Welcome back for more cycle touring information on biking Sardinia.If you joined us for the last post, I'm assuming you took a ferry to Cagliari, spent some time there, and now you're heading south along the coast. If you're looking for other itineraries, be patient, I'll cover those in future posts. Onward!
Cycling Sardinia's southern coast
My favorite route out of Cagliari - and this is just personal preference - is to head south along the SS195 or Strada Statale Sultitana towards Pula. Right about half-way, once I get outside Orti Su Loi, I deviate onto the local road to follow the coastline. Stop outside Pula to see the Nora Phoenician settlement and have a swim at any of the beaches along the way. Depending on how hard you want to push you can make it all the way to Porto Pino, but I would recommend Chia as a good stopping point. There are some ancient roman ruins and several good camping areas along the way. Chia offers several nice hotels as well if the days in the seat are wearing on you.
The second day, I continue along the coastline, hitting a couple of 16th century towers and reach Sant'Antioco. Crossing the bridge, I'll take the SS126bis to Calasetta, a lovely old Genoese settlement known for its red roofs and odd dialect. There are two popular beaches in town, on opposite sides of the town.
Spend the night in town or outside at one of the many campgrounds and then tour around the island before taking the bridge back to mainland Sardinia. There are several old mines and ore processing facilities at Buggerru and Planusartu. Well worth a trip and some pictures since these used to be the lifeblood of old Sardinia. My recollection is that these mines were begun by prehistoric Sardinians, before even the Phoenicians and Romans arrived. Amazing that they were in use as late as the 1970s, some of them. If you call ahead, you might luck into an English-speaking tour guide, but probably not.
Head up the road to Bruncu Teula and take a break for some clamming. There are several kilometers of marshland where you can wade in on your hands and knees and gather the tiny white clams. If you're there in the summer, wildfires are a huge threat so the carabinieri tend to crack down on unauthorized fires. I like to haul out my camp stove and cook up some pasta with garlic and the fresh Sardinian clams. Delicious. The marshes can be pretty pungent so I wouldn't recommend bedding down for the night too close.
If you continue along to Portovesme, you can catch a ferry to Carloforte, a tiny Sardinian island with a vivid tuna fishing history. The ferry will drop you in the center of town where you can grab the local pizzette - thick slices of pizza and a glass of Ichnusa. Head north out of the town to the old Tonnara - tuna fishery to check out the ancient fishing boats. If you're lucky, in the summer they host weekly concerts by popular Italian musicians. One of my favorite Sardinia travel experiences was seeing Antonella Ruggieru here against the backdrop of these rotting hulks with a sky of stars above.
If you bike around to the far side of Carloforte, you can rent kayaks and check out some of the amazing caves carved into the granite cliffs. They fill at high tide and can be dangerous when the waves are high, so be sure to check with locals before venturing out. If you can go, keep an eye our for cormorants and their cliff side nests.
I'm no geologist but the rocky origins of Sardinia are fascinating, with volcanic rocks mixed with sedimentary and carved by the incessant wind into bizarre formations. If you're interested, I'd highly recommend finding a geologic guide to the island.
Speaking of the wind - as a cyclist it'll have a big effect on your comfort while riding. The predominant winds are northwestern - the maestrale - which blows cool and dry from France, across the Rhone valley. It's especially strong in winter and can kick up mighty waves. It alternates with the Levante, or eastern wind, which is milder and more humid. The wind to watch out for is the Scirocco, the dry, dusty southern wind which brings red dust from the Sahara. I usually stay off the bike on those days since the dust gets in my eyes and coats everything in red powder.
Take the ferry back to Portovesme and take the road north out of Portoscuso to Capoterra, an outcropping of rock with an old WWII lookout post. Wandering among the rocks and concrete bunkers, imagine having to keep a constant lookout for Allied submarines sliding silently through the water.
Continuing north along the Costa Verde, you'll find yourself among rolling hills thick with vegetation and some pretty wild rock formations. The green bushes you've been seeing along the way are juniper, macchia mediterranea (literally, mediterranean stain) and wild olive trees.
Take the coastal road and keep an eye out for Pan di Zucchero, a brilliant white rock formation a hundred meters off the coast. Follow the road north and stop at Fontanamare, one of Sardinia's best beaches. There's camping for RVs fairly close by, but they'll take tent campers as well if you ask. Watch out for strong currents along the beach, they've been known to pull the unwary out to sea. As in all things, just watch what the locals are doing.
Ok, here you have a choice, you can continue up the western coast until you hit Alghero, visiting Portixeddu and Arbus along the way or you can break off and head inland. I'm a fan of the inland route towards the northeastern part of the island and the Costa Smeralda. The interior of Sardinia is a completely different world from the coast, characterized by remote, dusty roads, rocky hills, and herds of wild horses and shy mouflons. I like a route taking me towards the village of Villanovaforru.
Stay tuned for more route information through the center of the island.