Sardegna: An Island Apart

August 21, 2013

Words by // Photography by Nita Breibish

After a final goodbye dock-side to Rutiger and Naum, we take a minute to collect our thoughts before heading north through Cagliari toward our intended home for the evening – a campground just south of Oristano. Most of the riders in the region hold high praise for the roads on the east coast of this Italian island but, with the temperatures rising in North Africa, our goal is to see what we can before we catch a ferry to Barcelona in a week. It’s definitely to our disadvantage – even from these first few moments we can see that Sardegna is a jewel but there’s simply not enough time to see everything. The upside of our situation is that there will always be a reason to return.

The road through Cagliari is simple though congested. There seems to be lights every few hundred meters for at least the first forty minutes of riding. What’s more, the weather is turning quickly and the light clouds are now darkening with a certain anger in them that has us rethinking the length of the days journey. Soon, the clouds open and the rain begins to pour – it’s the first rain in a while and on it’s own it would be fine. However, the temperatures have also dropped and the mountain roads we’re excited to travel are, from this vantage point, now covered in a heavy fog.

Of course it’s not that cold – we’re acclimatized the hot weather we’ve been riding in for the past months which is making this 22 degree day feel downright nippy!

Pulling to the side of the road, we find an inexpensive place to stop just a few kilometers further. With a new marker in sight we can enjoy the days weather and easy roads. Sardinians drivers are much better than what we’ve been dealing with for the past months and, while that’s not saying a lot, it makes the travelling feel lighter which we both need. The tiredness in our bones is growing – almost undetectable in the moment – but it’s there.

Soon we’re turning off of the highway and down a country road to Hotel Sport Village – a reasonably-priced and strangely named hotel which we’ll call home for the night. Once inside, we’re met by a young woman and the owner both of whom are simply lovely. We’re starving – we haven’t eaten all day – and after checking in we discover the restaurant is closed. Seeing desperation in our faces, the owner insists that he put something together for us once we’ve settled in.

Having unloaded the bikes, we make our way to the dining room where we find a fantastic plate filled with meets and cheeses, a carafe of wine and a giant bowl of vegetables waiting for us! It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. We enjoy our meal before retreating to our room to watch the rain pelt down over the fields behind us. The quiet parking lot outside has become the site of some action as cars begin to slowly filter in for the night. Two bikes belonging to two French couples pull next to ours which always piques our interest. Unfortunately we never really have a chance to meet them and in the morning they’re long gone before we even awake.

The next day, the sun’s made an appearance and the nearby town of Iglesias is calling our names. Riding in two-up we’re able to enjoy the warmth of the day while not really knowing what to expect. After a few tight turns we emerge in the main square of a very enchanting town. While the streets are short on space, a long stretch of moto-only parking makes finding a spot easy. Soon we’re walking the streets of this beautiful town, mixed-in with the locals and enjoying everything Iglesias has to offer.

The square is filled with young, hip kids looking to make an impression on those around them. Skaters practice tricks to our left, girls make plans to our right. Ahead of us a plethora of stunning couples in their 50’s and 60’s make the rounds past the hotels and cafés that line the park. Iglesias has a fantastic energy. We walk slowly up the car-less side-streets and even venture into the odd store just to take a peek at some of the luxuries we’re unable to carry on the bikes. Packing your life into panniers is a great way to curb a shopping problem.

At every corner and outside of every shop, groups of people meet and chat. The faces on the young folks are lined with smiles and a relaxed calm that’s quite a joy to watch. There seems to be very little rushing that happens here even though the town itself is busy. On this day, everything seems so very balanced between working hard and enjoying life. We stop for a kebab and chat with an Indian man who owns the restaurant. He moved here with his wife years ago and his demeanor reminds me of what I’d imagine Paulo Coelho to be; passionate, deliberate and thoughtful. Truth be told, he’s a bit of a kebab-shop philosopher.

One of the things we’re seeing on menus here, which is a first for us, is cavallo or horse. For some reason it’s a bit of a shock, but when we really think of it, it’s hard to understand why. We eat plenty of other animals without a second thought, but perhaps the mental image of Black Beauty fillets is a picture our Canadian brains are just not ready for yet. Coincidentally, there’s a horse-meat scandal occurring in Europe with ground “beef” in grocery stores actually being adulterated with ground “horse.” With horse on the menu, no such scandal seems to be making headlines here.

Skipping the cavallo steaks, we eventually make our way back to the bikes for the quick jaunt home. Iglesias is lovely enough for a second day, but the sights of Sardegna are only just beginning and we’re excited to get moving.

