OK, calling Alghero "undiscovered" perhaps owes more to poetic fancy than accuracy. But it probably is true to say that most visitors to Sardinia tend to see more of the southern half of the island, around the main town of Cagliari a popular stopping off point for Mediterranean cruises. The reason for Alghero’s increased popularity over the past couple of years is simple: it has a small airport at which daily scheduled flights from London Stansted now arrive courtesy of the budget airline Ryanair.
For our first holiday together, Michael and I were looking for somewhere inexpensive and offering a little late autumn sun. Neither of us had heard of Alghero when we spotted it listed as a destination on the Ryanair website. It turned out to be a little fishing port on the north west coast of Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily. (Sardinia is part of Italy, but lies just south of Corsica, which belongs to France.) Ryanair’s prices vary enormously according to when you travel and how far in advance you book but, at £25 return each, we certainly weren’t complaining about the fare we paid.
Alghero’s little airport is about 12km to the north of the town. If your baggage takes a while to show up, you’ll probably find as we did that the luckier passengers whose bags arrived on the carousel first have nabbed all the available taxis; if so, you’ll have a wait of half an hour or so before they start to return from town.
There’s a good range of accommodation in the town of Alghero itself, from budget to posh. Via the internet, we’d found and booked a room at the Carlos V ("Carlos Quinto"), a mid-priced hotel to the south of the town but still an easy walk into the centre.
One thing we noticed immediately was that it was a good few degrees warmer than in the UK. We had a fair amount of sunshine over the five days we were there; however, the wind could be cold out of the sun and we had one day when it rained non-stop. My advice to anyone going at that time of year would be to wear layers that can be taken off and carried easily if it’s warm. When out at night we always needed a jacket or sweater.
The town itself lies on the southern end of a large sweeping bay, on
the far side of which (visible on the horizon in this picture) is the
headland of Capo Caccia, famed for its beautiful caves known as
Neptune’s Grotto. The best way to see them is to take a
boat trip from town, but these had finished for the summer when we
were there. There was a coach service around the bay, but it made
only one journey each way per day giving less than an hour at
Capo Caccia before the return trip. So we ended up taking a taxi,
which we considered an allowable extravagance given what we’d
saved on our flight.
From the cliff top at Capo Caccia, there are steps leading down to
Neptune’s Grotto. On this particular day, the caves were closed
because the sea was rough so we didn’t bother making the
Alghero itself is small enough to be walkable. The roads around the bay are mostly quite flat and, if you’re reasonably fit, hiring a bicycle might be worth considering. (Alghero to Capo Caccia is about 10 miles.) If you’re venturing inland, prepare for some much hillier terrain!
There is a good train service to the nearest large town,
Sassari, which is about 40 minutes away. (Normally, that is;
our journey took somewhat longer owing to the train hitting a car at a
level crossing, an event that made the island’s newspapers the
next day.) There’s quite a bit to see in Sassari, and some nice
roadside cafés and bars in which to while away an hour or two
watching the world go by.
Before leaving home, we’d bought the Rough Guide to Sardinia from Waterstone’s and found it pretty useful. Through it, we learned (for example) that the Sardinians’ affectionate nickname for Alghero is Barcelonetta ("little Barcelona"), from its period under Spanish rule. To this day, the local dialect is a variety of Catalan, still seen on the street name signs. However, most of the people we met seemed to speak standard Italian.
Of course, a lot of people (particularly at hotel receptions, tourist offices etc.) have a good grasp of English. Personally, though, when visiting any foreign country I prefer to try and learn the rudiments of the language and a few useful phrases. The Rough Guide had a list of the basics and a guide to pronunciation, but I also invested in a small phrase book (the BBC one, excellent value at only £2.99). The locals are generally far more sympathetic to your attempts at communication if you make at least some effort.
Mind you, it should really have come as no surprise loving Italian food as I do to discover, the first time I opened a menu, just how much of the language I already knew.... Though we struggled a bit to find variety in the range of café bars open for lunch, the good news is that, even in November, there are lots of excellent restaurants open in the evening. This was the time for relaxing with a glass of wine on our terrace before heading into town. (Michael hates this picture as he thinks it makes him look tipsy. Which he probably was.) Italians like to eat late, so by the time we’d finished dinner we generally ended up wanting no more than to stagger back to the hotel for a nightcap. (Which was just as well, as a lot of the town’s bars and night spots were closed for the winter.)
Alghero is still pretty much off the tourist track, and this is reflected in the shops which are on the whole much better than the usual tatty souvenir emporia. If you like shopping for shoes, jewellery etc. this is the place for you. There’s also a very good department store called Oviesse where you can buy really stylish, well made Italian clothes for a fraction of what you’d pay in the UK.
Had we stayed any longer than five days at that time of year, I think we’d have started to get a little bored. However, we enjoyed it for what it was a cheap, relaxing off-season break somewhere that’s a little warmer than home, with good food and enough to see to keep us occupied for a few days.
And, for a couple in love on their first holiday together, the sunsets
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