Sardinia is Italy – but different. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (only beaten in size by its sister island Sicily), Sardinia offers pristine beaches, buzzing Mediterranean cities and rural regions, plus mouthwatering traditional cuisine. No matter if you crave a dip into the sea, exploring a stunningly rich culture, or heavenly thin pizza and baked goat cheese, Sardinia has it all.
For a brief 9 days, we toured the island in spring trying to explore as many corners as possible, while making sure to take advantage of the many relaxations Sardinia has to offer.
Though it might not be the most typical destination for a road trip (yet!), the Italian enclave really caters to the curious traveler. Plus, you finally get to brush-up on your Italian language skills. Is there a better excuse for plunging into la dolce vita? I doubt it.
9 Day Sardinia Itinerary
day 1-2 | Olbia and the North
When we started our final descent into Olbia after a brief 2-hour direct flight from Berlin, we were shocked about the massive land mass we saw below us – and a little bit worried that our itinerary might have been just a little bit too ambitious. From a few hundred meters in the air, the island looked huge.
Once we set foot on the ground on a warm pre-summer evening, the setting sun and the warm air pushed our worries aside. Picking up our rental car was a breeze and about 20 minutes later we found ourselves in a comfortable room at the Doubletree Olbia, which provided a great location for the start of our road trip.
After a good first pizza and a good night’s sleep, we set course for the first big sight on our agenda: La Maddalena archipelago. A quick drive from our hotel, we headed straight to Palau, a small town from which ferries depart to La Maddalena every 20-30 minutes. Boarding the ferry with our rental car was no problem and about 20 minutes later we toured deserted streets in a beautiful nature reserve.
Blue skies and the sun spoiled – so we felt motivated to pick up some fresh bread and pesto, cheese, and fruits from a market. Equipped with the local produce, we settled down on a secluded beach for a picknick-lunch. If you have a few hours to spare in the North, a trip to La Maddalena really is a must. The area can be covered in a few hours and the ferry from Palau is a quick and easy endeavor.
In the afternoon, it was time to head back to the main (is)land. From Palau, we drove westward along Sardinia’s Northern coastline and arrived just in time for sunset in the city of Castelsardo. Roughly translating to – you guessed it – Sardinian castle, the focal point of the city is a castello on top of a hill with a variety of colorful houses nestled around it. Besides taking in the views, we enjoyed walking around the lively alleys that spread through the hilly city.
From there, it was just a quick drive to our hotel for the night, sitting on the main coastal road. The renovated and spacious room with sea view at Rosa Dei Venti Hotel was everything we needed after this first packed day. In the morning, a good breakfast (try the homemade cake!) and a strong caffè kicked us back into the mood for further exploration of the island.
day 3 | The Nicest Beach in Sardinia (?)
Our expectations were high for what the guide books agreed on was likely the nicest beach of Sardinia: La Pelosa. Situated at the northwestern tip of the island, we found an (unarguably) perfect stretch of white beach. Yet, even on a windy day in April it seemed a bit crowded and heavily frequented by kite-surfers. Luckily, with a quick glance at a map we located additional bays a bit further south.
Fast-forward about an hour later, we found ourselves in a pristine bay sheltered from the wind by a rocky coast line. On our way down to the hidden beach cove of Spiaggia Rena Majore, we picked up a couple tasty paninis from a truly local bakery (including first attempts at ordering in Italian). Siting there with a fresh ham & cheese panini in my hand in a bay that we had to ourselves, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect afternoon on a Mediterranean island.
Before heading to the hotel for the night, there was on more thing on our list. And everything that stood between us and Grotta di Nettuno were about 650 steps (oneway!) down the Escala del Cabriol. The views as we made our way down along the stairway, that was in some parts literally carved into stone, were absolutely worth it.
Embarking on a self-guided tour of the cave will cost you about 13 € per adult but we were already so impressed by the entrance area (boasting huge stalactites) that we decided to head back up. For the more comfortable traveler, there’s also a boat that picks-up and drops-off people right at the Grotta’s doorstep.
For the night, we called El Faro Hotel our home. Beyond the clean and tastefully decorated rooms, the location is the real treat here. Sitting right by the sea with no further buildings in sight, El Faro made for a great stop along the way. Huge glass windows in the restaurant provide for an exclusive feel and unobstructed sunset views.
Overlooking the sea, a tasty mix of frutti di mare along with a glass of vino bianco made for a perfect night. We further squeezed in a short walk to an old light house nearby before recharging for more Sardinian adventures to come.
day 4-6 | Alghero, Bosa, and the West
For Sardinian standards, Alghero provides for a hint of big city vibe. We spent half a day marveling at the remainders of the enormous city wall and by walking through Alghero’s busy shopping streets. As the name suggests, the city breathes Spanish flair, which dates back to an occupation by settlers from Barcelona in the 14th century. If you are well-versed in Catalan, you might find your way around even better.
From Alghero, we made our way to a city with yet another Spanish ring: Bosa. Hands down, this might be my favorite city in Sardinia. The colorful houses, the hilly alleys, the canal, and the obvious absence of tourists provided for a very special atmosphere. A plate of freshly sliced ham and cheese was an added bonus.
