Hi, does anyone have any recommendations for Sardinia? Places to visit, places to stay, and, of course, places to eat! One place I saw mentioned on Chowhound is an agriturismo called Calavrina. It looks good, but I’d like to hear if anyone has any newer recommendations. Thanks.
Sardinia is a great place to visit, stunning scenery, full of archaeological mysteries, charming people, lots of food and wine, the last two of varying qualities. We started planning with Fred Plotkin’s book Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. @Presunto put me on to some travel information, and the place that stood out for me was a hotel called Su Gologone, near Oliena. Plotkin also gave it a thumbs-up, so that’s where we started.
The hotel itself is chock full of artworks, knick-knacks, masks, costumes, vases, and more. Some may say that it borders on kitsch. Others would claim that it was well past that border. The hotel does not have elevators, and our room was on the 4th floor. But they do deliver your luggage. Just outside our window was an enormous loquat tree loaded with fruit. When you first check in, someone from the front desk accompanies you to your room. So I asked the young lady if we were allowed to eat the loquats. “Yes, of course,” she replied. But they were just far enough away that it would have been suicidal to try. The major attraction of the hotel is its restaurant, which was wonderful. One of the specialties in Sardinia is porceddu–roast suckling pig. And Su Gologone is well-known for it. So we tried it, thinking we may try it again somewhere else. Well, the first bites were very good, but once was more than enough. They made very good pasta dishes.
The next morning on the breakfast table, along with a large selection of breads, pastries, meats, cheeses, were their home-grown loquats. And they were delicious. We ate there the second evening as well, starting with the appetizer buffet à volonté. After two visits to the buffet, we had a very small main course. The wines were pretty good, but in general I found them too heavy. Some had 15% alcohol.
I’ll post more on some of our other favorite meals. I’ll decline to comment on the run-of-the-mill food we had.
After Su Gologone we went to Sassari and then Alghero, which were the two destinations we liked best. In Sassari we stayed in a small hotel, Cafe Bleu Relais, just outside the center of the town. We loved it. The owners recommended 3 restaurants to us, and we went to all three, and we loved them. Al Vecchio Borgo serves very simple food, but cooked with such precision that it rises to the level of haute cuisine. This was one of the best places we ate at. We had a pasta dish, Fregola con le arselle, a local pasta with clams, and Calamari fritti. Both excellent.
We also had excellent meals at Il Giamaranto and La Vela Latina. Both were very good, although I don’t think that either of them reached the level of perfection of Al Vecchio Borgo.
In Alghero we stayed in a private apartment owned and run by a woman named Emanuela. Emanueala helped us with our luggage, with parking, with driving through the narrow central streets during permitted hours, and she recommended some really good restaurants. Our favorite was La Bifora. We had some first course or antipasto, which was good but not remembered, followed by sous-vide fish. I had tuna, my wife had monk fish. It was what they did with the fish after the sous-vide preparation that made the place memorable. Both were well seared on all sides and served with appropriate sauces and vegetables. Both great. We also had great spiny lobster (aragosta) at Macchiavello, and in the evening great fish and fried fish at Mirador, right next door, From Alghero it is a short ride to visit an archaeological site with nuraghe, but we passed on it, since we were headed for Su Nuraxi, the best excavated nuraghe on the island.
Cabras was our next destination. It is known for the nearby Phonician site, Tharras, and for the beautiful quartz sand beaches in the area. On the first evening we went to a restaurant, Caminetto, that was highly recommended to us by the owner of the apartment we were renting, himself a restaurant chef in the city of Olbia. It was just ok, the food was average to good. The waitress and the two waiters worked very hard and provided good, friendly service, but the owners created a stale, snobby atmosphere. The next night we went to a small local place, Al Vecchio Saloon, which was much more enjoyable. And the food was better and more interesting. One of their specialties was fried “attinie.” We tried them, managed to finish the portion, but wouldn’t order them again. The texture was very strange. It turns out that “attinie” are sea anemones. Not my favorite. But then again, a lot of people do not like oysters!
