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Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I shine a spotlight on the maligned and ignored, and I'm in the mood for a change of scenery.
Typically, this column is about spotlighting movies, music, and video games that have been largely overlooked. However, this time I'm directing attention to an entire landmass that has been largely overlooked. A while back, my girlfriend and I got the chance to travel out of the country for the first time in our lives. We knew we wanted to visit Italy, but we didn't want to get stuck in the tourist traps for our entire two-week vacation. After some discussion, our attention turned to the islands off the coast. Of the three major islands there, Corsica was part of France, and Sicily received plenty of tourist traffic. So we turned to the one in the middle, the island of Sardinia, and found a place that is historical, peaceful, gorgeous, friendly, and somehow the most "real" exotic location I could've imagined.
Before going, I was already somewhat familiar with Sardinia. I'm a die-hard fan of the James Bond movies, and part of the film The Spy Who Loved Me, is set on the island (filmed in the town of Porto Cervo, specifically). However, seeing it in a movie and actually being there are two very different experiences. There are three major cities on the coasts of the island. Our experiences are from Olbia, the biggest city on the northeastern corner of the island. Those who touch down in Alghero or Cagliari will, no doubt, have different experiences from mine.
The first thing that struck me was how untouched the island was. As it was mostly ignored by tourists, aside from visitors from the Italian mainland, Sardinia provides probably the purest Italian experience possible. Speaking to the locals (in my admittedly limited command of the Italian language), I learned that most people on the island had never even met Americans before. While there are some outside influences like a McDonalds or a GameStop at the primary centro commerciale, the bulk of the experience is what one would picture for an Old World trip. We had lunch at outdoor cafes, visited ancient ruins, and enjoyed the scenery. In fact, the bed and breakfast we stayed at (Drummi e Smulza) offered a great distant view of Olbia while providing the kind of peace and quiet that's practically unheard of in the States.
Anyone with a historical or archaeological interest can't ignore the island. While the ruins on the Italian mainland have become tourist traps, the ones in Sardinia are still in pristine condition. The Nuragic civilization, dating back to 1500 BC, was one of the oldest civilizations in Europe, and their ruins are still accessible. My girlfriend and I visited Le tombe dei giganti (translated as "The Giants' Tomb") near Arzachena and were amazed. While the artifacts were long gone, ending up at the Archaeological Museum in Olbia, the structures were still intact. It's only a shame we didn't have time to visit the other tombs scattered all over the island.
Of course, when it comes to an island vacation, more people would be interested in hitting the beach than visiting tombs. Fortunately, Sardinia has some of the most gorgeous beaches I had ever seen (and I have seen plenty, for the record). We visited three that can provide very different experiences. For those that think of boating and beach parties, the seaside town of Cala Gonone has you covered. While it can get crowded during the summer to the point that parking becomes an issue, the wide array of restaurants and vendors make it an ideal spot to visit on a cruise. For those wanting the quiet of the surf, there's Spiaggia Portobello on the northern shore. Its out-of-the-way location provides the kind of peace one can only get in the U.S. very early in the morning. Just make sure you bring your lunch as you would be kilometers away from any amenities. The third is Capo Testa on the northernmost point of the island which provides a balance between the two. The view is amazing; you can actually see the southern shore of Corsica from there. The shores have some degree of intimacy, but there are cafes nearby during the travel season.
While we did spend some time in Civitavecchia and Rome during our vacation, we actually have the fondest memories of our time in Sardinia. It is one of the most peaceful places we've ever been. By the time we hopped on the ferry to the Italian mainland, we felt the most rejuvenated we had ever been. If you want to visit Europe and go a bit off the beaten path, visit here. Sicily doesn't need to get ALL the attention.
What do you think? Has anyone else been here? Let me know, and buon viaggio (good trip)!