10 April 2017 – off to beautiful Alghero, Sardinia…… [Italy (Sardinia)]
Our time in Rome had come to an end but that meant we were jetting off to the island of Sardinia to check out the beautiful city of Alghero on the Mediterranean coast before the start of our next bike tour.
It was an early start to the day, which wasn’t ideal after a busy few days in Rome. Our flight from Rome to Alghero in Sardinia was at 9:40am but Rome’s Fiumicino airport is a fair way out of the city. Google was helpfully telling us it was going to take 1 hour and 10 minutes by metro and airport express but we decided to err on the side of caution and give ourselves a little more time. A very wise decision in the end as it took way longer than we had hoped.
We were all up at 6am and had a quick breakfast of some form of sugar-coated cereal masquerading as nut muesli, and finished the final pack up and were out the door before 7am. The kids were whinging about being tired so it wasn’t an auspicious start to the day.
We bid farewell to our Rome apartment and hauled the luggage down Via del Corso to the Spagna metro station. We’d walked the route tens of times in the last few days and it doesn’t feel that far except when hauling bags……when you’d swear it was 10 times the distance!
The metro station and the Spanish Steps were pretty deserted at just after 7am but the metro we jumped on was packed with commuters. Once at Termini it took us forever to get through to the train station section, which was insanely busy at peak hour. We then we had to find where to buy tickets for the express airport service and actually find the correct platform, which was harder than it first appeared.
Finally we were on the express train to the airport that takes just over half an hour. It turns out several people on the train hadn’t figured out the confusing ticketing system so we were doing better than most! We didn’t arrive at the airport until 8:20am and then had a long walk through the terminals and similar to Amsterdam a long check-in process. Alitalia’s ‘famiglia con bambini‘ counter did help speed up the check-in, despite other people (without children) trying to use it.
Anto and I were desperate for coffee by this stage and security wasn’t too awful. At this point in the trip we’ve started pulling out separately all the electronic items, including all the camera gear, as everything is getting pulled up on security screens. With our copious amounts of electronics and camera gear security is not a quick process!
The coffee gods weren’t shining on us and there was another long walk to our gate and we arrived 40 minutes before departure with a plan to get coffee and food and saw our flight to Alghero boarding. It was starting to feel like a long morning and we could smell the coffee at the cafe next to the gate.
Disappointed we jumped in the line and realised they were loading us all on a bus, all 150 of us. We then proceeded to have about a 5km bus ride to another section of the airport to be deposited at our A320 in the middle of the tarmac. This explained why they were boarding so early! Finally on-board we were informed our flight time was too short for in-flight service (we had kind of expected this) so no hope of food or coffee. Lucky we had some biscuits with us (if not water as it was being treated as an international flight).
This was our first experience of Alitalia (and unfortunately not the last for the trip) and the crew were pretty useless and stayed behind their glass partition while people had trays down during takeoff and huge bags on their lap. We were just glad their were no emergencies as the crew were not all that committed to doing their job.
Our flight to Alghero was scheduled for 1 hour 5 minutes but I think we were in the air for a whole 35 minutes. The island of Sardinia is only a short hop across the Tyrennian Sea, but it feels like a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Pisa, Florence and Rome that we had experienced over the past week.
Sardinia has 3 airports and we were starting our week in Sardinia in the North-West city of Alghero. We would then bike our way down the West Coast to Cagliari. As we flew into Alghero we saw all the beautiful green fields, and way too many mountains for our liking! We were riding out of Alghero the next morning and there were mountains stretching in every direction that were making our legs ache in anticipation.
Alghero has a very small airport and not many flights a day, so once off the plane we had a short wait for our bags and were on our way. Most of the flight had carry-on luggage only so it wasn’t even that much of a wait. Immediately we noticed the quieter pace and holiday atmosphere of Alghero (it’s a hot spot for British and German tourists looking for a Mediterranean escape).
We quickly obtained bus tickets and found the bus that looked like it was going in the right direction into the city of Alghero. The airport is a reasonable distance out of Alghero so it was around 25 minutes on the bus and as we zoomed along the coast we saw the beautiful blue-green water of the Mediterranean and could smell the sea air. It was a very pleasant change after the crazy of Rome.
