Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian, Sardigna in Sardinian) is a large island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Balearic islands and the Italian peninsula and south of Corsica. It is an autonomous region which currently belongs to Italy.
Sardinia, with its quintessential Mediterranean beauty, is mainly loved for swimming, boating, windsurfing, hiking, climbing, and camping, with coastal areas tending to become over touristed especially in the warmest month, August. The inner life of the island away from the tourist spots takes longer to appreciate and requires you to peel away the layers of apparent Italianization. After all, the ancient Nuragic civilization of Sardinia of ca. 1500 BC, whose stone monuments still dot the land, predates even the Etruscan civilization in mainland Italy by several hundred years.
Geology and Geography
Sardinia is the only region in Italy of Hercynian origin; actually, the Southwest is even older (Cambrian). The mineral riches of Sardinia are the consequence of heavy hydrothermalism during the Permo-Triassic. As in the rest of Hercynian Europe, erosion has taken its toll since the orogeny and has reduced elevations considerably. 30 million years ago, the Sardinia-Corsica block started to detach from mainland Spain and tilted toward its present position. The island is both aseismic and non volcanic.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (24090 sq. km [9300 sq. mi]); only Sicily is larger. The island is dominated by the Gennargentu Range (culminating at Punta La Marmora, 1834 m [6017 ft], highest elevation in Sardinia), along with the Monte Limbara, Monte di Ala', and Monte Rasu ranges (all below 1500 m [4900 ft]); isolated are the Sulcis-Iglesiente hills (1236 m [4055 ft]) of Southwestern Sardinia, once home to a large mining district. Plains are quite rare and reduced in extent, with the exception of the Campidano Plain from Oristano to Cagliari, which divides the main hill system from the Sulcis-Iglesiente, and the Nurra plain in the northwest (between Sassari, Alghero, and Porto Torres), which was once a mining district and quite forested, but is today mostly given to pasture. Sulcis proper (in the extreme Southwest) was a marshy area where malaria was still present in the 1940's (but eradicated since). Cagliari's neighbourhood is also flat and boggy; exploitation of salt is a major industry there.
Coasts are generally rocky and tall, especially along the Eastern half; large beaches are found however on the North and Northeast (Logudoro and Gallura), the South (from Teulada to Pula) and the Southwest (Sulcis-Iglesiente). Apart from the Strait of Bonifacio (famed for its often rough sea) which divides Corsica from Sardinia, the surrounding sea is quite deep at short distances from the shore.
Population is low (a little more than 1 650 000 inhabitants in 2010), with heavy concentration in the Cagliari (one third of the total population) and Sassari (one fifth) areas; Olbia is the only other town exceeding 50 000 inhabitants. Other centres include Alghero, Nuoro, Oristano, Carbonia and Iglesias. Sardinia, along with the Valle d'Aosta region at the French border, has the lowest density of population in Italy.
Sardinia enjoys, for the most part, a Mediterranean climate. It is, however, heavily influenced by the vicinity of the Gulf of Genoa (barometric low) and the relative proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. Sardinia, being relatively large and hilly, weather is not uniform; in particular the East is drier, but paradoxically it suffers the worst rainstorms: in Autumn 2009, it rained more than 200 mm (8 inches) in a single day in Siniscola. The Western coast is rainy even for modest elevations (for instance Iglesias, elevation 200 m, average annual precipitation 815 mm against 750 mm for London).
Summer is dry with very warm weather. However, contrary to the islands of Greece for instance, shade and wind are plenty. Autumn typically can be mild till mid-November), but is subject to heavy rainstorms as noted above. Winter is generally mild on plains (cold spells being however not unheard of) but cool to cold at higher elevations. Spring is mild and rainy, but not as autumn. The island is very windy, especially from September to April (northwest winds called locally Maestrale); southeast winds (Scirocco) are frequent during summer and bring invariably hot weather.
Sardinia is home to the old but somewhat mysterious Nuragic civilization (ca 1500 BC); cylindrical towers (called Nuraghes [Italian "Nuraghi"], sing. Nuraghe) dot the Sardinian landscape, and fortified villages can still be found, as in Barumini (Medio Campidano province). The Phoenicians arrived around 1000 BC, founding Cagliari (Karalis, ca 800 BC) and other emporia; Tharros (near Oristano) and Nora (near Pula, Cagliari province) are a must-see for the archeology-minded tourist. Sardinia was contended during the First Punic War between Carthage and Rome, but went finally to the latter. Rome had often trouble with the rebellious locals, but managed quite a large income out of grain and metal mining.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, heavy raiding of the coastal areas by pirates forced the population to the hinterland; Sassari for instance was founded by refugees from Porto Torres. The four Kingdoms of Calaris (Cagliari), Arborea (Oristano), Torres (Sassari) e Gallura (Olbia-Tempio Pausania) sprang forth during the Middle Ages, but were rapidly colonized (except for the Oristano area) by Pisa and Genoa; in particular the Pisans (the famous Conte Ugolino della Gherardesca of Dante's Inferno and his family) held between 1200 and 1350 the southernmost part of the island, deriving a large income out of the silver mines near Iglesias, which they themselves founded. Spain then seized the whole of Sardinia by the end of the 14th century, and for nearly 400 years the island would be a Spanish territory.
