By the Greeks it was called Ichnoussa, meaning footstep, perhaps a reference to its shape, or else to the fact that it was a step on the way to Corsica and Provence. Either way, Sardinia’s long history bears the imprint of a succession of different civilisations that touched here—the inevitable result of its central position, 192km (120 miles) from the North African coast at Tunisia, 180km (112 miles) from the Italian peninsula, halfway between Spain and the Middle East.
Carthaginian and Roman ruins, Genoan fortresses, a string of lovely Pisan churches, a profusion of Gothic and Baroque, all lie strewn across the island landscape—not to mention more than 7000 nuraghi—prehistoric stone towers which are unique to the island and for some the most enduring image they take away from Sardinia.
Bosa, where our holidays are based, is particularly rich in remnants of the medieval period, while the country around preserves striking traces of the island’s prehistory.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, covering a little more than 24,000 sq km—bigger than Wales and only marginally smaller than the Med’s largest island, Sicily. But with around 1.6 million people, Sardinia holds only a third of Sicily’s population, and has one of the lowest population densities of any Italian region. That means less stress, less pollution, less pressure on the roads.
The island is 270km (169 miles) long from Capo Teulada in the south to Capo Falcone in the north—where it is only 11km (7 miles) from Corsica. The town of Carloforte, on San Pietro island (off Sardinia’s southwest coast) lies exactly on the 39th parallel, about the same as Beijing and Philadelphia.
The landscape takes in high mountains (the tallest, La Marmora, is 1834m, or 6,016ft), grassy inland plains and tranquil lagoons, while the coast is characterised by pristine beaches and rugged cliffs, often dotted with old Spanish watch towers.
Travelling across the island is to experience a wild diversity of countryside and culture, from the rolling interior, where the jangle of sheep-bells is a constant background melody, to the sleek yachts and glistening beaches of the Costa Smeralda.
Sardinia’s administrative boundaries are constantly changing, but its older patchwork of historical territories still retain their distinctive traditions, dialects and historical roots—for instance Gallura, Logudoro, Sulcis, Campidano, Arborea and Barbagia, to name but a few. At a still more local level, each village flaunts its individuality at the many flamboyant festivals that take place throughout the year. Whether they are costumed medieval pageants, smaller and rowdier revelries or dignified religious processions, these festivities are both celebrations and proud assertions, keeping tradition alive in an island where the past is ever present.
See here for an introduction to the town of Bosa, where our holidays are based.