Sardinia – Palau, La Maddalena, and Alghero
Sardinia – the photos online do not look like they do it justice and after friends visited I made sure to add it to our travel list. When Kevin’s birthday came around, he envisioned beach side in Italy similar to our time in Camogli (which we continue to dream about visiting again). Simultaneously, a wine event in Tuscany I had been following for a few years was returning this summer and had a dinner around the time we were planning on traveling. After many months away from one of our favorite countries – November 2019 (Bologna) – it was time to return. Sardinia would not be our only new adventure for Italy – we were also exclusively renting Vespas for the entire journey. This is something that we have dreamed about doing since our first visit to Italy where we saw the scooters in action.
Sardinia has some notable differences to Italy and was quite a challenge to plan. Since our time was limited and the island is quite big, we decided to focus only on the northern part of the island with attention to the north east region to fully immerse ourselves in Italian summer living.
At this time of post-pandemic revenge travel, flights have been at their least reliable state that I can recall so we were a bit nervous that everything would work out. In addition to the increased demand and decreased staff, Europe has the fun wildcard of ongoing strikes by the budget airports and the flight control staff. We took a red eye Friday night and landed in Milan with minimal delay despite the hour waiting on the plane to take off. Our next flight from Milan to Oblia, Sardinia was delayed and set us back over a half hour behind schedule.
Finding scooter rentals was a big pain mostly because we were planning this trip close to departure and many companies were out of scooters to rent. I found Albuggy Rental and while they were not directly at the airport, they did have a shuttle that transferred guests to the office. I called and a few minutes later, the shuttle picked us up and we started doing all the rental paperwork. We were given a gorgeous blue Vespa 125 cc scooter for our time in this area and we were very excited.
Packing was exceptionally light this trip to accommodate fitting everything on the scooter. We each had our Walker Family Goods Valley Pack with a packing cube for clothes and one for toiletries, and a pair of shoes with miscellaneous items (full packing post – coming soon!). I had one pack on my pack with Kevin had one between his legs that was also attached to a hook under the Vespa seat. We threw the water bottles into the Vespa seat since they are so heavy especially when full.
And that was about it! I had downloaded Google Maps ahead of time for offline directions (a must do for all our trips we do not want to burn cell data) so I was able to navigate from the back seat, shouting directions into Kevin’s ears and tapping shoulders to indicate directions. We promised ourselves patience during this process and overall, it went very well.
Since this scooter is more powerful than the one we had at home and we typically only drive ten minutes at a time, we wanted to break up the drive from Olbia to Palau to get used to riding longer periods and learn the quirks of our new scooter. We stopped about every twenty minutes until we got to our Airbnb.
- Stop 1: Cantina Murales winery is located right off of the highway making it a perfect first stop. The restaurant was closed when we arrived but the owners welcomed us in to have a glass of vermentino (white grape predominant in Sardinia) as well as a plate of cheeses and meats which was a welcomed treat after a long day of travel.
- Stop 2: The town of Arzachena for money as well as gas. It was our first time needing to use a gas station in Italy so had to use some context clues – new learning curve with renting a vehicle
As we made our final turn of the drive, our paved road became dirt and rocks. I looked at the navigation and we had over 3 miles to go. While a shorter way existed, our Airbnb host was very direct to not take that way. Kevin did a great job navigating this road but it was a stressful last leg of the journey. Perhaps it would get easier with time – we had to do this at least twice a day during our time here.
We finally arrived at the Airbnb – L’Abba Maistra – both relieved and happy we successfully completed the long journey by Vespa. Our host greeted us and showed us the very large room with much welcomed air conditioning and their best black out mechanisms over the doors for the morning. Breakfast was served from 0830 to 1000 and due to our activities in the morning, we were sad we were not going to be able to take advantage of most mornings of our trip. The property is beautiful with lush landscape all around and views of the rolling hills with a pool and plenty of seating spaces throughout the space. We could only imagine how lovely the stars at night where going to be.
We showered off the fun of a full overnight and day of traveling before we headed to dinner at a nearby agriturismo. Thankfully, it would be a short drive on the Vespa as it was just next door but we did have concerns on how this would work for the rest of the trip when we had to go back and forth multiple times a day to Palau where all our activities are. According to Google, the drive was only twenty minutes but I do not think Google knew this dirt road was here and knew this was going to extend the commute time. We asked the host why we could not take the quicker way and were told that it is worse road conditions than the one we took – taking their word for it, we would continue using the longer way.