For those of you following the original planning of this trip, we had intended to bike through Tuscany but couldn’t find a bike tour that accommodated the kids (in our price range) so were suggested the Sardinian bike tour as an alternative. Right about now we were pretty pleased we were here in Sardinia as it was rather beautiful!
None of the bus stops seemed to have numbers so we were trusting google and happened to get off where most of the rest of the bus was departing. It turned out to be less than a half kilometre walk to our hotel through the cute streets and markets of the city, which we were looking forward to exploring more later.
All of the hotels for the Sardinian portion of our trip, booked by the bike tour company, are tiny. We walked into our accommodation for the night, the Bienestar Maison de Charme, and the desk staff greeted us by name and had our keys to our room ready for us at 11.30 am. While we were getting checked in the restaurant barista made us coffees – and they were the most awesome coffees we have ever tasted! They were excellent coffee but especially so after the long and uncaffeinated morning we’d had. I could have married that barista!
Pretty soon we were up in our huge room, it had a tiled floor and balcony looking out towards the sea. The kids bed wasn’t ready but we weren’t fussed as it was time to go out and explore.
All starving, we quickly stashed our stuff and were off to find some food. It was a fairly short walk back through the market and down to the sea. There was beautiful crystal-clear water and a sunny sky with no wind. It was perfect weather to explore this Mediterranean paradise. With Alghero being on the sea there were boats everywhere!
We’d been hoping to spend our only afternoon in Alghero visiting the famous Neptune’s grotto by boat. On such a beautiful day we were keen to go out, but being April it was not yet high-season so we weren’t sure how many boats were going out (it varies per day due to demand, weather and tides). We found a large selection of companies operating but, unfortunately due to tides the only boats out that afternoon were leaving at 3pm and back at 5.30pm, which didn’t work as we had a meeting at 5pm for our bike orientation. It turns out all the companies were on similar schedules so it didn’t look like it was going to work out which was disappointing.
With boating plans for the afternoon scuttled, hunger took over and there was quite a large selection of restaurants along the beach front. We found a restaurant that seemed good and sat out in the sun for our first Sardinian meal. While Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy most Sardinians consider themselves to be Sardinian rather than Italian. The Sardinian cuisine is similar to mainland Italian cuisine with lots of Catalan and regional influence. Throughout our timein Sardinia we also found specialist dishes in each of the cities and villages we visited.
For our first Sardinian meal we ordered a fried seafood platter with prawns, fish and calamari, chips and salad. I had a parmigiana pizza with eggplant, tomato, basil and mozarella. We also had some antipasti with salami and cheeses and small bottle of local white wine which was pretty good. We came to discover that Sardinian wine is generally pretty good!
As we didn’t have to fit in a boat trip, and we were all rather tired we decided on a quick wander before a rest back at the hotel. The island of Sardinia is a little over 24,000 square kilometres but the city of Alghero itself is tiny, at only 224 square kilometres and with 44,000 people (which actually makes it one of the bigger Sardinian cities). The city is a tourist mecca in the Summer but is also known for the sea wall surrounding the ancient city and the ramparts with 7 towers and 3 forts aligning and dividing the old town from the new town.
On the way back to the hotel we had a walk along the sea towards the old town and checked out some of the colourful buildings that show strong traces of the Spanish culture. Soren scored some new sunglasses (he’d mysteriously lost the last pair somewhere in Florence) and we soaked up some sunshine. We were slighty in love with this place already!
Back at the hotel we sentenced the kids to a nap before our bike orientation, and hopefully time for more exploring later in the afternoon.
The hotel had helpfully called the bike tour company (Discover France) to let them know we were back, and told us they’d be there in an hour with our bikes. This somewhat curtailed our napping plan! We all had a rather short nap before Robert and Mauro showed up, but the kids were not ready to get up and were a bit tired and not all that impressed with having to get fitted for bikes!
We were doing the Sardinia Island bike tour for the next 7 days and our first day included the bike set-up and orientation. We got to take advantage of the beautiful afternoon sunshine as Mauro and Robert set up our bikes.
