Editor: Elisa Carassai
Turquoise and emerald green waters, painterly landscapes, jet-set and seadas, and so much natural beauty and posh charm that never seems to go out of style: Welcome to Costa Smeralda!
Are you ready to be welcomed by a rugged stretch of limpid, azure waters and powder-soft white sand which stretches between the gulfs of Arzachena and Cugnana on the northeast coast of Sardegna? From turquoise green waters to national parks and more, follow us on a tour of one of the most loved areas of Italy.
Our journey starts in Olbia, where our plane lands! Called olbìa by the Greeks, this town is the centre of access to the island and the economic engine of Gallura. In several corners of the city, there are vestiges of the past. Many findings from the excavations, including a treasure of almost 900 gold coins, are kept in the Archaeological Museum on the islet of Peddone. The Punic-Roman (later Christian) necropolis, comprising 450 tombs, is housed in the necropolis museum, which is located at the foot of the altar of the impressive basilica of San Simplicio.
The city overlooks a spectacular gulf, which protects the marine area of Tavolara and gives access to Costa Smeralda. In the immense coast of Olbia, among the myriad of turquoise coves, you'll be spoiled for choice: one must check out the four beautiful bays of Porto Istana, which are part of the protected area, and the Lido di Pittulongu, in particular La Playa, a favorite beach of Olbia. Next, in sequence, you will find the beaches Lo Squalo, il Pellicano and further north, Mare e Rocce and Bados (on the border with Golfo Aranci). To the north there is another long stretch of coastline: you will find white sand (or small pebbles) and crystal clear sea in Porto Rotondo, Marina di Cugnana and Portisco, in particular sa Rena Bianca.
To the south, towards San Teodoro, there are the yellow-ochre beaches of Lido del Sole, Le Saline, Bunthe, Li Cuncheddi and Punta Corallina. To sea and archaeology you can add the delights of the palate, do not miss the taste of mussels of Olbia, that must be washed down with Vermentino wine.
Near Olbia you’ll find Luras. Luras is the homeland of dolmens: it preserves four intact examples of the total 78 on the island. The village lies at an altitude of 500 metres on a granite hillock at the north-eastern end of Mount Limbara. Today cultivation and craftsmanship are the basis of the economy, especially the processing of cork and granite and the production of wine, vermentino and nebiolo. Among the rural area, San Bartolomeo di Karana stands out, at whose side rises s'ozzastru, an olive tree of twelve meters of circumference, whose age is estimated at over three thousand years, among the oldest in Europe. It is a natural monument, included among the twenty secular trees of Italy.
A favourite beach in the area is Cala Razza di Giunco, which in reality, includes four beaches, in the middle of which overlook promontories, islets and fjords, creating spectacular scenery, set among pink granite rocks. The beaches alternate between white and golden sand, sometimes with pebbles, while the clear sea will strike you for its deep blue with emerald green reflections. The shallow water is suitable for children, but it is also a destination for snorkelling enthusiasts, populated even close to shore by numerous species of fish.
Very close to Olbia is one of the most beloved towns of national and international tourism, diamond point, together with Porto Cervo, Porto Rotondo, a fraction of Olbia, a few kilometres from Golfo Aranci, Palau and Arzachena. A tradition amongst locals is to stop for ice cream at Gelateria del Molo, during an evening stroll at night or to go shopping in Piazzetta San Marco for a pair of espadrilles or a bikini at Manebì or Eres.
Looking for a true Sardinian experience near Porto Rotondo? You should definitely pay a visit to Lu Stazzu. Lu Stazzu takes its inspiration from Gallurese family traditions dating back to the 1800s, which were all about hard work and sound values and principles, handed down from father to son and still found in every aspect of the business. The location itself evokes times gone by: the setting for the restaurant is a typical 19th century Gallurese building that looks out over the bay of Porto Rotondo and the marina, a delight for both the palate and the eyes.Among the exquisite dishes you can sample at the restaurant or outside on the magnificent veranda, are traditional Gallurese dishes such as Porceddu and Malloreddus and high-quality Sardinian wines, like Vermentino.
Another cute village in the area between Olbia and Porto Rotondo, overlooking the Gulf of Olbia, is Golfo Aranci. The gulf which ends at the base of Capo Figari, is ideal for diving - especially at the Rock of Mamuthone and Capo Filasca - and trekking in a naturalistic oasis, habitat of mouflon and rare birds, which includes the overlooking islet of Figarolo. The promontory is surmounted by wartime fortifications and a lighthouse, the 'Semaforo della Marina Militare', famous for Guglielmo Marconi's experiments.
