A holiday to the world renown beaches off the northeast coast of Sardinia would be heaven enough for most people, but for those who crave diversity they may be surprised to learn how much else this region has to offer. All an intrepid traveller needs is a car and a map and a whole other world full of archaelogical wonders and indigenous treats opens up.
Although it is possible to fly into Alghero Airport, Olbia Airport would be the normal point of entry just a 2 hour drive away on the opposite side of the island. There are a wealth of Olbia Airport car hire companies to choose from and these are AM Service, Avis, Easycar, Ellepi, Europcar, Eurorent, Hertz, Italy by Car, Maggiore, Matta, Midarent, Pinna, Ruvioli, Sardinya, Sixt and Smeralda Express.
Originally founded by the Greeks, Olbia is the major port in Sardinia and ferries from Civitavecchia (Rome) and Naples arrive here. Although it is not the most beatific of cities, there are many signs of its ancient past to be appreciated. Dating back to the nuragic age, there are evidence of this and its many subsequent occupations to be found in the form of a Punic necropolis and Roman baths. There are other little architectural treasures to be found as well such as the granite 12th century Church of San Simplicio and the Church of San Paolo built in the 1600s.
Just a 2 hour drive south and you come to Nuoro, where you can truly indulge in a flavour of the real Sardinia. Situated on Monte Ortobene, this traditional village in the mountainous heart of the country is one of the few places untouched by foreign invasion and, as such, has managed to keep many of its ancient customs. These are exhibited in the Museum of Life and Popular Tradition, which displays objects such as jewels, textiles and weapons as well as exploring the village’s festivals, folklore and music. Nearby is the National Archaeological Museum which features a small but interesting display of items from the Neolithic period and the Dark Ages.
Surrounding Nuoro are mountain ranges with established trails which offer walkers or riders the opportunity to take in the magnificent, untamed landscapes and varied wildlife, including buzzards, eagles and wild boars. Alternatively visitors can make their way through the passageways and grottoes beneath the mountains in nearby Oliena or check out the extensive and elaborate murals painted over the houses in neighbouring Orgoloso.
There is no denying, however that the biggest draw to this region is the Smeralda Coast. Virtually untouched until the 1960s when the Aga Kahn discovered its beauty and descended on the region with his uber-wealthy, glamorous entourage. Since then it has become a magnet for the rich and famous and yachts the size of oil tankers can regularly be seen doing the rounds here. One of the most adored destinations is Porto Cervo which is a drive north from Olbia up the SS125 and then the SP59, a journey of around 40 minutes.
This is where the beautiful people come to play, with high-end, designer boutiques and spiffy restaurants to cater to their every whim. Just across from here is the archipelago of La Maddalena which is stunningly beautiful with a host of unique wildlife and accessible by boat. One among these groups of islands is Caprera where you can visit a museum dedicated to the Italian hero Garibaldi for a charge of around EUR5. It shows a recreation of how the military figure use to live, with original items of furniture, books, weapons, private letters and other personal effects.
However, there are plenty of other tantalising beaches along this 55 km stretch of coast to choose from which are less expensive and easily reached by car. The waters range in colour from the pale blue sea of Il Pevero and La Celvia beaches to the rich turquoise of Calo Grano and Liscia di Vacca, which lap against dreamy, pinky white sands and offer idyllic locations to release any pent up tension.