Euro Road Trip – North and East Sardinia

The waters were starting to whip up into white points, a far cry from the mirror-like waters we’d seen only a few days ago. The hazy shapes of mountains across the channel became clearer, and soon Corsica was but a hazy shape in the distance. Comparing the two, Sardinia seemed mountainous, but Corsica was turned up to 11.

It was a little after 6:30PM by the time we finally left the boat. This left us with about 2-hours until sunset – so not a lot of time. We considered the town beach, Spiaggia di Rena Bianca, however, it was too cold to enjoy it – even if it is compared to the beauty of the Caribbean.

Capo Testa

Instead, we headed to see the otherworldly charms of Capo Testa, and the Valle della Luna. We could see the lumpy form of the headland from the boat. Now that we were driving on it, we got a real understanding of how epic it actually was. There were giant mounds of granite boulders, all eroded into interesting ways, creating bizarre shapes and shadows. At first glance, it reminded us a little of Devil’s Marbles, or Murphy’s Haystacks in Australia. However, there was one thing here that was quite different – the abundance of beautiful wild yellow flowers, like small tufts of cloud filling the gaps between these mounds of rock.

I didn’t learn my lesson with the drone, and attempted another flight – the poor thing was fighting for it’s life, and wasn’t very controllable. Trying to catch it made me fear for my fingers.

There was no signage for the trails, so we just wandered aimlessly, taking random paths if it looked like they went somewhere interesting. We were short on time, so we didn’t get too lost, but there were still so many little sights that felt like treasure, like a tunnel through the undergrowth, or small hut with what looked their own farm – maybe a café in summer months?

Vignola Mare

We said good bye to the yellow shrubs, and the odd shapes of granite, and drove a short distance south, to a free campsite. As we drove, we passed some beaches that were filled with windsurfers. The waves looked formidable, and certainly not the type of beach we’d stop for a quick swim. Driving here really reminded me of Western Australia, and a world away from the narrow hilly roads in Corsica.

Most free campsites are in some industrial part of town. This was right on the beach. We sat and ate our dinner, and looked out at the setting sun – racing outside to take a few photos as it finally dipped below the horizon.

It also let me play with the camera after the sun had finally set. We could see Capo Testa, as well as Corsica in the distance.

Day 49

Once again, weather forecast clouds and rain. Once again it was bright blue skies and sunshine. But, by the time we’d prepared for the day, the clouds had come rolling in, and the wind had whipped up into a frenzy. Our van was now gently shaking with each gust.

Costa Smeralda

We knew that it wouldn’t be an ideal day for the beach when we left our campsite, with the strong winds, and the overcast skies, however, we had to give it a try – and we didn’t want to wait around for better conditions.

It was a twisty road that cut across from the west coast to the east coast, taking just over an hour. It felt like Australia again, with the giant gum trees lining the roads, the blue skies, and the slightly dusty hills. It was nice. The skies started clearing as we got closer to the east coast, however, the winds were just as aggressive.

There are dozens of small beaches in this stretch of coastline, however in the end, we decided to visit just two.

Spiaggia del Piccolo Pevero

We were actually trying to visit the larger, Spiaggia Pevero Grande, however, it was too complicated to get there in our car – but we were able to park right beside the smaller beach. As we expected, it was empty, and it was too cold to enjoy. Not impossible to enjoy, but the sand was being blasted with each gust of wind, plus the temperatures just weren’t enough to take a shirt off. The water was nice, incredibly clear, apart from the small patch of seaweed darkening the waters.

Spiaggia del Principe

We arrived a little after lunch time, so we stopped for a quick pasta lunch. The car park was enormous, and this time there were actually a few other cars. There was zero signage, just a well trodden dirt path that appeared to lead down towards the water.

We caught our first glimpse, and we honestly audibly gasped. The colour of the water was incredible.

As we got closer, it began to feel man made. I dove into the water, which wasn’t as cold as I expected, and it felt like I was swimming in a pool. Looking forwards was a cool blue hue, and nothing else. No murkiness, no weeds, just bright crystalline waters. This definitely ranks in the Top 10 beaches we’ve ever visited – possibly even Top 5!

However, it was still uncomfortably windy. We tried to relax with our airbeds, but the sand was still blasting us with each gust. We pulled the pin after about 30-minutes of lying to ourselves that we were enjoying it. Instead we walked around the tiny beach, admiring the views to the south and the giant granite wall that we were going to visit shortly.

