Italy is a fabulous destination to explore in winter, but to understand more about where to go and what do in Sardinia, an Island off Italy’s coastline, I asked Claudia from Strictly Sardinia to share her top tips for the best places to visit in Sardinia in winter.
One of the most common misconceptions about Sardinia is that it’s solely a summer holiday destination. Blessed with incredible beaches, it’s easy to see why this idea came about and why it is so hard to move past it. Yet, those who venture to Sardinia in the winter will find an island that is breathtakingly beautiful, where locals still very much own the place and where beaches are only one of the things on offer.
Winter Weather in Sardinia
Although many like to think of it as a tropical island, Sardinia knows four different and very distinguished seasons. Winter is the rainiest time of the year in Sardinia, with the highest rainfall usually occurring in November and in February and March.
However, the weather in Sardinia in winter varies depending on the location:
Winter on the coast of Sardinia tends to be very mild, with average day temperatures of around 12°C, which usually drop at night to around 5 to 8°C. During the month of December, on sunny days and during the peak hours of the day, temperatures can reach as high as 22°! However, the humidity, the strong winds and the occasional cold fronts tend to bring the temperatures down and it is not uncommon to experience below zero temperatures.
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The mountain region of Sardinia – the Gennargentu massif where Barbagia and Ogliastra are located – and the northern towns such as Tempio Pausania tend to get much colder winters.
Nuoro, one of the main cities in Sardinia and which is located at around 600 meters above sea level, gets its fair share of snowfall throughout the winter. Temperatures are even colder in Fonni, the highest village in Sardinia located at 1000 meters above sea level.
Places to Visit in Sardinia in winter
First of all, let me reassure you that Sardinian beaches are accessible all year round. You may not be able to swim in the sea (as the water will be too cold) or to sunbathe, but you can certainly go for a walk and enjoy the marine breeze.
If you are a fan of surfing, Sardinia is also one of the best surfing destinations in the Mediterranean. Depending on the winds, some beaches offer excellent opportunities to ride waves.
Other than that, there are plenty of places to visit during the winter in Sardinia.
The capital of Sardinia is a perfect winter getaway for people who come from Northern European countries. Blessed with regular sun and mild weather, Cagliari is jam-packed with all sorts of sights and things to do and retains all of its local feel.
The historic centre of Cagliari is divided into four historic district – Castello, Marina, Stampace and Villanova – each one connected to one another.
Castello has the highest concentration of landmarks – that’s where you will find the well-curated Museum of Archaeology, where you can admire the famous Mont’e Prama Giants; the beautiful cathedral and its bell tower; the two watchtowers (Torre di San Pancrazio and Torre dell’Elefante) and the vice-king palace.
Make sure to head to the terrace of Via Santa Croce right before sunset, as the views of the sun going down behind the Sette Fratelli mountains and the roofs of Stampace is simply stunning. If you fancy a drink, Libarium is one of the best-known local cocktail bars and it’s right there!
Located between Castello and Stampace, the Roman Amphitheater is another must-see. Pair it with a visit to Villa Tigellio (you can get a combined ticket) for a full Roman experience.
Villanova, with its colorful buildings, is one of the most pleasant neighborhoods for a walk. Via Sulis is packed with boutique shops. If you fancy a drink you can stop at Florio, in the lovely Piazzetta San Domenico, or at the very local Babeuf, a wine bar in Piazza Tristani.
La Marina and Stampace are your best shots for restaurants and nightlife, but you will also find some beautiful churches and sites there too.
If you fancy a bit of nature within the city head to Poetto Beach for a walk, and to the lovely Molentargius Nature Reserve that can be accessed from the beach – it’s a lagoon where pink flamingoes nest and live.
Finally, walk up the trail to Sella del Diavolo that start at Calamosca Beach for the most stunning views of the bay.
Alghero and Bosa
Alghero and Bosa are located on the northwestern coast of Sardinia.