We went to the Tharros site on the morning of our first whole day there. As soon as we had parked in the designated parking lot, a van pulled up behind us, the driver jumped out and offered us his cheese and sausages. He had two types of pecorino that he makes himself, and some sausages that didn’t interest us. He let us taste both pecorinos. Both were good, but we liked one better than the other. So did we want to buy some? But how would we get it home? No problem, he had his vacuum sealer in the front seat. What about refrigeration? No problem. This cheese doesn’t need refrigeration. It has to do with the way he prepares it. How long does it keep? “Anni!” Years. So we bought half a cheese, 1.8 kilo at EUR 22 per kilo. He sealed it up, we got it home, and we’re enjoying it now.
We arrived at the site just about lunchtime, so I figured, we might as well get something into our bellies. It would be terrible, but we could look forward to the evening meal. There were a few open sheds around advertising food, and one that had doors and windows, so I imagined it would be cooler. It was a restaurant called Le Dune. They had two kinds of shrimp on their menu, imported and local. The local shrimp were more expensive. They could either grill them or serve them in olive oil and lemon juice, which they highly recommended. So I took the local shrimp in olive oil and lemon juice. I cannot say with any degree of certitude that those were the best shrimp I ever ate in my life, but I cannot remember any that were better. Sweet, briny, with the right texture. Wonderful.
The archaeological site was great too.
The next day we visited one of the beaches. The quartz sand seems to be disappearing, so they have signs warning visitors not to remove any or risk being fined. They even ask you to remove any grains that may have attached to your shoes, and to wear shoes with flat soles. Not too many years ago sand from these beaches was carted off to beautify the beaches in Olbia!
Our next stop was in Tuili, which is right next to Barumini, the location of one of the most precisely excavated nuraghi. More than 7000 nuraghi, ancient megalithic structures dating from as far back as 1900 BC, have been found, but none have, I believe, been as thoroughly studied as Su Nuraxi in Barumini. Visits are only by guided tour, which is all to the good, because otherwise you would have no idea what you were looking at.
We stayed in an agriturismo called Il Borgo dell’Arcangelo and had dinner there. First came a generous plate of appetizers, cured meats, cheeses, some vegetables, all their own production. This was followed by a pasta dish, fregola (I think) in a tomato sauce with plenty of their own pecorino. Then a small portion of beautifully cooked lamb. Everything was very simple, but done amazingly well. They also served as much of their own wine as you cared to drink. I highly recommend this place.
I might forego meat dishes and gorge myself on seafood.
A little over 2hr direct flight and I’m in Alghero! Would you rather stay in Sassari or Alghero? We are not drivers so I have to take that into account and not staying in some place hard to reach by public transport.
As much as I liked Sassari, I think I’d prefer Alghero, because it’s more scenic. We stayed in the old center, and as I mentioned Emanuela helped us with luggage and with parking and driving. She also pointed out that bus trips are available to nuragic sites, so that one does not have to drive.
And I have no complaints about the seafood we ate in Alghero! Well, one. In one dish of appetizers there was one fish that I didn’t like. But I don’t know what it’s called.
Thanks. I’d totally try the attinie, and I do love oysters. The cheese seller could spot tourists from far away. Hahah… good one. He has his tools and all the answers.
The local term for attinie in Sardinia, or at least in the Cabras area, is “orziadas.”
Nice meals! Have you ever been to Corsica? If yes, are the food different between these two islands?
From Barumini we continued on to Cagliari, the capital of the province and its largest city. We liked it less than most other places, because it reminded us of Rome and Naples. This is a bit confusing, because we like both Rome and Naples, Rome in Rome and Naples in Naples. But we ate very well in Cagliari. Our major non-eating activity was visiting the archaeological museum, which has a very impressive collection that documents the history of the island.
