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Grotta delle Oche Carloforte Sardinia Italy
Traditional mask for the Sartiglia Sardinia Italy
Horseriding in Domus de Maria beach Sardinia Italy

Sardinia Things to Do

Every trip to Italy is an endless journey into culture and beauty. No other country in the world can boast the cultural and artistic treasures of Italy. More than half the's historical and artistic heritage is found in Italy. Evidence can be seen in every village. There are so many art treasures of such quality, spread across the country that Italy can rightly be considered an "open air"  art gallery.

Each year is packed with special events, some linked to festivals of the Catholic Church, others to the changing seasons. Every little village in Italy has its own wonderful festivals. Many are associated with the harvest (especially wine) or to local products (polenta, prosciutto). The remainder tends to be historical re-enactments linked to jousting or to costumed cavalcades.

Art and culture, the pleasures of good food and music, traditional crafts and expressions of collective religion, folklore and contemporary art, opera and operetta, concert and theater seasons, in Italy the calendar of festivals and events is practically endless.

 

 

Water sports

 

It is said that Sardinia, with its transparent, turquoise sea, beautiful beaches, breathtaking cliffs and rock formations, was designed by the gods for all kinds of water sports.

 

Windsurfing

Windsurfing in Sardegna is fantastic, especially in the gulfs of the north coast where the wind is at its best.

 

Surfing

Surfing is popular in Poetto (near Cagliari), Chia, Buggerru, and Capo Comino.

 

Scuba diving

No matter where you go on the island, you're never far from one of over 80 scuba diving centers, many of which also offer courses if you wish to learn.

The islands of Tavolara, Molara, and Molarotto provide a unique diving environment. There are 30 dive sites in the area with an abundance of sea life. Alternatively, you can swim between the rocks and reefs to discover the sea life and coral.

The Island of Tavolara is good for "wreck diving".  A Roman wreck is being excavated by the University of Sassari. Nearby there is the wreck of an Italian transport ship which was torpedoed in 1943 by a British submarine.

 

Sailing

Sardinia, Corsica, and Elba are renowned for their beautiful coastlines and turquoise waters, and sailing is a wonderful way to appreciate this. Many cruise companies are available for booking sailing excursions, where you can enjoy breathtaking coastal views, swim in secluded bays, and learn to sail if you wish.

 

 

Cultural events

 

Sardinians love their traditions and no matter where you are on the island, or the time of the year, you'll likely find a colorful celebration.

 

January

Festa di Sant'Elisio

At Sant'Antonio Abate, Cagliari, the blessing of the animals is held in the church in Via Manno.

 

St. Anthony's Day, Mamoiada

One of the most widely celebrated Sardinian holidays is St. Anthony's Day, on January 16 and 17. The festivities revolve around a bonfire with herbs and fruits atop of the blaze (ancient tradition has it that the saint stole into hell and brought back fire). Don't miss the spectacular celebration in Mamoiada, where 12 frightening masks called mamuthones represent the months of the year.

 

February

 

This is Carnival month, and exquisite masks, embroidered costumes, music, dancing, food, and wine can be found in abundance throughout the island.

Some of the noteworthy festivals are the Festa di Santa Eulalia in Cagliari and Sa Sartiglia at Oristano, one of Sardinia's biggest festivals.

Other carnivals are held in the towns around Oristano (Paulilatino, Samugheo, Abbasanta, Sedilo, San Vero Milis, and especially Santu Lussurgiu). Here the central character is the horse and dare-devil riders. Everything culminates on the last Tuesday of Carnival, during the breakneck  "Palio-like" race that rips through the streets of town.

 

March/April

 

During Holy Week, there are passion plays in Catalan, Alghero. On Good Friday, there are processions at Cagliari, Iglesias, Nulvi, Orosei, Sassari, Teulada, and Galtello.

As in the rest of Italy, the Monday after Easter is an important day. The people of Castelsardo celebrate with a procession that begins at dawn. All day, the men, with their faces hidden beneath white monks' hoods, parade through town, while choirs sing chants. At sunset, the local women carry hundreds of torches before everyone retires to enjoy a traditional meal.

