Welcome to Paradise… I meant, Ogliastra. A land of deserted beaches and wild mountains, with no tourists in sight. And it’s not on the other side of the world. It’s in Sardinia!
It’s hard to find wilderness in today’s cardboard world. Especially when it comes to travel. You may think that to find adventure, you need to jet off halfway across the world, to jungles and deserts – but if you know where to look, wilderness exists. Even in Europe.
Take Sardinia, for example. The Italian island is often seen as the ideal destination for a holiday of beaches and parties. In fact, besides a few stretches of coast, it’s wild and unspoilt, a place where you can hike for days without meeting anybody other than sheep and shepherds, with stunning landscapes and silence as your only companions.
In Sardinia, there are ‘islands’ within the island, isolated stretches of land with their own culture and tradition. Barbagia is an example – a wild inland region, where spooky masked characters called ‘mamuthones’ parade around bonfires during village festivals.
Wild Ogliastra – Selvaggio Blu
In June I had the chance to visit Ogliastra, another of these ‘islands’ within the island, with four other bloggers and Instagramers. The Ogliastra province lies on the eastern side of the island – the largest towns are Tortolì and Lanusei. Do their names ring a bell? I didn’t think so. Ogliastra is the kind of place called ‘hidden gem’ on guidebooks – largely unknown, hard to get to. Mountains reach all the way to the coast, creating a landscape of coves and bays that can only be reached by boat, or trekking for several days.
Those who do make it to Ogliastra, will be rewarded on so many levels – there’s the landscape, some of the best hiking this side of the Mediterranean, a tasty cuisine, archeological mysteries and friendly, hospitable locals.
Daredevil hikers and mountaineers may have heard of Ogliastra because of Selvaggio Blu, a 7 day hike around the Gulf of Orosei. Selvaggio Blu is famous for having been called ‘the most difficult hike in the Mediterranean’; 45 km across remote, rocky cliffs overlooking scenic stretches of coast and lone beaches, with no towns or villages enroute, and no way to get food or water. Most of Selvaggio Blu is a trail, but in some section it is necessary to rock climb and abseil; having a guide or mountaineering experience is a must.
I have dreamt to hike Selvaggio Blu for years, but we were never able to afford a guide, and our limited mountaineering knowledge was not enough for such a demanding trail. So, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I got the chance to go sailing in front of the Selvaggio Blu coastline.
Sailing the Ogliastra coast
The Ogliastra coast was even more beautiful than I had imagined. We started our trip in Baunei, the best location to charter a boat for a day tour of the area. Coming from Australia, I’ve seen some amazing beaches in my life – but let me tell you, this place was indeed special.
The sea was clear and transparent, the beaches pristine and unspoilt, with few souls in sight. The cliffs were sometimes sheer vertical, dipping into the sea below, sometimes broken in rock formations – a pinnacle here, and archway there – and embraced hidden coves, where the sea was turquoise, aquamarine, then deep blue, depending on the depth of the seabed and the angle of the sun.
Perhaps the most stunning of them all was Cala Goloritzè, a name I had read several times while researching Selvaggio Blu, fronted by sea stacks that make it look mysterious, as if it was created by some sort of sea deity. It’s famous for being one of the best beaches in Sardinia, and it’s absolutely stunning!
We stopped to swim at two beaches, Cala Biriola and Cala Mariolu. They were both tiny, and only accessible by boat – the result was total peace, a rare feeling on Italian beaches. The beaches weren’t of fine sand, it was something halfway between coarse sand and pebbles, vaguely reminiscent of ‘fregola’, a kind of Sardinian pasta, tiny beads often served with a seafood brodetto.
It was one of those ‘getting away from it all’ moments. A sailboat, deserted beaches and great people – the perfect recipe for a fun holiday with friends. But let’s not forget that I’m an adventurer at heart. As such, I loved Grotta del Fico, a small cave that is also only accessible by boat. There were stalactites and stalagmites, making the cave look like the jaws of a sea monster. In the deepest section of the cave, the water percolating from the rocks had created some freshwater pools, reminiscent of Pamukkale in Turkey. We only visited the main section of the cave, the only one that can be toured without an expert speleologist as a guide – but as we progressed through the darkness, I saw the signs leading to the narrowest tunnels, labeled with ‘no entrance’. I cannot help but wonder what mysteries lie below.
Hiking Inland Ogliastra
Inland Ogliastra is an adventurer’s fairytale, the place to awake your inner explorer and go wandering, following your footsteps and one of the dozen trails, crafted by time and local shepherds, that criss-cross the Sardinian mountains. Here you’ll find no snowcapped, towering peaks like in the Alps. It’s a landscape of squat, low-lying hills, covered in maquis and sparse trees. Above all the hills stands he, the mighty Gennargentu Massif, looking majestic with the 1834 meters of Punta La Marmora, the highest peak in Sardinia.
It may not sound much, for hikers used to the altitude of the Alps, Andes or Himalaya. But this mountains have a ‘wild’ feel I have rarely encountered elsewhere. You won’t find mountain refuges with running water, Wi-Fi and hot food – you’ll only find shepherd’s huts, built of stone and wood. One of them is ‘Erba Lathori’, near the village of Villagrande Strisaili. Make sure you hire a guide, though, as shepherd’s huts are often kept locked, but local guides usually have keys.
These aren’t bucolic, green rolling hills. It’s a landscape that hasn’t been tamed yet, with little water and even less shade in the height of summer. A place where you can get lost for a few hours and wander in search of wildflowers, or disappear for a few days, spend the night at a shepherd’s hut or under the stars and have nothing but nature around you.
I would like to thank Gal Ogliastra for having invited me to join the #EnjoyOgliastra tour. As always, all opinions remain my own.