Over the span of two nights, I’ve had the two best pasta dishes of my entire life: One on a small farm in the mountains around Nuoro, the other in the seaside village of Alghero.
Two weeks have past since we left the turbulence of Rome, and set foot on Sardinia, the southern of the two islands (Corsica to the north), directly west of mainland Italy. In this short time we’ve spent the days lying on pristine beaches, exploring and enjoying the bounties of a farm high in the mountains, diving in the sea, and wandering the cobblestone streets of a medieval seaside village.
I like it here…
The ‘downtown’ car rental pickup was in the commercial/industrial outskirts of Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia. This made for a fairly uneventful, and very hungry three hour wait for our tiny, though mighty, Fiat Panda. A short drive down the shiny new highway along the rocky coastline, through several kilometre-long tunnels, we soon arrive at the tiny seaside village of Costa Rei. Killing time before check-in at our villa, we grab some drinks and pasta. Monstrous portions of spaghetti with clams, and spaghetti carbonara, finally supplied some delicious sustenance. Shortly after we meet our contact, and get the keys to our quaint little condo which is perched on a steep mountainside, we are settled. Bellies full of pasta and wine, we do the smart thing: take the three minute walk to the pale sand beach, and dive into the warm, perfectly-clear water of the Mediterranean Sea.
Regarding our time on the southeastern coast around Costa Rei, there isn’t really a whole lot to say. Venturing north along the coast towards Muravera one day, south to Villasimius another, we happened upon many small, idyllic, and usually deserted beaches. Short crescents of white sand surrounded by rocky cliffs, and pale blue water… the kind you see in Bond movies. Even in the central part of ‘town’, there were few other visitors. Days were spent lying on the beach, taking naps on our patio, reading, writing, thinking, eating, drinking, relaxing. A perfect contrast to our less-than-positive experience in Rome. The food was delicious, because the ingredients are perfect; whether we ate out, or cooked for ourselves using what we had picked up at the local markets, everything tasted amazing. And regarding drinks, occasionally a few were consumed; at one market you could fill a container with lesser-quality local wine for 1.99 euro per litre! While the Sardinian ‘goon’ might have caused the odd headache, a morning dip in the cool water of the ocean set everything straight again.
Eventually breaking our pleasantly uneventful routine, we leave our seemingly endless stretch of untouched coastline, and head inland to the mountains around Nuoro. Somewhere around 20 kilometres northeast of town, we find ourselves making many small turns, down many small backroads. Dodging a large snake at one point, the final stretch of ‘road’ is nothing more than a rocky trail, winding through cork trees, limestone boulders, and random herds of sheep. Eventually, we arrive, and park our car near the entrance of the large moss-covered stone wall. Greeted first by three very friendly Labradors, we find the door to what appears to be the main building. A tiny Sardinian man runs over to greet us. Before anything else, he shakes our hands, and when we try to present our papers for check-in, he laughs and brings out wine. It’s the only accommodation I’ve stayed where the owner gets you half sauced before showing you the room! The old stables have been modified into four very nice rooms, and the main building into a small dining hall. This is fairly common in Sardinia, known as Agritourismo, giving the visitor an experience of the farm, and more importantly, the traditional food. During the day, we wandered around the area, taking in the fresh clean air, exploring the cork forest, and drinking grappa with some of the farmers as they proudly show us their horses, cows, sheep, and young pigs. But come 8pm each night, it’s all about the food, which I will explain in detail in a separate post, as to not drag this one out.
After two relaxing days spent in epicurean bliss, we begin the third, and final leg of our time in Sardinia. Seeing as the island is fairly small, crossing from the central mountain range to the coastal port town of Alghero took just under two hours. Traffic here was a little more intense than we’d seen so far, so it was a little tricky navigating the streets to find the car drop-off point, but soon we were back on our feet, wandering with our bags. With little effort, we find the small apartment Kylee arranged for us, and begin exploring. Similar to the roads of central Rome, the ‘old city’ of Alghero is a winding maze of cobblestone alleys, this time following a beautiful rocky coastline. The beaches close to town are nothing to write home about, so with most of our time, we wandered the streets, eating delicious food and enjoying the sights along the seawall. The first night in town, we ate supper at a small place with only a few tables… the kitchen was in another building across the street. Kylee had some really tasty mussels with beans, and I enjoyed one of the most delicious pasta dishes of my life. Trofie noodles, dressed with nothing more than butter, pecorino cheese, and bottarga – a salt cured, dried fish – grated over top. Simple, and perfect.
Nearing the end of our visit, we finally had the opportunity to go for a long awaited dive in the Mediterranean. It was quite cheap, 110 euros for two dives, including equipment.
Lesson learned: scuba diving is not like riding a bike. Though the process was remembered, the mental part of allowing yourself to breath underwater was entirely forgotten. Six years is a long time between dives. Kylee and I both had a difficult time getting back into it after so long, but it eventually came back, and we were able to enjoy a couple of dives. It was decent, but to be completely honest, I had expected more. A few fish, some interesting plant life, sea urchins, and starfish were all we saw… after our last dives in the tropics of Thailand, hopes might have been set a little too high. Getting under water was the most important part of the dive trip. As I mentioned, it’s been a while, and we had a difficult time getting back into the rhythm, so this was our ‘refresher’ course. Depending on the costs in southern Croatia, we might give it another go… I still haven’t seen an octopus!
Our last day was spent relaxing a little more and getting lost in the maze of alleys, stopping occasionally for a glass of wine, maybe a snack. After re-packing our bags for a day of airport transfers, we get some sleep for our early morning taxi to the airport. The roads at 6am are completely deserted, and it is a peaceful farewell to the beautiful island we’d called home over the past two weeks. There are many places I would like to return in the future, and some that I absolutely must. Sardinia is high on that list. The food was amazing, the scenery leaves you stunned at times, and in an entire two week span, we did not meet a single unhappy or unfriendly person. With one of the longest life expectancies of anywhere in the world, there’s something to be said about the carefree life the locals all seem to enjoy.
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