Once considered a sleepy island off the coast of Corsica, Sardinia is a place that has long captivated the imaginations of travelers the world over. The second largest island in the Mediterranean, it wasn’t until the 1950s that a Swiss billionaire by the name Prince Aga Khan transformed Sardinia’s northern coast into a playground for the rich and famous. And while it has a reputation for being a destination of choice for visiting celebrities, today, Northern Sardinia is beloved by all for its idyllic white sand beaches as much as its bounty of locally sourced seafood, unique variety of Sardinian style pasta and medieval villages.
You could easily spend a week doing nothing but posting up at the beach; however, if you’re looking to venture out and a do a bit of exploring, from cruising down Sardinia’s fabled Emerald Coast to discovering Alghero’s Catalan past, here’s how to spend week seeing the best of what Northern Sardinia has to offer.
Day 1: The Emerald Coast
Accessible by flight or ferry, the easiest way to explore the island is with a car. For the fastest route from mainland Italy, catch an early morning flight to Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport and grab a rental car when you land. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the airport to Sardinia’s Emerald Coast.
Named after the translucent blue water that laps against its shores, this stretch of coastline is home to the island’s most beautiful white sand beaches and elegant five-star resorts. While there’s no shortage of hotels to choose from, ranging from expensive to more expensive, Hotel Romazzino, A Luxury Collection Hotel is a step above the rest with its private access to one of the island’s best private beaches set on Romazzino Bay, in addition to miles of hiking trails, an outdoor gym and open-air restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean.
Check in and spend an afternoon baking under the Sardinian sun before enjoying a casual lunch at the hotel. When you’re ready, head in to Porto Cervo—the main shopping and downtown area of Costa Smeralda—for a little late-afternoon retail therapy. For pre-dinner apertivos, head to the Atrium Bar at Cala Di Volpe and don’t miss the peach Bellini, shaken to absolute peach perfection. Stick around for a little Sardo-meets-Mediterranean inspired fare and a bottle of vermentino—a wine varietal unique to the region—at Restaurant Cala Di Volpe
Day 2: The Emerald Coast
A beautiful spot to watch the sunrise, start your morning with a walk along Romazzino Bay and if you feel like venturing out, take a 15-minute drive inland to San Pantaleo. A charming mountain-side village completely ensconced by giant monolithic boulders, the setting here is more reminiscent of something you’d see in the Grand Canyon than coastal Sardinia.
The town has been a refuge for writers and artists over the years, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a cup of espresso as you watch the village come alive from one of the cafés lining the main square. (This is also a beautiful place to end your day with apertivos and watch the sunset over the mountain so if you don’t make it in the morning don’t sweat it.) Spend some time perusing the local boutiques before heading out.
It’s been a busy morning and you’ve more than earned a hearty lunch. Head over for the poolside seafood buffet at Hotel Pitrizza and load up on freshly caught octopus, oysters and fish of the day. Just make sure you save room for homemade malloreddus (a local Sardo specialty served with pork and pecorino) and spaghetti with bottarga and clams.
Let your food coma subside back on the beach at Romazzino or end the day on the handsome patio of Hotel Cala de Volpe which put Sardinia on the proverbial map after it was featured in the 1977 Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.
Day 3: The Maddalena Islands
Now that you’ve spent a couple days luxuriating, make your way north along the emerald coast. Give yourself plenty of time to stop off at whatever roadside beach or hidden grotto strikes your fancy as you make your way to the seaside village of Palau. Take a stroll around town before grabbing a 20-minute ferry from Palau’s harbor to the Maddalena islands.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the most popular day trips to take when you’re in Sardinia. An archipelago consisting of seven larger islands and 55 or so islets, there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches for swimming, sailing and lounging to choose from.
After you’ve had you fill grab a ferry back and post up for the night at Hotel Capo d’Orso, a romantic five-star boutique overlooking the Med. Don’t miss dinner at La Gritta which has been serving up some of Sardinia’s best locally inspired fare coupled with amazing views for years.
