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A week in Cagliari and around - March 4 to 11

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It was my second visit to Sardinia (first was Alghero and area last October).

Hotel was "Thotel". Brand new (they opened 2 years ago), has a spa, A/C rooms, a very interesting tray full of amenities in the bathroom, free parking place just across the road. Very professional staff.

Downside : it is far from the center and there are no restaurants around except one or two pizzerias. The hotel restaurant is not very interesting and the food rather bland and dull. The neighborhood tends to be rather depressing after dark.

I spent the first two days visiting the city.

Highlights :
- the Castello part of town with Saint Remy Bastion (tip : if you don't feel like walking all the way up, there are two free lifts to take you up there :one in Piazza Yenne, the other at the end of Via Manno : turn left and you'll find it 30 yards after the Tourist Information desk (housed under a white tent).

- the Archeology Museum with its wonderful collection of nuraghic bronze statues.

- having a coffee at a terrasse in Via Roma and watching the world go by.

- going to San Benedetto market, the biggest in Sardinia. Great fish market on the ground floor, vegetable, butcher, baker shops on the first.

Lots of restaurants in Via Sardinia (parallel to Via Roma) ranging from the good (L'antica Osteria) to the bad and the very bad (greasy fast food joints).

The big disappointment was Poetto Beach. Went by bus on a gray and windy day - it did not help - and found the place neglected and quite dirty. Most of the kioski were closed at this time of year, there was not a soul in sight and the buildings (including the old hospital) surely needed a coat of fresh paint.

On Day 3 I rented a car and drove East to Villasimus. The first 30 km are uninteresting but as you get close to the town, the landscape changes and you reach the shore and its white sandy beaches. Drove to Capo Carbonara and to Portu Giuncu, a lovely beach near the Notteri salt-water lake. Don't miss the Fortezza Vecchia, an old fort defending the shore.

Day 4 : Drove West to Pula, Chia and Nora (phoenician ruins). The small church of Sant'Efisio was closed for repairs. From Nora I took the coast road to Teulade. It is a very winding road with absolutely stunning views over the rocky beaches below. So much so that I drove back the same way instead of taking a short cut to Cagliari. It was a riot of green and yellow colors with the blue and green of the sea.

Day 5 : Drove West again towards Iglesias, Fiuminimaggiore and the ruins of the Temple of Antas which are literally in the middle of nowhere and all the more amazing. From there, drove to Portixeddu, Buggeru (an old mining town), Mansua and Porto Flavia to see Il Pane di Zucchero, a strange rock raising out of the sea. This part of Sardinia is known as Costa Mansua.

Day 6 was Costa Verde Day : from Cagliari to Sanluri, Guspini, Montevecchio (abandoned mine). Then another very winding road at the foot of Monte Arcuentu which took me to Portu Maggu from where I was hoping to get to Piscinas.
Soon after Portu Maggu the road stops very suddenly and turns all of a sudden into a dirt path (not a single road sign to warn you or indicate the direction you are supposed to take after the above-mentioned dirt path turns into several other equally dirt paths leading down to a muddy creek. It had rained the night before, the dirt path I was driving on was becoming very mushy and I chickened out. I could see Piscinas from a distance, but I could not get there....
Later on when I had found the one and only restaurant open in Portu Maggu, the owner told me there was one spot where the creek was not that deep (where?) and that even if the road was in poor condition it was a nice way to break in a new (rented) car....
At the junction of Portu Maggu, I took the North road towards S. Antonio di Santadi and back to Cagliari via Guspini through flat land.

Day 7 was spent in Cagliari.

It was off season and there were very few tourists around and except for Cagliari, very few Sardinians as well! Most restaurants and shops in all the little coastal towns were closed. I could drive 30 km on small roads without seeing a single car, just the occasional stray goat or an adventurous herd of cows or a shepherd (on a moped) leading his charges....

Other tips :

- do not plan to cover too many miles in one day unless driving on the motorways which link the main cities. Speed is limited to 50 kmph on most small roads, directions are not always clearly indicated and there is a lot of unexpected non-human traffic going on. I was very lucky, always found a good soul to put me in the right direction including a nice little old man who went out of his way to help me cross Fiuminimaggiore and waved me good-bye when he was sure I would not get lost again.

- shopping : look for the I.S.O.L.A. official shops for good hand-made souvenirs. There is one near Thotel and one Via Santa Croce in the Castello. Probably others in other parts of town.

- restaurants : from €18 to €25 for an appetizer, a main dish, a bottle of water and a coffee. In Cagliari, lunch-time starts at 12.30, dinner at 8. Only tourists show up earlier and are frequently told to come back later. Maybe the locals should adapt more to tourist "schedules" if they want to attract them. Maybe it was just because it was off season. Maybe it is better that way...

Shops close at 1 pm (siesta time) reopen at 4 or 5 and close well after 7.

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