Travel /
Sardegna

The Biorhythm of Cagliari

“Cagliari is a city that lives, all year round, to the rhythm of the hot summer.”

Cagliari is a city that lives, all year round, to the rhythm of the hot summer. Here’s everything you need to know about Cagliari, including the best port restaurants for fish and the first signs of urban gentrification.

You say Sardinia and one immediately thinks of yachts and luxury hotels and cosmopolitan nightlife. They imagine crystal clear sea and celebrities, but Sardinia is much more than this opulence: it’s a large, mountainous island, a safe harbor along the trade routes of the Mediterranean Sea since Ancient Roman times. Cagliari, the island’s capital, is not one of these tourist destinations. It is the biggest city of Sardinia; you find it at the southernmost tip of the island, on the other side (physically and spiritually) of Costa Smeralda. 

Many travelers just pass through and that’s it… landing by planes before continuing on to other destinations by ferry. Instead, we stopped in Cagliari to breathe the soul of the city, hiking up to the viewpoints and looking for the promenade, which does not exist. 

A few tips for exploring Cagliari:

 

Finding the Best Viewpoints in Cagliari 

To begin exploring the city, you’ll have to cross the busy coastal road and turn your back on the sea to find the entrance to Largo Carlo Felice, the boulevard that reaches from the sea to the city. From here you can admire the Palazzo del Comune on one side and the Rinascente department store on the other. Look for the beautiful facades above the arcades of Via Roma: from this viewpoint, the city has an elegant face, though it’s not so easy to find. The sea has no promenade to walk along and no bars on the piers–only parking lots and moorings and not many reasons to visit– instead the city life is found between the narrow streets of the historic center, the Marina district full of trattorias and food shops, and Castello, a district where historic buildings, universities, museums and watchtowers are concentrated, as vestiges of the fortified city of the past. 

Where to Eat Sunday Lunch in Cagliari

The city tour begins on the terrace of the Bastione Santa Croce for a Sunday lunch of appetizers, the inevitable porceddu (a typical Sardinian suckling pig), and roast potatoes from Pani and Casu. Sardinia is a land of shepherds: its cuisine is rich in lamb and goat, and takes influence from cultures around the Mediterranean basin. Common recipes include fregola (a large couscous), panade (pies stuffed with meat like in Spain), and the so-called frittura araba (sugary churros that are eaten here for breakfast). The beauty of the local cuisine, however, can be best seen at the San Benedetto Market, where fish stalls, butchers, bakers and greengrocers are concentrated in a single building. It’s the perfect place for shopping and understanding the tastes of Cagliari. Looking for typical Sardinian sweets? There is no point wandering around looking for historic pasticcerias: we tried and without much satisfaction. Head straight to La Spiga e dell’Uovo, a fregola and artisanal pasta shop, which also sells sweet, glazed and colored pastries–the best carbohydrates on offer in Cagliari. 

The Best Restaurants and Trattorias in Cagliari 

The very popular historic restaurants serving traditional dishes are concentrated in the Marina district. Since 1938, Trattoria Lillicu has been serving typical fish dishes of Cagliarian tradition; you can taste them all in the carousel of appetizers, which includes buridda (soaked fish with a walnut sauce), fried fish, mussels and murici (small mollusks). Then there is the more refined Sa Domu Sarda, which offers a rich menu of the island’s specialties, made with local raw materials. In the evening, you can sit at the table alongside workers and dockers, confirming the all-Italian myth that trattorias are mythical places where you can eat well and spend little. Around Cagliari, you’ll see many things labeled as “Sa” something and “Su” something else–these are simply definite articles of Latin derivation in the Sardinian language. Sardinian is officially recognized as a language–not a dialect–in danger of extinction.

Return of the Brains (As They Say) 

Along Largo Carlo Felice you will find elegant stores, the Caffè Svizzero with its late 19th century furnishings, the Cagliari soccer team bar, also a gift shop and an essential stop for fans; places where kids flock on Saturday evenings. Off of this main thoroughfare unfold the many pedestrian streets on which to stroll and immerse yourself in local life. The stereotype of Italy stuck in the past is shattered by looking at the store windows and the tables of restaurants in Cagliari. The capital is a lively city with restaurants that have a voice in contemporary Italian cuisine. There is the Michelin-starred Stefano Deidda’s Dal Corsaro, restaurant Luigi Pomata (which serves Carloforte tuna caught in the south of the island in traditional tuna nets), and the bistrot Josto, which could succeed even in a culinarily competitive city like Milan. Then there’s the butcher shop and restaurant Etto, and the award-winning pizzeria Fermento. Here, what happens almost everywhere is taking place: a modernization of formats, the valorization of local producers and the growth of a new “scene”. People used to leave Sardinia to study and work elsewhere, but now they are coming back, bringing a new vision. 

Gentrification and Long Weekends  

In spite of what one might imagine, turning the corner onto the long pedestrian street Corso Garibaldi, one encounters signs of gentrification. There are artisan boutiques that sell typical Sardinian weaving with new patterns, like designer Caterina Quaranta. Along Via San Domenico, there is a tattoo parlor, bistros with natural wines (including Cerchio Rosso and Old Friend Bistrot), cocktail bar Florio and workshop Spazio Cosmico, which hosts the works of young artists. Pay attention to timetables though. Here, lunch break ends at 5 p.m. and many stores follow a biorhythm typical of warm climates. 

Compared to other places, Cagliari never sleeps, or rather never hibernates. The tourist season does not exist, therefore activities are always open, designed for Cagliari’s inhabitants rather than for passing travelers. But if you have to choose a perfect time of year to spend a couple of days in Cagliari, the best month is June, when the pink flamingos invade the Molentargius pond, transforming the Sardinian coast into a spectacle more similar to the French Camargue. You can get there by bus, along the road that connects the center of the city to the Poetto beach–eight kilometers from the Sella del Diavolo to the town of Quartu Sant’Elena. While June might be the flamingos’ favorite month, the weekend is never the right time to explore the city: from Saturday evening to Tuesday, many stores, businesses and restaurants close their doors. They won’t reopen until the late afternoon.

Pani e Casu

Mercato di San Benedetto

La Spiga e l’Uovo

Caffè Svizzero

Slam Shop Cagliari

Trattoria Lillicu

Sa Domu Sarda

Ci pensa Cannas

Ristorante Dal Corsaro

Ristorante Luigi Pomata

Caterina Quartana Textile Design Concept Store

Cerchio Rosso

Spazio Cosmico

Bar Florio

Old Friend Bistrot