Tips for getting around northern Sardinia

Soft sand beaches the shade of palest treacle. Tucked away private bays carved into jagged cliffs. Majestic massifs and ancient monuments rising out of the macchia shrubland. It’s easy to see why the aptly named Emerald Coast encircling Sardinia’s northern shores has seduced so many – from waves of invading Romans to writers and well-heeled tourists.

If you can tear yourself away from your boutique hotel, here are some ideas on how to discover this part of the island – by land and sea…

STEPS TO HEAVEN

You can’t beat a simple walk to appreciate Sardinia’s many treasures, starting with the Costa Smeralda.

This pristine peninsula stretches 55kms around the north-east side, including the Maddalena archipelago – a 20-minute ferry trip away.

Here is where you’ll discover sandstone formations sculpted by wind into animal shapes. Brightly coloured fishing villages and prestigious holiday homes also blend discreetly into the landscape.

You could start your day admiring futuristic superyachts posing in the elegant Porto Cervo Marina.

Then stop in the Piazzetta for lunch and a browse of bijou designer boutiques selling laidback chic at sky-high prices. And pop into Stella Maris church – an architectural masterpiece displaying paintings byEl Greco.

TWO WHEELS

If cycling 30-40 miles a day doesn’t faze you, hire a bike to truly appreciate the sights, sounds and butterscotch aroma of St John's Wort flowers drifting through the air. One route could be through the gilded streets and rolling countryside surrounding Costa Smeralda. Then head northwest towards Tempio Pausania – a tranquil spot among imposing granite mountains, cork tree forests, streams and waterfalls. 

Or time travel back to 1,600 BC in Arzachena to visit the mysterious Nuraghe stone towers and Bronze Age villages. Go further south to San Teodoro, and you’ll think you’ve landed on tropical Tahiti as the powder-white sand and shallow waters of Cala Brandinchi shimmer into view. 

DRIVE THROUGH

Renting a car is an easy way of getting around. Point your wheels west and head for Bosa, a beautiful medieval town. You know you’re nearly there when you see a patchwork of pastel coloured houses spread over a hillside, topped with a castle. From here, you can also drive to the Capo Caccia cliffs and visit the Grotto di Nettuno caves, dripping with stalagmites and stalactites.

Continue up the coast to the old walled town of Alghero, brimming with ancient ramparts and plenty of shops to indulge in retail therapy. Then loop around the north-western tip towards Santa Teresa Gallura – another artists’ paradise. It’s rich in prehistoric sites, extraordinary granite shapes and its famous Vermentino di Gallura white wine.

Road Tip: While often twisty and narrow, Sardinia's paved roads are generally in good condition. Prepare for it to get pitch dark at night though, with hardly any street lighting in smaller towns. 

BY SEA

From gazing up at the pink, red and grey cliffs of Cape Marargiu, to bobbing around bluer than blue bays, nothing matches exploring northern Sardinia by sea. You could charter a yacht or catamaran, with or without a skipper. Or maybe join an organised excursion to Asinara island – once a First World War prison camp and now a hilly nature reserve exclusively inhabited by wild Albino donkeys.

BY TRAIN

Fancy giving public transport a whirl? It’s straightforward and cheap. But bear in mind, there’s basically one national train network – the regionale – that chugs its way from Alghero in the North West to Olbia in the North East. It stops at every village, so in some areas the official ARST blue buses might prove quicker. 

If you’ve got all the time in the world, tuck a copy of Sea and Sardinia by DH Lawrence in your bag and travel in style from Palau to Tempio on the legendary Il Trenino Verde – The Little Green Train. Then relax as it wends its way through mountainous landscapes dotted with forests and secret stone relics. Keep your camera primed as rocky gorges open up to reveal lakes and rugged coastlines.

Fly like a bird: On the northern island of Caprera look for peregrine falcons and tufted cormorants. Near Alghero, you might see the rare griffon vultures circling above your head. 

The best boutique hotels in Sardinia

Perched on the northern peninsula, Hotel La Coluccia  is the island’s first boutique hotel and beach club, where luxury is an art form.