One of the most amazing sights to see if you're near Alghero, the large coastal town to the north of Sardinia, is the Grotta di Nettuno, an incredible cave network of stalactites which are tens of thousands of years old. Standing only one metre above sea level, the caves can be reached by a winding staircase of steps cut into the rock, leading you down 100 metres from the cliffs above. It costs 10 euros, but you won't regret paying for this experience once you're inside - the clever lighting and majesty of the stalactites creates an eerie subterranean environment that makes you feel like you've travelled back to the beginning of time. Guided tours run every half hour, and although these are nearly always full, the enormity of the caves and the long and winding trail through them means that you never feel too crowded by other tourists. Well worth a visit, particularly if you have kids.
With just a population of 1500 and a spattering of small hotels, the gulf of Orosei's Cala Gonone is the perfect base to explore the surrounding regions. It is so small that there is no taxi firm, so you will need a car from the closest airport, some two hours away.
The gulf's many beaches are some of the best in the world and only one is obtainable by foot, Cala Luna, the rest you will need a boat for. Stranded on a perfect beach for a couple of hours - the horror.
Gorropu gorge is the most unbelievable walk you'll ever do. It's so off the beaten track it took us 45 minutes to actually get IN to it from the path we'd enjoyed for three hours around mountainous, beautiful scenery - there are no signs. There are no roads. It was akin to a level of Tomb Raider, circa 2000.
Cala Osala to the north was a deserted kilometre of white sand perfection, mid week.
The fresh gulf fish and local Dorgali wines are something to shout about and the little delis in Cala Gonone make taking packed lunches on mega day walks/bathes a truly delicious experience.
It's the luxury package of life people pay a lot for but you don't have to pay the huge prices if you know it's there.
After enjoying the beaches and busy old town of Alghero, take the bus down the winding coastal road to Bosa and from there to Oristano. Make sure you sit on the righthand side for the best views and photos of the cliffs and beaches! Explore the alleyways and narrow cobbled streets between Bosa’s multicoloured buildings. Cross the river to gain a better perspective of the Havana-esque street next to the river. Oristano is a smart city with a stunning baroque cathedral and pleasant streets to wander around and have a coffee or gelato. The city is also a great base for visiting the famous Is Aruttas beach and the Roman site of Tharros. Bed and Breakfast Porta a Mari is a great budget option – it’s a traditional Sardinian house within walking distance of the city centre.
B&B Porta a Mari
Via Cagliari 308, 09170, Oristano
Google map: bit.ly/MAz3KG
Bus timetable for Alghero - Bosa
Bus timetable for Bosa - Oristano
The plateau of the Giara di Gesturi stands 500 metres above the surrounding Sardinian farmland: a startling, rocky ecosystem of twisted cork oaks, scrubland and shallow lakes.
A thunderstorm was building one September evening when we first encountered the surreal terrain and we were so spooked by its sharp contrast to the rest of the island we left almost immediately.
The following morning, feeling braver in the sunshine, we returned and hired mountain bikes to explore.
We’d been warned of the feral pigs who can be rather curious of visitors, but the highlight was undoubtedly the scores of miniature wild horses we encountered – another oddity in this curious landscape.
This 8km fairytale system of underground caverns is truly magical, consisting of tunnels and rock-rooms encrusted with minerals and festooned with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites that glitter in the lamplight. They’ve been created by the rivers Placido and Rapido in their underground courses. Although the caverns delve deep into the mountain, the first cave has walkways for visitors to get up close and marvel at these natural wonders. If you want to explore further you can go in with a group of experienced cave explorers from the local speleologists’ association. Not for the claustrophobic, or if you’re afraid of the odd bat, but certainly a breathtaking experience even if you just visit the first vast cavern.
Grotte di Su Mannau s.r.l, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 3 – 09010, Fluminimaggiori
Google map: bit.ly/LV5Yxr
Hire a car and drive the 45km coast road south from Alghero to Bosa.
Around every curve in the road there is a sandy cove or rocky inlet, blue-green water, cliffs and mountains.
It's hard to make any sort of progress along the road, as the water is just too inviting and the clifftop photo opportunities too many.
Bosa itself is an unspoilt town, overlooked by most tourists in favour of the nearby marina and beach. A ruined castle perches on top of a hill, from which cobbled streets and quiet squares tumble down to the river, lined with huge palms and elegant mansions.
Take the SP105 from Alghero.
It is the oldest part of town and the highest. Its walls nad bastions are mostly still intact. You can start by climbing the stairs of one of the two remaining marble-white watch towers, Torre di San Pancrazio (Saint Pancras' tower). From the top of the tower you have a full view of the old town, which looks like a boat on the sea. After that you can wander in the narrow streets of the town that has changed little since the middle ages. You will find many artesan workshops and scenic views. You can then end your walk in one of its cafes: I recommend Libarium Nostrum, close to the other watch tower, Torre dell'Elefante (Elephant Tower), where you can sip your drink with a stunning view of the sunset on the eastern lagoon from an old fortified bastion overlooking the lagoon, the sea, and the old Stampace neighborhood.
You will see it from every point of the town. Local buses from central Largo Carlo Felice.
If you only visit one of these beaches in the Golfo di Oresei, make is Cala Marioulu. This is hands down, the most spectacular beach I have ever seen. Pristine white rocks that you could eat your lunch off and turquoise seas that you have to see to believe. An unbelievable experience.
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