Sardinia: Serene in Autumn
Sardinia: Serene in Autumn
By Lucia Byttebier
Driving down limestone hills: the sea to my right, ample woodlands to my left. It’s not particularly warm, but I roll down the windows to let the salty scent of sea and the sun rays in.
I tilt my head allowing my hair to lightly lash my cheeks in the wind, and continue to drive aimlessly.
Sardinia in autumn would not have attracted me, had it not been for the ridiculously cheap flights.
Not knowing what to expect weatherwise, I refrained from checking the Weather Channel and decided instead to pray to whatever gods were listening that it wasn’t as rainy and cold as the rest of Europe.
As the plane approached the island, I was pleasantly surprised to look down and see that no, it was not covered in grey clouds and that yes, the sun was beating down on a magnificent coastline lined in threads of turquoise and green.
But the gods were definitely cheering for me when I disembarked the plane and felt the warm breezy air hit my face, instantly telling me I was clearly overdressed. Suddenly, it was a glorious day.
Caves for Neptune to Sleep in
Amazingly, although it was low season, there were a myriad of activities and attractions on this part of the island, more than I had imagined for a short one-day trip.
This was how I ended up in the limestone cliffs of Capo Caccia, a small mountainous peninsula just a few miles from Alghero.
From up there I could see the irregular coastline wedging out and retracting, forming shallow coves and quiet beaches.
This area of the island is renowned for its perfect scuba diving or snorkeling spots; its crystal waters and unique labyrinth of underwater caves make it so. But probably the most impressive network of sea caves is the infamous Neptune’s Grotto.
Ten Euros and a 654-step hike down the Escala del Cabirol, or Goat’s Staircase, grants you access to these incredible sea caves.
Discovered in the 1700’s by two fishermen, the caves’ wondrous natural beauty inspired the local people to believe that Neptune himself, lord of seas and oceans, dwelled here.
I certainly believed it myself when I entered the Grand Chamber: enormous columns of rock protruded from the roof of the cave, merging into the walls, contorting into splendid organic formations, and finally plunging into a placid lake of salt water below.
Entire cathedrals of limestone awed the tour group as our guide explained how rainwater seeps into the ground, dragging with it minerals from the earth such as calcium carbonate.
The calcium–laden droplets then drip from the ceiling of the cave downwards onto its floor, and once the water evaporates, the calcium is left behind forming deposits of limestone icicles and columns called stalactites and stalagmites.
"One centimeter of limestone takes about one hundred years to form," the guide added as she looked up towards the colossal buttresses and terraces, clearly making her point.
Serene seascapes of Sardinia
After an exhausting but visually stunning climb back up the Goat’s Staircase, I decided I wanted to explore the natural beauty of this part of Sardinia, something which was quite impossible to ignore.
I drove down the white hills of Capo Caccia, relying solely on my instinct for direction. On a sharp curve I encountered a deer with a crown of tiered antlers on his head, walking awkwardly on the road.
Behind him, a woman with a wildlife protection uniform motioned for me to slow down. I stopped next to the animal, and using my embarrassing Italian I found out from the sentinel that the deer was old and disoriented, frequently venturing out on the roads.
He looked up at me for a moment through eerie milky eyes then scampered off into the dense backwoods, disappearing from sight and into safety.
I continued driving, ecstatic at my first-ever encounter with a deer, until I reached the outskirts of the much-talked-about city of Alghero. A beachside promenade of tall conifers instantly enticed me to stop once again.
Silvery Dream Light
Thin pine trees scented the air and littered the soil with green needles and cones which crunched under my feet. No one was around except for a jogger and his dog, and in the loneliness of this seaside forest, I walked and walked.
I climbed a sand dune through vines and prickly bushes with yellow flowers. On the other side was an open beach, as solitary and quiet as the rest of the island.
The sun was being filtered by a thin haze, creating a silvery dreamy light. The pine trees here twisted and coiled upwards and the sand was as soft and white as baking flour.
I imagined this during summer, the now quiet dunes teeming with loud beach goers. How would anyone get to enjoy this serene seascape then?
A Piece of Catalonia in Italy
It was nearly 3 pm and I still hadn’t had lunch. The fortified port of Alghero was bathed by a downward sun as people started emerging from their homes to sit in small cafes for coffee or a panino.
I found a traditional looking trattoria [café] in the old town facing the rusty cannons from times of the Doria rule.
I was greeted by the waiter in both Catalan and Italian, a clear sign of the Catalan influence dating back to the 14th century but still ever-present today.
It’s the only part of the island with this unique heritage, where 22% of the population still speaks Catalan as a first language.
Sitting under a large straw umbrella I enjoyed a glass of rosso house wine and a superb dish of seafood spaghetti with clams, oysters, shrimp, and fresh pomodoro sauce for under 15€.
By the time I finished lunch, the sky had begun blushing under the sun. A gust of chilly wind reminded me that it was still actually autumn, although I had enjoyed the entire day in a light t-shirt after having stripped off all my excess London clothing.
I walked along the old fortress walls of the city where couples and young families were congregating for some sun-watching.
Palm trees decorated the walkway where once watchtowers and garrisons were posted, and tiny traditional houses with brightly colored windows and tiles looked out to sea.
A few fishermen took advantage of the last rays of light to catch dinner, and I decided to sit on the edge of the wall, my feet dangling down above the crashing waves, to watch them.
Labyrinths of lanes and car-less streets made up the old town of Alghero, where shops selling Precious Red Coral compete with each other for the best designs and prices. Local legend has it that Medusa’s blood turned the seaweed into the red coral that is now so popular for jewelry and other delicate decorations.
The smell of warm chocolate and almonds seduced the crisp night air, a scent I had no problem in following. As I ate my crepe in a small café next to St. Mary’s Cathedral, I succumbed to the charm of this island and its autumnal tranquility.
The serendipity of the trip had shown me Sardinia exactly for what it was; no distractions in between.
I probably wouldn’t want to return in summer and see my perfect sundowns and beachside forests spoiled by the summer masses.
It will have to stay in my memory as tranquil and lonesome as this.
Lucia Byttebier is an Argentine living in London with her boyfriend Ed, who accompanies her on her quest for inspiring new destinations around Europe. When she's not traveling, she's writing about their journeys in their blog The Lady and the Drifter: Serenades from Nowhere.
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