This was definitely not an easy trip. Which in itself has merit. I blame Stanley Tucci and his wonderful series titled Searching for Italy. He makes everything looks so easy; he shows us these amazing destinations with ease and gives us access to some amazing people and food in Italy. Here are some basic truths from this trip to Sardinia:
- There is NO EASY PARKING ANYWHERE on this island! 🤬Especially Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. What that translates to is even though I probably had 30+ locations I wanted to explore on the island, especially Caligari, it is basically impossible unless you have a driver on standby to drop you off and pick you up. Even then, with the traffic, it is basically impossible. The only reasonable way was to take a City Tour with these folks…it really helped me get oriented, so I could then use my rental car. In fact I was so exasperated at the end of my trip, I went to a McDonalds for lunch just because I knew there would be parking!
- Do not rent a Mini Cooper! Unless of course you love Mini Coopers. The navigation was awful and after a couple regrettable directions I mostly ignored the directions but just used the map screen. Also the steering wheel buttons were super confusing and especially the music buttons.
- If I go back, I will not fly into Cagliari but maybe try flying into Olbia which looks much better laid out and maybe basecamping in Porto Cervo and checking out Costa Smeralda!
Ok, before I just outright complain about Cagliari, I will own to the fact I overestimated the complexity of the city and trying to “conquer it” in 36 hours is not very realistic. Got that out of the way.
Cagliari does not seem to employ modern city planners, and as such probably the most successful tourist visits are people on cruise ships taking day tours with experienced guides. Even then, your average middle-aged to senior citizen will find the labors of HIKING either up or down rather exhausting after a few hours. In sort of the downtown area there are no obvious signs for landmarks and so if you are driving a car after 60-90 minutes trying to find a parking spot within 5 miles you surrender. I happen to find a paid parking garage by fluke and with panic and extreme exercise I was able to find the garage at the end of the day. The main sort of touristy corridor smelled like urine; no wonder, as I had to pee horribly and there was no place to go.
As you can discern from my Google map above, I had earmarked quite a few landmarks I wanted to grab a pic or two but, in about my first hour I realized if I can find a decent place for lunch, find at least one of the landmarks and buy some refrigerator magnets, that was as successful as I was going to be for the day. I also wanted to purchase some Italian prescription glasses and found a local shop to buy a great frame with lens…the shop owner was very helpful. He promised me they would be ready by 10am the following day, as I wanted to get a jump on my drive to Cala Gonone. The following morning the closest parking space was about 5 miles away, the glasses were not ready until noon and I needed to hire a taxi to find my car. I could not read the sign, thus I also was gifted a $20 parking citation.
I wrote this portion of this trip report last because I am just coming to terms with how unsatisfactory Cagliari was for me. Unlike any one place I have ever been. I don’t doubt other travelers must come away impressed with it’s history and friendly people but, with horrific logistics and basically poor signage for landmarks, I now would say this is the worst place I have ever visited.
Sorry not sorry Cagliari.
Cala Gonone Adventures
Cala Gonone was my primary goal and excitement for this trip. The ability to rent your own zodiac boat and motor the Gulf of Orosei and opt to dive into the Gatorade-blue waters at any beach on a whim was sublime. Like everywhere it seems on Sardinia, this is a vertical island so either you are going downhill or up! Walking or hiking flat is not an option! 🤪
The town is situated in the Bay of Orosei on the east of the island and in the geographical region of Supramonte, 5 miles from Dorgali, 20 miles from Nuoro and 50 miles from Olbia. If I were to return to this area in Sardinia, I would opt to fly into Olbia versus Cagliari which you were understand from my rants above about Cagliari.
Prior to my trip, I had connected with a super friendly young lady from Palmasera Boat Rental and made a reservation for a boat. I now know that a reservation is probably not required but with this first visit, and this being the critical component for my trip it was actually assuring to have this contact. She was super helpful and on the day of rental everything went smoothly. I would highly recommend connecting with BOX 14!
The fascination of Sardinia is due above all to its fantastic sea and beautiful beaches, which in the stretch of coast of our Gulf of Orosei are particularly wild and suggestive. Through their services, Palmasera Boat Rental therefore offers the possibility of discovering the most uncontaminated places, both with the service of excursion with driver and with the rental of rubber dinghies in autonomy and without the necessity of a boating license.
Cala Gonone is located and has been inhabited and busy since Nuragic times, as the many ruins show. Greek and Romans also used to come here often for their trades, and the latter founded several colonies along the coastline, which offered safe shelter from the wind and decent possibilities of earning thanks to its central position in the Mediterranean Sea.