The days route will take us along the winding ss126 – a twisting and pristine road that weaves it’s flowing black-tape through the southwestern mountains towards our destination north of Oristano. We start our journey by retracing our passage through Iglesias which gives us a final look at this sweet town. By the time we say goodbye to our last beautifully colored and decaying building we’re already following lush curves upwards. Today is going to be a great riding day.

All hints of the nearby town disappear and with a sharp right we begin heading north toward Oristano. We pass through a multitude of small towns where motorcyclists have found convenient spots to catch their breath; be it small cafés or grocery stores, hill-side lookouts or a patch of grass alongside a small creek, there are as many reasons to stop as there are to keep going. This is a road-riders paradise which of course brings some bad along with the good. A few times along the route, we enter a corner to find a motorcyclist coming in too hot from the other direction and filling most of our lane. The worst offender is a GS rider who comes about a foot away from repeating the mis-step we witnessed along the Amalfi coast – but with me as the unwitting participant. He’s close enough that I can see the whites of his eyes and feel his panic. If I was a car, his day would have been much worse.

It’s a never-ending barrage of corners but it’s not a road that spits us out at the far end and leaves us feeling satisfied for having completed it, rather it fills us with everything we love about riding a motorcycle while we’re on it. We’re a part of the world around us and the tarmac leads us, leaning side to side through the lush landscape and and stellar views. Finally, after a few turns that remind us what first gear feels like, we stumble across a viewpoint that requires a stop. We find a pull-out and fix ourselves a little picnic alongside the road. The scenery here makes our words mostly useless, and we quietly marvel at the beauty that seems to so easily shapes our planet.

Eventually, a giddyiness – a euphoria perhaps – takes hold, our quiet reflection dissolves into the smiles and laughter that frames our journey. We see a few groups of riders pass by in both directions, some of whom we’ve passed along the way. It’s obvious that this stretch of road is no secret.

The next stretch of road is tighter than the first, but it still flows with a rhythm that makes it easy to enjoy. We make it to a town whose name is incredibly satisfying to say: Fluminimaggiore! (Just try it, “Fluminimaggiore.” Now with your best Italian accent. “Fluminimaggiore.”) It’s a word that immediately makes us feel like experts in Italian, which of course we’re not. It’s a brief respite from the mountain road and has a wonderful mountain-village feel to it that makes us feel quite at home here.

Beyond Fluminimaggiore, the roads desire to twist in on itself eases and gentle, sweeping curves fill our eyes. We feel the road bringing us lower – perhaps back to earth – lowering us gently to the ground as a giant might. There’s no dramatic last turn to announce our exit from them and, just like that, we’re back on rural roads making our way through a final small town.

Our stop for the next two nights is Sinis Vacanze sa Pedrera, a sweet little stop just south of San Salvatore. It’s home to a simple room, plenty of lizards and courtyard that’s begging to be enjoyed. Just outside our door a hammock sits idle but, while it’s tempting, our stomachs are begging to be fed. Since it’s Italy we’ll have to wait a little longer – nothing is open until 8. Ish. As we unpack the bikes, we meet an older man who’s ridden a BMW K1200S from the Netherlands. He’s got a great smile and we all really want to talk but the language barrier eventually beats us – though not entirely. So much can be said with simple gestures and smiles that I think the important messages get through.

We settle into the courtyard and when the time comes, we enjoy a decent meal served by a waiter who obviously thinks we’re not quite good enough to eat there. Sigh. It’s always a little disappointing when that happens. Still, he’s the only person here who seems to think this way and everyone else we talk to is absolutely lovely. The other rider wanders into the dining room and sits alone to enjoy a quiet meal just as we leave. The next morning we see him and he explains that he wanted to ask us to sit with him for a glass of wine but the language barrier got the best of him. It’s really too bad – it would have been great to spend the evening deciphering gestures and sounds on both ends of the table!

The next morning, we awake excited about the days plan. The ruins of Tharros sit near the tip of Penisola de Sinis which is less than half and hour from our room. Admittedly, breakfasts are getting a little harder to put down in Italy. We’re both feeling a little cheese-, bread-, sweet-, and luncheon meat-ed out. I never thought we’d say it, but man, breakfast is getting to be hard work! Still, this place has eggs (Yes!) and fruit which means we can hit the road with some sustenance for the days fun.

