SANTA MARIA DI NAVARESSE, SARDINIA, ITALY — Back. Back again. And the water was just as clear, the wine just as sharp and the smell of the mountains like freshly ground pepper. It was Sardo all over again.
When brother Nathan and fiancee Kelly floated the idea of coming over to Europe this summer, they asked where we could go for some good food, beaches and relaxation. There was only one answer in our mind.
Armed with all our experiences from a fast-paced week exploring the entire island a couple years ago, we put a much more manageable plan together for our four-day venture. We touched down in Cagliari and headed immediately southeast, cutting through the scrub and dust of the Sarrabus and out into the bright sunshine of the Costa Rei. We couldn’t wait any longer. We navigated down to one of our favorite beaches, cold beers in hand and splashed directly into the sparkling water.
The goal was to reach the tiny port village of Santa Maria di Navaresse on the edge of the Golfo di Orosei where we rented a little villa on the edge of the mountain overlooking the sea.
From this little perch, we set about exploring one of the most beautiful corners of this amazing island.
Jerzu is also famous for its vineyards of Cannonau — and at Antichi Poderi di Jerzu, the town’s main cantina, you can fill up on the red potion directly from a converted gas pump for the grand price of 2 euros a liter.
After that, it was time to introduce Nate and Kelly to the mostSardinian of all traditions: the agriturismo.
We found a little joint owned by the non-official mayor of Santa Maria (he also owned the boat rental and several other small businesses in the sleepy town) in the outskirts of town. We sat down to a feast of house-made cheeses, pasta, salads and suckling pig as the sun flared out behind the mountains.
The next day, we set off again to explore the mountains and sea. First stop was Gola Su Gorropu. Known as Europe’s Grand Canyon, this deep gorge snakes its way through the interior of the great mountain range that runs perpendicular to the Golfo.
Properly dusty and sweaty, we headed over the range and down into the capital of the Golfo, Cala Gonone.
This lively tourist town is the port of call for more boaters exploring the coast. We stopped in for a dip and a bite to eat — but avoided the hawkers selling day trips. We had our own plans for conquering the coast.
The next day we were up early with the sun and packed up for a day on the water. We rented a 12-foot Zodiac from the quasi-mayor in the port and took off just as the heat began to rise.
The Golfo stretches for some 40 kilometers in a wide arc known locally as the “blue crescent”. Every kilometer or so you find dazzling beaches tucked between 100-meter cliffs — beaches so remote, you can only access them via boat or a half-day hike over the mountains from the main road.
So we set about on the serious business of racing from one beach to the next, dropping anchor, diving in and exploring the caves and corals of the coast. We bobbed our way along the Golfo until the early afternoon sun started edging behind those tall cliffs — by 4pm the sun is safely on the other side of the range. Then we raced back over a fairly heavy chop, making it back to Santa Maria just in time for cool white wine and dinner in the shade.
The next morning it is was already get-away day, so we packed up and made our way back to Cagliari for the evening, exploring the Castello neighborhood high above the sea before sampling the famous ricci pizza from our favorite local pizzeria, Il Fantasma.
It was a quick retreat, but an amazing one. Like an evening at the Agriturismo, Sardinia cannot be enjoyed with a quick bite, but savored over many festive courses.
For Nate and Kelly, it was just a first taste of this beautiful land and we wished we could have shown them more. For us, it was a nostalgic experience, like getting the flavor of some never-forgotten dish. We savored it as much as we could, but to be honest, we’ll never get our fill. So as the plane took off from Cagliari, we looked down on the mountains and turquoise sea with the distinct feeling that there would be another course coming somewhere down the line. No diets here.