Just when we thought this day couldn’t get any better, we reached our next accommodation. I always try to have a mix of hotels with different styles during one trip. Sardinia was no different. Having woken up in a rather exclusive hotel by the sea that same day, we now found ourselves in a traditional old Sardinian house. While it had been arranged for guests with great attention to detail, the owners have made sure to preserve its original charme.
Located a few kilometers away from the coast in a small village called Narbolia, we felt immediately welcome at S’Ommu Ezza Guest House. After picking fresh oranges in the backyard, we took advantage of the well-equipped kitchen and made ravioli with fresh tomato sauce ourselves. In the morning, our host surprised us by bringing over a selection of fresh Italian pastries.
If you are into surfing, Oristano is also one of the better known regions of Sardinia where the local surfer scene unites to hunt waves along the island’s Western shores. If you’re new to the sport and would like to give it a try (because who doesn’t want to try something new while abroad), head over to Capo Mannu.
A perfectly white sandy bay, the beach-break caters to all levels, including the bloody beginner. Plus, there’s a few surf shops with flexible board rental options around. Just make sure to monitor the most up-to-date surf forecast in order to get your plan for the day sorted out.
day 7-9 | Welcome to the South
No trip to Sardinia is complete without a trip to the South. Here, the Costa Rei awaits with an abundance of beautiful beaches and similarly stunning coastline. The name isn’t far-fetched. The royal coast didn’t disappoint.
Based in a beautiful villa in Villasimius surrounded with orange trees scattered around in an expansive garden, each morning we set out to discover more of Sardinia’s southern coastline. A trip up into the mountains (along with a hike if you’re up to it) provides for a change in scenery. S’Arenada Hotel is conveniently located in the southeastern tip of the island and Alessandra – an amazing host – will help you fine-tune your agenda for the day.
Similarly to Castelsardo, Cagliari – the island’s capital – has a hilly vibe. The city of 150.000 inhabitants provided for a perfect day trip from our hotel in Villasimius. A walk along the harbor is a good option to get a feel for the city. If you make it up the steep streets to the old town on the top, you’ll rewarded with stunning views from the many viewpoints. On your way down, make sure to stop at the city’s impressive amphitheater, dating back to the 2nd century AD (we’re in Italy after all!).
There is one place in particular that made our time in the South so very much enjoyable – Ristorante Santa Maria, steps away from our hotel. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have never eaten better or more authentic Italian food. The cugliones (a kind of ravioli sautéd with sage butter) were from a different planet and just thinking about that baked goat cheese still gives me goosebumps. Booking ahead as well as trying the homemade tiramisu is strongly recommended! The locals love this place as much as the few fellow tourists that we spotted around us do.
Our very last day was spent in Tortolì, a small town in the East. Most guidebooks tend to agree that the East isn’t as appealing as the rest of the island and we would (hesitantly) agree. Nevertheless, there is a pretty coastline and after all the travel, the plan was to relax for a few hours before heading back home.
Charme Hotel La Bitta boasts comfortable rooms, great views over the sea, and an appealing pool area. Thus, there really isn’t a reason to leave the hotel premises if you are simply looking for a relaxed time under the Mediterranean sun. Similarly to El Faro Hotel, La Bitta sets itself apart by a more exclusive feel. To take advantage of the beautiful location, the extra charge for a room with sea view is a good investment. If you really want to spoil yourself, they also offer an interesting half-board arrangement with a 5-course meal in the evening.
Though we tried to push the thought of leaving the island aside, it was ultimately time to pack our bags (again). On our last day, we made it slowly up the coast towards the airport in Olbia. A few hours later (after one final rest at yet another secluded beautiful beach), we touched down fully satisfied in the German capital – already missing la bella vita italiana that we had left behind.
Expenses for a 9 Day Road Trip in Sardinia
Let’s talk money. Overall, traveling to Sardinia in shoulder or low season can unsurprisingly save you a lot of money. The prices listed below will likely be different during summer.
Getting There: Roughly 3 months before the trip, we were able to book flight tickets for 190 € per ticket with easyJet, which we considered a fair bargain for direct flights with luggage during Easter vacation.
Getting Around: For rental car bookings, I’d always recommend booking ahead online prior to your arrival. For 9 days, we paid 250 € for what seemed like a brand-new car, including any insurance that we could think of.
Accommodation: In total, we booked 6 different hotels, which definitely sounds like a lot when I now think about it – but we really enjoyed staying in very different regions of the island.
The Grand Total: Hence, our whole trip added up to 680 € in fixed costs for our 9-day road trip across the island.
Sardinia in a Nutshell
The mix of different influences as well as the sheer variety of naturally diverse regions makes the island a very special destination. Enjoying delicious food, exploring cities with a thick culture, and stopping at deserted blue lagoons whenever we felt like it made for a perfect road trip. One thing we didn’t get to try (and which provides for a good excuse to return) was dining in one of the island’s many agriturismo – a typical Sardinian dinner experience on a farm with local produce. Booking a few days ahead is essential!
Though I personally haven’t experienced Sardinia in summer (yet), I would opt for this island getaway in spring again in a second. The island simply wasn’t inhabited by a whole lot of tourists – which made for a very pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. We heard contrasting stories from travelers who explored the island during summer. Keep in mind that for mainland Italians Sardinia is an equally appealing destination. After all, Sardinia does live up to its frequent description as Europe’s „Caribbean island“.