Four days in Alghero, Sardinia

My husband had been invited to a conference in Alghero, Sardinia and I decided to join him. It was for us a trip down memory lane. Thirty years ago we had visited Sardinia together as uni-students. We remembered Sardinia as a quiet island, where tourism had only reached some of the coastal areas. In villages in central Sardinia locals didn’t quite understand what those two youngsters with backpacks were looking for.

We would arrive on Wednesday evening, and leave again on Sunday at noon. It would give us just enough time to visit Alghero and make a day trip to Porto Conte national park and Capo Caccia.

On Wednesday evening we walked into the old centre, which was very quiet on a February evening. Not all restaurants were open, and some had their weekly closing day on Wednesdays.

We eventually found El Pultal, and were told that we could get a table an hour later at 9 PM. So we continued our evening walk through the old centre, and were already quite hungry when we entered just before 9 PM. They showed us a table upstairs but we asked for one downstairs where the ambiance was more lively, since it was filled with locals. Most of them were having a 1/2 meter of 1 meter pizza to share which looked really good, and we decided to come back for a pizza one of the following days. We shared a plate of grilled squid with garlic sauce, I chose the Fregola with seafood, a typical Sardinian dish and my husband chose the mixed grill. The squid was heavenly, the fregola and mixed grill very tasty. And the prices were very reasonable, 8 euro for the squid, 15 euro for the fregola and 18 euro for the mixed grill. They serve it with a basket of delicious bread, some Pane Carasau ( very crispy thin flatbread) and some darker bread that tasted like sourdough bread, probably Moddizzosu bread.

We stayed at Hotel Catalunya on Via Catalogna, which offered nice clean rooms with bathroom, a comfortable queen size bed, with coffee and tea making facilities in the room. Breakfast is decent, but not very sumptuous, I missed some fresh fruits. But I do love the bread, I had some slices of Moddizzosu bread which they had in a white and darker variety. Sardinia is famous for its breads, so dig in while you are here.

After breakfast I first headed to the tourist information office close ot the Torre di Porta Terra, to get some info on where to rent bikes, and she also gave me a telephone number if I wanted to know if Neptune’s cave would be open on Saturday. I then started to walk around the old town from Porte di Torre Terra, which used to be the main entrance into town and where you still see the coat of arms of the town of Aragon. I continued to Torre San Giovanni and Torre di Sulis named after the famous revolutionary Vincenzo Sulis who was imprisoned inside for 22 years at the turn of the 18th century. Following the old ramparts you come to Torre San Giacomo and past several catapults and artillery cannons waiting for possible attacks. You have great views of Cappo Caccia at the end of the bay.

Further you see the dome shaped watch tower, next to it the powder tower where they used to store artillery and gun powder. You can walk down the stairs to see a series of arches which once acted as a gate to the historic harbor. Here you common a square that remembers the Jewish population who were expelled out of Alghero in 1492. The last tower is the Torre di Sant’Elmo with the Stella Maris Madonna statue on top, protecting all sea farers. Continue further following the bastion to the last tower the Torre Della Maddalena, part of the Forte della Maddalena, the only surviving fort out of three built in the late 1500s. The first fortifications were built in the 12 and 13th century, when this was a Genuese port. A Catalan-Aragonian invasion just a century or so later resulted in the expulsion of the Sardinian people, and the old town was repopulated with Catalans. Alghero was occupied by Catalan – and later by the Spanish for a period of about 400 years. The building of further structural defences occurred during the Medieval period, but much of the golden sea walls and battlements we see now were constructed in the 16th century. Today, Alghero is often referred to as ‘little Barcelona’, due to its abundance of Catalan-style architecture. There is also a distinct cultural influence here, with a local Catalan dialect known as ‘Algherese’ still being spoken by some of the city’s older residents.

I then turned towards the inner centre of the old town. There are more than ten old palaces from the 15th to 18th century to admire and several churches. The cathedral of Saint Mary dates back to the 16th century, originally in Catalan-gothic style, the interior is now late-renaissance style. The campanile was not open as they were doing some renovation works on this side of the cathedral.

The church of San Francesco and the adjacent cloister, bell-tower and crypt can be visited for 4 euro. They first took me up de bell-tower for a spectacular view over Alghero, I then visited the 15th century church, the cloister built for the Franciscan friars who came to Alghero in the 14th century, the beautiful wooden cabinet in the vestry and the crypt.

