I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of the last few years in Italy. I’ve danced in a conga line with hunters at a Tuscan Sagra del Cinghiale, I’ve wandered home in Rome as the sun was just starting to pink the morning sky, I paddled into the blue grotto on Capri after the tour boats left, alone in its glowing caverns (and quickly discovered a new claustrophobia and swam right out!).
Italy is my favorite place in the world. It’s rich and beautiful and complex, and after spending some time there I felt like I had grasped the basic outline of its cultural parameters. I looked forward to spending the rest of my life learning to navigate its complicated and nuanced inner life, but I felt confident in my understanding of the basics.
In other words, I thought I knew Italy. And then I went to Sardinia.
Sardinia is unlike any Italy I’ve ever known. Its wild, sprawling landscape is almost alien, with large, red rocks tumbling into clear, Caribbean blue sea. Suspended between Europe and Africa, its beaches are renowned as some of the most beautiful in the world, its food is simultaneously sparer and more intense than other Italian fare, and its vibe is darker, richer, more otherworldly.
If you’re looking for beautiful coastline, surreal farmland and wild terrain—and are hungry for a new and different slice of la dolce vita— Sardinia should be your next destination.
Here are the top four things you should know before packing your bags:
Do your research.
Unlike other destinations in Italy, Sardinia does very little to help you orient yourself and get around. There is an extremely limited train network, so you’ll need a car (and a good map or data plan), and know ahead of time exactly where you want to go— and when it’s open.
Research. Plan. Call ahead and make reservations. If your travel philosophy involves leaving a lot to chance, you’ll likely miss much of what the island has to offer. Sardinians are friendly and there’s lots to do, but because everything is so spread out, the chances of stumbling into the type of trip you’re dreaming of are slim.
Sardinia does not roll out a red carpet, and its red rocks will not be explored by the passive traveler. Do your research, and you’ll be rewarded.
Get out on a boat.
Some of Sardinia’s most extraordinary sights can only be seen from the water, and you don’t want to miss them. You can either sign up for a boat tour, or if you’re feeling brave, take out a boat yourself.
Tours can be with a large group (and sometimes include a boat lunch!), you can opt for a smaller guided trip with a captain, or rent a small rubber boat and take the day in your hands.
The key is to get out there. Dive into the water, find a private beach, and see why Sardinia’s coastline is some of the most beautiful in the world.
If you’re looking for beautiful coastline, surreal farmland and wild terrain … Sardinia should be your next destination.
Pick a home base.
Since you’ll be driving around so much, it can be helpful to have one spot to return each night. I stayed in Porto Rotondo on Sardinia’s glittering northeast coast, in a spacious, traditional home hosted by Federica. My air conditioned room was a cool respite each evening, and breakfast on the porch was the best way to start each morning before setting out to explore.
The town was well-connected to the autostrade, and a straight shot to Olbia airport which was extra convenient when I had to leave. Give yourself a home base and move around from there.
Eat at an agriturismo.
Take your rental car inland and show up for your reservation at one of Sardinia’s many hilltop farms. These dinners are usually multiple courses made up of Sardinian delicacies, many of which contain ingredients sourced on the farm itself. Expand your palate, and make sure not to miss a sip of mirto— a deep blue Sardinian liqueur made from the myrtle plant.