Where to sleep in the area? Located near Golfo Aranci, Cento Ulivi Room & Breakfast is located on a green hill surrounded by olive and fruit trees, two kilometres from the white beaches of the Costa Smeralda. Originally composed of a farmhouse with an adjoining stable for herds, has undergone a careful renovation in order to maintain all the charm of rural settlements typical of the Gallura area.
A second place we love used to once be the summer house of owner Alessandro Israelachvili’s family. Albero Capovolto is a blissful rural retreat, a cheaper, more laid-back alternative to the glitzy hotels down on the coast. A typical stone house set in green lawns, it has a clutch of simple but comfortable bedrooms with white walls, beamed ceilings and cool tiled floors, plenty of indoor-outdoor living space and a lovely pool.
Overlooking Golfo Aranci’s bay you’ll find Scorfano Allegro, a romantic beachside hang offering traditional dishes like pasta alle vongole and a main fish-based menu. The restaurant offers a creative, free and respectful cuisine.
Our favourite beaches in the area of Golfo Aranci include the secluded and wild-looking Cala Sassari, which will surprise you with the colorful shades that the sea, sand and cliffs take on, illuminated by the sun. The beach is about 500 meters long, with mixed grains of colour that varies between white and golden with some brushstrokes of brown. The bay is surrounded by Mediterranean scrub, which also covers the rocky points that surround it, giving the sea emerald green and turquoise reflections.
If you board a train, along a small railway that from Golfo Aranci runs along the north coast of the promontory of Capo Figari, you land directly in one of the most beautiful and characteristic beaches of the Gallura coast. A wide beach of about 300 meters of fine white sand, surrounded by junipers and Mediterranean vegetation: this is Cala Sabina. Among the peculiarities is also the history of its name, the result of a confusion of botanical derivation: the Phoenician juniper, flourishing around here, was mistaken for the Sabine one. Another characterizing element is, in fact, the railway line, which was built in the sixties specifically to connect the town with the seaside resort, until then reachable only by sea. Cala Sabina’s beach club also offers a great sunset aperitivo with views across the coast and great music.
Inside the protected area of the promontory of Capo Figari, a little more than two kilometres from the town of Golfo Aranci you’ll find Cala Moresca, a small inlet characterized by two beaches of fine golden sand that contrasts with the emerald sea. The tongues of sand are interspersed with rock formations that emerge from the water and face the island of Figarolo, which stands out with its characteristic pyramidal shape. It is an uncontaminated bay of high naturalistic value: to reach it you will have to leave your car in a special parking lot a few hundred meters from the shore.
Capo Figari is an open-air naturalistic museum that embellishes the coast of Golfo Aranci, in Gallura. The promontory of Capo Figari, together with the opposite islet of Figarolo, was declared a site of community importance, as they are both treasure chests of biodiversity. On the promontory are marked several hiking trails, thanks to which you will observe other historical evidence that highlight the importance and use of the site over the years. In front of Cala Moresca stands Figarolo, whose name is due to the presence of lush fig trees. The island is a limestone plateau with a curious pyramidal shape. The surrounding seabed is a paradise for diving enthusiasts as it is full of fish and you’ll also find the small wreck of a merchant ship sunk in the middle of the twentieth century.
Undisputed capital of the Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo is a coastal hamlet of the Gallura town of Arzachena, with a few hundred residents. In summer it becomes an extraordinary and glittering parade of yachts and celebrities: in the Piazzetta, it is easy to find oneself shopping with film and television stars. Every day is a continuous alternation of appointments with the international jet set: parties, social events, sporting events, golf in particular. The village on the sea was built around a natural inlet that resembles a deer. The old port dates back to the sixties of the twentieth century when Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, fascinated by the beauty of the coastline, decided to buy the land of this corner of Gallura and, together with the French designer Jacques Couelle - then joined by some Italian architects - to give life to the paradise of international tourism elite. In the eighties work began on the construction of the new marina, now one of the largest and best equipped in the Mediterranean (700 berths), for several consecutive years awarded the Blue Flag for tourist ports, an award given by the Fee (Foundation for Environmental Education) for water quality, services offered and sustainability.