The pictures we’ve seen of Penisola di Sinis are stunning and a brief ride reveals a peninsula that doesn’t disappoint. A narrow band of land extends outward into the bluest of water with the ancient Phoenician ruin of Tharros on it’s eastern shore and a lighthouse on it’s southern-most tip, all connected by a narrow dirt road that’s begging for a ride. There’s about three parking-lots before the ruins, the last of which stops where the pavement ends. If it wasn’t for a little research the night before, we’d have thought this was the end of the road, but we know there’s a final lot just up a dirt road. Plenty of people have parked cars here assuming that they’re not allowed to travel further by vehicle and as we keep on moving past folks making the ten minute walk toward the ruins, we get a couple of funny looks until they make it to the small café next to a few coveted (and empty) spots.

Before stopping for a coffee and ice-cream at the entrance, we make our way to an ancient signal tower whose vantage point gives us a fantastic view of the area. From here the view of Tharros is wonderful and, after seeing so many ruins, we decide to skip paying the entry fee and simply enjoy it’s beauty from here. There’s something to be said about seeing things from a distance sometimes – we like to call it a “Pilkington”, a reference to Karl Pilkington’s idea that living in a cave across from Ad Deir in Petra is better than living in the Ad Deir itself, since from there you’d only see ugly caves. There’s an insane brilliance to the idea!

To the north there’s a nearly empty beach that’s already calling our names, and beyond a chain-link fence to the south there’s a dirt trail that runs along the peninsula before fading off into the distance at the top of a fairly steep climb. We’re not entirely sure that we’re supposed to take motorcycles onto that fine needle of land but the thought is so tempting. The few other people who travel further than the café seem to walk along the track for a short ways before turning around.

We take our time on top of the hill, drinking in the views and relaxing in the wildflowers that line it’s hillside. The signal towers remain one of my favorite features of the Sicilian – and now the Sardinian – landscapes. Indeed, the greatest threat to the way of life here has historically been from the sea. Once the heat from the sun has drenched us, we retreat to the café and contemplate our options while we enjoy an ice-cream.

Eventually the thought can’t be extinguished and we simply don our gear and decide to ride. If it’s a problem, someone will let us know. We start up the bikes, make a quick right and drop down the sandy trail quickly enough that any protests will go unheard. But there aren’t any; the lack of pavement seems to be it’s own control along this strip of land and we’re thankful for it. This is a rare piece of track that leads down to a narrow spine of land before climbing steeply to take us towards the lighthouse and lands-end.

We stop the bikes on an open patch of sand and take in the silence. A figure emerges from what, at this distance, looks like a hole in the ground. “They’re graves” he says, and then walks off without uttering much more. A closer look seems to suggest it’s a crypt but we’re no experts. As he disappears over a hill, we’re left alone save for a man fishing in the distance and a couple hiking the trail. The steep climb to the south is mostly broken concrete and the remains of a road that once led to the lighthouse. Once at it’s top we continue down a dirt road that quickly becomes overrun with brush before dropping us in front of the lighthouse. Large signposts let us know it’s a military installation and, without pressing our luck, we turn around and head back along the cliffside to the far-end of the hill. A long empty building stands to our left and, after a short jaunt down a single-track, we emerge into a sandy circle that allows us to wander around the grounds. We both feel a little giddy for having this place to ourselves and, after spending the afternoon exploring, we grudgingly make our way back toward the café and down to the place where the pavement starts once more.

After a bite for lunch at a wonderful little restaurant, we make our way to the beach that’s now a little busier than it was when we first arrived at the signal tower. It also stinks to high-heaven! There’s a solid line of discarded shells that create a colorful line between sand and sea – no doubt the work of busy seagulls or perhaps some hungry men. They’re joined by the same “Seaballs” that we’d seen in Tunisia with Mudy and Lorena – the remnants of algae that’s been aggregated by the surf. Still their familiarity brings a smile to both our faces and, with our jackets as blankets we lay on the beach with far too many clothes on.

Our noses adjust to the smell and our bodies slowly overheat. Still, the moments along this beach are heavenly. The sun is still high in the cloudless sky and there’s nowhere else we’d rather be. This peninsula shouldn’t be missed.

When the heat finally bests us and our feet feel as if a flame has been set to them, we hop back on the bikes and make our way to the hotel. The cool shade of the garden courtyard welcomes us home and the evening light is quickly dwindling. It may be our last night here but the beauty of Penisola di Sinis will stay with us forever. A cool drink before dinner is all we need before the quiet of the room has us sleeping soundly. Tomorrow we set off for Alghero.

It doesn’t take long to pack the bikes in the morning. The sky is remarkably blue and the call of more beautiful Sardinian roads has us excited to see what this island is willing to offer. Our only hiccup of the day is also one of our favourites – an animal roadblock! A herd of about fifty sheep are making their way up the road stopping traffic in both directions – if there was any traffic. The animals keeper quickly coaxes them out of the way and with a wave we’re once again underway.