We had several other beaches that we had book marked for a visit, but decided to give them a miss. It was unlikely to surpass this beach, and the weather wasn’t quite right for the beach – even though there was glorious sunshine.

The Belvedere Smeralda lookout gave incredible views over the coast, as well as the mountains far in the distance, that we were about to go visit.

SS125

The driving has been so much easier here compared to Corsica. There are multi-lane roads, which are reasonably flat, and reasonably straight. I spent the majority of the 150km drive in 5th gear, doing more than 80kph – except when the gusts of winds stole at least 10kph from us.

I had read in Lonely Planet that the section of the SS125 between Dorgali and Santa Maria Navarrese is epic, and a ‘must drive’. The sun was about to dip behind the range as we finally started the climb.

And what a climb it was, almost persistently climbing the entire way, reaching a height of 1000m before we stopped for the night. We’d just missed the Giro d’Italia, which had passed along this road two weeks earlier. There were still plenty of pink things on the sides of the road, as well as the names of the riders painted onto the road itself.

I stepped out of the car to take some photos, and was shocked with the temperatures. We’d gone from mid-20s, to nearly single digits in the space of an hour!

Our waste-water tanks were full, and our fresh water tank empty, so we had no choice but to stay in a caravan park tonight. As luck would have it, there was a moderately priced one at the summit of the pass. As we were the only guests tonight, and with the wind roaring, he found a great little spot for us at bottom of a gravel road – which proved to be fun getting out of in the morning, with our skinny little front-wheel drive tyres pulling a little over 2.5t up a steep gravel road!

Day 50

As always, we talked about having an early start and seeing/doing a lot in the day. As always, we were slow waking up, and even slower leaving. Today we had the excuse that we had to fix some minor mechanic gremlins, with the taps in the bathroom leaking. We aren’t using the taps in the bathroom (there is a broken cable somewhere between the tap and the pump), so I did some emergency repairs, shoving screwdrivers down the pipes, and tightening some clamps down hard around them. Amazingly, it seemed to have done the job.

Gola Gorropu

It was a little after 12 by the time we left the campsite, and drove the kilometre to the start of the hike. The hike starts opposite the hotel, at the 83km mark on the highway. It’s not a big hike, and in a slightly unusual twist, it starts from the top, and descends into the valley – meaning the return hike is going to be a climb.

The first half of the journey was exposed. It was hot, and the sun was making it feel even hotter. The trail wasn’t too steep, but the gravel was quite loose, making it important to take small steady steps.

From the car park, I could hear the sound of cow bells. We kept hearing this distant, slightly hidden sound, but couldn’t quite make out where it was coming from. Before we knew it, we were engulfed in a goat convoy, all jingling away as they looked at us suspiciously, before making a wide berth around us.

We also passed by a couple of reconstructed nuraghic dwelling – something that we’re going to see much more of in the coming days.

My thighs were burning, and were really not used to this type of activity – though, they’re really not used to any activity, other than sitting down and pushing brake/clutch/accelerator pedals. I miss my bike…

The trail got steeper for the last kilometre or two, but at least there was more stable ground – and we were inside the tree cover, giving some respite from the sun. We were passing plenty of sweaty, panting people that were making their way back up the trail, which didn’t give us much to look forward to.

Once we reached the valley floor, we were surprised at all the people lazing about and sunbaking by a small stream. We’d barely seen anyone on our hike down, so it was a surprise to see just how many people where down here – it felt like a London park on the one sunny day of the year. I can only assume that most of these people caught a 4WD shuttle down to the entrance of the canyon.

At the entrance to the canyon, there was a small tent taking the entrance fees. It was €5 each to enter the canyon – which was payable by cash only. I had sudden nightmares that I might not have brought enough cash with me and we wouldn’t be able to go inside – turns out I had €13 in my wallet, so we were just fine!

The canyon is broken up into three sections; a green section, suitable for most people, with the trail marked by periodic green dots, a yellow section, that was more physically demanding, with no trail marked, and a red section, which required specialist equipment and a guide.

The green section started rather easy, climbing over large boulders, and squeezing between gaps of others. The hardest part was grip, as the boulders were polished and were very slippery – even in the dry. The trail even went via a small cave, which gave much needed relief from the heat outside.