We were very excited for our first meal in Sardinia! Sardinia has an interesting mix of cuisines from seafood on the coast to rustic farm menus in the countryside. Our dinner was recommended by the Airbnb and a short three minute drive by car – so about double for our Vespa.
We left at 1130PM which made for an extremely long day. Thankfully, the journey home was short but boy was it eventful – on the road leading up to the Airborne, we spotted a hare who followed in front of us for several feet before finally jumping into the bush. Then, ran across at least three baby wild boars which caught us completely off guard and nervous that a big one was nearby that would either impale us Robert Baratheon style or pop the heel of our Vespa.
We slept great that night but I did have trouble falling asleep. The ride on the dirt road had me concerned on how we would be able to accomplish this itinerary that was largely based nearby Palau which was now over 45 minutes drive instead of the 20 minutes we expected. The Vespa driving was meant to be a fun and relaxing part of the trip and I did not want it to be stressful for Kevin. I started looking at hotels in Palau to see if we could make a last minute adjustment. I saw there was enough availability that if we wanted to jump ship we could, then I was able to sleep peacefully. We would try the drive in the morning and go from there.
While I was very excited for the breakfast reviews raved about at the Airbnb, it did not start until 0830 which would not work for today as we had to be in Palau but 0900. We left at 0730 in anticipation of another interesting drive and then if we got there early, we had time for breakfast.
Once we parked in Palau, I could tell it was a stressful drive for Kevin. I mentioned that I had looked up some options to move our stay to Palau and it was an easy yes. I started looking up places as we made our way to breakfast at Le Dolcezze Napoletane. I did not even research this one – it is just the first place we found and where all the people were queued up. The pastry case here was impressive! Kevin got an espresso and we shared a sfogliatella which was delicious.
I checked Airbnb first as a last ditch effort before diving into the hotel route. I found a decently rated listing on Airbnb and after a lot of back and forth with the host, was able to book for that night and for the rest of our stay. The plan was to drive back to the first Airbnb, pack up, and then drive back here to check in to the new Airbnb. Certainly not our best travel decision but with this new information for this drive that doubled our journey and that dirt road, it was the right decision.
Now that we had that figured out, we could relax a bit as we made our way to the Natour Sardinia office for our boat tour exploring the beaches and waters of the La Maddalena islands – one of the crown jewels of Sardinia.
With two more rides down that dirt road, we made our way back to the Airbnb. Our host was very understanding that it was a tough journey with the Vespa and a car would have been the best option for staying here. We were even able to recover half the money which was a pleasant surprise. After our final ride on the dirt road, we let out a sigh of relief and made our way back to Palau.
Having an affordable Airbnb option in Palau that was available the same day with air conditioning was a bit of a miracle. While there was no wifi (there was no wifi at the first place either so it was even), there was a washer which was a huge bonus we did not expect. We packed so light this trip that laundry almost daily was required. The sink laundry would have to wait for another day and we were ok with that!
Still salty from the ocean and sweaty from the sun, we showered and became new people. While we could not keep our original plans for dinner (a traditional agriturismo in the countryside – La Salconi), I did have another place in Palau in mind.
We walked around Palau for a little bit and got to know our new home and the downtown area. Spotting a few spots for future aperitivo and gelatos, we arrived at Ristorante Pizzeria Il Ghiottone. We were so lucky to have grabbed a table without a reservation – the place was bopping! The number of people that were turned away later in the night was quite amazing. From the outside, this would not have met our authenticity check – sign with Disney writing, menu on display, and menu with English – but the ratings and demand said otherwise.
Read our full dining review of Ristorante Pizzeria Il Ghiottone here!
The night time scene here was explosive as summer was in full swing. We grabbed gelato at Le Cialda Gelateria Artigianale and were one, happy to be eating gelato again and two, very happy with the flavors and the quality. There is just nothing quite like Italian gelato.
