Rudston Steward is the adventurist founder of Maremma Safari Club, guided walking trips to unexplored corners of Italy for curious travellers.
A legendary landscape
Sardinia is a land of secrets: things are kept hidden here, below the surface, behind warm smiles and cool stares. Its history is enigmatic—the quasi-mythological Nuraghic civilization scattered an impressive series of stone towers about the island in the second millennium BCE, leaving behind far more questions than answers. Its language is a riddle, an archaic blend of Latin, Catalan and Punic, as if designed to confound foreigners and foil eavesdroppers. Its landscape is deceptive, the beaches of the glamorous northern coast concealing a mountainous and rugged interior. Its people can be prickly and stern, but also exuberantly jovial and fiercely loyal once you’ve gained their trust. Its rural society is still to some extent governed by obscure codes of honour and unspoken traditions.
Many still think of a trip to Sardinia as essentially a beach holiday, often limited to the north-eastern Costa Smeralda. Given that Sardinia boasts some of the most spectacular beaches on the planet the association is understandable. But to consider only its famed white-sand beaches is to do the island an injustice, for Sardinia is a large, complex, varied and beautiful region. It demands to be explored slowly, and in depth—preferably on foot.
A Sardo safari
Our Supramonte Safari trip starts in the mountains of the Barbagia region, near the town of Oliena, and walks over five days to the coast at Cala Luna beach in the stunning Gulf of Orosei National Park. We are confronted with a string of Sardinian peculiarities along the way: weird polyphonic songs, wooden “su pinnetta” shepherds’ huts, wacky recipes for boiled sheep and myrtle decoctions, tales of wily bandits and wild cheesemakers washed down with glasses of wonderfully robust wine.
On the first day’s walk, from Su Gologone to the Flumineddu River, we climb a limestone escarpment through dense maquis of holm oak, strawberry tree and lentisk, to the archaeological site of Tiscali: a deep cave-like depression invisible from below, home to a 15th century BCE Bronze Age settlement, and inhabited until as recently as the Middle Ages. Later, in the Lanaitto valley, we go deep underground, into the bowels of the Sardinian earth: a series of caverns culminating in a chamber of soaring stalagmites and dripping stalactites. If the timing is just right a ray of sunlight shines through the hole at the top, illuminating the floor far below, casting its glow like an otherworldly spotlight.
The following day we explore one of Sardinia’s greatest natural treasures: the Gola su Gorropu Gorge—a Sardinian Grand Canyon. Its sheer 400-meter vertical face makes Gorropu one of the deepest canyons in Europe. At its narrowest the two faces are just meters apart, rising like twin geological towers forged in the Palaeozoic Era, with huge white boulders strewn at their base.
And lastly, the next day, we boulder-hop down the Codula Luna riverbed through a vale of oleanders all the way to the breath-taking Cala Luna beach in the Gulf of Orosei National Park. When you finally dive into its limpid cerulean waters, having walked all the way from the rugged Supramonte mountains over five days, it feels as if you’ve been initiated into a Sardinian secret society of sorts. Like you’ve learned something enigmatic by travelling on foot here; this land of secrets has admitted you to its inner sanctum—revealing its seductive Sardinian self.