We took the boys and my father on a tour of northern Sardegna and found it to be, like many places in Italy, extremely family friendly. The location was potentially even more appealing to us because living in a large metropolis like Hong Kong, we were sensory deprived. Our ears were full of the sounds of traffic and construction and our eyes dazzled by the big city lights but what our bodies most craved and became obvious upon arrival, is the scent of the countryside, the sound of birds, insects and wind, the taste of the saltwater air, the feel of the grass under your feet and the sun on your face and the assault of colours from the wild flowers. The textures of the different plants are mesmerizing after months of concrete, glass and steel.
Sardinia has a raw beauty which combines arid land covered with scrub (which sounds unappealing but is in fact extraordinarily beautiful), rocks jutting down to the crystal blue sea and perfectly blue skies. We wanted to see the whole northern coastline which offers a range of world-class beaches at the Costa Smeralda attracting the Aga Khan and his jet-set entourage, the Asinara Coast with Castelsardo on the cliff overlooking the sea and Alghero which is an attractive town with a good beach and is close to the Capo Caccia and Neptune’s Cave.
We took the overnight ferry from Genoa to Porto Torres, which the kids loved. Near Alghero we stayed at the Sa Mandra holiday farm hotel (agriturismo) which had the perfect setup for kids. The rooms were cute but basic and faced a huge lawn covered with children’s playground equipment. We could sit in front of the pretty but quite basic rooms chatting, watching the boys run wild with their new found freedom.
Breakfast is indoors and is comprised of homemade pastries, bread, prosciutto, cheeses, yoghurt, fruit, coffee and preserves. There is another playground in front of the breakfast area and behind the dinner area with adorable carved wooden animals and vehicles. Dinner is served in an extensive dining area, half indoors and half outdoors. The food is authentically traditional, homemade and delicious.
Sa Mandra is also a working farm and has horses, goats, donkeys, chickens and geese. They also make their own cheese and salumi. The children got to see cheese being made which was exciting for them.
We also visited Villa Las Tronas which is a beautiful luxury hotel set in a 19th century villa on a promontory on the sea in Alghero. It reminded me of a less grand Hotel du Cap in Antibes.
One morning we went to ride horses along the beach, just north of Capo Caccia. The children talked about it everyday to anyone who would listen. Michele, our guide, has a toddler himself and was great with the boys. Someone walks next to the small children while they ride alone on the horse, relieving us of any anxiety.
There is also a sea cave, Grotto di Nettuno, near Alghero which can be visited on foot or by boat. By foot there are 656 steps, so not suitable for small children. There is the option to visit by boat but there is only one company offering this service and they do not sail if the water is too rough. Buy tickets in advance, we were warned several times that it was not necessary and when we went to the port in Alghero to buy tickets, they were sold out.
We drove to Castelsardo, a town on a cliff overlooking the Asinara Coast with a castle and a fort, for the day. The location and panorama is amazing for the adults while the boys loved the fort as it featured a battering ram and catapults. Driving through the interior of Sardegna was unexpectedly beautiful. The rock formations and valleys offered excellent scenery as well as the occasional roadside church. We realized that even if the weather was not perfect every single day (which it was) that the island offers much more in terms of scenery, history and culture than just beaches.
We next drove to the Costa Smeralda, one of the most famous coastlines in Europe for its spectacular scenery and sandy beaches. We stayed at a resort geared towards families with children in Capo d’Orso. While the set up was one that should have worked with an active kids’ club, the staff were not inclusive of foreign language speaking children although they do speak English. Even though my husband has always spoken Italian to my boys since birth, they have been raised in Asia and rarely respond in Italian. Next time we will go with another family and rent something more private as the area is beautiful, albeit feels less authentically Sardinian.
The best (and most expensive) activity we had during our stay was renting a boat to go to the Maddalena Islands. We stopped at three different inlets to bathe, feed fish (saddled sea bream), have lunch and pick out our favourite villas and lighthouses. The scenery was spectacular and the boys took turns “driving” the boat.
Our final visit was to Porto Cervo which is like a Beverley Hills on the sea with mega-yachts parked next to luxury designer stores. One feels glamorous just by being in proximity to this Euro chic scene. There are many restaurants in the area and we found a nice playground at the end of the stairs next to the front of the Sheraton hotel to play. The rest of the afternoon we spent looking at boats and eating gelato.
