7 Things to Do in Southern Sardinia
Sardinia has long been an enticing destination for both Italians and holidaymakers alike, celebrated for its glorious white sandy beaches, rugged coastline and hiking trails, ancient ruins, and of course, mouthwateringly fresh seafood. If you’re looking to escape the more tourist-heavy northeast of the island and the glitzy Costa Smeralda coast, consider exploring the south, a relatively untouched part of Sardinia - yet with plenty to explore…
If you’re thinking of jetting off for some last-minute sunshine, or perhaps planning next year’s holiday, here’s a guide of my top things to see and do in Southern Sardinia.
Pool in Pula - Image: Will Harding
Pool in PulaImage: Will Harding
Go Snorkelling or Diving
Although it may not immediately spring to mind as an obvious diving destination, Southern Sardinia and particularly Capo Carbonara – a protected Natural Marine Area – is a great place to dive or snorkel, home to a whole host of colourful marine life including giant Groupers, Amberjacks, Barracuda, and sometimes even dolphins and marine turtles. You can even dive in and around hidden underground caves! There are several dive centres to be found – three alone in Villasimius where we were staying – usually offering either a single or double dive for the day, in various spots around the protected marine area. If diving isn’t your thing, you can rent snorkels, fins and masks inexpensively – although you may need to book a snorkelling trip or rent a boat in order to reach the best areas for spotting fish.
Emily's partner Will snorkelling - Image: Emily Cater
Emily's partner Will snorkellingImage: Emily Cater
Hire a Boat
Whether you’re travelling as a couple, with friends or with family, renting a boat is just about one of the most enjoyable things you can do in Sardinia. For most boats, you won’t need a license, and they’re super easy to drive, giving you the freedom to spend a day out at sea exploring hidden coves, caves and snorkel spots. For little over £130, we spent a day out on our own boat exploring the coastline between Villasimius up towards Cala Pira. Around 100m or so from the shore, the seas are an utterly mesmerizing, sparkling shade of turquoise blue, making for an inviting swim or snorkel. Most of the boats come with mini-fridges or cool boxes, so you can take beers and snacks along too.
Villasimius Harbour, Sardinia - Image: Emily Cater
Villasimius Harbour, SardiniaImage: Emily Cater
Explore the Capital, Cagliari
During our trip to Southern Sardinia, we landed into Cagliari and drove east about an hour to Villasimius, a quaint little town with a handful of shops and boutiques, restaurants and gelatarias. It’s a lovely place to stay for a couple of days, with most of the action happening down by the harbour (for sailing, diving and snorkelling) or in the area’s surrounding beach clubs. If you want a little more excitement however, I’d recommend a day or two in the island’s capital city Cagliari. Here, you can visit its hilltop medieval quarter, admire the architecture of Cagliari Cathedral, enjoy the local café culture or pick up souvenirs.
Sardinian Architecture - Image: Emily Cater
Sardinian ArchitectureImage: Emily Cater
Visit the Nora Ruins
Culture vultures and history buffs can get their fix by visiting the impressive Nora Ruins (Area Archeologica di Nora). Perched on the edge of the ocean on a peninsula near to Pula, these ancient ruins were once an important Roman town, first occupied by indigenous Sardinians before later becoming a flourishing Phoenician city. You’ll get to explore the remains of a forum, a colosseum and a Roman bathhouse among other buildings, all with the picturesque backdrop of the sea and harbour. Sadly, much of Nora is sinking into the Mediterranean due to erosion, so try and visit this site while you still can.
Nora Ruins, Pula - Image: Emily Cater
Nora Ruins, PulaImage: Emily Cater
Relax on the Best Beaches
Of course, probably one of Sardinia’s key draws is its spectacular golden sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, and in Southern Sardinia you’ll find some of the best. Spiaggia di Nora beach is situated 1.5 miles southeast of Pula and offers beautiful sunsets, safe swimming and 360-degree views of the ruins and mountains. Spiaggia di Chia sa Colonia, otherwise known as Chia Beach, is another beautiful spot, complete with glittering soft sands, tranquil sea and opportunities for several watersports including paddle boarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing and kayaking. If pebble beaches are more your thing, check out Spiaggia Del Riso, or ‘the rice beach’, named as such due to its tiny, grain-like pieces of sand, ensuring the sea remains as clear as can be and you won’t be struggling with irksome bits of sand sticking to you like glue.
Chia Beach - Image: Emily Cater
Chia BeachImage: Emily Cater
Eat all the Seafood
Unsurprisingly, given its island status, the seafood in Sardinia is simply to die for. Expect huge, juicy tiger prawns, succulent lobster, fresh crab, and mussels galore. I found myself ordering a portion of mussel and clam spaghetti almost every day for lunch; perfect when washed down with a crisp glass of local white wine and garnished with a sprinkling of parmesan. Yep, rest assured the seafood in Sardinia is just as good, if not better than the local pizza and pasta (although I’d highly recommend getting stuck into that too).
Seafood in Sardinia - Image: Emily Cater
Seafood in SardiniaImage: Emily Cater
Go Wine Tasting
Chances are if you like wine, you’ll have tried an Italian red or two in your time. Much like mainland Italy, Sardinia too produces some seriously top-notch tipples. If it’s something you’re into, Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, is the best place for organised wine tours, where you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a full day sampling local wines during a tour of some of the most acclaimed wineries and vineyards on the island.
My absolute favourite spot for wine in Southern Sardinia? Admittedly not a winery, but a lovely little family-run ‘Enoteca’ (a wine shop with a tiny restaurant attached serving cheese, bread and cured meats) in Villasimius called Enoteca Marongiu. The owners couldn’t have been friendlier, and despite having just eaten a 3-course meal, we happily sampled several of their home-grown wines while nibbling cheese and cured sausage. There was no way I could leave without purchasing a bottle of the delicious Bagasseri red wine.
Enoteca Marongiu, Villasimius - Image: Will Harding
Enoteca Marongiu, VillasimiusImage: Will Harding
Lunch on the beach, Sardinia - Image: Will Harding
Lunch on the beach, SardiniaImage: Will Harding
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