Sardinia: What to Know Before You Go

Aug 31, 2019

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Before I began planning our trip to Sardinia, I’ll admit that I knew virtually nothing about it. Now that we’ve been, I can report that the Italian island is most certainly great for families, but it is more than a beach getaway: It’s a rustic escape to a place where time moves slowly and you can truly exhale.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Isola Rossa, Sardinia
Isola Rossa (Photo by Dia Adams)

When to Visit Sardinia

Sardinia is a seasonal destination. Many airline routes and many hotels are only open between May and October, with July and August as the peak tourist season. We visited in July and didn’t find it crowded, even though it was the busiest time of year. The weather was glorious: mid- to high-20s, sunny with warm Mediterranean waters. In the inland mountains, the temperatures dipped into the low 20s.

Despite what most tourists prefer, I think a winter visit could be lovely; it rarely gets below freezing. You’ll just have to plan everything in advance and know that many restaurants and sites will be closed.

Getting to Sardinia

Sardinia’s two largest airports are Cagliari-Elmas (CAG) in the south and Olbia-Costa Smeralda (OLB) in the north. It’s a drive of almost three hours between them so you’ll probably want to base in one part of the island or the other. Both airports have frequent flights to most European cities in season so you should be able to find award flights with one connection. The most common major carrier is Alitalia, so I suggest trying a flight on the SkyTeam alliance first — of which Alitalia is part along with Delta, Air France, KLM and many others.

Before you redeem those miles, however, check the low-cost airlines. I found flights to Olbia from Paris on Transavia and a return to Nice on EasyJet for about half the cost of mainline carriers.

Where You Settle Is Where You’ll Stay

Sardinia is the second-largest island in Europe and boasts more than 1,100 miles of coastline. A car is essential for exploring most of the island. Outside of the highways connecting major towns, transportation is slower than you might imagine. I saw a lot of this when I pulled up Google Maps:

Screenshot via Google Maps

That’s an average of 17 miles per hour. I don’t think I drove over 40mph my entire week in Sardinia. The roads were well-maintained and I never felt unsafe, but getting around was a challenge. On the other hand, around every corner was an incredible vista.

Castelsardo, Sardinia. Photo by Dia Adams
Castelsardo, Sardinia (Photo by Dia Adams)

Limited Points Hotels

On paper, the four Marriott properties in Sardinia should fit the bill if you’re looking for sun and fun. Three of them, all Category 8, are Luxury Collection properties. The fourth is a Category 7 Sheraton. All four are on the Costa Smeralda, close to Olbia.

Photo courtesy of Marriott

However, you won’t typically find rooms for more than two people on points at any of them. You you might not find rooms at all. I couldn’t find a room for four people bookable even with cash (unless you count the penthouse that was 6,000 euros/night). However, if you are just after a couple’s getaway, then those properties might be options.

The only other points property is a Doubletree, at 20k-30k Hilton Honors per night in downtown Olbia. I couldn’t imagine staying there unless you had an early flight to catch the next day.

What Sardinia lacks in points options it more than makes up for in unique properties. We chose L’Agnata di De André, just outside of Tempio Pausania, for a nature-inspired getaway. Rooms at L’Agnata di de André go for around £205/night, and that was a fair price. However, I just £122 for a six-night stay via HIP Escapes.

The boutique hotel featured an idyllic location that was equally suited for exploration and for swinging in a hammock with a glass of wine in hand. Best of all, my daughter loved it as much as I did. She spent hours floating in the natural rock pool while I read an entire novel. How often do you get to finish a book on holiday?

Sardinia countryside
Views from L’agnata de di Andre. (Photo by Dia Adams)

What Makes Sardinia Special

Sardinia has incredible beaches, but you can find gorgeous beaches all over southern Europe. After five weeks bouncing around the Mediterranean, I’m not convinced Sardinia’s beaches are any more beautiful than those in the Algarve in Portugal or the Calanques of the French Riviera.

I’ve been to rural Italy three times and all of the trips have been great, but what makes Sardinia extra-special is the rustic charm. What I mean is that while time feels as if it is slows down when you are in rural Italy, but in Sardinia it seemed to move backward. Travel times were just one example. Type A personalities beware: Meals took at least two hours and it took more than an hour just to pick up our rental car.

On an island you might expect a lot of seafood, but we found more pork, lamb and goat than fish on most menus. We also found dishes that were uniquely Sardinian, such as pane frattau: a lasagna-type dish made with thin crackers instead of pasta and topped with a sunnyside-up egg. It’s better than it sounds. Our other favorite dish was an eggplant “carpaccio.”

Photo by Dia Adams

I should also mention that restaurant meals were without question the cheapest we had in Europe: My daughter and I could easily order an appetizer, two mains, dessert, a liter of water and small carafe of wine for less than 30 euros. We also found a roadside stand just outside of Isola Rossa that sold wine from a steel tank for 3 euros a bottle — and it was delicious.

Bottom Line

Sardinia is so much more than sun and fun: there are foods you won’t find anywhere else, a landscape that is both challenging and rewarding and people who are excited to share their island’s treasures with you. Best of all, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy your visit.

Featured photo by Ellen van Bodegom / Getty Images

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