Cycle tour in Sardinia, 2003

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An Account of a Tour of Sardinia March 4th-12th inclusive, 2003.
I decided to refurbish this account as it was originally published without photos. At the time, you couldn't put photos in an article on Usenet.

Introduction.

I and my wife Mary are experienced cycletourists. We do little else for holidays and this tour was approximately my fortieth. Neither of us had been to Sardinia, but I had been to Corsica 3 times and was curious. Ryanair fly there from London Stanstead and we could go, but to my astonishment, I found very little useful on the web about it, and almost nothing on Usenet. When I posted queries people asked me to write an account and here goes.

The journey.

We flew from Cork to London with Ryanair. For Americans and others, Ryanair is an extremely successful, aggressive, no-frills Irish airline which flies to small airports mainly, to keep down costs. It always charges for bikes with little insurance on them, but it's a chance you have to take. Per leg, it charges 22 Euro per bike (more now), so our bikes cost us 176 Euro alone, but the fares were so cheap it was still good value. Ryanair do not check your baggage through any connection so you have to recheck in. I could not find out about whether there was any left-luggage in Stanstead airport so we booked into the Stanstead Hilton overnight (expensive) as we had an early-morning
flight. There is in fact a left luggage which opens from 4am to midnight, so it would have been fine. Check into a cheaper place is my advice as the Hilton is a RIPOFF.

We only take off pedals and turn bars. This I believe is the safest way to transport or ship as the Yanks say, a bike. Putting in a box is a recipe for a large elephant to be plonked on top of it.

Anyway we reached Alghero with a slight delay and after a sandwich in the airport, we were on our way, at about 2.30pm local time.

First thing I noticed was a noise from my front wheel, like a creak, worse when I stood up. I eventually discovered that all my spokes were loose (it was years since I made that wheel) and I tightened them all and hey presto, fixed.

For the tecchies, we both were on Dawes Galaxies with bar-end shifters and triples. I had 46,36, 26 and 11-28, 8 speed, and Mary 42,32,22, 11-28 7 speed. I had Continental Top Touring 37c on back and 28c Michelin Select Kevlar on front. Can't remember what Mary had except 28 cs.

You need triples here if you are an ordinary person. It's almost all seriously hilly.

I used 2 Ortlieb backrollers and old large Ortlieb handlebar bag and a small Carradice Saddlebag in which I keep picnics and stuff like that, but is mostly empty. Mary has an all in one pannier outfit by Sporthouse, an Irish bag company.

Note:

This tour was done in early March and price and traffic information has to be seen in that light. Also, we got freak excellent weather so that must be considered.

Sardinia is about 9000 square miles, three times the size of Corsica. If you look at maps you will see relatively little Green road (road marked scenic) on its maps. This is bull****. 90% of the roads in Sardinia are scenic. It is beautiful all over and very varied from place to place. The reason I imagine that Michelin mark more green in Corsica is that Michelin is a French company????? The roads to aim for are the minor roads which are numerous. These are almost all excellently surfaced and we only came across one unsurfaced section in our whole tour. Avoid the dual carriageways or busy trunk roads. Sardinians drive very fast on these. They by and large drive slowly on small roads. They drive aggressively in big towns like Sassari. This advice may not apply to high-season but I would advise anybody against touring here in high season as it would be too hot
and too busy. Corsica is rightly famous for the smell of its countryside, the maquis. This is generated by numerous herbs. Sardinia has much the same smell in many places. It's lovely.

Food.

Sardinian food is basically Italian, and they eat an antipasto, a first course like pasta, which despite Americans' belief is not pawsta but past-a, and a second course of meat or fish, usually bare and baldy, but you can order chips (freedom fries!) and vegetable etc. You often get a salad and much bread is served as a matter of course. You will not be able for dessert!. Pizzerias usually have proper pizza ovens which give gorgeous pizzas, but they only serve pizzas at certain times!

It is excellent cycling fare, but gets boring for me. I'd rather German, French, Spanish, Irish or Scottish cooking, for the greater variety, but I'm an omnivore and even ate horse one night (standard Sardinian fare).