Day 4: Capo Testa & Valley of the Moon
Start your morning off with a quick 20-minute hike to the top of Bear Rock before you continue your drive north along the coast. Make a pit stop in the portside town of Santa Teresa Gallura and take a walk past the pastel-colored houses lining the backstreets from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele down to Torre di Longonsardo, a 16th century watchtower overlooking the harbor. A great place to pick up souvenirs, don’t miss the chance to try local delicacies like mirto—a locally distilled berry liqueur and pane carasau, a delicious Sardinian flatbread topped with Pecorino Sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese local to the island.
From here it’s only a short drive across the wooden bridge to Capo Testa and the Valle della Luna (Valley of the Moon). Set on Sardinia’s northeastern-most point, this rocky peninsula gets its name from its unusual lunar-like landscape. On a clear day, you can see neighboring Corsica in the distance. Spend the afternoon navigating the rocky terrain and after you’ve worked up bit of a sweat it’s worth taking a dip into one of the calm bays that line Capo Testa’s shores.
Spend the rest of your day poolside at Colonna Grand Hotel Capo Testa a sprawling five-star resort with direct access to Rena di Ponente and Rena di Levante beach.
Day 5: Castelsardo
Take your time today, as you continue to make your way along the northwestern coast of Sardinia. If you’re interested in taking a bit of Sardinian history, it’s worth a stop by the Giants Grave or Tomba dei Giganti, just a few minutes’ drive from the hotel in Capo Testa. Once home to the Nuraghe people, these ancient ruins date back some 4,000 years and are well worth a visit.
As you continue on, feel free to stop in whatever village or beach you desire as there are certainly no shortage of either along this route. For lunch, stop in the medieval village of Castelsardo for some ‘Castellanes’ style lobster and a walk around the town’s medieval alleyways to pick up some handicrafts and locally made textiles. After lunch head to Lu Bagnu, a series of white sand beaches within walking distance from town.
Tonight, stay at the Bajaloglia Resort a charming boutique property set in the hills overlooking the ocean and Castelsardo below.
Day 6: Stintino and Alghero
From Castelsardo it’s a little less than an hour’s drive west to Stintino, home to one of Sardinia’s most famous beaches, Spiaggia La Pelosa. Spend the morning sunbathing along the powder white sand and perennially calm turquois water before making your way to your final destination of Alghero.
Set on the northwest coast of Sardinia, there’s a lot to see in this beguiling city, with traces of its Catalan past very much alive and well today. You could spend a few hours exploring some of the town’s highlights, including the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Church of San Francesco, a gothic structure dating back to the 14th-century. There is a wide range of accommodations in town and if you’re looking for something a bit more intimate, check into one of Villa Mosca’s “villinis” (small villas), or for more of your own private resort feel with direct beach access, Villa Las Tronas Hotel & Spa is one of the area’s top-rated properties.
Take your pick for dinner as there is no shortage of fantastic local eateries in town. Just be sure to save some energy to hit the town, which really comes alive after hours, especially on weekends.
Day 7: Alghero
You have a few options depending on how you want to spend your last day in Sardinia. The first, and one of the most popular daytime excursions, is a short boat ride to Neptune’s Grotto.
Discovered by fishermen in the 18th century, this famous cave off the coast of Alghero is one of the island’s most visited tourist attractions. Plan on getting here early to beat the rush. It’s worth the effort and the crowds to see the 120-meter long lake at the bottom. After you resurface you can make your way back to Alghero for a leisurely stroll along the bastione (medieval city wall) that lines the sea, or you can head south to Bosa.
Thought to be one of Sardinia’s most beautiful villages, the drive along the coral coast, named so due to the abundance of coral found in the water, doesn’t disappoint either. Bosa is also home to some the west coast’s most beautiful beaches, including family-friendly Bosa Marina and S’abba Druche Beach.
Head back to Alghero for one last Sardinian meal. Saving the best for last, for some authentic Alghero-inspired cooking, head to Al Tuguri in the heart of old town. It’s a cozy spot to say goodbye and toast to your Sardinian adventure in style.