13 April 2017 – Oh my goodness the hills! Riding up to Santu Lussurgiu….. [Italy, (Sardinia)]
Our fourth day of our Sardinian bike tour was the toughest day of riding of our whole trip, no less than 9 categorised climbs and an awful lot of up in the first 36km! Luckily the reward was the amazing ancient hilltop town of Santu Lussurgiu and hands-down one of the best meals we’ve eaten, cooked directly from the hotels kitchen garden.
After 2 huge days of riding, on our last morning in Bosa the kids blessed us bit of a sleep in until 7.45am. Then it was down for another lovely breakfast at Hotel Sa Pischedda. We were grateful there was a good selection of protein options (as well as sweet options) before another long day of riding. The breads, cheeses and eggs weren’t too shabby and the sweet pastries also met with our approval.
It was another day with limited lunch stopping places, and plenty of hills so we decided to carry some lunch supplies with us. We were also not returning to Bosa that evening so had to have our bags packed up ready for collection. All a bit tired and sore (especially after my couple of falls the previous day) the ride profile for the day was making us less than enthusiastic about getting on our bikes.
The trusty luggage transport man had arrived to move our bags as we were getting our bikes sorted and I really wanted to get in the car with him and take the easy option for the day. When chatting with our friendly receptionist as we checked out, she had asked where we were headed. When we replied ‘Santu Lussurgiu’, she looked at us with sympathy and said ‘oh it’s beautiful but there is no way between here and there without a lot of very big mountains to ride up’. Great!
Anto again had a flat tyre so it took awhile to get that sorted and it was almost 11am before we got away for the day. We were again riding the ‘easy route’ at 50km. The days ‘challenge route’ was only 43km but described as ‘challenging hills’. Given we weren’t looking forward to the hills on the easy route, the extra kilometres were worth it.
The first few kilometres of the day followed the same route (in and out of Bosa) from the previous day, along the marina.
As I’ve previously mentioned, there is no way out of Bosa without going up some hills. Today we were going straight back up the hill into Porto Albae that we came down the previous afternoon. At the 4km mark our legs started their real work for the day and it was straight up a nasty climb. When the road signs warn cars to use low gear as the gradient exceeds 10% it’s never good for your legs. Indeed the gradient hit 11.5% and we knew we were alive. Luckily the view back down over Bosa was very pretty!
As we wound our way back through Porto Albae there were beautiful views over ocean and our legs got a brief respite for a few kilometres. We then turned off in a different direction from the previous afternoon and headed straight up a hill with 7km of hills ranging between 5 and 9% gradient. It was pretty disconcerting to see how much we’d already climbed up from sea-level for the day when we’d only completed a small fraction of our kilometres.
Sardinia with its stunning water and seaside villages nestled into mountains is certainly pretty, if not the easiest riding!
Soon we were heading away from the coast and heading inland, cycling along country roads through olive farms and vineyards. Aside from the fact that there was no respite for our legs as we continued to climb (albeit more gently), it was a pleasant day for riding.
By the time we reached the village of Sennariolo we decided it was time for a break. We’d done only 22km and 450m climbing, but there weren’t a lot of other convenient stopping places……. and due to our late start and the fact that we were chugging up hills at about 8km/h for the climbing sections, it was now lunch time! Poor Soren had already fallen asleep on the back of my bike. He liked to put his hands in his trouser pockets when it was nap time!
Sennariolo had a small bar, but as we had learnt this usually means a place with a few pre-made sandwiches and questionable toilet facilities. They did have espresso and cold bottled water so after our drinks we headed across the road to the park for a picnic lunch with our supplies of cheese, bread and biscuits. As a bonus it had a fairly nice play area for the kids.
The kids had to be dragged away from the park as it was already 2pm and we still had an awful lot of riding to be done. At this point I was really wishing I had of gotten a lift in the car for the day, or at least picked an easier holiday activity than riding up big hills!
We were riding in a fairly rural area and the kids were amused spotting plenty of lazy sheep and goats.
With the sun high in the sky and no cloud cover or shade, we were feeling rather hot. It was the third day in a row of riding up hills so the constant climbs were made tougher by weary legs. The kids were feeling it too as they both dropped off to sleep for a while as we trundled past more farms. The scenery was quite different to the coastal and vineyard areas.
It was now almost 4pm and it would have been nice to already have arrived in Santu Lussurgiu. It was now 36km into the ride and the majority of the hills were done for the day, which was lucky as we’d already climbed over 900m. We were about to enter a forest area on our way to San Leonardo and the Siete Fuentes (seven fountains) natural spring. Do we look tired yet?
For the whole ride the kids had been talking about getting to the forest and having a picnic afternoon tea at the springs. As Anto and I were wearily trudging up hill after hill the though of splashing in some cool water and laying on some cool grass was keeping us going.
Unlike in the Netherlands where you see cyclists by the hundreds, we had not seen all that many in Sardinia (aside from the first riding day between Alghero and Bosa on the famous coastal road). This was particularly true today where we crossed paths with maybe 3 serious looking road cyclists all day, also out in the middle of nowhere. We did get some serious respect salutes when they saw us dragging 2 kids on our bikes!
As we hit the 40km mark we were cruising at a much better pace on the relative flat through a shaded forest area and were all feeling a bit of relief from the sun (and hills). There was apparently a free water station in San Leonardo and we were entirely out of water so were relieved to start seeing signs to both San Leonardo and the Siete Fuentes.