Breakfast is pretty useless. They eat pastries and bread for breakfast and no protein. You cannot cycle all morning without some protein in my experience, so bring a tin of fish, or some cheese to breakfast and you will be okay. The coffee is a bit of a problem to those who like a big mug. If you ask for a big American coffee you will get about 50 ccs. The normal size is about the size of a large teardrop, but strong.

We went for tea at breakfast, for volume.

If you are a vegetarian you can survive but if you are a vegan, forget it, and you will not have the strength for Sardinia anyway!

Accommodation.

Not a lot anywhere, but okay off season. Going to small places, make sure that the hotel is open and that a room is available. No B&Bs. Hotels are dearish, about 55-80 Euro for a double. Rooms are good. Breakfast may or may not be included. Eating out is variable in price. Can be dearish, but mostly cheap, like 20 euro each, but not deserving of more as the cooking is really basic and easy to do. Shopping in supermarkets, outside big tourist areas is really cheap. You can get a good picnic (often your only reasonable chance of lunch inland) for 2 for 5 euros, or less. Sardinians are nearly all very jolly, very friendly and polite.

Very few speak English, some speak French. I found it easy to understand the gist of what they were saying as I did Latin in school, and I speak French and so much of English is Latin/Italian/French derived. I cannot speak it, though apart from a few phrases. For Italian speakers, I understand that they speak their own Sardinian dialect, though I feel that it is losing out to "correct" Italian.

Vital words.

Camera = room. Lette matrimoniale! = double bed. Duche = shower. Televisiore = television. Quant'e (Kwantay) =m how much. Conto = bill. Pan = bread. Piu
(pew) = more. Colazione (colatseeohne) = breakfast. Dove (dohvay)= where. Birra (beerah) = beer. Vino = vino. Rosso, bianco. Aqua frizzante, gasato = fizzy water. Water is really cheap, beer is cheap, and so is wine. House wines are mostly excellent. If you order a beer for 2 they usually give you a large bottle (660cc) and 2 glasses.

Night life.

A problem. Small places are dead at night. Italians are very light drinkers. They are very disciplined. You will find no pub life like in Germany, Spain, Ireland, England. The odd bar is open, but they usually close at 9.30. I heard no Sardinian music on the radio. The first thing I heard was U2. I nearly vomited. Those semitalented chancers are so successful around the world!
There are Irish bands who are way better who never made it, not to mind Irish traditional music, which all told, is the best there is. As I'm typing this back in Cork, Ireland I'm listening to gorgeous Sardinian folk music from a CD I bought there. I never heard anything like that on radio or TV there. Whole world cultures, including those of Britain and America itself are being wiped out by American and British rubbish which impresses the youth all over the world. It's a shame but I and anybody else who cares does not know what to do about it.

The tour.

Day one (half day). 25 miles. Sunny, about 17C. Flattish.

The road from the airport is flat,

We went towards Fertilia and then out to Capo Caccia.

We hoped to see the famous Neptune's grotto here but it was closed. This entails an enormous descent on steps to this famous cave. Before you reach this Cape, while climbing, you will see a little diversion to a Panoramic point. Go there. There is a breach in the rock and a fantastic sea view of huge rocks. It's only a tiny diversion.

The view from Capo Caccia is big. The climb to it is steepish but not too long. We had coffee at the coffee shop there, a chat with 2 young Italians and cycled back to Alghero. Found the Hotel San Francisco which is the only one in the old town. Don't go there. For what you get, bad value and hopeless breakfast and a bed with faulty springs (I always test the springs with my hand now before I accept a room. ALWAYS see the room first) which kept me awake all night. It cost 70 Euro for the 2 of us.
By the way, nearly all hotels only show Italian Tv, which has numerous channels, mostly hopeless.

Day 2. Alghero-Oristano, via Bosa. Sunny. Very hilly. 69m

We took the coast road to Bosa which was very quiet, very hilly and scenic. Big views.