A bit further stands the baroque style San Michele church, dedicated to the patron saint of Alghero. First mention of this church dates back to the 14th century. The polychrome tiles on the dome have only been put on the dome in 1950.

At lunch I stopped at La Piadina del Pozzo and bought a sandwich for five euro with Pecorino cheese and grilled vegetables, all put in a spianata bread which you can eat on the go.
I washed it down with a tea on the terrace of café Latino on top of the ramparts of the city, close to Torre Della Maddalena with a great view over the bay.

In the afternoon I took some time at the hotel, everything is closed between 1 PM and 4 PM in Alghero, and decided to visit the City Archeological Museum to learn more about he history of Alghero. The entrance to the museum costs 5 euro, the museum is really very beautiful and a great introduction to the old town of Alghero, the nuraghic site of Palmavera (the oldest parts dating back to the Middle Bronze Age or the 15th century BC) and the Necropolis Anghelu Ruju (this is the largest necropolis of Sardinia of which the earliest tombs date back to 3400 BC).

I dropped in at Cicloexpress to ask about renting e-bikes for Saturday when we planned to visit the Palmavera nuraghe site, the Porto Conte nature park and the Capo Caccia Neptune’s cave. He assured me I just had to come on Saturday or send a whatsapp message the day before.

In the evening we walked to Osteria Barcellonetta for dinner. Unfortunately is was closed so we went out to look for another restaurant, and ended up in Osteria Mandras Lentas in the same street. The place looked attractive as did the menu. And the food was amazing. It is not the cheapest place but the cook works only with the best and freshest ingredients. We got a little appetizer of braised squid on fava beans. We shared a plate of deep fried squid balls with some fresh urchins on top. As a main we both had seabream braised in salt on vegetables. (the Italia name for sea bream is sarago, we could choose between freshly caught sarago; seabream or pargo; red snapper). We took a dessert, which was ok, but a lot less exiting than the other dishes. When in Sardinia, don’t take a dessert after dinner, just eat an ice-cream from a parlor on the street, buy some sweets in a bakery or eat a Seadas.

The next morning I made a walk along the shops in the old centre, but because it was only February many were still closed. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at bakery Dolce Pan Bacco, to try some Sardinian pastries. They have a long counter with pastries of all sorts and sizes. I bought several kinds to taste so that on the last day I could take some of my favorite ones home. The lady behind the counter is super friendly, and their cookies are heavenly. Since it was February they sold some special ones for the carnival season. I really liked the amaretto and pappasini cookies.

For lunch we both took a sandwich in the sun at Al Cafferino located almost next to the tourist office and the public gardens of Alghero. They serve simple snacks like sandwiches, salads, paninis, and plates with cold cuts. In te afternoon you can get an aperitivo which they serve with some complementary cold and warm bites, a typical Italian habit. We walked around the old town and stopped at Paninoteco Poldo in front of the harbor for a refreshing drink and a Seadas, a Sardinian dessert of deep fried pastries with pecorino. They serve it with honey and some slices of orange, a perfect match.

We wanted to rent a motorbike at Cicloexpress, but they were closed in the afternoon until 4 PM so we made a long walk along the coastline in the direction of Fertilia and made a reservation at El Pultal for that evening. We were the first to walk in at 7:30 PM. We ordered half a meter of pizza with two toppings: the Sarda topping ( Sardinian meat and cheese) and fried eggplant with cheese. The dough is made with mother yeast and really super tasty, the best pizza we had in a very long time.

We had a long and refreshing sleep and after breakfast we went over to Cicloexpress to rent two e-mountainbikes. To our frustration he only had one mountain bike available, the other bike was a regular e-bike. They are quite expensive at 30 and 40 euro for the day. We cycled in the direction of Fertilia, made a stop to enjoy the view there, and continued to the Nuraghe site of Palmavera. The site opens at 10 AM, the ticket costs 5 euro and the audio guide is another 3 euro extra, which we did not take. You receive a leaflet with some information and there are some signs with explanations in Italian and English. It is quite impressive if you think this site goes back to the 15th century BC.