As we were slowly traversing up the canyon, it tightened and became much, much narrower. I couldn’t capture the scale of it, but it was probably only 5m at the narrowest point, with cliffs that soared some 500m above – at least that’s what they said, it didn’t quite feel that high, but why would they lie. The canyon wasn’t vertical, either. The outer edge was concave, which we heard make it an appealing surface to climb – it’s 8b, if that means anything to anyone.

Just after the narrowest point, we saw the yellow dot signifying the ‘easy’ section’s end, and the start of the intermediate. We probably didn’t need that dot, as it was quite an obvious change. The boulders got larger, and it required more co-ordination to navigate. It wasn’t just the technical challenges, it also required us to actually pick lines ourselves – which occasionally required us to back up and try again. It was awesome, like a giant playground to climb up and over – and all the while in this claustrophobic valley with the weight of 500m cliffs above you.

The red section was a whole other beast. The canyon felt wider, and lower, but the rocks in the canyon were much larger, and slipperier. We had a quick attempt, just to get a feeling, but both agreed that while it was fun, it wasn’t worth the risk of a broken bone – in a remote location. It felt a tiny bit like we were missing out, but the best views were at the end of the green section anyway – again, at least that’s what we were told!

We tried a few times to fly the drone, but with a combination of the wind, the lack of GPS, and interference in the control signal, it was a bit of a failure – including one very small crash, luckily doing nothing more than scuffing the battery (and shaking our nerves).

We’d been in denial, enjoying the canyon, but we both realised that we were going to have to hike our way back out to the car park. It was only 600m of ascent, but we were hot and tired already. It was steep to begin with, which we knew from our descent. Thankfully the sun was starting to get low in the sky, giving us some shade for the climb. There were a few breathless periods in the first 1km, but it did eventually flatten out, and it was certainly easier to walk up that loose gravel, than to try and no slip on the descent.

Tonight was a night better suited to staying in a camp site, as we both could do with a nice hot shower, however, we had plenty of fresh water now, and made do with a small clearing on the side of the SS125.

Day 51

We continued the drive back down the SS125 towards Dorgali. It gave us a chance to look back on the trail we hiked yesterday, which roughly followed the top of the tree line to the entrance of the canyon.

Cala Gonone

This small stretch of coast line was described as a bit of a paradise by Lonely Planet – though, just about everywhere we visit is described similarly. We were going to do the small hike to the Bue Grotto, but decided instead to just relax on the beach. The main cove, Cala Fuili was a little crowded (judging from all the cars lining the road), so we opted for a small rocky cove, Spiaggia di Ziu Martine, in the neighbouring cove instead.

It isn’t going to win any awards, but it was exactly what we wanted – clear waters gently lapping pebbly shores, sunshine, and a lack of wind. We’ve recently found that we enjoy rocky/pebbly beaches more, as the water is clearer, and you don’t get covered in sand!

Our friends that visited Sardinia hired a boat from Cala Gonone and visited some of the smaller coves further south – which are otherwise only accessible by some serious hikes. I’d considered doing the same, as some of those beaches looked incredible, but decided that we were content with just relaxing on this little beach.

Orgosolo

We were now on the other side of the massive granite Supramonte range that we’d been climbing through yesterday. The towns felt different to where we’d been so far in Sardinia. It felt rural. The streets were empty, but you knew that you were being watched through closed windows – or less covertly by the old men in caps.

Orgosolo is famous for the political murals that decorate the walls of town. It was a bit of an exploration mission, walking through narrow alleys trying our best to find these murals. It would have been easier if we’d parked closer to the actual centre of town, instead of the outer edges (where we could actually park). Actually, it would have been easier if we knew where the centre of town was!

Anyway, it was a small town, so we eventually stumbled upon some great paintings before finding the main street in town.

The paintings ranged in size, some occupying entire buildings. Most were political in nature, and related to Sardinia – which meant we didn’t understand a lot, even with our best guesses at what the Italian text was saying. Still, you could get a feeling of the murals. Plus, they were beautiful to look at.

There were also some murals about international events, which we were both more familiar with, like this sombre piece about this Palestinian man losing his son during a shootout happening around them. It was very powerful to see on such a large and detailed scale.

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2 Comments

  1. God damn it!! What a trip and can’t hold back the envy any longer!!! Sooo envious!! Looks brilliant.

  2. This is bringing back so many memories!! I love Sardinia so so much. Totally jealous of your trip….

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