A few months ago I got back from my trip to the Southest part of Sardegna and I was astonished with the beauty of this peculiar place. In these few days I have seen what a special place it is and I can admit that I fell head over heels in love. Lucky as I was I got up very close with the real Sardinian life, as the family of Claudio lives in the middle of Stampace (one of the four historical neighborhoods of the old centre). He adores his city, even though he left 3 years ago, and so he drags me to every single unique place. From the best cafés/bakeries for breakfast, hidden green parks, stunning beaches, cultural places to historical churches and Roman ruins: it all became a small part of my big love for Cagliari. And yes… it is way too pretty not to share, so I have to win you over.
Photo: Romy Draaijer
For the people among us who have never heard of this fine spot in the world yet: Cagliari is a capital city and is located in the southernmost tip of the island Sardinia. It borders with its gorgeous harbor on the Mediterranean Sea and is built on seven hills (so being a bit fit is kind of necessary: walking around the streets requires a lot of climbing). Various old and new neighborhoods divide the center of the city – other than the above mentioned Stampace there is also Castello, Villanova, and Marina – whereof each one of them has its own charm.
A maze of medieval alleys
Castello is the inner heart of the city, located on one of those seven hills and is surrounded by a Pisan wall. This neighborhood is known to locals as Su Casteddu, a term also used to describe the whole city (which means castle). It is a gorgeous area full of small, little, medieval alleys, towers and domes: lovely to walk through! Various museums are located in Citadella dei Musei at Piazza Arsenale. The museum I have been to is Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which is definitely worth a visit. It contains the richest collection of archaeological discoveries in Sardinia and so it will give you a very good image of how people lived on this island before the Middle Ages arrived. Other exciting things to do is sneaking in to the Santa Maria Cathedral or climbing one of the two towers: Torre dell’Elefante or Torre di San Pancrazio. Both originate from the early 14th century and were designed by the architect Giovanni Capula. The Torre di San Pancrazio served as a prison and gives a somewhat prettier view than the Elephant Tower because it stands higher on the hill.
In my opinion a spot which you cannot skip (especially during the night it is wonderful) is la piazza above Bastione di San Remy. From this recently refurbished square you have an impressive view on the stylish rooftops, the harbor and the mountains on the East of the city. This is the place to enjoy the sunset and dream away with an Italian ice cream or a good glass of wine.
Honestly, I cannot pick a favorite place in Cagliari, but for some reason I felt really at home in Stampace. I loved the look of the streets, the delicious food you can get there and the good memories I have by living here for some days at a very friendly family. It is well known as the area with the best restaurants: at every single corner you will find wonderful pizza, pasta or risotto. But especially the horse meat, Sardinian sweets at the bakeries and Spritz with an aperitif are worth a try! I prefer to taste the local tops of dishes.
A unique piece of green in this neighborhood is Orto Botanico (the botanical garden), one of the prettiest of Italy. It was built in 1866 and now you find many Mediterranean and tropical plants here, as well as trees, medicinal herbs and cacti. Also it is a perfect place to escape from the heat, because you can catch a lot of cool shadow. But what makes this part of the city especially so great are the hidden Roman caves and the ancient spas. I walked Photo: Romy Draaijer around and slipped into these spots as soon as I found them and they made me feel like I stepped back in time.
A bit further uphill you will find the ancient Roman amphitheater, now used as an open air theater. Unfortunately it is closed and not open to visit. But as I heard, rumors are spreading that they will open the dungeons for visitors. Perfect! Another reason for me to go back.
A very popular neighborhood, located in between the harbor and Castello is Marina. Here you will find the largest part of the shopping area, with big stores and magazzini (warehouses). I like to be here in the mornings, start my day with a cafè doppio and watch suited people and children in uniforms going to work and school. Something you cannot miss and have to take a look close by is the harbor. Watch out though, cause around here you will see the busiest traffic (and driving is not their strongest thing), but the cruise ships arriving here daily are very impressive. They are huge!
The new town
Villanova, east of Castello, literally means the new town. It was built later than the other three historical quarters and therefore consist mainly of typical little house, but it is certainly not less beautiful. I was amazed by the gorgeous balconies full of colored flowers. A competition was going on for the prettiest balcony and you could win by having the highest amount of votes. I remember I was mainly looking upwards as I walked around the streets, just to make sure to spot them all (and there were so many!). It showed me how much efforts people put in their pieces of art.
Photo: Alessandro De ‘Medici
Even here you will find some nice little shops, but it is luckily less crowded than Marina. Also some cute churches are spread around and you can find – again – very good food. At Pizzeria ll Fantasma you can get some very tasty pizza.
Verde, verde, verde
I think I already revealed that Cagliari won me over, but I am honestly not a fan of big and densely populated cities. It normally makes me very nervous. But thinking back, I remember I immediately felt really at home, just like I do in Utrecht. And that surely has to do with the fact that you can find so much green all around you. Besides the botanical garden, there are much more places where you can take a rest and be only surrounded by the sound of little birds and the wind. And that Sardinians are very relaxed (also on their way to work or while shopping) has a lot to do with it as well, of course. Some parks you would not expect:
This is the park where I have spent an entire afternoon, very highly ranked on my list as you may guess. It is located on (again) one of the seven hills and is beautifully green! So much nature surrounds you: pine trees, little ponds with lilies, swans, frogs, turtles, peacocks and a lot (a lot!) of cats. Originally the place was inhabited by foxes and other wildlife, that’s why it’s called Urpinu (Sardinian for little fox). If you go all the way to the top you will be rewarded with a wide view over the sea and flamingos (yes, you read that correctly). It is perfect for a big walk, to cuddle with some cats, have a picnic, and is easily accessible with public transport or even by foot.
Parco di Monte Claro, also located on a hill, used to be owned by Villa Ghiani. That’s why there is still a magnificent Villa on top of the hill (which is now a public library). This is an more open space, full of grass, sand and water ponds with goose and ducks. Several parents take their kids here for playing some football or having a picnic. Easy to spot some locals.
Castle on the hill
No, this is not the hill where Ed Sheeran is talking about in his stunning song. This is the hill of San Michele, with a Pisan castle on top of it. This castle is one of the precious historical buildings. And if you look around you on top of this hill you can imagine precisely why they built it there: with bright weather almost half of the island is visible. The castle itself is a museum nowadays.
Close to Stampace there is this beautiful public garden (the oldest of the city), built under the reign of the Savoia. Despite its very small size, it is visited by many tourists and residents. Also a Roman tunnel is found here, which is nowadays the home of an art gallery.
For sunbathing you are also in the right place on earth, cause with a short bus tour you can get to wonderful beaches. Poetto is one of the favorites, a very long sandy beach with an azure blue sea. It is great for taking a fresh dip! You can also have a heavenly good lunch at diverse beach tents (here you will find very good seafood like calamari, sardines, mussels; you name it!. A very nice occurrence are the flamingos that you can spot here all year long.
There is so much more to tell about Cagliari and its surroundings. And also more for me to discover, so I am definitely not done with this topic yet. But I can conclude that as much as I love to visit smaller cities and nature, there is something just so peaceful about being in Cagliari. It does give me everything I ask for on a little trip. Oh, and something very important: the climate is great to deal with. Summer can be extremely warm and winter feels like Dutch spring, but there is (almost) always a nice cold breeze from the sea. And do not be surprised by a crazy wind, cause the famous Mistral (maestrale) – a windy storm that lasts for 3 days – passes by every now and then.