Road way up off sea in places. Very up and down. Triple stuff in areas. Big drop down to Bosa. Lunch in Bosa in super restaurant just 2 left on turn inland. Three courses, excellent quality, cheap. There is then a climb after a while. We took the wrong turn (first one marked Modolo and Tresnuraghes). Don't. It was very hilly getting back on route. Eventually reached Tresnuraghes. From there very hilly and slow to Cuglieri, a run-down looking town. Noticed that the farmland here was divided by stone and stone and tree walls, like in Ireland. Called bocage in Normandy. Must be very old system. In Sardinia you will see a lot of old stone remains of the Nuraghic civilisation (First Photo). These are tombs etc.dating to about 800 B.C., before the Phoenicians and the Romans. After Cuglieri, big long fast descent to coast and then less interesting up and down to Oristano. There we found Hotel Isa which despite the nonsense in the Rough Guide to Sardinia (a poor book) was excellent. There we got a superb dinner (tourist menu), several course including wine, for 15 euro each. Spotless comfortable hotel. A good but hard day's cycling.

Had thought of going down to Tharros on the coast where there's a famous ruined town from Carthaginian and Roman times, but you cannot do everything. Later on in tour I met British couplewho had and they were eaten alive by midges. We encountered no insect problem ourselves on our trip.

Day 3.

Oristano- Tonara. 47.5 m. Very hilly. Hard, Sunny.

Getting out of Oristano was very busy initially but after a few miles the traffic died away. It was initially boring but before Fordongianus we started a long descent and the scenery was superb from then on. It became very uphill. Had lunch in a perfect place after Busachi where we had bought a picnic, of ham, tomato, bread, cheese and fizzy
drinks. In the shop we met a retired local who had been a cruiseliner captain who was married to an Australian. Lovely people.

Just above the village is the ideal picnic spot. Continued on, up and up, but none of it severe except through the village of Sorgono (700m altitude). We had intended going to Fonni, the highest village in Sardinia, but phoning ahead with the mobile phone (essential modern touring equipment) we discovered that both hotels there were closed and stayed instead in the Hotel Belvedere in Tonara (930m). We were the only guests. It was a lovely hotel and the waiter Giorgio spoke English (he was a former cruiseliner
waiter). We ate well and I tried horse. They like this, and also eat donkey. The horse tasted just like beef to me. My wife tried a bit but found it acidy. Her mind, I thought. Mind you, I found it hard enough, psychologically to eat Dobbin!

Day 4.

Tonara-Tortoli. Raining am, sunny pm. 61 miles. Scenic. Hilly

Mist/rain was down initially. Descended a lot to Tiana and then long climb to Fonni. At bottom, lovely reservoir lake. Long climb but good gradient. Not steep. Could not see our noses at Fonni, because of mist. Had excellent panninis in pub. In inland Sardinia you will see a lot of old ladies dressed in black, some wearing shawls. Old Sardinia still lives. Proceeded along fabulous mountain road (mist was gradually lifting) with trees still with autumn foliage to passo di Caravai (1118) and then the higher Arcu de Carabai (1246). Snow along edges of roads here. I've been up dozens and dozens of mountain passes in my time, but I loved these. The main road goes by tunnel, hundred of
feet under the second. We descended on spectacular road and proceed to Villanova Striasiali along a winding mountain road with wild pigs, goats etc. Lovely. Depending on where you are in Sardinia you will see Cork oak, vines, olives, cattle (all thin and hardy looking) and lots of different types of trees. There are almost no conifers. Briefly onto main road (which I think is fairly new) to turn left again and begin the huge descent to Tortoli (700m descent). Check your brakes before this as some is very steep.

You'll need them. We avoided the main road. This minor one was really a big road, with lots of villages etc. and superbly surfaced. Very spectacular. Checked into and ate in
Hotel Victoria. Ok. Food not great. Tortoli not attractive but biggish town. Maybe we didn't find the right bit. Lovely English speaking receptionist.

Days 5 to 9 »

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8 comments on “Cycle tour in Sardinia, 2003”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Good report Garry, and lovely photos. We'd have to drive there I think, or hire bikes locally. I wouldn't trust Ryanair, or any airline, with my naked bike.

    I agree with you about U2 being overrated. Preferable to the Boomtown Rats though. A few years ago I used to enjoy Capercaillie's traditional Gaelic songs sung in Gaelic. I left the CDs in Australia. Capercaillie are actually British (Scottish). The Corrs are Irish – nice music too, but 'cheesy' as my sons would say. I keep a couple of their CDs in the car.