Where to go if you want to eat something fancy? At PACIFICO Rosemary, of course. The restaurant was launched in 2019 and has revived the oldest and most iconic restaurant on the Costa Smeralda. Rosemary was originally opened in 1969 and has been the symbol of the pioneers and wild times of Porto Cervo for over 40 years. Thanks to its historical barbecue, located in the middle of the garden of mastic trees, myrtles and fig trees, PACIFICO Rosemary has expanded the gastronomic horizons of the group, adding to the traditional Peruvian-Nikkei offer, specialities from the Mediterranean grill and a section dedicated to the “Raw Bar ” of Italian-Japanese raw fish. Overlooking the magnificent bay of Liscia di Vacca, PACIFICO Rosemary also includes “Bar Tortuga”, where you can admire the marvellous Sardinian sunsets and continue the evening until late at night, accompanied by an accurate musical selection and musical performances.
Porto Cervo is full of glitzy restaurants but if you’re looking for something a little more rustic, head inland to Agriturismo La Colti, a family-run farm restaurant serving traditional meat-and-veg dishes from Gallura; much of what goes onto the plate is grown or reared on the property. Long, wooden tables are laid out in a courtyard with an open grill; the four-course tasting menu includes local dishes such as oven-baked zuppa gallurese (more like lasagna than soup) and spit-roast suckling pig. Leave room for deep-fried, ricotta-stuffed seadas and a grappa on the house to finish.
Close to Forte Cappellini, lies the well known summer spot Phi Beach. An incomparable sunset spot, it offers its guests the best seaside aperitivo, accompanied by spectacular sunsets descending on the island of Maddalena.
A 15 minute drive from Phi beach is Ritual Club. Located inside a granite castle which rises on a hill and inside a cave just outside of Baja Sardinia, Ritual will give you a truly unique dancing experience and is known to host international djs.
A few kilometres from Porto Cervo, in the territory of Arzachena, lies the quiet Grande Pevero, whose name derives from the homonymous gulf. It is a curved expanse of white sand and soft, almost impalpable, about three hundred meters long, lapped by changing colours of the sea, whose shades vary, in a colour game, from green to blue and then become, thanks to its extraordinary clarity, transparent in the shoreline. Nearby, you’ll find its sister, Piccolo Pevero, connected to Grande Pevero by a pathway in the forest.
Crystal clear and emerald water like the coast that hosts it, golden sand that becomes pink when it meets the sea and, all around, the Mediterranean scrub to protect it. Liscia Ruja is one of the most famous and largest beaches of the Costa Smeralda, located in the southern part of the gulf, very close to the most famous hotels on the entire coast. Immersed in the forest, Liscia Ruja overlooks a small closed gulf in front of the islands of Soffi, Le Camere and Mortorio. The beach can be reached thanks to a small dirt road, but despite its wild appearance, it is one of the busiest beaches of the entire coast and known by the international jet set.
Last but not least, one of the most beautiful beaches in that area is La Spiaggia del Principe. In the sixties, an Ishmaelite Prince arrived by chance in the natural fjord of Porto Cervo and remained bewitched by the surrounding area. His favourite became known as ‘il Principe’, an arc of white sand surrounded by breathtaking scenery at the bottom of a deep inlet protected by a promontory of pink granite.
Located between Porto Cervo and Cugnana is San Pantaleo. San Pantaleo stands on the granite massif of Cugnana, surrounded by nature that has maintained its wild appearance despite a short distance shines from the sixties of the twentieth century the glamour of the Costa Smeralda. At first glance, you will be charmed by the chromatic contrast between the white of the oleanders in bloom and the granite of the buildings of the central square, where next to the houses are arranged, in apparent contrast, elegant boutiques, modern ateliers, stores of typical products and traditional craft workshops. Its streets are populated by potters, goldsmiths, artisans of wrought iron, inlayers, painters and sculptors, who steal the scene, especially on Thursdays in spring and summer, when the village hosts a famous market, among the most fascinating of the island. Our tip? Go shopping at Yashu and Prem’s boutique to indulge in all of the Indian imported silks and linens and Foresta G to look for the magnificent printed patterns on shirts, trousers and dresses. Last but not least, end your day with a chill aperitivo in piazza at Nico’s, with a nice cold glass of Vermentino.
