No Sardines in Sardinia? No, Just Us Beach Bunnies
Every year I take a beach vacation with a German woman I met in Mikonos in 1979. She and her then husband were staying in the same hotel and we would also see them on the beach — Super Paradise — which was at the time one of the only totally nude beaches on the Greek island. (We were young, thin and game for anything.)
We became friendly during our stay there and remained friends now for almost 40 years. You can see why she and I like to have at least one beach vacation a year together — it became our personal tradition. Corsica has been one of our prime spots, and while we’ve tested every side of the island over the years, we preferred Algajola on the northern coast, a small town between Calvi and Ile Rousse where there is a beautiful beach, nice amenities and accommodations, great proximity to both towns and most importantly, lots of great beaches in the immediately vicinity (the main reason for the vacation).
This year we took a detour to Sardinia with two other close friends who have been beach buddies on several past summer beach trips. We had wondered what Sardinia was like for so long that we finally agreed to go and check it out, leaving Corsica for another time in the future. Everyone who had been to Sardinia said the beaches were some of the best…and of course, it had lots more to offer, including great food. It was high time we found out for ourselves.
Our rental apartment, airline tickets and car rental for August were booked as long ago as last November because during high season, the availability is already slim and prices go up quickly. We know now that if we don’t have it all in place by February for an August stay, we’ll be paying a hefty price for our procrastination. This is the time of year that the cities of Europe empty out onto the beaches, so don’t think you can wait until the last minute to score a vacation!
We all arranged to fly to Olbia and meet at the airport coming from different locations, then rented a car to drive to the other side of the island. Our home base became the northwestern town of Alghero in a big contemporary apartment with a view of the sea just a few blocks walk from the Old Town. The apartment was spacious with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and served our purpose well. It was clearly designed as a vacation rental apartment filled with Ikea furnishings and cheaply appointed. We didn’t care, except that the air-conditioning in two of the rooms (master bedroom and living room) was on the blink in one of the hottest summers to hit Italy.
The position turned out to be perfect. Because the apartment was not directly in, but adjacent to, Old Town, parking wasn’t too much of a problem when we came home from the beach about 6 p.m. We could easily walk into town for dinners and shopping. Alghero was a beautiful place for that, plus we spent part of the evenings strolling along the ramparts of the old walled citadel.
Alghero is a 16th-century town of about 45,000 people in the province of Sassari with a Catalan history dating back to the Middle Ages when Sardinia was part of the Crown of Aragon. The name sounds like “algae” because it comes from the medieval Latin “Aleguerium,” meaning stagnation of algae, but that’s not what we found. As it turns out, it’s very much a university town and is the headquarters of the Università degli Studi di Sassari’s Architecture and Design department as well as being the 10th most touristed city in Italy.
We discovered a bevy of wonderfully authentic local restaurants (a lot less expensive than we expected) and the shopping was a mixture of touristy and fabulous Italian quality and style…with a lot of bargains to be had thanks to the summer “saldi” (sales). We could easily have spent quite a lot of time in every boutique we encountered…and of course, all four of us are master shoppers. (I warn you: watch your pocketbook — because it’s very seductive.)
Beach is what we come for, however. Beaches that have all the amenities are top on our list. Any beach without mats, parasols or restaurants doesn’t rate a mention. (A good restaurant is very important, but you understand, we’re four spoiled women who are here for the best possible beach experience and that means no “roughing” it.) The beaches in the immediate vicinity of Alghero fit this description. We spent our first few days going north to the “spiagge” (beaches): Le Bombarde, La Pelosa, Lazaretto, Lido and La Saline. Then, we tried one beach south of Alghero: La Speranza.
We had read that La Pelosa was the “beach of dreams” and paradise for swimmers, but all we found was an overcrowded beach with a serious parking problem surrounded by new developments. That was not our idea of heaven and so we left before we were able to find a parking place. We don’t recommend La Saline — this is a beach with plenty of parking, but filled with seaweed and no great seaside restaurant. Avoid it. Le Lido is a good city beach if you don’t have a car or don’t want to go too far afield, but the sulphur smell on the water is a bit off-putting. La Speranza was a great beach if you want to surf, but the undertow and rocky bottom kept us on our mats all day rather than floating on the water. It had, however, one of the best restaurants for authentic tasty seafood dishes. Le Bombarde and Lazaretto were both close to perfect…calm shallow clear waters, sandy beaches, mats and umbrellas for hire and good restaurants. The water at both was clean, clear, warm and made for heavenly floating on a raft or “noodle.” The people-watching was best of all on Le Bombarde — why we never understood, but we all agreed. Feast your eyes on the beautiful young Italians, particularly the men — the likes of Roman gods! We returned to Le Bombarde our last day as we decided it ranked highest of all in the Alghero vicinity…for our purposes.
(Word of advice — go early to the beaches — arrive no later than 9:30 a.m. or else you risk no parking place and no mats. We learned the hard way.)
We were able to fit in a mid-week excursion to the Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune’s Caves), giving up a morning at the beach, but our boat trip to the grotto turned into a bit of a bust. The waves were so high the boat couldn’t enter the grotto — we never got to see the caverns — just the outer rocks — but the boat ride was delightful nonetheless. We took a 30-minute break at Cala Dragunara for a drink and a swim before heading back to port; the total trip lasting about 1.5 hours. A couple of different cruise companies offer the excursions, leaving from the Port of Alghero Garibaldi Dock, on the north side of the Old Town. No need to reserve in advance; just show up, pick the one you like most, get your tickets and hop on.
We thought we’d see sardines on every menu, considering we were in Sardinia, but there were none. Yes, you might expect it since, let’s face it, we’re in “Sardinia,” but you might be surprised to learn that “sardine” is a kind of generic term for several different fish that are small, oily and within the herring family, to include “pilchards,” “brislings” and “sprats,” all part of the “clupeidae” family. The term for these fish, “sardine,” was first used in the early 15th-century when they were abundant…of course, where else? But around the island of Sardinia!
Generally we had really good food, but overall, it wasn’t as great as we expected — believe it or not, not as good as we normally have had in Corsica. We tried a lot of the Sardinian cuisine and tried to find restaurants more filled with locals — not easy when everyone around is a tourist! We found the tomatoes disappointing — not on a par with Provençal tomatoes — the red, ripe, juicy, flavorful kind. These were pale pink and green. Insalata Mistas (mixed salads) were mostly made with uninteresting iceberg lettuce. Specialities we enjoyed included grilled squid and shrimp, mussels and clams in tomato sauce and other sauces, and octopus prepared various ways and lots of other local dishes.
Local and authentic restaurants of note, worth a visit, are (alpha order):
* El Pultal
* Il Corallo
* La Cullera
* La Saletta
* Marco Polo
Would we return to Sardinia? Absolutely.
How did it compare to Corsica? Tough question.
I missed the lush, mountainous aspect of Corsica that offers dramatic views of the coastline from winding roads along the cliffs’ edges. I missed the unspoiled nature of Corsica — Sardinia is a more heavily-touristed island and therefore more developed. And maybe I missed Corsica simply because we’ve come to know it so well. Whatever it was, I have a feeling we’ll be back to Corsica next year.
Meanwhile, back in Nice yesterday, the Baie des Anges was just as heavenly, even on the pebbles…and I realized I didn’t really need Sardinia, since Nice is always so nice.
* Special thanks goes to Barb, Christa and Margie for all of their wonderful photos (pictured here) and endlessly fun times together.
A la prochaine,
Editor of Parler Nice
Adrian Leeds Group
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