middle of the street, people walked and talked softly.
On the next day we got to discover a bit more of the city and not all streets felt that way, but overall, at that point, Sardinia felt like a much more touristy island. Sicily is still a place where people live, Sardinia is a place that people travel to. I would have expected this on the famous Emerald coast (Northeastern Sardinia) but not in Cagliari—although being the largest city on the island, it is probably an entry point for many visitors.
- the sourdough pizza that we did end up eating at one of the hipster pizza restaurants on our first night in town
- walking around the city with A from our ferry ride the day before
- flowering jacaranda trees!
- first taste of Sardinian food: pizzetta sfoglia (Cagliari breakfast), pardule (sweets), panade (like empanadas). Here's a good read about Sardinian specialties
- trying a pardula ice cream at one of two Gambero-Rosso-starred gelaterie in Sardinia, I Fenu
- small pedestrian streets, hills and viewpoints, the laid-back atmosphere
We stayed only a single night in Cagliari and then started to make our way up towards Porto Torres. Since we were only passing through we decided against renting a car, and although we were initially a bit worried about the state of public transport1, it ended up being efficient, fast, and reliable. After a single train ride and a bus (about 3 hours in total), we arrived in Bosa, a small town/large village on the Wester coast of Sardinia.
Bosa quickly changed the impression of Sardinia that we'd made in Cagliari. Considered one of the prettiest villages in Italy, we wondered if it would feel a bit like an amusement park. Not at all. First sign: lots of locals (of all ages) sitting on public benches, or by the river, or at bars and cafés, hanging out together. Surprisingly few tourists. Back to trying to speak Italian.
We spent two nights in Bosa and had a great time, not doing much, having coffee and walks and food and more coffee and aperitivo and wine (including the local Malvasia di Bosa). Bought malloredus (a type of pasta from Sardinia, also called gnochetti sardi, shaped like small shells) and cooked a full meal for the first time in weeks (alla Trapanese, the pesto we discovered near Trapani last week). Walked through the narrow cobblestone streets, flanked by colorful facades that residents decorated with flowers, swallows flying overhead. Slept a lot and skipped the beach and took naps. We'll be back.
- homemade malloredus alla Trapanese with a bottle of red wine made by our host (a blend of the local cannoneau and cabernet sauvignon)
- alleys cobblestone swallows flowers
- a mosquito in the room
- a great cornetto alla crema di pistacchio (hadn't had it since our first week in Sicily), the morning of the mosquito at 7 am
- local small-town life
- more Sardinian food: seade (dessert, dough filled with ricotta and fried, topped with honey), cheese and charcuterie taglieri, fregula (Sardinian pasta, tiny little pearls, a bit like cous cous, usually served with seafood and a broth), porceddu (roast pork). Many of these for dinner at Locanda Di Corte. Wine: Malvasia di Bosa (white, sweet) but also cannoneau (local red grape, found all over the island) and Carignano del Sulcis (red DOC from Southwest Sardinia)
The bus between Bosa and Alghero took the scenic coastal road, high up on cliffs overlooking the sea. The region around Bosa seems like a nice place to discover by car or bike, with more time!
Alghero is special, since it used to be a Catalan town. This heritage is still felt in the architecture (two- or three-storied white buildings), food (paella is popular), and overall vibe (or maybe I was just biased). There is a small touristy city center with narrow alleys and fortified city walls going straight into the sea, but the city expanded inland quite a bit as it grew.
We were staying closed to the Giardini Giuseppe Manno and it was the perfect park: lots of shade for sitting in the grass or on a bench, a small café with outdoor seating in a corner, located right by the Via Catalonia bus station, close to a fresh produce market, to a bookshop that doubled as a wine bar, and to nice restaurants. We had lunch in the park twice, getting panini or focaccie to go and eating fresh fruits from the market (the very first apricots and peaches of the season!).
Alghero is also where we finally wrapped our heads around Western Sardinian (red) wine. It's somewhat similar to Southeastern French red: the cannoneau grape, vinified on its own or used in blends all over the island, is the same as grenache; carignano is of course carignan; and the Alghero local grape cagnulari (a favorite) was described to us as something between syrah and grenache. We had wine at the bookstore (actually the best of our trip, cagnulari and vermentino), at a wine bar in the old town, and at a restaurant with our seafood dinner. The next day C was slightly hungover.
- the nearby bookshop cum wine bar, Cyrano
- a really good seafood dinner with octopus salad, seafood fregula and gnocchi with clams at Terra
- succeeding in sending a letter! We found a stamp and a card+envelope in Cagliari but only finally found a permanent marker in Alghero, along with a post office to mail it
- learning a bit more about Sardinian wine, a great glass of Tenute Delogu Cagnulari
- learning from our mistakes and buying a picnic for the ferry ride at the market
- the Giardini Giuseppe Manno, sitting in the grass with a panino and apricots, waiting for our bus to Porto Torres
Porto Torres (Turris Libysonis)
We only spent a few hours in Porto Torres, waiting for the ferry check-in time. Since we were carrying our big backpacks we basically just stayed on the Piazza Garibaldi, moving from one café to a pasticceria across the square after a few hours.
There were a LOT of older French tourists in town, many from organized tours, heading back home on the same ferry. Some of them were incredibly entitled and rude (trying to order in French, impatient when the waitress didn't understand). I can see where some of the stereotypes come from, and I'm grateful that people in Ardèche aren't like that.
- catching a glimpse of the ancient Roman bridge from the bus, reading about Turris Libysonis
- watching time go by with a lot of caffè on the Piazza Garibaldi
- a smooth ferry check-in process (better than the last) and a smooth crossing
In the final train of our trip, from Toulon back to Valence, watched The Red Turtle downloaded on the MUBI app. Can't wait for a larger screen/projection screen and for better sound!
As I write this, we just got back home and I have more free time than I've had in the past 4 years—wait for it! everything we'd read online before the trip said things like "best to rent a car, public transport is unreliable at best, if not nonexistent". Turns out it's actually really good and I'd recommend it to anyone unless they want to go out of the beaten path—just like traveling anywhere. ↩
everything we'd read online before the trip said things like "best to rent a car, public transport is unreliable at best, if not nonexistent". Turns out it's actually really good and I'd recommend it to anyone unless they want to go out of the beaten path—just like traveling anywhere. ↩