 

May/June

 

One of the most celebrated festivals in Sardinia, is held in Cagliari on the first of May and dedicated to Sant'Efisio. Celebrants come from all over the island to fulfill a vow made to the saint three centuries ago.

 

The Cavalcata Sarda (Sardinian Cavalcade) at Sassari is held on next to the last Sunday in May. Only thirty years old, this festival is a showcase for costumes, songs, and poetry, and has become one of Sardinia's most noteworthy festivals.

 

The Mattanza is an annual rite of spring, held on the islet of Piana between May 20 and June 25, when tuna come to spawn. A circle of boats, led by the rais (chief) surround the tuna, finally pulling up the nets and catching the tuna all at once in the camera della morte (the chamber of death). Afterwards, there's music, dancing, and a wide variety of tuna specialties.

 

The Ardia (Guard) is a popular festival that has brought Sardinians to Sedilo by the thousands. For three days straight, the famed local horsemen participate in a wild race around the Sanctuary of Santu Antine. There are no costumes, masks, pageantry, nor a prize for the winner. The rewards are private, as each rider believes that merely by his participation, one of his wishes will come true.

 

August

 

Li Candaleri, held in Sassari, is unlike any other event in Sardinia. At the head of the procession are nine 30-foot candlesticks made of wood, bedecked with flowers, ribbons, banners, and bows, and weighing up to 650 pounds. This tradition originated as a way to thank the Madonna for ending a deadly plague.

 

September

 

On the first Saturday of September in Cabras, the statue of San Salvatore is placed in the sanctuary church; on Sunday he returns on an enclosed litter carried by hundreds of barefoot men wearing white ruffled shirts and shorts. They end up on a carpet of flowers strewn by their adoring fans before the church of San Salvatore.

 

October

 

The town of Aritzo is surrounded by lush chestnut groves, and the beautiful wedding chests made by local cabinet makers have long been prized as the finest in all Sardegna. According to local legend, these generous forests were created in an instant by Sant' Efisio. During the last week in October, the whole town celebrates the chestnuts and bakes and roasts them into every possible form.

 

November

 

November 1 is the Day of the Dead, and in Nuoro many families prepare a feast with places set at the table for their dearly departed. The custom is to cook an abundance of food to share with less fortunate neighbors.

Afterwards, there's a procession to the Madonna delle Grazie sanctuary, where choirs from surrounding villages sing hymns and candlesticks are offered to the bishop.

 

December

 

Santa Lucia is a beloved local saint, and her festival is celebrated in many towns.

 

 

Food and antique markets

 

In Cagliari, an antique market takes place on the second Sunday of each month in Piazza Carlo Alberto, and there's a lively open air market in the seaside Sant' Elia neighborhood on Sundays.

There's an antiques market in Piazza Eleonora in Oristano on the first Saturday of each month.

 

 

Major music festivals and concerts

 

In Cagliari, the New Municipal Theater in Via S.Alenixedda replaced the 19th-century structure destroyed during the war. During the opera and concert season, it is the most important theater in the city.

Not far from the church of S. Saturnino, the EXMA hosts temporary exhibits and cultural activities. Near the Molentargius salt marsh in the La Palma district, the Teatro delle Saline (Theater of the Salt Works) offers contemporary theatrical productions.

 

 

Shopping guide

 

Sardinian handicrafts

There are over 50 craft cooperatives around the island, some sponsored by the Istituto Sardo Organizazione Lavoro Artigiano (ISOLA), which has boutiques in the four provincial capitals, as well as Alghero and Porto Cervo.

Sardinian handicrafts, whose origins spring from rural life, offer a rustic genuineness. Tapestries, carpets, gold and silver filigree jewelry, and baskets are Sardinian handicrafts which are known for their variety, richness, and uniqueness.

 

Sardinian carpets, for example, have their own local characteristics: the manufacturing techniques, materials, designs, the colors, (which vary greatly from village to village) ensure that Sardinian carpets are unique. Weaving is still one of the most widespread crafts in Sardegna. There are many small inland towns and villages famous for their traditional carpets or tapestries, not only in Italy but also abroad.