We continued to Capo Caccia but first made a stop at the first entrance of the Porto Conte park, La Prigionette, where a very friendly lady explained us the ins and outs of the national park. There are two entrances, one at Le Prigionette, and a second one at the museum Tramariglio a bit further in the direction of Capo Caccia. You have to buy a ticket to enter the park costing 3 euros. You can enter the park by mountain bike, by car until the car park at the centre, and on foot. By car you have to use the entrance at La Prigionette. There are several walking and biking trails.

We decided to first continue to Capo Caccia to visit Neptunes cave, since there is a guided tour in the cave every hour on top of the hour. We arrived at the ticket office for the cave at 10 min before 12, but the man at the ticket office told us we were too late for the tour at 12 o ‘clock. We would have to wait until 12:30 to go down the 600 stairs for the tour of 1 PM. They do not let you on the stairs until 30 min. before the tour. There was nothing open to buy a drink or a snack ( there is a bar that opens in season), and we had just biked up the steep last km before the parking lot and ticket office so we did not want to do this climb twice. The entrance to the cave costs 13 euro. It takes 20 min. to climb down the stairs to the cave, take the guided tour after which you have to climb up the 600 steps again. After some pondering we decided not to visit the caves and look for something to eat and drink since the bike ride had dehydrated us.

We returned to the second entrance of the park at the Tramariglio museum. We bought two entrance tickets for the park together with two bottles of water from the fridge at the ticket office. You have to leave your name at the desk and you receive a little card which you have to leave at the ticket counter before leaving the park.

On the other side of the road the restaurant La Nuvola was open. We entered into the restaurant that looked like a cave on the inside. We were a bit skeptic, but since there were no alternatives, we decided to take a small lunch here. We ordered a plate of cold cuts, and two plates of spaghetti al ragu, a beer and a bottle of sparkling water. The food was surprisingly good, and served with a basket of bread. The whole meal only costed us 29 euro. So don’t take any attention to the weird design of the place, the food is really good for what you pay.

If you enter the park from this side, you receive a numeric code to open an electric gate. You can only enter the park on foot or bike from this side. We biked up to the centre and took a side road to see the view at Cala della Barca. Here you have a great view of the steep cliffs that fall into the sea. We passed some grey donkeys on the way that were quite shy. The rest of the road back to La Prigionette was mostly downhill, which was convenient with the bike, and a good reason to enter the park from the second entrance. If you start at La Prigionette the road will be uphill for the most part. We saw a group of deer in the fields along the trail and a buzzard overhead, but no Griffin vultures for which the park is famous. At La Prigionette we parked our bikes and took the walking trail to climb op mount Timidone (361 m). It is a steep one hour climb op to the highest top of the park. And you get a splendid view over all sides of the bay as a reward. The walk down only took half an hour, and biking back to Alghero just one hour with our e-bikes. As a reward we bought ourselves an ice cream at Gelateria crema and cioccolato behind the Torre San Giovanni. We returned our bikes and went to the hotel to take a rewarding shower. We made a phone call to Osteria Barcellonetta and were happy to hear they were open so booked a table at 8 PM. Only one table was taken when we entered but by 9 PM the restaurant was almost full. The streets that had been empty for the last three days but were now vibrant with locals celebrating the weekend and the start of Carnival.

We shared a plate Tre Pesci, and after that a plate of tagliatelle with seafood for me and clams and asparagus for my husband and we had a crema Catalan as dessert. But we should have kept to our own rule of not having a dessert after dinner. The crema was ok,nothing special and not as creamy as I would have liked. The fish and seafood on the contrary were super fresh and well prepared, lovely overall. The owners are very friendly, they offered a glas of prosecco before and a Sardinian digestive after, and two baskets of bread and pane carasau with olive oil. No wonder this place is popular with locals and tourists alike. You get quality for a very fair price.

We were tired from our very active day, so returned to the hotel. The breakfast was just as dull as the previous days. We then ventured outside to buy some delicacies to take home. We bought 500 gr of the delicious amaretto cookies in bakery Dolce Pan Bacco, and a package of Pane carasau. In the supermarket close to the hotel we bought some pieces of Sardinian cheese, like pecorino.

Then we were all ready to fly back home and bring some Sardinain tastes to color our days in grey Belgium.

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