We started our vacation by spending a week in Sardinia before heading to France. As an American traveling in Europe, Sardinia is an extremely unlikely destination – people generally want to see the major cities of continental Europe – but I was hell-bent on getting in some beach time so Sardinia it was!
Planning our time in Sardinia was much more difficult than any other region we visited during the three weeks. Halfway through the planning process, we finally invested in the Lonely Planet guidebook for the island and that really helped us through. I highly recommend getting a guidebook if you’re headed to Sardinia, or at least checking out our 7-day itinerary I wrote up here on the blog.
Everything was smeralda
A huge highlight for me was experiencing the Sardinian beaches. If anyone writes an article about “the best beach in Sardinia” they’re just lying; all of the beaches are amazing. You really can’t go wrong.
And they don’t call the water “smeralda” for nothing. In the shallower depths (probably up to 30 feet), the Mediterranean was a perfect sparkling clear emerald.
I especially loved the day we rented and drove our private little dinghy boat down the Gulfo di Orosei. The idea is that you can stop by the beaches along the gulf at your own pace, bring a picnic, and drive the boat back to Cala Gonone by 5:30pm. While our day didn’t go exactly as planned (see below), I was still completely wowed by the beaches we did see.
We stopped at one with limestone caves that opened toward the sea. We ventured into one of the caves to explore briefly and saw little bats fluttering about, squeaking from their hidden crevice nests. And behind us? The cave opened to a beach and that sparkling turquoise water.
The trees that saw the world turn
Another major, and unexpected, highlight for me was the day we saw the thousands-year-old olive trees.
Olivastri Millenari features a grove of olive trees, the oldest of which is estimated to be over 3,000 years old!
Gatien had read about this on some tiny corner page of the guidebook and, knowing my obsession with olives, made it one of our missions for the day. By the time we were on the road headed for the trees, it was later in the day and had cooled off outside. We drove with the windows down and things just felt right.
We were two of four or five people at the grove at any given time – especially since the site was actually closed at that hour and anyone who wanted in would have to jump the gate like we did. It was just so peaceful on that hillside, with the thousand-year-old bearers of my absolute *favorite* fruit.
The trees had little baby olives growing on them and spread their roots wide in twisting knots from their bases. They really felt like they had seen the world turn from their little perch on the hillside. They were spiritual, bigger than us, any of us. (Lol watch the trees be like 20 years old.)
So as it turns out Sards are some of the nicest people in the world. From our Airbnb hosts who welcomed us late at night with drinks and chit chat (despite the language barrier); to the guy in the souvenir shop in Olbia who taught us about Sardinian products and gave us samples and a free package of Sardinian wafer bread; to our hotel’s owners in Cala Gonone who did everything they could to make our stay a dream.
A nausea trifecta
So remember that amazing day we spent driving the boat from beach to beach on the Gulfo di Orosei? Well it did not begin well.
I woke up nauseous from my birth control pills, which sometimes happens on the first pill of the pack unfortunately. I thought I was in the clear after throwing up the second time in our hotel room, which was why I even attempted the whole boat trip at all. But after about 20 minutes on the water my nausea was back in full force. Now not only was I sick from the birth control but I was motion sick too.
I was prepared with motion sickness meds but had been waiting to get some food in my stomach post-vomiting to take them. Too late.
Then hypoglycemia hit, also making me nauseous. It was a nausea trifecta now. My hands were tingling.
I demanded that we stop for land, but we had been instructed not to drive the boat all the way to the shore, so we had to anchor far out and swim there.
This is when I started crying and losing my shit. I sat at the back of the boat with my feet in the water clutching a life vest and willing myself to get in and swim to land. I literally had no choice if I wanted to escape my prison the bobbing and lolling dinghy boat had become.
I made it to shore and collapsed directly into the sand. Then I managed to crawl into a shaded spot and wait for Gatien to follow with provisions.
Things started looking up once I was able to eat an apple which Gatien brought from the boat and get my blood sugar levels back up. Next was bread and olives and lots of water, and I was on my way to recovery. Gatien didn’t escape the incident unscathed: the stress put him in a terrible headspace (understandably. I was in such bad shape we were ready to ask the other beachgoers for help/a doctor) and he had his own hypoglycemia problem (neither of us had eaten breakfast) so really it was just a terrifically awful time at the beginning.
Gatien and I woke up one morning completely covered in tiny pink, painless bumps. They wrapped around our torsos and extended onto the insides of our arms. We suspected they might be heat rash, but we hadn’t been in the sun the day before and it seemed like too much of a coincidence to both get them at the same time. My personal theory is that the bumps were some sort of allergic reaction to the detergent our Airbnb host used, but not sure about that either. They stuck around for nearly TWO WEEKS. Mystery of mysteries.
Stalling a hundred times
While driving to McDonald’s in Nuoro, (it wouldn’t be a road trip without a McDonald’s stop), we stalled out in the middle of a busy, unmarked intersection. I covered my face with my hands and slipped down below window-view while other cars honked us and Gatien, our driver, calmly got us moving again. G always kept it together, especially given my apparent anxiety and comments on his driving stick now and then.
Not that G didn’t know how to drive manual – he did – but it’s freaking hard on narrow, steep roads and switchbacks. I estimate we stalled about 100 times over the course of the week. Of course Gatien disputes this number. He would estimate it was more like 5 times. Somewhere between 5 and 100 then.
YOU’RE HAVING PIZZA
Starting out, I’ll say this: I probably eat pizza like once a year. It’s on my list of things I can tolerate but am not crazy about (along with pets and cold weather). So I wasn’t the most thrilled when all we could find to eat was PIZZA. You would think this must be Sardinia’s favorite food given how ubiquitous pizzerias were.
Gatien and I even went so far as to hunt down grocery store sushi (not an easy task it turns out!) just to get a taste of something different. Sardinia, I must recommend you diversify your budget restaurant offerings. That being said, the pizza with mozzarella di bufala cheese on top was really delicious– just not for every meal please!!
Because I don’t like ending on “the bad” note, I would like to conclude with this happy photo from one of our roadside picnic lunches. On the menu? Apricots and nectarines, and pecorino cheese on crusty bread.
Thank you, Sardinia, for the incredible holiday!!