With the rise of the House of Savoy, to which the island had been ceded by the Spanish Crown in 1720, the constitution of the Sardinia-Piedmont realm was the starting point for the unification of all the Italian peninsula. When this was achieved, Sardinia was once again left to its own devices, except for the exploitation of its large mineral resources. Fascism saw important work (in particular the reduction of marshy areas), and in 1948, given the unique socio-political context of the island, Sardinia received the status of autonomous region which it still retains to the present day. With the end of the exploitation of the mines, but with the fast growth of the tourist industry (especially in the Costa Smeralda ["Emerald Coast"] area), Sardinia is slowly converting itself into a popular tourist destination, while traditional stock-herding (in particular sheep) is still a frequent sight.
Along with Italian, Sardinians speak one of the dialects of Sardinian (Sardu), considered by many scholars to be one of the most conservative Romance languages; it is not an Italian dialect and saying that might be perceived as an insult by local people. However, it should be noted that there are other linguistic minorities as well within the main one, where Sardinian has long disappeared or not very well understood: in Gallura and Sassari they speak Corsican, whose local variety goes by the name of Gallurese (Gadduresu), and a transitional dialect between medieval Tuscan and Sardinian (Sassaresu), in Alghero Catalan (Alguerés), while in San Pietro Island a Ligurian dialect (Tabarchìn) is spoken. Nowadays, as a direct consequence of the island-wide assimilation policy carried out by the Italian government, Sardinians generally speak Italian with a distinctive accent as their mother tongue, which is taking over the indigenous languages, especially when addressing people they do not know, even if it's other Sardinians they are talking with. Outside of the cities English is not widely spoken, with the exception of maybe the young; you might have better luck with French, especially with 50+ year-old people in the cities, but do not expect anything but Italian (often combined with the Sardinian language or one of the dialects listed above) elsewhere.
Sardinians (when compared to the Italian mainlanders, that they call "Continentals") are generally a quiet and reserved people, especially those from the interior where they are, more than the other islanders, deeply attached to their land and culture; they may prove to be different from the archetype of the outgoing and talkative Mediterranean.
There are airports near Cagliari, Olbia, and Alghero.
Cagliari-Elmas Airport (Aeroporto "Mario Mameli" , IATA: CAG, ICAO: LIEE) is located in Elmas, approximately 6 km West from central Cagliari. It is situated on the SS130 and is conveniently reached by bus (operated by the publicly-owned ARST ) from the train station; frequency is every 30 minutes, for a 10-minute trip. There is a convenient railway stop (Elmas-Aeroporto) on the Cagliari-Oristano and Cagliari-Carbonia/Iglesias lines; it takes about five minutes on foot to reach the airport terminal from the platforms. The airport is the busiest in Sardinia, the 13th busiest in Italy and the 97th busiest in Europe with 3 333 421 passengers (2009). Cagliari is served directly by domestic and international flights from Western Europe; the well-connected Milan-Linate (IATA: LIN) and Rome-Fiumicino (IATA: FCO) airports can also serve as intermediate stops to Cagliari.
Olbia Airport (Aeroporto di Olbia-Costa Smeralda , IATA: OLB, ICAO: LIEO) is the second busiest airport in Sardinia and the 17th in Italy (1 694 089 passengers in 2009); it is the gateway to the Costa Smeralda and the main hub of Meridiana Fly. It is situated 3 km Southwest from central Olbia and is easily reached by bus (ASPO , every 30 minutes). The airport has slightly fewer routes than Cagliari, but is nevertheless connected to France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands.
Alghero-Fertilia Airport (Aeroporto internazionale "Riviera del Corallo" , IATA: AHO, IACO: LIEA) is the third busiest in Sardinia and the 20th busiest in Italy (1.507.016 passengers in 2009). It is situated in Fertilia, 10.5 km Northwest of Alghero; there are buses (Ferrovie della Sardegna ) from Alghero (every hour, 20-minute trip) and Sassari (9/day, 30-minute trip). Alghero-Fertilia is essentially a domestic airport, but is also connected to London and Frankfurt, among others.