One of our best meals of the trip was in Dal Corsaro, a restaurant mentioned by Plotkin, Lonely Traveler, and recommended by our hotel. Precise, delicious cooking. The next evening I had wanted to eat at La Pola, a place renowned for its lobster. Well, we got to talking with a local merchant who was also the president of a local booster club. He strongly believed that no visitor to Cagliari should leave without have tasted local specialties such as Sa Burrida and Scabecciu. The words are obviously related to “bourride” and “escabeche,” though the preparations are different. So instead of going to La Pola and feasting on lobsters, we went to Lillicu, a traditional fish restaurant. Sa Burrida is a kind of dogfish cooked in vinegar and served cold. Scabecciu is sweet/sour preparation of small fish (sardines?) served with skin and bones. Were they good? Well, without the cultural background of the guy that sent us there, we were not able to appreciate them to the extent that he does. Our main course was filet of sole cooked with parmesan cheese! This demolished our stereotype of Italians not serving milk products with fish. But the Sardinians do not think of themselves as mere Italians. In any case, one of the side dishes we had was grilled pecorino cheese. This was one of the best things we ate on the whole trip. After we got the grilled pecorino (it has to be pecorino fresco), I didn’t miss the lobsters anymore.
Our last destination was Nuoro, a fairly boring town with intersting things to see in the surroundings. It’s close to the spring Su Gologone, which the hotel is named after, so we got to visit the spring which we hadn’t seen the first time around because of the rain.
Il Refugio is a restaurant in Nuoro that was recommended by Plotkin as well as by our hotel there. At the recommendation of the waiter I ordered the lamb stew with potatoes and broad beans. It seems to be one of their specialties, and I saw it being served at other tables. It was not the most expensive thing on the menu. It was ok, not badly cooked, not off-putting. Just boring. It reminded me of American beef stew, which I can’t stand because it’s boring. The whole time I was eating it, I was thinking how a little soy sauce and ginger or a little Hungarian paprika would have perked it up. With the exception of the lamb at Borgo dell’Arcangelo we did not enjoy the meat dishes we had. Most of the fish was good, some spectacular.
One of the specialties of Sardinia is their flat bread called pane carasau, or sometimes carta da musica. One of the places we ate at in Nuoro, S’Hostara Nugoresa, served as a first course something called casu cubau. It appears to be their own creation, because if you search for it on the internet, that restaurant is the only place it turns up. The pane carasau is softened in boiling water or stock for about a minute, then wrapped around pecorino fresco and the package is then fried up in olive oil. Totally delicious. It’s like a Sardinian cheese blintz. I reproduced it at home and it was equally delicious, even though I had to use pecorino toscano.
On the last day our flight was after 9 pm, so after checking in, I asked the airline staff where to eat at the Olbia airport. They recommended a place called Grain and Grapes. I wasn’t expecting much. My wife and I each had a pasta dish, both excellent. A parting surprise.
We haven’t been to Corsica, but in our hotel in Cagliari we met an Australian couple who had just arrived from Corsica. They strongly recommended that we go there.
I just came back from a trip around the southern half of Sardinia. We ate a lot of good food, but not a lot of excellent food that would probably be worth pointing out.
One noteworthy meal was a lunch at S’Apposentu after visiting the very impressive UNESCO ruins of su nuraxi of Barumini. This was our only “fancy” meal of the holiday and I’m very glad we went. I’d sort of gone off the tasting menu format in the last year or so for one reason or another, but the one I had here was great. The matched wine was good value, and interesting in their diversity if a little challenging at times. It was certainly a change from the ubiquitous cannonau and vermentino.
We only booked a couple of weeks in advance. Service was very friendly, environment was nice. Dishes were modern but with nods to local flavours. No complaints.
Over a couple of weeks we ate at three different agritourismo. The meals were very enjoyable, although make sure you’re hungry as the quantities are excessive. Food was tasty and good value, copious amounts of local cured meats and pecorino. Very good but simple pastas. At two we had suckling pig, and dare I say I was slightly disappointed, with the meat being a bit dry and the skin not a scratch on the pork we’ve had in the UK, but it was good none the less. These were at Sa Bingia just outside Villasimius (I’m not sure how much of an agratourismo this place really was, as it looked like the dining operation might be their main focus) and Coduli Fuili near Cala Gonone (which had a small holding with a sizable flock of goats, don’t pass on the goats milk gelato). We were the only people at the other agritourismo (Su Boschettu) but none the less the food we good and felt more homely than the others.