As we were coming into San Leonardo Soren was asleep for the third time of the day. We saw plenty of signs indicating San Leonardo was the home of the Siete Fuentes but first we located the water station and filled up our empty bottles before we dehydrated further. Our route notes indicated that the springs were located in the town and as we hadn’t seen a sign telling us to turn off we kept following our GPS and route notes assuming we’d come across them as we rode through or out-of-town.
Well, we must have missed that sign because as we came out-of-town it was straight around a bend and into a big descent through oak and chestnut forests. Partway down the descent we realised that the fountains must have been back in town but it was now 5.30pm and there was no way our legs were going to power us back up another large climb even if we wanted to. The kids hadn’t yet realised but weren’t going to be impressed when they did!
The descent into to Santu Lussurgiu was amazing but we again couldn’t pull off to take photos in many spots.
Santu Lussurgiu is located on the Eastern side of the historic region of Montiferru, in an ancient but now extinct volcano. The town is developed around the small rustic church of Santa Croce (built in 1185) and has the characteristic structure of an amphitheatre. Ancient stone houses and buildings were built in a concentric configuration along winding and steep, narrow cobblestone streets.
Mauro, our bike tour contact, had warned us that the streets were difficult to navigate on bike so we ended up having to use GPS and a google map on our phone and push our bikes through a rabbit warren of streets before finding the tiny hotel tucked around a corner. You definitely weren’t going to find it by accident!
Our night in Santu Lussurgiu was at the Antica Dimora del Gruccione, a 12 room boutique guesthouse built in a 17th Century stone mansion and nearby guesthouses. We were greeted by the lovely staff and shown to our ‘suite’. An enormous multiple room stone building with its own kitchen and 2 bathrooms. We really wished we were staying more than the one night!
Our suite opened directly off the main courtyard, which housed the kitchen garden. The courtyard was secured so we could also leave our bikes right outside our room under the enormous lemon tree.
The bike tour includes all hotels and breakfast every day and 1 dinner. The included dinner was to be tonight at the restaurant. The restaurant cooks traditional Sardinian cuisine and is part of the slow-food movement. There is no menu and meals are prepared daily based on what ingredients are available from the garden and town and guest requirements. We’d read amazing reviews of the restaurant so had been looking forward to this dinner. As it’s only a small restaurant, they only do 1 dinner sitting – at 8pm. This is very late for the kids, especially after a long day of riding, but it unfortunately couldn’t be brought forward so we were going to have to cope.
It was already after 6pm so we had a much-needed shower and change of clothes to make ourselves presentable for our ‘grown-up’ dinner. Well as presentable as you can be with limited luggage and washing facilities. We’d packed 1 semi-presentable outfit each for the couple of nice dinners we had planned and attempted to keep them clean.
We’d hoped the kids would have a short nap but after all the bike napping, that wasn’t going to happen, so it was off for a quick explore of the town.
The historic centre of Santu Lussurgiu, attracts many tourists throughout the year, as it’s characterised by its narrow streets and looks like a labyrinth of stones and medieval buildings.T he streets were dotted with the typical Sardinian coloured and stone houses. We again found lots of fun murals painted on walls.
We could have wandered for hours but didn’t want to get too lost (it really was a labyrinth) so didn’t venture too far from the hotel.
Back at the hotel it was almost time for our dinner. We had been watching the preparations from the courtyard and the kids were enjoying chatting to the hotel cat. Pretty soon it was time to wander in, after a day of riding we were all starving and pretty much ready to go to bed.
The other diners for the evening all seemed to be hotel guests. We were wisely put on our own table though, over-tired kids are not always the best dinner company. Dinner started with freshly baked bread and wine (we let our waiter bring us whatever local wines he thought worked well with the dishes, and just ignored the fact that our wine bill wasn’t going to be small).
We received the set menu for the evening:
L’Antipasto : White beets carpaccio, guanciale and sapa sauce +
Bitter herbs flan with apple compote
Il Primo:Risotto with chards, lemon and capers from Selargius
Il Secondo: Sardo Modicana entrecote, pumpkin cream, potatoes and chicory
Il Dessert:Licorice pudding with caramelized pears.
Most of the set menu was vegetarian, aside from some proscuitto being substituted off one of the antipasto plates and my main not having the piece of meat and having a vegetable flan substitute. The staff had checked with us what the kids would eat and we’d informed them that they eat anything but they ended up getting a butter and parmesan pasta, which was delicious and obviously freshly made followed by the same dessert as us.
The blessing of them having a slightly different dinner was that they finished quickly!
By an hour into dinner both the kids were ready to nap in our lap so we took them next door to our room and they were quickly tucked up into bed and asleep. The distance from our hotel suite to the restaurant was less than from our kitchen to their rooms at home so it we managed to have the rest of the meal in peace while alternating checking on them every 20 minutes.
Full of wonderful food and wine, we wandered next door to the sleeping children and collapsed into bed before another big day of riding to follow. We’d survived the hardest riding day of the tour and were to be rewarded with a couple of easier days to follow.
Daily statistics for Thursday 13 April 2017 in Bosa and Santu Lussurgiu, Sardinia – 13 to 18 degrees with light winds and 92% average humidity. Our total walking for the day was 8.1km.
The total riding for the day was 51.9km with officially 1,045m of climbing, although Anto’s GPS recorded more like 1400m! This was at least 3 times my daily record from before this trip. There were a total of 7 category 4 and 2 category 3 climbs.
Up next, another riding day this time from Santu Lussurgiu through to the city of Oristano. Another day with totally different scenery, and a stop by some Roman ruins and thermal springs.