There are ferry services to Cagliari (south coast), Porto Torres (north coast), and Olbia, Golfo Aranci and Arbatax (east coast).
Ferry services are also available from Barcelona, Spain to Porto Torres through Grimaldi Lines. They usually run twice a day during the summer and cost 55 EUR for a single one way ticket.
Ferry services also available from Trapani, Sicily, to the port in Cagliari, Sardinia.
Summers tend to attract lovely warm days and crowds of millionaires and luxury yachts, especially to the prestigious Yacht Club at Porto Cervo, perfect place for yacht charter in Sardinia.
While it is possible to get around Sardinia by bus and train, doing so may well limit how fast you travel and where you go. If you can choose, rent a car. It is well worth the outlay, and it will allow you to visit some of the more remote and enchanting places and areas. You may find many companies offering car hire like, (with and without a credit card Aiguarentacar), Avis, Hertz, Only Sardinia Autonoleggio.
Also know that most petrol stations does not accept credit cards like Visa and Mastercard, only local cards or cash.
Consult the article on Italy for general information about speed limits, urban areas, police forces, etc. What follows is specific to Sardinia.
There are no toll highways in the island; the main axes are Porto Torres-Sassari-Oristano-Cagliari (Strada Statale [State Road] 131, European denomination E25) and its bifurcation to Nuoro (SS131 d.c.n.), Iglesias-Cagliari (SS130) [the SS130 and SS131 are the only fully 2 x 2-lane roads in Sardinia], the SS125 (Cagliari-Villasimius), SS126 (Sant'Antioco-Carbonia-Iglesias-Guspini-Terralba), SS127 (Olbia-Tempio Pausania-Sassari), SS128 (East-Central Sardinia), SS129 (Orosei-Nuoro-Macomer), SS195 (Cagliari-SS126 through Pula), and the SS291 (Sassari-Alghero). Many other roads are also of great interest for the tourist, such as the SS133 (Tempio Pausania-Palau) or the Chia-Teulada 'panoramica'.
Many roads are narrow and wind through hilly terrain; be careful and do not hesitate to use your car horn to signal your presence: because of the light traffic, oncoming drivers may not expect to encounter other vehicles. Remember that locals know their roads: they can drive faster than you because of that, do not try to race with them! Beware also of domesticated animals (sheep, goat, cows, pigs) crossing roads in large or small units, especially in rural areas.
Engine overheating may happen in summer because of the heat/topography combination; take the usual precautions.
Paving is generally good on the main axes; it may vary for secondary axes and urban areas, but is often in correct conditions. There are local unpaved roads of touristic interest; these can be in any state, especially after heavy rains, so it is better to go there with a sturdy 4-wheel drive car.
Traffic can become heavy during summer in and around touristic areas, in particular on the SS 125, 126, 127, 195, 291.
A roadmap and a GPS tracking unit (handheld ones are also useful for trekking) or smartphones with offline maps are recommended: road signs, in particular directions, are somewhat lacking, especially on secondary roads, whereas crossroads are generally well signalled.
Beware of high winds; gusts in excess of 100 kph (60 mph) are common from September to April.
Many villages have installed speed traps and automated cameras at the entrances: these are almost always signalled and fines for speeding are generally heavy. Quite often, you will cross villages with no pavements, and find elderly people there: drive with caution.
Regular, cheap buses between the main centres: Cagliari, Sassari, Alghero, Nuoro etc. You may end up changing buses (or trains) in Macomer. Less frequent buses, but worth persevering for the smaller villages. The main bus company is the public-owned and managed ARST []. The buses are not so frequent and always late, if not on the starting point. The timetables can be found on ARST website and Google Maps public transport section has reliable times and connections, but due to the usual delay some connections can be lost.
Sailing is one of the best ways to see Sardinia. Most charters offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with various types of boats being available.
Regular trains from the edge of Alghero to Sassari and from Sassari to Cagliari, although buses are usually quicker. Change at Macomer for trains or buses to Nuoro. Less frequent trains on this and other routes. Both Trenitalia and Ferrovie della Sardegna operate trains in the Island.
Turistic train routes, called "Trenino Verde" cover some of the most stunning rural and mountainous areas: Sassari-Palau, Mandas-Arbatax and Nuoro-Bosa. The routes are garanteed by steam locomotives during the cooler seasons (Autumn-Winter and Spring) and by old diesel trains in the summer 
At many places it is possible to rent a bike quite cheaply, for as little as 9 euros per 24 hours. Compared to the scarce local bus connections a bicycle provides great flexibility for local exploration. With high quality roads and great scenery the bike is very pleasant to ride.