North of Porto Cervo, near Santa Teresa, you’ll find a surreal place of primordial beauty and frozen in time, a 'lunar' landscape, solitary and wild, pervaded by the scent of helichrysum, juniper and myrtle, with majestic boulders that wind and sea have smoothed and shaped into original and unusual forms, similar to sculptures. Cala Grande, renamed 'Valle della Luna' (Moon Valley), is a valley that slopes down to the sea, set between two granite ridges, where wonderful coves appear with turquoise waters that contrast with the golden colors of the rocks and the green of the Mediterranean scrub. The straight stretch of 500 meters rises in the western part of Capo Testa, made magical at the end of July by the Jazz festival Musiche sulle Bocche. The not easy access makes it not very crowded. Once passed the isthmus of the promontory, you will turn left until you reach a small square. Leaving the car, you will face a narrow and winding path of 700 meters: the effort will be rewarded by the show. The ethereal charm comes from the conformation of the place: in fact, Cala Grande is divided into seven small valleys by rock walls. The first is narrow and long, it runs up to a clearing that overlooks the sea. You will see engraved signs and paintings installed by the hippy community that inhabits the valley.
Halfway between Palau and Santa Teresa Gallura, Porto Pollo joins the mainland to the beautiful island of Gabbiani (or Isuledda) through a thin tongue of sand. The two 'istmo-beaches' - the second is called Arenaria - fan out with dunes covered in lavender, lentisk and juniper and are a natural gym for water sports. The place is constantly beaten by the wind, sometimes strong, so it is a particularly popular destination for sailors and fans of windsurfing and kite surfing. On one side or the other of the bay, there will be, alternately, ideal conditions for surfing or flat sea. For those who have windsurfing in their soul, wind in their hair, unfurled sail and wake on the waves will be the constant of the vacation. While for the less sporty or for those looking for relaxation, one can enjoy a relaxing day at the beach and a poetic sunsets, sheltered from the wind.Those then looking for an aperitivo will love Rupi’s Dive bar, a bar where windsurfers and non will join for a drink at sunset and later on to shimmy on the dancefloor until sunrise.
Not far from Palau is Porto Rafael. Founded in the 1960s by the Spanish Count Rafael Neville de Berlanga del Duero, the tourist hub is characterised by a quaint piazza overlooking Cala Inglese, also known as the 'Porto Rafael pool', and by the white houses bounded by colourful gardens. It is a popular destination for summer holidays, frequented by personalities from the world of entertainment, yet is also suited to families and lovers of relaxation and bustling social life. The centre is equipped with all services, whilst also being home to renowned international sailing events during the summer. Not to be missed is 11th August, when a special event is held in the piazza whereby all participants, dressed in a white tunic, dance in honour of the Count who founded the town.
Just a stone's throw from the village, along the coast of Palau, you will find small beaches of coarse-grained pink sand with small pebbles, all forming authentic natural pools.
One of these is Cala Martinella, a small beach not far from Porto Rafael, in the territory of Palau. Its waters are of a crystalline turquoise colour that contrasts with the bright green of the surrounding vegetation. This small cove is surrounded by magnificent granite rocks that characterize and embellish the panorama. Follow the signs for Porto Rafael and Punta Sardegna, and before reaching the lighthouse you will find this cove frequented by lovers of relaxation and privacy. The beach faces east and is sheltered from the wind. The sand is fine and white, the clear water and the shallow seabed make it particularly suitable for diving and all underwater activities. Snorkelling lovers will be able to explore the beautiful seabed animated by an infinity of fish. From here you can enjoy the view of the La Maddalena Archipelago.
Known as the smallest kingdom in the world, Tavolara is a limestone and granite mountain that juts out of the sea. 560 meters high, four kilometres long, characterized by impervious rocks, by the imposing and vertiginous verticality and by the splendid chromatic tonalities of its surroundings, the green of juniper, rosemary and mastic, in combination with the blue, the blue and the emerald green of the surrounding waters, the island, with its elongated and almost flat shape, is the fulcrum, as well as the characterizing symbol of an unforgettable spectacle: the marine protected area of Tavolara-Punta Coda Cavallo, which extends for 76 kilometres along the coast of Loiri Porto San Paolo, Olbia and San Teodoro and for 15 thousand hectares on crystal clear waters, inlets and coves, from Capo Ceraso to Punta s'Isuledda. It also includes the small red porphyry islands of Molara and Molarotto, the picturesque islet of Proratora, the 'twins' Isola Piana and Isola dei Cavalli and the tiny islands of Porri, Topi, Drago and the islet Rosso, and finally Capo Coda Cavallo, a strip of granite land that extends into a sheltered stretch of sea. They are all ideal places for lovers of boat trips, diving and snorkelling. How to get there? Ferries to Tavolara island leave from Porto San Paolo, about 20km from Olbia.