Unfortunately, the countless pirates’ invasions in the Middle ages forced the locals to abandon the villages and build new ones more inland, safer and protected by the labyrinth-like Supramonte mountains and forests.
The official foundation of the modern village is 1878, when the first church started being built. Cala Gonone was slowly repopulated and, starting from the last century, proceeded to become the pulsing heart of the local tourism economy, thanks to the stunning places around there, and especially the beaches.
I booked my hotel in Cala Gonone with Hotel Pop via Priceline/Hotels.com mostly because of the location. It is perfectly located just adjacent to the marina, and you really don’t visit Cala Gonone unless you are going to spend one or more days going out on the water via the marina. Hotel Pop advertises free parking which is true but with a caveat; they have a small parking area, and you leave your car keys with them, and they need to double park several cars. I guess they will also provide you a local’s parking pass if you want to park on the street if you can actually find a space. You don’t really drive around town so that ended up not being a problem.
Tourism probably accounts for 99% of the revenue in this destination area and the locals are friendly, you feel safe, and probably any food was good. I ended up just having my dinners at Hotel Pop every night which averaged about US$50-$75 each night but I was having salad, a main course and of course dessert!
My second day in Cala Gonone was overcast, and I was somewhat exhausted, so I opted to head out on a road trip to potentially head north and cruise the coastline. After pulling into Orosei and Santa Lucia, I realized I was just going to be stumbling over tour buses and getting frustrated with no parking. It was impossible to not notice the village of Posada built on a hill so I pulled in and had a fabulous lunch at Marco & Caterina’s and then flew the drone where I captured the image at the top of the blog post. I got off the coastal route of SS125 and jumped over to SS131 and dropped into Olbia. Right away I noticed a much more user-friendly downtown area by the marina and made the mental note that if I were to return, this would be the better base camp than Cagliari. Cala Gonone is a much easier drive from Olbia and really, from what I hear, Porto Cervo is the prime destination in Sardinia! Live and learn!
Rome for a Day
I now know this. If a person is flying in or out of Rome, based on connecting flights, it is probably just better to overnight at the Hilton Garden Inn. They offer a free shuttle, the accommodations are on par with their 3-star properties and breakfast is not free. On my way in, I was stuck at the airport area for about five hours waiting for my ITA flight to Cagliari…and, then did not arrive to my final hotel destination until 7pm; 36 hours later.
Then, on my way outbound, with 3/4’s of a day to kill, I took the free shuttle back to the airport and caught a cab to downtown Rome. There is a EU$50 flat fee for anywhere downtown Rome and believe the drivers earn every penny. Rome was too hectic for me to go sightseeing but I did want to do some basic shopping which I accomplished. Arrivederci Roma!
BONUS – Madrid Layover
Two hours into our flight from Rome to JFK, the Captain announces some mechanical issues that require us to land in Madrid, Spain…YAY! I did not have a Spain stamp on my passport yet. 😂👌 The Captain’s hopes we will land and it would be a quick fix. He did inform us that there would be fire trucks standing by on the tarmac, but to not be alarmed. 😲 It turns out the generator or something had failed which basically controls EVERYTHING on the plane (I guess the toilets were not flushing..) and he did a great job landing the aircraft, but it was rough. The generator controls the brake hydraulics, so there was a chance the tires would catch on fire, which they did not.
After about 30 minutes he announced the aircraft was not capable of flying and Madrid is not a hub for Delta so we were going to overnight. Most passengers were very well-behaved which was encouraging. What are you going to do? As we got through Customs to baggage claim, Delta originally intended to bus us to a hotel and basically take care of all expenses, but after a short period they realized finding a block of rooms for all passengers in one hotel was not realistic. So, they told us to find our own lodging, and we would be reimbursed.
I used the link for Priceline/Hotels.com on my phone and found Hotel Mayorazgo and only hoped it had some sort of touristy element to make it seem like this was a planned destination. 🤪 Similar to Rome, there is a designated flat-fee for all taxi drivers from the airport for EU$30 and my driver certainly earned his $$. It was about 45 minutes during rush hour and I am thinking where the hell am I headed (not in an unsafe way but just being impatient) and saw the recognizable television tower and I knew I must be getting close. Turns out I was walking distance to the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Plaza de Espana….after that stroll it was back to the hotel for a sirloin steak and off to bed. The hotel coordinated a chauffered sedan for a ride to the airport in the morning, and the rest is history!