Smart Yachtoffers an extensive range of luxury yachts for shared yacht ownership in the Mediterranean, including Sardinia. Sardinia is a perfect yachting destination, with its pristine beaches and crystal blue water.
There is much to do in Sardinia, but the island will probably appeal more to nature lovers than to clubbers (with the exception of the Costa Smeralda area, one of the 'hot spots' of the Italian show-business jet set).
Advantage is that people (including Sardinians) generally fill the beaches and leave the rest nearly deserted. A popular destination for mountain climbers is the Domusnovas area (close to Iglesias), with its nice vertical walls of limestone. Large caves are accessible (Dorgali, Oliena, Santadi, Domusnovas, Fluminimaggiore, Alghero). There are many hiking trails (though not always well signalled) for beginners and veterans alike.
The traditions and habits are very strong. You will not get any pizzas in restaurants before 7PM, furthermore be aware that you will get nothing to eat in restaurants between 4PM and 7PM, besides 'panini' that is usually a cold sandwich with ham and cheese. The exception may be some tourist-oriented restaurants in tourist-oriented places.
A few basic precautions are generally enough to stay out of trouble, especially during Summer and Autumn.
Sardinia is sparsely populated, particularly near the center; help is not always easily found, and there remains large patches of land where mobile-phone coverage is non-existent (e.g. at the bottom of sheltered valleys). Terrain, despite the lack of high elevations, is generally rugged and steep. The terrain's characteristics combined with heat and lack of water, can quickly lead to disaster. Beware!
Summer is generally hot and the sun quite strong. The usual precautions to avoid heatstroke and sunburns apply. Always take a lot of water with you, especially so when hiking, even if you plan a short trip. While tap water is generally (but not always) safe, it is recommended to buy bottled mineral water.
Sardinia unlike Sicily and mainland of Italy is not earthquake prone.
Autumn is generally fine, but can become very unpleasant because of the heavy rainstorms and hilly topography, creating possibilities for land- and mud- slides. Check the weather before planning a trip, even with your car. Winter and Spring are generally safer, with pleasantly mild weather (especially during the day) and abundance of water. Remember that to higher elevations correspond with increasingly colder weather and larger precipitation. Much of Sardinia (especially the Western part) is very windy from September to April. All drivers, and in particular those with campers, must exercise caution.
Some open-sea beaches are notorious for strong underwater currents, but more so on the West Coast. Beware that warning signs are not always posted. Ask at your hotel or locals. The Mediterranean Sea is no lily pond; every year, there are several people killed by drowning in Sardinia.
Be careful when hiking in old mining districts such as Sulcis-Iglesiente, Sarrabus, and Nurra. Local authorities have sealed off many dangerous areas, although some still remain. Always avoid dark galleries because they might hide vertical ventilation shafts. Do not venture into closed areas (look for the word Pericolo [Danger] or the usual warning signs). If you want to explore mines, go to the local tourist information agencies who will direct you to organized tours. There have been tales of individuals (mostly ex-miners) running their own private tours. Avoid these as they are illegal and extremely unsafe because of cave-in risks, water infiltration, etc.
Local fauna and flora can be dangerous or source of discomfort. Two examples:
- Ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) carry infectious diseases and are endemic to certain areas: avoid tall grass fields or close prolonged contact with domesticated animals (in particular sheep).
- Lethal mushrooms (among which Amanita phalloides) are found in the island.
Consult specialized texts for expert advice.
According to a survey realized in 2013 by Confesercenti (Italian association of trade, tourism and services) Sardinia is ranked at the 1st position for tourist safety in Italy.
Sardinia has a very low criminal rate; even kidnapping, which targeted wealthy (and at times not so wealthy) individuals until the mid 1990s, has completely disappeared.
Beware that some urban areas (in particular the Sant'Elia district near the football stadium and the San Michele district, both in Cagliari) are unsafe.
Be wary of game hunters during the September-February period; check with locals, hotel employees, and the website of the Sardinian Region  for legal hunting dates. Do not hike in the wilderness during these days! There are protected areas (It. Oasi di protezione della fauna).
From May to September, fires plague Sardinia as the rest of the Mediterranean area; some are spontaneous wildfires, but most are due to negligent behavior (accidental ignition of fires). Observe the usual precautions. It is, of course, forbidden to start domestic fires in forests. Check with local authorities; Sardinia is an autonomous region and Italian laws might be superseded by local provisions.