The coastal roads here are a far less dramatic than the mountain routes we experienced a couple of days ago but they’re no less stunning. Often alone, we find ourselves with plenty of time to take in the fields as they rush by our bikes and it’s not long before the Mediterranean once again flanks us to our left. We’ve heard of a small beach with a beautiful natural arch that’s hidden along the coast, and the thought of another moment by the water feels right. We stop in S’Aarchittu at a restaurant that seems to be completely out of food. We’re unwitting participants in a strange guessing-game where we suggest what we’d like to eat (from the menu) and are then told it isn’t available! Eventually, we just order a coffee and stay hungry a while longer. Still, a coffee break and a quiet moment on this patio overlooking this fine view makes for a great day. Off to our right, a buff older man emerges from the water in a speedo, packing a barrel chest, ample amounts of old-man swagger and a diving knife strapped to his thigh. Suddenly, we’re in a Bond film circa 1960. It’s moments like this that keep travel interesting!

Just north of town, a path leads us towards the cliffs that hide a tiny inlet and it’s gem: a wonderful natural arch. We make our way down the cliff to the beach and settle in to simply take in the beauty of it all. Just below the cliffs, the landscape looks like hardened lava whose flow was stopped by the sea and, just off of the shore, rocks poke through the water and mimic turtles resting on a plate of polished glass. Shells are embedded into the formations which change from jagged edges to soft, mushrooms of stone before finally giving way to the sand. This amazing landscape is a totally new experience for us.

Further along the beach there are a few other people enjoying the warm water and the stark brightness of the sun. A couple of kids run naked around folks who’ve created their own tanning beds in the sand while two older men slowly swim towards the shade of the arch itself. We stay for an hour or so, but Alghero is still a ways away and we need to get back on the road. The promise of five days of rest in our tent is waiting for us and we can’t wait to wrap ourselves up in a single place for while.

Our journey through Sardegna is already feeling far too short.

 

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About

I’m a Canadian writer, adventure motorcyclist and world traveller of British and Libyan descent. I’ve spent the past two and a half years travelling the globe by motorcycle as one-half of We Love Motogeo, following a route that makes little sense to anyone else, while supporting our non-profit organization, the Lost for Good Project. I’ve been chased by all manner of animal, detained as a spy in North Africa and waited out a hurricane in the bowels of a ferry. While I’m no spy (honestly), I am a lover of decent coffee and great yarns sewn around a campfire.

9 comments

  1. Comment by kathleen Kinasewich

    kathleen Kinasewich August 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    This is on my BIG bucket list…..thanks for sharing

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish August 26, 2013 at 1:11 am

      I think BIG lists are probably the right way to go :)

  2. Comment by kathleen Kinasewich

    kathleen Kinasewich August 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this journey, this is on my list too

  3. Comment by John and Kelley

    John and Kelley August 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Hey Nita and Issa -We have so enjoyed all your Italy posts, and now feel as though we’ve walked in your footsteps – from our visits to the Vatican, the Pantheon and Colosseum, Pompeii and Positano and many other wondrous places. Too bad our paths couldn’t have crossed here in this incredible country – we would have loved to share some time with you again. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you as you continue on your travels. We head back to Canada tomorrow with heavy hearts … Lots of love to you both.

    Kelley

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish August 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

      John and Kelly (and Maya)!! Great to hear from you! We’ve been really enjoying your pictures of Italy as you travel – what a wonderful trip! It’s amazing you seeing you in places that are familiar to us now – it would have been wonderful to have seen them with you guys.

      Safe travels home and we’ll compare stories when we return to Halifax! Lots of love to you all! xo

  4. Comment by George F

    George F August 25, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Amazing scenery, beautiful pictures and love the blue sky. The rocky beach and the road leading to it seem amazing to ride.
    I have a question, has your luggage increased? are you carrying the same bags since you left?
    I don’t remember seeing that much luggage.
    Thanks

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish August 26, 2013 at 1:02 am

      Hi George! Sardegna is a riders paradise. The country is truly beautiful! Actually, the luggage has decreased :) – well same bags with less in them. They can always be smaller…

  5. Comment by Jan Thain

    Jan Thain August 26, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    So many rich colors – a painters paradise! Looking at all that clear blue water would be very difficult for me not to jump in! Did you ever feel that you just wanted to take off all that gear and do exactly that? Love you guys and thanks again for taking me to a little bit of heaven :) xoxo

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish September 3, 2013 at 12:13 am

      LOL – we always want to take the gear off and get into the water :) I think we were both surpeised at just how beautiful Sargedna was. You’d love it there!

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