Like our bike tour in the Netherlands, we had booked Astrid a trailer bike to go behind Anto’s bike. Unlike her tagalong in the Netherlands the attachment system for this bike meant she was having trouble balancing and controlling her bike. After a couple of laps around the block with Anto we were a bit concerned about the safety aspect with little time to practice, so we decided to swap her to a bike trailer for the tour (which turned out to be a good move). Soren was fitted to his bike seat on my bike but somehow managed to fall over twice clonking his head on bikes and the ground due to being exhausted. We were looking like excellent parents!
Our Sardinian bikes were excellent and much lighter than the Dutch ones, which was a good thing when we saw the hills (mountains actually) that we were going to be climbing. We went over routes, maps and elevations for the next week and got lots of excellent information from Robert and Mauro about things to do, places to stop and the best route options. It was a slightly different experience to the Dutch bike tour where we just rocked up and found a packet of information and our bikes waiting for us. The meeting took around 1.5 hours so it’s lucky we’d forgone the plan of heading out to Neptune’s Grotto.
Bikes safely stored in the hotel foyer it was time to go out exploring again.
Alghero is a mix of Catalan, Genoese and Sardinian culture. The old town still shows strong traces of the Spanish culture. The cute narrow streets are named in both Catalan and Italian! The old town has a number of bright churches, including the distinctive brightly coloured dome on St Miquel’s.
The antique houses in the city are adorned with decorative iron made balconies and local shops and bakeries are built from massive granite stones. Many of the shops, bars and restaurants are decorated with red, pink and sky-blue in honour of the coral in the Mediterranean sea off Alghero’s coast. It was a very pretty city to walk around and we found plenty of restaurants and interesting shops.
We purchased some dried fruit to sustain us in the next few days riding and the kids were entertained by the historic centre train that was trundling around (although didn’t get a ride since it’s a pretty tiny area and we were happy wandering on foot).
Back down by the sea wall we noticed that for some reason there were a lot of trebuchets! Wandering along the sea wall we could see why this place is such a popular Summer holiday spot. The ocean really is that colour!
It was now approaching dinner time .There were so many excellent-looking food options that we had trouble choosing which restaurant we wanted to dine at. We were already wishing we were staying more than the one night!
We ended up going with a tiny restaurant down an alley that looked interesting. It was deserted at 6.30pm which was good because the somewhat over-tired kids were being loud….. We decided on some Sardinian specialities, starting with a melted cheese which we dipped our traditional Sardinian flatbread (carasu) into. The kids and Anto decided again to take advantage of the abundance of seafood and had some gnocchi with clams. We also had a caprese salad, and a 1/2 litre of another local white wine which was really good.
The food was all very good. We had been busting to try some of the local desserts and ordered the Sardinian Crème brûlée (crema catalana) and the Sardinian specialty of ‘seadas’ which is a honey and cheese pastry. It is usually made by deep-frying semolina pastries stuffed with pecorino and lemon zest and serving it with oranges and honey. The desserts were both fabulous and went down well with some nice strong coffee!
As we left the restaurant it was approaching 8pm and the sun was starting to set. The streets were even more charming in the low light of the evening. We hadn’t realised but the Giro d’Italia bike was coming to Sardinia (and Alghero) in a few weeks, we had only figured it out from all the Giro signs everywhere! They were most likely doing a lot more riding than we were…..
Back at the hotel, the kids didn’t take long to fall asleep and Anto and I sat on our balcony watching the last of the light disappear into the ocean and drinking more amazing coffee from the bar downstairs. You’ve got to love a hotel that makes you coffees and sends them up to your balcony!
It had been a pretty wonderful afternoon and evening in Alghero. We had a little more time to explore in the morning before our anticipated very scenic (and mountainous) ride along the coast the next day to the city of Bosa.
Statistics for Monday 10 April 2017, Rome started out at 9 degrees but the majority of our day was spent in the very sunny Alghero which reached a beautiful 24 degrees. Our total walking for the day was a sizable 12.5km.
Up next our first big day of riding through Sardinia. It was one of the most stunning rides we have ever done, it was a tough one though!