Sardinia :: An Ancient and Modern Isle

by Richard Frisbie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 3, 2008

EDGE's intrepid explorer, Richard Frisbie, found that the starkly beautiful countryside of Sardinia has modern houses and more than 7000 Bronze Age ruins. The lean, sinewy people are stoic in their everyday lives, their chiseled features broken by a ready smile. The Summer season offers intoxicating temperatures for the gamut of outdoor activities available. The native foods and wines are exquisite! Existing without contradiction in the past and the present, Sardinia's many charms will seduce you.

SARDINIA, An Ancient Modern Isle

You Say Sardinia, I Say Sardegna

Sunrise across the Costa Smeralda bathes the white houses in its gorgeous red glow. Seen against the sea and sky, the beach-wreathed coastline doesn't look real. It is as if someone "photo-shopped" the turquoise and aquamarine of the water, the cerise and tangerine of the homes and the verdant charcoal of the vegetation among the rocks to create an achingly beautiful landscape. That natural beauty is the wonder of Sardegna, as locals call the island of Sardinia. It is a beauty seen in every face, in every region and on every shore throughout the island; a beauty there through the centuries of conquest and assimilation that is Sardinia's history.

In The Beginning

Sardinia is a prized gem of an island strategically significant in the highway of trade that is the Mediterranean. Before the Carthaginians, before the Phoenicians, or even before the Romans, the Spanish and the French fought for dominion over Sardinia, the native people of the Bronze Age Nuragic Civilization lived a complex existence in the arid coastal plains and rugged mountains of Sardinia. They left no written account of their lives, but the remains of more than 7000 stone towers, called Nuraghe, and the thousands of bronze figurines depicting the occupations, costume, and interests of these hardy people attest to the sophistication of their lives.

Ancient Fountain

Theirs was a life tied primarily to the land. Deep in the interior mountains, below the amazing cliff-dwelling ruins of the Nuragic village of Tiscali, archeologists recently uncovered a series of nine purification stations leading to a sacred fountain. Our guide from Barbagia Insolita, an accommodating company that packages hikes, treks, and off-road adventures on the shores and interior of Sardinia, led our party up a mountain trail to explore this fascinating excavation. He explained the workings of the fountain, and told us that many of the bronze figurines were found here, presumably left as tribute, then preserved when an avalanche buried them centuries ago. The enigma of the fountain's existence and the rugged scenery surrounding it make this site an exciting adventure tourism destination. Be sure to visit the cliff dwellings and the nearby caves to learn about the archaeology and geology of this ruggedly beautiful UNESCO site. Then visit the National Museum, in Sassari, to learn more about the Nuragic Civilization and see the bronzes themselves.

Sardinian Cowboys

Horses were necessary to the survival of Sardinia's agricultural way of life. In modern times the love of horses is imbued in the hearts of Sardinians even as the need for them has lessened. Horseback riding is a popular sport, with rentals and events scheduled through the many stables. A tradition similar to that of our "Old West" exists, especially among the young. Western wear, predominantly cowboy hats, is a prevalent and popular style. Handsome young men in Stetsons and fancy cowboy boots are as likely to be seen on horseback as at the many festivals.

Religious Festivals

The Sartiglia is the most famous festival in Sardinia. There, ancient displays of horsemanship include an equestrian parade with acrobatic riders standing on horseback, children on ponies, and riders competing in contests unchanged from Medieval times. It is an event filled with pageantry, tradition and danger as the costumed riders race their horses through the paved streets.

A smaller event that few Americans have ever attended is the five day feast of Santa Greca celebrating the life of a martyred Catholic woman from Greece. It is held in the end of September in the village of Decimomannu, ten kilometers from Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. There are bright costumes and processions along village streets lined with craft and candy vendors. At night music fills the public square from a large stage. Amusement rides and games of chance are popular. Most are run by young men, many of whom wear cowboy hats.

Manly Drinks

Of the popular Sardinian wines, a deliciously dry white, Nuraghe Majore (2006) and a fruity astringent red, Capocaccia (2007) both from Sella & Mosca, were on many lists and most tables. The wine cellars of Arigolas also produced whites and reds and dessert wines of excellent flavor and value. Their Perdera (2006) has a rich tannic rusticity that complements the hearty meals of game meats with red sauces that are traditionally Sardinian.

A distilled and very potent drink made from the grape byproducts of wine production is the manly grappa. Strong, robust and insidiously intoxicating, grappa's color, bouquet and taste depend on the grapes it is made from. The Sardinian grapes of cannonau, malvasia, moscato, vermentino, and vernaccia are all used, so the taste varies widely. Grappa is a brandy, high in alcohol, and enjoyed as an after dinner "digestive" drink. Mirto, a potent red or white liquor made from the berries of the Myrtle plant, is also served this way. It is perhaps the best known of Sardinia drinks.

Birdwatching on a Nude Beach

Sardinia is very much a place for outdoor activities. The fast-growing hobby of bird watching is a popular activity here, because the island is a migratory stop for so many species flying between Europe and Africa. The swamps and estuaries that historically complicated early invasions now are breeding grounds for flamingos. They also provide refuge to more than 220 varieties of birds.

Off-road adventures are readily available. Hiking, rock climbing, camping, horseback riding and biking are very popular. In fact, much of the island's interior is parkland, open to the public, and none of the shoreline is private. Kayaking and sailing opportunities abound, and the miles of sandy beaches and small secluded coves provide sunbathers, with or without clothes, more than enough space for walking, swimming and tanning. In fact, naturist and gay nude beaches offer some of the best cruising action on the island.

Gay Sardinia

Gay Sardinia is an oxymoron. As in many islands, the strong family and cultural ties necessary for survival cause a seeming insensitivity, a lag behind the changing mores and sensibilities of the mainland. While all of Italy is gay friendly and gay accepting, the more rural, outlying and insular locations are less open in their acceptance.

Sardinia has no gay scene to speak of, but the larger cities, especially the capital, Cagliari, have gay-friendly bars and restaurants, and even some cruising areas. The Rainbow Cafe on the corner of Via Rossini and Via Verdi is a nice social gay bar, the only one in town. A disco, Go Fish, a short taxi ride away on Via Venuti, and another club, Magnolia, are gay-friendly dance environs. Most hotels and restaurants are gay friendly, or at least tolerant, but overt, same-sex behavior is best left on the mainland and secluded nude beaches.



Barbagia Insolita Vitt. Emanuele 48 - 08025 Oliena (NU) Sardegna
Tel +39 0784 286005 . Fax +39 0784 285661

Rainbow Cafe
Via Rossini 16, angolo via Verdi Tel. 347-607-8384
Go Fish Gay Disco

Museo Archeologico Etnografico "Giovanni Antonio Sanna" - Sassari
Via Roma, 64
Tel. + 39 079/272203

Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at, and He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]