The beautiful restaurant Da Tonino Re di Tavolara is located on the island of Tavolara, known internationally for its pristine beauty, white beaches and the presence of natural landscapes, without equal. The restaurant offers a romantic view of the sea, where you can spend a wonderful day of good taste and relaxation, in pleasant company, venturing on a journey through the flavors and smells of the typical sea-based cuisine, characterized by fresh fish and grilled specialties. The restaurant is one of the most renowned in the area, not only because it offers delicious dishes and accompanied by excellent Sardinian and national wines.
For those looking to take a boat tour across the archipelago of La Maddalena we suggest booking a trip with Dea Del Mare boat tours, which will guarantee a fantastic experience or renting a car and then taking a ferry from Palau.
La Maddalena is the older sister of about 60 islands and islets that make up the archipelago in the northeast of Sardinia, in front of the coasts of Gallura, the only inhabited within the national park with its historic town, former Italian and American military base. A road runs all along its perimeter: 45 kilometres of breathtaking views. Granite and porphyry delimit jagged stretches, inlets, coves and beaches, while the hinterland is made up of rolling hills. La Maddalena gives its name to the archipelago of which it is the largest island and to the national park of which it is the administrative centre.
Even from a distance, it shows itself in all its beauty with sensational colors. Budelli is one of the most splendid jewels of the archipelago of La Maddalena, famous for its turquoise waters and for la Spiaggia Rosa, one of the most beautiful of the Mediterranean, whose coloration derives from the crumbling of the miniacinia miniacea, a pink microorganism that lives in the posidonia inside shells, carried to shore by the currents. At Cala Roto, where the beach rises, in 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni shot the scene of the story of the little girl in 'Deserto Rosso', immortalizing the nature of the place in all its spontaneity.
Uninhabited due to its granite and rugged nature, it has an almost circular shape with a few inlets and numerous sandy bays. Spargi rises in front of the western coasts of La Maddalena and is the third-largest island of the national park of the archipelago with an area of over four square kilometres. It is 'accompanied' by its 'little sister' Spargiotto, where rare species of birds nest: tufted cormorant, Corsican seagull and stormbird. A little to the west, the Spargiottello rock emerges with its 'shoal' cut in two by a gully of sand, a paradise for divers. The depths are all surprising: great underwater attractions are the shoal of Washington, off Punta Zanotto, colored by red gorgonians and the wreck of Spargi, a Roman ship of the second century BC, found in 1939 in the shoal Corsara. Part of the cargo is on display at the Nino Lamboglia Museum on La Maddalena.
Their environmental protection falls within the prerogatives of the national park of the archipelago of La Maddalena, but in turn the two islets, together with a third called Le Camere, constitute a small archipelago, which is part of the beauty of the Costa Smeralda. The island of Soffi is located in front of the beach of Capriccioli, that of Mortorio, the largest of the group, in front of the coast of Romazzino. Both are of granite origin, the first with an area of 40 hectares, the second of 60, ideal destinations for lovers of diving and snorkelling. They preserve uncontaminated ecosystems, enriched by marine fauna and rare species of birds that nest, especially on the coasts of Mortorio, such as Corsican seagulls and peregrine falcons.
The second-largest island of the archipelago and a completely protected area, Caprera is connected to La Maddalena by a 600 meters bridge, built-in 1958. In addition to its beauty, the island is famous as the last residence of Giuseppe Garibaldi. The White House preserves the memories: here the Hero of Two Worlds lived for 26 years before his death: 18:21 on June 2, 1882, as marked by the clock and calendar of his room. Daily objects, goods and memorabilia can be found here, in the Compendio Garibaldino, one of the most visited museums in Italy. The island is known to be a protected area and fishing is forbidden, especially in beaches like Cala Coticcio, the 'Sardinian Tahiti' that is absolutely worth visiting through a path or by sea, and the marine area between punta Rossa and isola Pecora. Caprera is also known for its Sailing Center, the oldest sailing school in Italy and the largest in the Mediterranean, the only accommodation for visitors.