Almost as I await Christmas day or my birthday, I look forward to the day when I finally arrive in Sardinia, the large Italian island to which I am irremediably linked. My parents, who travelled here religiously since before my brother and I were born, transmitted unconditional love for this land, for its sea and its perfumes. The arrival in Sardinia is a unique and precious event. To honor it I have a ritual that I have been carrying on for twenty-six years: as soon as we dock at the port of Olbia and step off the ferry and into the car I roll down the windows, mess up my hair with the wind blowing and get intoxicated by the unmistakable scent of myrtle and broom. This precise moment is one of the most important memories I have; it reminds me of my childhood, carefree summers, beach life with my parents, and especially moments my grandparents.
Sardinia is a particular place, where basically there is a bit of everything and from north to south it changes constantly, showing infinite faces of itself and its nature.
I don’t really know why this island has had such a lasting impact, I just know that going there means taking a break, catching your breath, and being enveloped by the serenity of the sea breeze. It may be for its scents, for its strong winds that make the air always fresh, for the crystalline and blue sea, but Sardinia certainly has something magical.
I usually go north, to the Costa Smeralda; a place famous all over the world, where some come for the lifestyle it offers: aperitivi on the beach, elegant restaurants, squares impeccably cared for, and small alleys that make up the most elite ports in Italy. Then there’s the Sardinian décor, so typical and characteristic, with irregular stone walls with a light brown color, the purple of bougainvillea all around, and the green of the plants that blend perfectly with the brick color of the soil.
This area is often referred to as just a place for fun, but in reality it also has incredible nature and much more to offer. Here the sea starts transparent then becomes first blue, then light blue and finally night blue as it moves further away from the coast; the beaches are golden, and Mediterranean vegetation reigns supreme all around.
Among the many riches of this area of the island, one cannot fail to mention the Mortorio. An islet not far from the coast that can be reached with a small boat and where, once you go, you can never forget its beauty. Better than the Maldives, Seychelles, or the Caribbean, the island of Mortorio is literally a slice of heaven on earth: anyone who has ever been there knows what I’m talking about. Unfortunately it is now a nature reserve and you can no longer even go near it to take a bath: extreme tourism and the carelessness of visitors have made this small island a treasure at risk.
Another great little wonder of these parts is the Valle della Luna (“Valley of the Moon”). This place, located on the northernmost tip of Sardinia, has the power to transport you back in time to the 1960s. Also referred to as the Hippie Paradise, this place is made up of natural caves in which to live and a community of people who have decided to move permanently or for a short time to this out of this world corner. Every foreigner is welcome, as long as she / he does not disrespect the community and his home, or the beach.
The Sardinians in these parts are not often seen, just in some traditional restaurants, in some bottega or shop; they are often shy and reserved, but if you have been coming here for many years you have the opportunity to forge ties with them too. I often go to a couple of restaurants towards the hinterland, famous only to those familiar with the area, where you can enjoy true traditional Sardinian food. Unlike what many may think, on this island fish is not the main dish, but rather meat. Yes, because Sardinia is a land of farmers and breeders, a land where at the center of everything there is not fishing, but rather sheep and pigs. It is no coincidence that the most traditional dishes here are cheeses, porceddu (a small roasted suckling pig), and many other dishes that certainly seem more winter than summer. One of my favorite things, which I recommend ordering despite being a bit heavy, is the “mazza frissa“: perhaps one of the most enjoyable foods I have ever tried. Cream and semolina whipped until it obtains a creamy and foamy consistency (similar to that of hummus), to be eaten in infinite ways: for example, spread on bread or devoured by spoonfuls, as I do.
The Gallura soup, also called “zuppa cuata” (“hidden soup”), is not really a soup but its consistency is more like a lasagna: it is in fact a first course made up of many layers of bread (from different types depending on the area) dipped in melted cheese and sheep broth. Then there is a type of semolina pasta, fregola, which are small balls slightly larger than couscous, typically seasoned with zucchini, mint, clams, and saffron.
If there are several first courses and appetizers, the second dish par excellence is the aforementioned porceddu: crunchy on the outside and softer on the inside. Not all visitors love to eat it, as it is usually served whole and placed on the center of the table.
As for the end of the meal, Sardinians are crazy for cheeses with honey or compotes, and the most famous dessert is undoubtedly the seadas: very large, fried ravioli, with a delicate tasing stringy cheese. From here the world is divided: those who season everything with honey and those who do the same with sugar. As a child, I was a supporter of the first, but today I cannot deny that the a seadas with sugar is something heavenly. The combination of the sweetness of the topping, the fat from the frying, and a slight acidity from the cheese literally enchant the palate.
When it comes to food I always go too far, I know, but I believe that the traditional dishes of the island are emblematic and representative of this land: not only glitz and nightlife, but also typical products, tradition, and craftsmanship (in Sardinia there are many shoemakers who make beautiful sandals), nature and territoriality.
Coming to Sardinia means entering another world, out of time and waiting to be discovered. From food to nature, it offers such a varied richness that it is difficult to find on another island. My advice is to go in early summer or towards the end of September, to take advantage of the few tourists and a sea that leaves you speechless. In fact, in recent months, the water is cleaner, colder and obviously, the beaches are uncrowded. It is a magical place and I can’t wait to go back: arrive on soft sand, approach the shore barefoot, shyly dip one foot after the other and slowly get used to the cold temperature of the water. I start walking and despite the fact that the seabed rises, I can see my feet perfectly, the sea is so transparent. A little ahead of me the water is more bluish, even further on it becomes a clear and full blue, darkening more and more as my gaze drifts away. I believe that beyond words, this ethereal image is enough to describe a magnificent land, with a thousand facets and enchanted energy.