The first is a Catalan enclave, where Catalan is indeed the main language (worry not, this is a tourist destination, so everyone speaks English, and Italian too, obviously). It’s a lovely small town with a few beautiful churches and a maze of narrow alleys, nice boutique shops (it’s where Antonio Marras, one of the most famous Italian designers, has his main store), restaurants and bars.
When in Alghero, don’t miss taking a walk along the Bastions – the views from there are impressive, especially at sunset when you can see all the way to Capo Caccia. Indeed, Capo Caccia is an even better location for views, and from there you can access the beautiful Neptune Caves. Porto Conte is a close-by nature reserve and Palmavera Nuraghe is also at a short drive from the town center, and another must-see.
Bosa is at about 40 minutes’ drive from Alghero and a real gem. This small town is characterized by beautiful colorful buildings set along the banks of the river, cobbled alleys, a few beautiful churches and interesting art galleries, and the Malaspina Castle which dominates the village and the bay, and affords stunning views.
Should you happen to visit Sardinia between the end of February and the beginning of March, you may want to pay a visit to Oristano. This small city in central Sardinia is not really a famous tourist destination, but it is locally known for the fantastic carnival celebrations of Sa Sartiglia which consist of parades in traditional costumes, horseback jousts and more.
Sa Sartiglia takes place on the Sunday before Lent and on Mardi Gras. It is free to attend but if you want to get a seat to better enjoy the show you need to book it in advance on the official website of Sa Sartiglia.
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Nuraghe are archaeological sites that are only found in Sardinia – nowhere else in the world. There are more than 3000 scattered around the island, but many of them have to be yet excavated. They are truly interesting places to visit, and if you visit Sardinia in the winter, they definitely are a nice addition to your itinerary.
Other than Palmavera Nuraghe in Alghero, the most famous one in Sardinia is Barumini, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s located about 45 minutes’ drive from Cagliari. Once there, visitors are divided into groups according to their language and taken on a guided tour around the site, which can last anything between one hour and two, depending on the group and their interest.
The Mountains and Gorges
Get your gear on – Sardinia is a fantastic hiking and rock climbing destination, with trails and rock walls for all levels of difficulty. The only downside of hiking in the winter months is the shorter days and the occasional rain.
Sardinian has a few mountain ranges which are packed with hiking trails of various difficulty levels. Sette Fratelli is easily accessible from Cagliari, but if you are looking for more of a challenge, head to the Gennargentu massif, where there’s no shortage of trails.
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Sardinia is a great wine destination. Vineyards are scattered throughout the island so you won’t have trouble finding one you can tour and have a wine tasting.
For pointers: Sella e Mosca is the biggest winery in Sardinia, close to Alghero. They offer great wine tasting tours. Argiolas, in Serdiana, is about 20 minutes’ drive from Cagliari and offers guided tours of the vineyard and the winery, inclusive of wine tasting. They make some of the best wines on the island. Keep in mind that in Serdiana alone there are 5 wineries (the village counts no more than 3000 people!).
Not a fan of wine? Sardinia craft beer scene is also thriving, with lots of pubs and breweries sprouting around the island.
What to Eat in Sardinia in Winter
Want to make sure you eat something when wine tasting? Sardinian food is very earthy and comforting, so winter is just about the perfect time to enjoy local specialities. The following are just a few of the dishes you should try:
- Culurgiones, aka Sardinian dumplings
- Malloreddus – a short, chewy pasta served with a thick tomato and Sardian sausage sauce
- Fregola – a sort of thick couscous served with a brothy clam sauce
- Panada – a concept similar to South America’s empanadas, panadas can have all sorts of tasty fillings
- Porceddu – slowly roasted suckling pig
- Seadas – Sardinian fried cheese-filled pastries drizzled with honey
As you can see, there is a lot to experience in Sardinia during the winter, and you are sure to enjoy your visit to this beautiful island.
About the Author
Claudia Tavani is a former human rights lawyer who abandoned her academic career to pursue a life of travel. Through her newly launched site Strictly Sardinia she wishes to inspire travelers to visit the most beautiful island in the world, and to share her knowledge about her homeland. You can follow her on Instagram here.
All images thanks to Strictly Sardinia.
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