If you are looking for a unique destination in Sardinia, you will 5 five excellent reasons to visit the remote island of Asinara.
You have toured northern Sardinia far and wide, from the Costa Smeralda to the "little Tahiti" Cala Coticcio, up to Stintino and the Gulf of Alghero. You enjoyed the sea, the beaches, the gastronomy through the many food and wine tours, and experienced the beauty of traditions and culture.
Nonetheless, we bet there is an hidden gem you haven't visited yet!
We are talking about the splendid Island of Asinara, closed to the public for over 100 years, and which became a National Park and Marine Protected Area in 2002.
This enchanting destination is located in the extreme north of Sardinia, on the western side, right in front of Punta Capo Falcone.
It is necessary to reach it by sea, there are ferries and tours that depart from Porto Torres or Stintino, and it is possible to visit it all even in half a day.
The the park authorities recommends using only authorized operators, who guarantee the adequate support to discover the island in its multifaceted possibilities, while respecting this unique and fragile ecosystem.
But why this much mystery, what makes this island so special?
Keep reading this post, and will also find five good reasons to put Asinara on your bucket list of adventures!
5. Isola dell'Asinara: the sea...and its inhabitants!
Raise your hand if you evers wanted a close encounter with a dolphin!
On the way to the Asinara Park it is common to spot these playful animals chasing each other, diving and somersaulting, even at close range to the boats.
With due respect that the sea and its creatures require, it will be possible to really admire them up close and take wonderful photos.
It is not for nothing that Asinara is often called "The Paradise of Dolphins", and its marine area is part of the so-called Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
And what about the Asinara Marine Animal Recovery Center (CRAMA)? Have you ever witnessed a sea turtle release?
Let's not forget the splendid coves, many reachable only by sea during boat tours, to be explored with snorkelling enlivened by colorful anemones, starfish and octopuses, or diving among groupers and white breams. Beware of moray eels!
4. Nature and trekking: hurry up at Asinara Island
The long isolation of Asinara has kept it wild, with its pristine beaches and high jagged coasts. The vegetation is scarce, and in the hottest moments the island's environment can become difficult.
Surely it is necessary to always carry with you plenty of water, SPF and a hat to shelter from the sun, but the authentic landscape - crossed by a single road, from the southern area of Fornelli towards Cala d'Oliva to the northeast - makes it a daring goal, a small challenge of about 16 km in length, for those who love trekking in the middle of nature.
The scenery is spectacular and breathtaking, and along the coast there are many caves and sandy ravines to explore.
Maybe a nice climb to visit the Austro-Hungarian ossuary… creepy!
For those who don't want to test their physical prowess... no worries! There are numerous electric car services, 4x4 off-road vehicles, buses and even bicycles for hire. Among the various activities there will also be time for a refreshing dip in Cala d'Arena, Cala Sant'Andrea or in the many coves around the famous Cala Oliva.
Adventures yes, but also relax.
3. The scents and the flavors of the oldest Sardinia
Those who know Sardinia immediately remember its wild scents: myrtle, white-flowered cistus, pungent grasses.
The island has an extraordinary percentage of protected endemic plants, including the Centaurea Horrida.
If returning from Asinara you want to have a memory of it not only in terms of perfumes, but also of exceptional flavors, right overlooking the Gulf of Asinara, in the middle of the green fields between Marina di Sorso and Castelsardo, you will find the Tenuta Asinara and the Akitchen Restaurant.
Born as a farm, that of Tenuta Asinara and Akitchen, under the guidance of chef Mirko Pinna, is a philosophy of sustainable, zero kilometer and even self-produced cuisine, to ensure maximum transparency and quality, in order to best tell an island with decisive and complex flavors such as sardinian ones.
From excellent meats to products from the internal vegetable garden, it is an experience that will sublimate an excursion to a wonderful site such as that of the Asinara National Park.
2. The historical value: the island's ancient prisons
Ancient prisons of the Asinara island - ph: elisalocci
You must have wondered why 115 years of isolation have made the island of Asinara a remote and harsh destination.
Established in 1885 and decommissioned in 1998, the Asinara prison has enormous historical value. Not only did it host judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino for reasons of protection, but it was also a place of detention for Totò Riina, camorra associates in a maximum security regime and many members of the Red Brigades during the years of lead.
Due to its strategic position it was considered a small Alcatraz, with eleven detachments. A visit is recommended, of great historical interest and important national memory.
1. The fascinating reason behind the island's name...
White and gray donkeys of the Asinara island - ph: elisalocci
You will have guessed it from the name: the island of Asinara is famous for its sweet white donkeys.
In addition to snorkelling and birdwatching, animal lovers will have the pleasure of getting to know these docile quadrupeds, which can be encountered in freedom all over the island.
But hear this out: it seems that in reality, contrary to what may seem obvious, the name "Asinara" is a mangled derivation of the Latin name "Sinuaria", the sinuous, due to its coasts so full of inlets.
However, the white donkeys hold the absolute iconographic primacy linked to the island, above all for their particular albino connotation.
With a candid, shiny and cottony appearance, with pink or blue eyes, and their small size, the presence of these animals is still shrouded in mystery.
There are those who speak of a shipwreck, perhaps of a vessel bound for France, and those of pets imported from Egypt for the Marquis of Mores, Duke of Asinara.
The most accredited hypothesis today simply sees these splendid animals as the result of a mutation of the native gray donkey, present throughout Sardinia, including on the island of Asinara itself.
The Asinara Park has over 120 specimens, continuously monitored both by the Park and by the Sardinian Forest Authority together with the veterinarians of the University of Sassari.
Pampered for a just cause, it's not for everyone to be the symbol of an island and a special park like that of the Asinara Island, a splendid place that is definitely worth a visit, especially in the low season and spring and early summer holidays.
Hurry up and book, places are few and they are snapped up!
Both for the Island… and for the restaurant.