  2. Kern wrote:

    Very interesting. Sardinia was on our wish-list once-upon-a-time – I think we even have a map buried away somewhere. The seasonal warning is duly noted; the months of restricted sunlight are a significant shortcoming. Cycling in Ireland this summer we appreciated the extended hours of sunlight; longer days give more flexibility.

    Many of the words in your basic vocabulary are almost identical to Romanian. Having a few fundamental words in the back pocket was essential (e.g. where, how much, left, right, what time, counting, etc). People would go out of their way to make an effort once we attempted to communicate in their language (unlike some other countries which will remain unnamed). The romantic languages are advantageous to those of use who are monoglots – a few basic terms seem to translate across multiple terrains.

    Was a knowledge of latin a prerequisite in your previous life, or did you use it out of sheer cussedness so people wouldn't understand you?

    Good photos. I particularly liked the one of the road sign. It conveys a certain cultural tone.

  3. Hilary wrote:

    Stunning photos, it certainly looks a great place to cycle – if you like hills of course! Unfortunately I share Patrick's views on flying, I just couldn't entrust my beloved bike to an airline. :(

  4. Garry Lee wrote:

    Kern, I don't speak Latin, but I learnt it at school for 5 years and it gives you the basic vocabulary, more or less of the Latin languages and indeed a lot of the technical language in most languages. I read a very interesting article by a linguist on why all world languages have adopted the Latin-Greek phrases for technical items. It's because they are infinitely extendible.
    You can say, e.g. Gastroduodenal instead of stomachythefirstbitofthesmallbowelly and so on!
    I've flown with bikes on at least 45 tours and that would mean a lot more flights as sometimes we've even taken three flights per direction. So have my friends and my wife. You can get some damage, but usually just a little cosmetic damage. It's totally worth it in my book. I've had a rear gear hanger bent in once, but that's dead easy to straighten with an allen key and something to lever it in with. I've not had a badly damaged wheel, but I know one or two people who have (not my friends). Coming back from a tour once three out of seven frames were cracked. The bikes had been put into bike boxes in Milan airport, at the insistence of Air Italia!! Naughty Air Italia. My frame was fine. That's the only time I've seen cracked frames.
    Were I not willing to fly, I would not have cycled in Cape Breton Island, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Corsica, Italy, Sardinia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Switzerland.

  5. Kern wrote:

    I recall an article by a Latin professor on the merits of learning it. His main points were:
    1. It is a dead language and therefore cannot be mispronounced.
    2. It differs sufficiently from English that it must be learnt properly, i.e. not by translation.
    3. Learning it's grammatical structure is an exercise in memory.
    4. There is an extant body of literature that is worthy in its own right.
    5 (my favourite). Before starting a sentence, one must know exactly what one is going to say and how it is going to be said.

    I always felt the final point should be noted by politicians.

    Sadly I have no apptitude for languages except to order the essentials such as a glass of wine.

  6. Mary wrote:

    Fabulous blog as always Garry, and stunning pictures. You are so lucky that your wife loves to travel with you by bicycle. My nearest and dearest no matter how I try to 'flower up' my cycling will never ever come with me, even to the pub! I wish he and I were more interested in one another's interests.

    I currently have a classic motor bike sitting behind our sofa complete with drip tray in the living room. (My favourite bicycle in the mean time, is cold in the garden shed!). He knows where his true love lies, and it is metallic! :)

  7. Garry Lee wrote:

    We didn't know we had a common interest in cycling until well after we were married. I'd always cycled to school as a child, as had my wife. I gradually rekindled my interest at about the age of 32 and Mary tried it and liked it. She had been a really good runner and developed a chronic injury which defied diagnosis, so she turned to cycling. She loves cycle-touring more than I do!! I suppose we're just lucky. Sometimes I go with her, sometimes with her and with other friends and occasionally on a boys only tour. Well, old men only, actually!!

  8. Jeff wrote:

    Really enjoyed the read as cycling in Sardinia is still hard to read about. There are 5 of us going cycling for a week in May based at Cala Gonone and the routes and roads are looking spectacular. We cycle about 50 to miles a week very regular but wondered with th hills, would some 110 mile days be out of the question?
    Great read with a lot of great tips, thank you. Jeff

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