Friday, 16 March 2007

ITALY - Honeymoon in Sardinia

This was our first flight with Easyjet, from London Luton. Cagliari is only two and a half hours from London, but stepping off the plane we knew we were in the Mediterranean. The weather was pleasantly warm and having picked up our car, we followed the directions to our hotel, a luxury 5 star hotel, which we had paid for in advance, half board.
We drove from Cagliari centre to the Quartu Sant Elena suburb. We found the correct road quickly enough but found it hard to believe that this largely residential street would contain our luxurious hotel.
After driving the length of the road a couple of times, we called in to a dubious looking prefabricated concrete hotel from the Best Western chain. The reception staff were very helpful and this turned out to be a good travel tip – hoteliers know their area, have maps and often speak English…
The receptionist immediately understood our problem, because he had seen it before. Easy Hotels had made an error on their web site. The hotel we had reserved was in fact two hundred miles away on the north east coast of the island. We were at the address they had supplied – the Best Western. With no other choice, we checked in here, determined to rectify the problem when we returned home. The hotel staff were very understanding and gave us their best suite. It was not much of a consolation, but things could have been worse. The receptionist recommended a good restaurant and even helped us by ordering our dinner over the telephone, on our behalf.
We strolled to the restaurant and were not disappointed. The food was excellent and we ate our meal in several small courses. We were given an after dinner sweet drink called Mirto, a smooth fruity liqueur, which was great.

Departing Quartu Sant Elena in the south of Sardinia, our next destination was Arbatax, an east coast town almost half way up the island. The mountainous route offered fantastic views and lush green scenery, very different from southern Spain which is on a similar latitude. The drive took a couple of hours, but the views and wonderful country made it worth while. Finding our hotel in Arbatax was not straight forward as the map was not right. The Hotel Poisedonia was about half a mile from the beach. The hotel was extremely attractive, in typical Mediterranean red and cream colours. Our terrace was very large, with views of the mountains behind and the Gennargentu National Park opposite . The bed had the most ornate stone marine depiction for a headboard. We sat outside and enjoyed a beer before heading down to the small cove that was the beach at Arbatax. The multicoloured pink, grey and white stones were very memorable and we swam in the sea and bathed on the sandy beach.

Our next visit was to be Nuoro, a provincial capital town near to the centre of the island. Our information about the town indicated that it was not going to be a tourist destination. The drive across the mountains, was fantastic. We passed near to La Punta Mamora, the highest peak on the island at 1834 metres and visited the Fumendosa Lake high up in the hills. The hills were home to olive trees almost in every direction and we frequently saw prickly pears by the road side, although they were noticeably absent on the higher roads. We stopped at the highest church on the island, Nostra Signora di Gonare, perched literally on the rocky summit of the hill. The road to it was very steep and the last hundred metres of the climb was on foot, on steps hewn from the rock. Jayne had worn wooden sandals just to make it more challenging. The views were breathtaking - an amazing 360 degree panorama as far as the eye could see. The church doors appeared to open on to the vertical hill side and the rock that the church was built on protruded through the floor of the church in places. This was one of the most memorable views of the trip. When we arrived in Nuoro, we found that the guide book had been as kind as possible to the town. It really was uninspiring. The hotel was very tired (it had been the only one we could find on the internet). The town was very plain, the only interesting feature being the tall tree covered hill that overlooked it, with an enormous crucifix on the top. When we followed the road up to the top, we found a gift shop or two (where we bought a typical Sardinian rug). The evening meal in the hotel topped off the anticlimax to the day.

In the morning, we eagerly checked-out and set off for a busy day, where we planned to visit several towns. Our first destination, was the fishing town of Bosa. Situated on the west coast, we drove across country for an a couple of hours. The mountainous country became very flat and expansive. The land was laid out in large fields. Every now and then, we saw the ancient remains of Nuraghi - stone built conical fortress houses, that were built before the Phoenicians and Romans invaded the island. Most of the road signs were peppered with bullet holes - we had noticed this the day before as well.
We arrived in Bosa, parked the car and walked the river side and narrow cobbled streets until we found a cafe and stopped for coffee. Bosa was a very attractive town, overlooked by a castle high up on a hill in the middle of the town. Following the river westwards (which is the only navigable river in Sardinia) we found the entrance and saw fishing boats coming and going, old and new side by side. We stayed with the rocky coast southwards until we came across large expanses of salt flats, home to thousands of flamingos in the winter months.
By mid afternoon, we arrived at Tharros, the remains of a remote coastal town built by the Phoenicians, adapted by the Romans and finished by the Spanish. It was eventually abandoned due to pirate raids. The remaining stone and excavations were almost inexplicable without the aid of information boards. The cove though was one of the most attractive blue water anchorages I have seen, over looking the town remains on the hill side, with Corinthian columns at the foot.
Later, we arrived at Oristano where we would stay the night. We walked the town centre, looking at the cathedral with an unusually tiled domed tower. In the square opposite, a band were setting up for a live performance. We sat and enjoyed a beer before continuing our stroll. We found that most of Oristano had been destroyed and redeveloped but it was a pleasant town. Back at the hotel, we swam fifty lengths of the (very cold) swimming pool. Later, we could not find any restaurants open. The meal we had at the hotel though was fantastic.

Our final day involved a short drive to Cagliari where we parked in the port and walked up the hill, through the new town. We stopped for morning coffee before carrying on up the hill the walls of the old town. We strolled the narrow cobbled streets along the town walls, looked inside the cathedral which had fantastic frescoes painted on the ceiling. The cathedral was undergoing major work though and there was a lot of scaffolding inside the building. We continued up to the northern town gates before heading back to the southern end, overlooking the port. We stopped for a beer in the sunshine, before walking back down the hill through the new town. One shop that we looked in provided us with a traditional style Sardinia mask. The drive back to the airport was brief and we were not ready to go home. It had been a great honeymoon.

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