“Look, you don’t want to go by car. You won’t see all the wonders here. In some places, in the most beautiful places, you can only get there from the sea.” This was said to me by an elderly man from La Maddalena, now a lifetime ago, when I decided to visit Caprera, the 16 km2 island in the north of Sardinia. And perhaps that alone could be enough to tell the story of this fascinating place.
Although the dinghy is more comfortable, I’ve always admired that straight tongue of asphalt that connects La Maddalena to Caprera. The 52 meter Ponte Moneta is the only terrestrial way to reach the island: one lane to go, and one to return, with only a few rocks on either side. It’s like driving on the sea. All it takes is a little distraction to find yourself among the fish. Once you drive onto the island, you enter the coolness of the huge pine forest, outside of which it is almost 40℃. You hear the song of cicadas at every hour. If you pay attention, especially during the less touristy times, you can hear and see a host of wildlife found only here. (Particularly special is the Sardinian wildcat: a rare, carnivorous species that can sometimes be found on the beach.)
Caprera has the charm of a desert island, because–despite the fact that it has a few dozen inhabitants–it is, and always has been. After the Romans, the island was deserted until 1850 when a British family, the Collinses, settled there. A few years later, Giuseppe Garibaldi himself arrived. He bought the northern part with his brother’s inheritance, and after a few years, he was able to buy the southern half as well. He built a big white fazenda and lived there for the last 30 years of his life as a farmer and breeder. Today, there are museums, where everything is as the Hero of the Two Worlds left it, and where you can find his grave and that of his white mare Marsala. He chose Caprera to retire after unifying Italy, and it is not difficult to understand his reasons.
Caprera is almost as small as the nearby island of Maddalena, but it is much wilder. It’s impossible to see all of it by moped (all roads are quite far from touching sea water), and some parts are particularly inhospitable, making it great exploration grounds for hiking enthusiasts, who walk through long stretches of dense vegetation to be rewarded by stunning beaches with incredible colors. Here, a guide for diving into the four corners of the island.
THE SOUTH SIDE OF CAPRERA
The most accessible area is to the south, toward Punta Rossa.
La Spiaggia del Relitto: The most popular beach in Caprera is easily accessible by car, and it is equipped with a kiosk. Embedded in the sand, on the shore, is what remains of an ancient coal ship, stranded after a fire who knows how long ago. It’s been there forever, and today everyone is bathing around it and taking lots of pictures.
La Spiaggia dei Due Mari: Called the beach of two seas because it is a very thin strip of land surrounded by the sea, this beach also has a kiosk with snacks and drinks. You’re spoiled for choice with this spiaggia’s two seas.
Cala Andreani: This beach has shallow, crystalline water and reddish granite rocks. You can often see Sardinian wildcats here.
Punta Rossa: At the far end are old military fortresses, now abandoned defense mausoleums. And they are not the only ones on the island: in the past, there were many Savoy fortresses, used in more recent periods by the US Navy. This has prevented the establishment of facilities or resorts in these areas.
Stagnali area: This region is both accessible and impenetrable: there is a marina, the Ponte Palma pier, the sailing center and museums on seafaring art, but many places here are traversed by a single road that abruptly ends, leaving the coves of two peninsulas the exclusive preserve of those arriving by boat. One of these is Cala Paradiso (Paradise Cove), a name that is enough to tell the tale of the sea.
THE EAST SIDE OF CAPRERA
Proceeding northward, the sites become increasingly difficult to reach.
Cala dell’Angelo: This wonderful, beachless and incredibly rocky spot, like the entire eastern area, is overlooked by Mount Tejalone.
Cala Coticcio: Called the Italian Tahiti, this cala has very little beach but is one of the most beautiful places in Sardinia. Without a boat, it takes about 40 minutes to walk from the nearest useful parking spot, and the paths are not the kind to do in flip-flops. There are two coves, always fronted by a large number of boats, because the water here is really transparent. Seabed enthusiasts, snorkelers, simple photographers: everyone finds what they want here. Because of the location of the rocks, it is also difficult to find shady spots for those who reach the small beach, part of a protected reserve. One therefore needs the utmost respect when coming here, as indeed would be appropriate in all seas. It really feels like the Caribbean, and the view coming in from the sea is dazzling.
THE NORTH SIDE OF CAPRERA
From here on, the entire northern part is predominantly rocky all the way to the sea. Fortunately, the waters are crystal clear. Otherwise, even approaching with boats could be difficult.
Messa del Cervo: Above Cala Coticcio, further inland, is Messa del Cervo, another military base set on high ground, dating back to the Kingdom of Sardinia. Old paths, protected by granite, lead to the Batteria di Candeo–another fort, on the northeastern end, carved into the rocks and abandoned long ago.
Cala Candeo: It is possible to visit the fortress or to immerse yourself in the Mediterranean scrub and juniper scents and descend to the rocky beach of Cala Candeo with rocks shaped by the wind.
Punta Crucitta: Despite its distance from the beaten track, the beach is always busy, not least because of the shallow waters of Cormorant Cove, perfect for children. Further offshore, boats cast their shadows on the seabed, and the water is so clear it looks like a swimming pool. Instead, it’s all real and all incredibly natural.
THE WEST SIDE OF CAPRERA
Cala Napoletana: A must for those coming to Caprera with a mask and snorkel. There is a world underwater to see without any effort, but the beauty is that even keeping your head above water, you can see everything. You have to take your time and enjoy the show. Smooth rocks, starfish, lush seaweed and many varieties of fish. The water is never particularly cold, although it is really very salty.
Cala Serena: A couple of kilometers below Cala Caprarese is a place where you find all the elements together. There is the thin beach; there are the wind-shaped rocks (some rounded, some pointed); there is dense vegetation, especially around the basin of water that stretches beyond the beach. The hard shrubs in the area soften, giving way to longer, softer green strands of forest, protected by pines. The water is crystal clear. In front of the beach is all blue, and behind it is all green. Not infrequently, some wild boar overlook here, wandering undisturbed among the tourists in search of food.
Cala Garibaldi: A very similar, but better equipped spot, as it’s the landing beach to get directly to the general’s house museum, which is further inland.