We walked to the pop-up market selling crafts, food products, and more – including handcrafted pocket knives that are specific to Sardinia. I can understand why they do it at night – it is so hot during the day and everyone is at the beach anyway. Across the way, a large bulletin board displayed all the events for “Summer Nights” in July and August. Tonight, magical performances were scheduled and we stayed for one of the acts. It was so delightful to stay and watch.
Happy that the long drives were complete for this part of the trip, we walked to the new Airbnb for a great night sleep.
Happy birthday Kevin! The birthday day of the birthday trip was here and we had another fun day in Sardinia planned.
We enjoyed the previous morning so much so we stopped back at Le Dolcezze Napoletane for Kevin’s cappuccino and giant cream stuffed sfogliatella.
Since boats are the best way to see the Archipelago, we booked a second boat tour today with Natour Sardinia. This time, we would be exploring the waters and coastline of Caprera Island.
There is nothing like a shower after being in the ocean for hours – it really is like removing a layer cover off. Feeling fresh, we indulged in some gelato at Le Cialda Gelateria Artigianale before heading to Isule Surelle – Prodotti Tipici Sardi e Corsi for aperitivo before dinner. We ordered spritz (Kevin) and vermentino (me) while we sat in the square. While everyone around us was enjoying their beautifully crafted plates of cheese and meats, we resisted the urge in lieu of a birthday dinner ahead at Aglio e Oglio Mare.
Read the full dining review for Kevin’s birthday dinner at Aglio e Oglio Mare here!
We went for a passagiatta after dinner walk before turning in for another peaceful night sleep.
With a more relaxed day ahead, we grabbed our now routine morning coffee and croissant (which was actually disappointing) from Le Dolcezze Napoletane and prepared for our day exploring La Maddalena Island.
Read about our day exploring La Maddalena Island here!
While we thought we may have time to squeeze a beach in nearby Palau (two on our list included Spiaggia de La Sciumara and Spiaggia di Talmone), we decided to head back to the Airbnb to ready ourselves for the evening. With some time before dinner, we stopped for drinks at Isule Surelle – Prodotti Tipici Sardi e Corsi for aperitivo before heading just five minutes outside of town for a very well rated traditional Sardinian meal, CuCumiao.
Read the full dining review of Cucumiao here!
It was an easy and quick drive back to Palau – something we were still eternally grateful for – and we got the treat of watching the colors in the sky change as the sun disappeared from the sky. Our departure from Palau tomorrow meant a long drive back to Olbia for the second part of our Sardinian journey.
While we could have spent all our Sardinia trip in Palau, we decided to see another part of the island before departing. This took a bit of effort to arrange since there was no way to drive the Vespa – the only return for the vehicle was at the office it was rented. So we would return the scooter to Olbia and take a few modes of public transit to make our way to Alghero. There really is no good public transit to get far on the island – it is certainly not as well connected as mainland Italy is with the trains. I was hopeful that it would be worth the effort since another beach day in Palau sounded quite nice – we really loved this area!
We set out on our long drive from Palau to Olbia – about an hour ride – and Kevin did great. The entire time on the Vespa Kevin did fantastic. I navigated from the back seat, shouting directions into his ears, tapping his left or right arm to validate turns, and we got it down. We stopped to fill up the gas tank and we returned the scooter with no issues. The rental company returned us to the airport where we got a taxi to the Olbia train station en route to Alghero.
Read all about our time in Alghero here!
We returned the scooter as it was time to say goodbye to Sardinia. We made our way through the Alghero airport and readied ourselves to head back to mainland Italy. Our Vespa trip continued in Florence as we planned on driving to Tuscany for the ultimate Vespa road trip – read about that experience here!
We went to Sardinia with high expectations and they were far exceeded. While we had to be flexible due to the decision we made to rent a scooter, I could not imagine now not having the scooter for a Sardinia trip. It was the perfect location for it! Sardinia has such a wide variety of experiences, cuisines, and beauty and I knew we only scratched the surface with our trip. How does a place this beautiful exists? I hope it stays this way. Even though it was high season, the crowd level was absolutely manageable and mostly made up of European tourists. We did not encounter any American tourist during our time there. We were surprised how accessible Sardinia is and while we wonder why it is not more popular, we hope it stays a secret. Whether you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation or a bit more activity, there is something for everything. I know this will not be our last trip to Sardinia.