The Italian island of Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and actually lies closer to the African continent than to its own mainland. The Sardinians actually speak of Italy as if it is another country, not their own. With a ruggedly beautiful coastline, clear waters, beautiful interior countryside and unique wine and cuisine, Sardinia has become a very popular tourist destination. Some parts of the island have fallen victim to their popularity, while a few of the out-of-the-way places we visited have retained their identity and charm.
We enjoyed a lovely beam reach across the Strait of Bonifacio from the French island of Corsica, arriving at the harbour of Santa Teresa di Gallura. The anchorage was a bit exposed to the westerly breeze and swell, so we decided to head downwind a few miles in search of some better protection. About an hour’s sail to the east, we rounded the rocky outcrop of Capo Testa and found a calm and uncrowded anchorage on its southwest side. The crystal clear water and lack of powerboat traffic made it a great spot for a long snorkel along the rocky shoreline. The day finished off perfectly with a stunning red sunset against the wild wind-shaped rock formations of the cape.
A quiet anchorage at Capo Testa
Sunset at Capo Testa
In light easterlies the next morning, we headed across to the north east corner of the island to Porto Cervo, one of the major developments along the Costa Smeralda. I recalled visiting there in 1984 and participating in the Swan Rolex Cup when it was still a fairly well-kept secret. At that time there were just a few small hotels, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, a small marina, and hardly any other boats than the fleet of sixty-odd Swans participating in the week-long regatta. A lot has changed in 25 years!
The Costa Smeralda has become a playground for the rich and famous, and the game of choice yachting where size is everything.. The channels between Sardinia and the Maddelena Archipelago were in rush hour mode from sunrise to sunset. The operative word here being “rush” as anyone with a power boat seemed to be in quite a hurry to get wherever they were headed. We repeatedly witnessed 50-100 foot power boats tearing up the waterways at full throttle, passing so closely to other craft as to scare the daylights out of them, not to mention throwing up a wash large enough to roll Moonshadow on her beam ends as we quietly made our way along under sail.
We pulled into Porto Cervo and found that what used to be an anchorage was taken up by fixed moorings which can be had for just €100 per night, leaving just a small bit of space on the periphery for a few boats to anchor in shallow water on short rodes. We anchored ok but became concerned that if we swung we might block access to the med-mooring area. We shifted to another spot near the harbor entrance, anchored again and sat down to lunch. While it was a great show watching all the boats coming and going, the incessant traffic and associated noise and wash became so irritating that we decided to leave. We went just around the corner to a large and reasonably protected bay called Golfo Pero, where we found anchorage among the giga and mega yachts that could not fit into Porto Cervo, as well as hundreds of smaller boats of all shapes and sizes that had come out of a marina to enjoy a sunny day on the water. The Costa Smeralda attracts lots of beautiful and a few strange looking yachts to its anchorages so the yacht watching was especially good even if there were too many fizzboats and jet-skis zipping around for our liking.
A lovely waterfront villa at Porto Cervo
Golfo Pero calmed nicely that night so we had a good sleep. We took the dinghy into Porto Cervo the next morning and had a walk around the two developments. We found a couple of good supermarkets and picked up a few provisions. Porto Cervo has become an enclave of spectacular seaside villas and hotels blending into the landscape, and of course there are a plethora of trendy restaurants and high end boutiques selling every imaginable designer label to the elite clientele and wannabes. The place was jammed with tourists and there was even a cheesy elephant train giving a guided tour of the area and somewhat cheapening the experience.
We saw plenty of unique yachts in Italy, but a few, like this are just downright bizarre. Baboon head come to mind?
After lunch we sailed south to Porto di Cugnana in a light easterly. Along the way we passed close to both the 289 foot sailing yacht Maltese Falcon and the somewhat smaller Tatoosh lying on anchor with a few dozen other gigayachts along the Costa Smeralda. We anchored south of the Marina di Portisco where went into the marina and had a lovely dinner ashore. Late in the day, Maltese Falcon, a Perini Navi with a special rig, went for a little sail. As she headed away under full sail with a slight heel, she looked a bit like the leaning tower of Pisa.
The spectacular yacht Maltese Falcon
The fizz boats zipping by from dawn to dusk were beginning to get on our nerves, so we continued south hoping to find some less crowded waters and more quiet anchorages. We pulled into the large port city of Olbia where we were able to find a calm and relatively quiet anchorage very close to town. If Olbia is not the most attractive town along the coast, it is user friendly to yachties and one can get to within 100 meters of a large supermarket with the dinghy, making it a great place to take on supplies and provisions. The old town center is reasonably attractive and the main street has a nice array of shops, restaurants and cafes.
After we had taken care of all our business in Olbia, we sailed out to a small and unassuming beach town called Golfo Aranci. It is served by a couple ferries a day, but otherwise the anchorage is rather quiet and calm. The local fishermen are courteous as they pass through the anchorage and there is a good beach landing for the dinghy. They had an arts and music festival on so we enjoyed live music wafting in from town one evening and a night crafts market set up on the main street after a dinner ashore on another.
On one of our strolls in town, we found a tiny wine shop on a residential side street that specializes in Sardinian wines. When we dropped in they were receiving a delivery from one of their suppliers. While the driver was unloading cases of bottled wine, a small pump was transferring vino di tavola (table wine) from two large barrels on the truck bed into two large barrels inside the shop. Some restaurants sell this as “house wine” and villagers bring in their own bottles or jugs and purchase table wine by the liter. We found the bottled wine to be excellent value at €4-6 per bottle and have yet to find one we didn’t like.