If the weather turns sour, there are plenty of options inland as Sardegna has a long history with many churches, forts and historical buildings to visit.
Here is a pasta recipe adapted from one by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina for a typical Sardinian dish loved by children and adults:
Malloredus (Sardinian gnocchetti)
350 grams malloreddus or gnocchetti sardi (can substitute fusilli or penne)
15 ml (1 tablespoon) extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled, ends removed and finely chopped
100 grams lardo, chopped (can substitute 60 mls (4 tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil
100 grams minced veal (can substitute fresh pork sausage)
100 grams minced pork
15 grams flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, dried, stems removed and leaves finely chopped
1 branch rosemary, rinsed, dried, leaves removed and finely chopped
400 grams tomato puree (passata)
75 grams mature pecorino cheese, finely grated
black pepper, freshly ground
Add the olive oil, onion and lardo to a saucepan over medium heat and fry. When the lardo has melted and the onion is translucent, then add the veal, pork, parsley and rosemary and fry until the meat has coloured. Add the tomato and 125 mls of water and reduce the heat to low. Cook the sauce for an hour, adding more water if necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil a large pot of water with 5 litres of water and 50 grams of salt.
Add the malloreddus to the boiling salted water and cook according to the time on the packaging (or to taste). Strain and toss with the prepared sauce. Divide between 4 pasta bowls and sprinkle the pecorino over top. Serve.
The Authentic Rustic Option:
Agriturismo Sa MandraStrada Aeroporto Civile Pod. 21, Alghero (SS) Tel: +39 079 999 150 Fax: +39 079 999 9135 Cell: +39 333 244 7521 Email: [email protected] www.aziendasamandra.it
A charming holiday farm where they make their own cheese and salumi. The rooms are basic but nicely decorated and face out onto a huge lawn full of children’s playground equipment. There are also horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, geese and a swimming pool. The food is all homemade and of excellent quality.
The potential detractors include a wifi system which is unnecessarily complicated, making it difficult to maintain a connection. The peaceful nature of Sa Mandra is also sporadically interrupted by overhead flights arriving at the nearby airport, although it is barely noticeable inside the rooms and our boys loved airplane spotting. Also many people come just for dinner at the restaurant which we felt was a bonus as our children had new playmates every night.
The Pampered Option:
Villa Las Tronas Hotel and SpaLungomare Valencia 1 – 07041 Alghero (Sardegna) Tel: +39 079 981818 E-mail: [email protected] http://www.hotelvillalastronas.it
A 19th century villa founded by a Piedmontese count in a stunning setting on promontory on the coast in Alghero. It reminded me of a less grand version of the Hotel du Cap in Antibes. It has a swimming pool, lawn and spa.
Agriturismo Sa MandraContact details: see above Reservations recommended
Recommended dishes: pancetta arrotolata, fregola, homemade pastas, and porcetto (spit-roasted suckling pig). Children will be served first and they will make simple pasta dishes just for the kids. Wine lovers will consider the wine list a bit limited. There is a children’s play area just behind the restaurant where children can play while the adults finish eating.
Al TuguriVia Maiorca 113, 07041 Alghero Tel: +39 079 976 772 Email: [email protected] www.altuguri.it Closed: December to February and every Sunday
Al Tuguri is primarily a seafood restaurant specializing in the dishes of the Catalan people of Sardegna. They have some of their recipes on their website. I did a separate blog about this restaurant and the seafood in Sardegna here.
Recommended dishes: linguine ai filetti di razza (linguine pasta with skate), grigliata mista di pesce (mixed fish platter) and crema catalana (crème brûlée). Children will be served first and they will make simple pasta dishes just for the kids.
Il CormoranoVia Cristoforo Colombo, 5 07031 Castelsardo, Sassari Tel: +39 079 470628 www.ristoranteilcormorano.net
Recommended dishes: fregola con frutta di mare (fregola with seafood), maltagliati con scorfano (maltagliati pasta with rock fish) and aragosta (lobster) – bollito (boiled) or with pasta. Please note that as they use local seasonal ingredients the menu changes. Children will be served first and they will make simple pasta dishes just for the kids. I did a separate blog about this restaurant and the seafood in Sardegna here.