The same can be said for basketwork. Basketwork can be found throughout Sardegna and represent the decorative art for which Sardinia is famous.

Via Manno, Via Azuni, and Piazza Yenne in Cagliari are good places to look for traditional goods.

 

Oristano's markets take place every morning in Via Mazzini and Via Costa, and every Tuesday and Friday in Via Aristana.

Alghero is reputed to be the best shopping town in Sardegna. The centro storico is filled with a wide array of boutiques where you can buy just about anything made on the island, from a carpet to the exquisitely shaped bottles of Mirto or grappa.

Via Lamarmora and Corso Garibaldi in Nuoro is the lively scene. Enjoy a cafe' or a drink at the Bar Majore, Nuoro's oldest and most elegant caffe', decorated with frescoes and gilded stuccos.

 

 

Special events

 

Cavalcata Sarda

One of Sassari's (Sardinia's second-largest city) main events is the Cavalcata Sarda (Sardinan Cavalcade), an important festival in May/ You will find traditional costumes, parades, equestrian competitions, and more. It's by far the biggest folk festival.

 

Li Candelieri

Another festival, held in August, is called Li Candelieri. There you'll find the candle with guilds parading with enormous decorated wooden candles. The idea was borrowed from a medieval Pisan candle offering ceremony to the Virgin, and evolved into something larger when the intervention of the Madonna ended a plague.

The main event is the Faradda, the procession from Piazza Castello to Santa Maria de Betlem of the nine medieval guilds (shoemakers, bricklayers, tailors, farm managers, stone cutters, commercial travelers, farm workers, carpenters, and market gardeners), each carrying a great candlestick decorated with the guild's emblem, its patron saint, ribbons, and flowers. Originally made of wax, but now of wood, each candalero weights up to 650 pounds.

 

Holy Week Nenniris

One of the oldest festivals in Cagliari is the Holy Week nenniris. Women plant nenniris (barley or wheat) which is left to germinate in the dark until Good Friday. The nenniris are then tied with ribbons and decorated with fresh flowers and placed in chapels and tombs and on biers holding images of Christ.

 

Carnival in Mamoiada, Ottana, and Orotelli

In the Barbacina villages of Mamoiada, Ottana, and Orotelli, carnival is unlike anywhere else in Italy. A common practice in many ancient cultures was the driving out of a "scapegoat" at the beginning of the agricultural year to take the community's bad luck with it. This is what happens in Mamoiada.

The Mamuthones, a group of men dressed in long wooly sheepskins with primitive wooden masks and thirty pounds of bells dangling from their backs, move rhythmically in a ritual dance as they are chased out of town by the Issokadores, who are dressed in red jackets, white trousers, and black caps, carrying long loops of rope.

No one remembers how this carnival started or why, but in Ottana's carnival there are the Boes (cattle) who are dressed in burly skins and horned animal masks. The Merdulesare wear grotesque human masks. They parade side-by-side in a display of the countryman's close relationship with his herd. The third character, the Filonzana, wears the mask of a sardonic old woman and represents bad luck.

In Orotelli, the carnival figures are called Sos Thurpos (the blind ones). They paint their faces black and wear heavy black hoods and cloaks and lots of bells.

 

 

Sports

 

Cycling

About three-quarters of island is hilly or mountainous, so if you like mountain biking, you'll love Sardinia.

 

Fishing

Sardinia probably has the best fishing in Italy; nighttime surf casting is especially popular. You don't need a permit for sea fishing, but you'll need one for the well-stocked artificial lakes and some of the streams.

 

Trekking

The mountain province of Nuoro, with its unusual rock formations, wildlife, and archaeological remains, is ideal for trekking.

 

Rock climbing

What the Italians call arrampicata (free climbing) is popular on the steep cliffs by the sea.

 

Horseback riding

Sardinians are very fond of horses and often ride pure-blooded Arabian horses. You'll find riding stables near the coastal resorts. In the mountainous interior, trail riding down ancient mule paths is increasingly popular.

 

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