The wine goes from here. . .
. . . to here. The wine shop in Golfo Aranci
After chilling for a few days we sailed south to Porto Brandinghi, passing the spectacular piece of rock called Isola Tavolara. It was a good overnight anchorage but a few rocks on the bottom made the chain grumble. The further south we ventured, the less boat traffic and crowds we encountered, which was encouraging.
Moving on the next day we had a beautiful light-air sail to Cala Cinepro about 30 miles down the coast and anchored in a small bay with a beautiful white sand beach and bottom. The coastal scenery along the way was spectacular. The next morning before everyone arrived at the beach and the breeze came up we enjoyed a dip in the calm water. The whole bay looked like a giant swimming pool and we could see the shadows of the boat and dinghy on the bottom.
A morning dip at Cala Cinepro
Refreshed from the morning swim, we motored in the calms along a spectacular piece of coastline to Isola dell’Olgiastra near the industrial town of Arbatax. Olgiastra is a small cluster of cactus-covered rocks but provided sufficient protection from the southeast swell and gave us a commanding view of the rugged coastline to the north.
The coast of Sardinia
More coast of Sardinia
Morning at Isola dell’Olgiastra (forewater)
The next day we took another hitch south to Capo Ferrato, a rocky spit of land jutting out from a long run of straight coastline, which provides a bit of protection in a couple of small bights on its north and south sides. We found a good spot in a rocky bay on the north side where, for the first time in ages, we were the only boat in the anchorage. We decided to do some wash, chill out, do some snorkeling and spend a second night there but we had three other boats join us the second night.
We made our final leg down the east coast of Sardinia and rounded Capo Carbonara. We headed north a mile or so and anchored in a large and well protected bay north of the marina adjacent to the village of Villasimius, where we enjoyed a calm evening.
It had been two months since Moonshadow had been into a marina so we were looking forward to tying up, washing down, plugging in and stepping off. The next morning we went into the Marina del Sole in Cagliari, which at just €90 (including power and water) per night, seemed like a bargain.
The marina is a bit ramshackle, its surroundings are less than attractive and it is about a mile hike to the Cagliari town center. The family who run it were very nice and helpful. The water came out of the tap in a trickle so I had to use our own tank water in order to get enough pressure to wash down the boat. When I later went to refill the tanks, I found that the deck fitting had nearly seized up from months of non-use. Afterwards I had to leave the dock hose running for hours to top up the tanks. The good news is that it wasn’t far to walk to get a bus to town and the marina had two old clapped out Fiats that they rent for €7 per hour (no paperwork and fuel included); a great idea for cruisers wanting to do a bit of sightseeing, shopping or organizing repairs.
The sport of kayak polo in the marina, Cagliari
We walked all the way into town that afternoon and had a look around the quaint old quarter with its narrow streets and classic old Italian buildings. We found a traditional Sardinian restaurant where we returned for dinner. We bought some tickets and caught a bus back to the marina. One is meant to validate a ticket in the machine on the bus. We were the only ones who attempted and the machine was turned off or broken. Apparently the bus is free in Cagliari.
The ornate portici on the waterfront, Cagliari town
You never know where you might find an old America’s Cup boat laying around, like say in Cagliari?
The meal at Su Cumbidu that evening was quite an experience. There was a set menu starting at €15 per person and increasing in €5 increments depending how hungry you are. We were pretty hungry and went for the €25 menu which consisted of six courses (antipasti, salads, vegetables, soup, pasta, meat and desert) and included free-flow wine, bottled water, coffee and an after dinner drink. The meal was excellent and more than we could eat. After the huge dinner, Merima had a mirto, which is a Sardinian liqueur made from Myrtle leaves. I had a fil di ferro (iron wire) which is a Sardinian fire-water similar to grappa. We were told by an Italian that the name comes from the days when it was bootlegged and the locals would bury gourds full of it under ground to hide it from the feds. The gourds had an attached wire sticking up so they could find it by running their hand over the ground. The next morning we were so full from dinner we skipped breakfast!
The next day we took one of the marina cars for a couple hours and went out to the big Auchan supermarket by the Cagliari airport and did a big provisioning. This was to be our last in Italy so we wanted to stock up on wine, cheese and other goodies that we were sure we would not be able to get in Tunisia. As usual, driving in Italy is always an adventure as the traffic is chaotic and the signs are confusing, if not contradictory.
We spent our last morning in Cagliari exploring the Citadel and the old Castello district on foot. The Citadel was quite impressive with its commanding views over Cagliari.
The Citadel, Cagliari
North Sails is a purveyor of chic regatta wear in Italy
The old walled Castello district was one of the most impressive and nicely restored old towns that we had seen in Italy. There were even a few interesting shops and art galleries open on the Sunday. We stopped into the cafeteria on the top floor of the ten story La Rinascente department store for one last Italian pizza. La Rinascente occupies an ornate old building on the waterfront of Cagliari and we enjoyed wandering through some of the departments and viewing some of the very stylish Italian clothing and wares.
Small cars like the classic Cinque Cento or “Bambina” (Fiat 500) are the only ones that can squeeze through the narrow streets of the Castello district of Cagliari
Sculpture on a school in the Castello district, Cagliari
We left Cagliari the next day and sailed down to the southwest corner of the island to an attractive and well-protected bay called Porto Malfatano, where we made Moonshadow ready for the passage to Tunisia.
At first light the next morning, we set sail to the Tunisian island of La Galite.