Do you want to know what to see in Sardinia without beaches? Here is a journey between the sacred and the profane to explore an island full of wonders
Sardinia is a beautiful island bathed by a crystal clear sea that makes it world famous. But that is not all: there is much more to see in Sardinia without beaches. This ancient land holds architectural, archaeological and natural treasures. In its incredible landscape, manors and basilicas appear here and there, bastions of fascinating history to be leafed through like the pages of a book.
The Romanesque churches and medieval castles of the northern hinterland are the destinations of our journey: two sides of the same coin, belonging to the same historical period. Ready to go?
Itinerary in Sardinia without beaches: useful information
Our journey will touch upon 7 stops, between castles and churches, scattered across the Sardinian hinterland, places immersed in nature that are often difficult to reach by public transport and services.
To be able to move around easily, we advise you to choose between a car or a motorbike. The conformation of Sardinian roads can be pretty stimulating for two-wheel enthusiasts.
Another clarification: as your wheels caress the island's winding roads, you will find yourself immersed in beautiful landscapes that constantly change. You will soon realise that the Sardinian landscape is the first wonder to be discovered. It is a masterpiece of nature amidst burnt and intense colours, the scents of the Mediterranean maquis and the hissing of the wind.
What to see in Sardinia without beaches: medieval castles
Sardinian castles are fascinating witnesses of the island's Middle Ages, when Sardinia was divided into four Giudicati: Cagliari, Arborea, Torres and Gallura kingdoms. The Giudicati were independent state entities with a democratic character, each ruled by a king or judge.
There were around 100 manors scattered around the island, erected between the 11th and 14th centuries. Many of them have come down to us almost intact. In contrast, others appear as silent ruins in the rugged Sardinian landscape. Each one, however, carries the charm of a history mixed with legends born of popular imagination. Here are the most beautiful castles in the north of the island.
Casteldoria in Santa Maria Coghinas
We are in the province of Sassari, in the historical region of Anglona, a stone's throw from Santa Maria Coghinas. Here, the tower of a mysterious fortress peers down from above over the waters of a lake. It is the manor of Casteldoria that the Genoese Doria family had built around the 12th century to guard its properties.
Today, apart from the pentagonal tower twenty metres high, what remains of the building are some sections of the walls, the remains of the chapel and a large cistern.
The greatest fascination of this castle lies in the legends that even the famous Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda mentioned in one of her works. It tells of a network of underground tunnels allegedly serving the Doria family as a secret passageway. Here, behind a heavy iron door, the family treasure seems to have been kept.
The Doria Castle of Chiaramonti
In the countryside of Anglona, in the northwest of the island, lies a small village called Chiaramonti. Above the village are the ruins of the Doria Castle, another fortress the Ligurian family built to defend their possessions in northern Sardinia.
The castle was erected between the 12th and 13th centuries and later became a church. Today, we see the outline of the tower of the fortress, a single-nave building with eight chapels on either side and what probably was the bell tower: the remains of the place of worship.
You can admire a fantastic view of the entire Anglona valley from the ruins, immersed in silence. From time to time, this evocative setting becomes the scene of some of the most beautiful concerts and events in northern Sardinia.
The Castle of Burgos
The Castle of Burgos, or Castle of Goceano, is the richest in historical memories and legends in Northern Sardinia.
Perched on a rock 650 metres above sea level, it dominates the village below, like a solitary and impregnable witness of Sardinia's medieval past. It was built around 1134 at the behest of Gonario I of Torres. It has triple walls and a 16-metre-high main tower.
In their long life, these walls were the scene of battles and scabrous events involving queens, illustrious personalities of the time and bandits.
Today, two ghosts still seem to roam among the ruins. That of Judge William of Cagliari, invoking the queen's forgiveness, and the spirit of Adelasia, the last 'giudicessa' of Torres.
Along with the manor house, the Castle Museum in the centre of Burgos is also worth a visit.
The Castle of Pedres
We now move a few kilometres away from the city of Olbia. Here lies another proud representative of medieval Sardinia: the Castle of Pedres. From the top of a hill less than 100 metres high, the fortress protected the surrounding plain from incursions from the south.
Today it appears as a square tower with a polygonal wall around it. Near the manor is a significant site for Sardinian archaeology: the Tomb of the Giants of Su mont'e s'Abe. The site, whose shape evokes a bull's head, is a 4,000-year-old burial site belonging to the Nuragics, the ancient Sardinian people.
What to see in Sardinia without beaches: Romanesque churches
We have completed our itinerary to discover the profane side of the Sardinian Middle Ages. It is time to get to know the gems of sacred art on the island dating from the same period: the Romanesque churches. Here are three of the fascinating ones in the Northern hinterland.
Santissima Trinità di Saccargia
We begin with the most spectacular and famous Romanesque church in Sardinia: the basilica della Santissima Trinità di Saccargia (Basilica of the Holy Trinity of Saccargia), in the territory of Codrongianos in the province of Sassari.
It springs up suddenly in the middle of a valley in the countryside of Sardinia. It is perfect in its chiaroscuro colour scheme, with the bell tower soaring high into the sky and alongside the ruins of the monastery and cloister of the Camaldolese monks.
The birth of Saccargia is also intertwined with the history of the 'giudicati' of Sardinia. It seems that Constantine I of Torres ordered its construction. The judge, desirous of an heir, had an apparition that induced him to have the church erected. The basilica was consecrated in 1116, but the land on which it stands is no ordinary place: ancestral cults have always been practised here. If we look closely at the porch of the façade, we can notice a curious detail: the frame of the left pillar depicts crouching cattle. A legend is believed to be the origin of the abbey's name. It tells of 's'acca argia', 'the dappled cow' that knelt on its back here every day as a sign of prayer.
Nostra Signora di Tergu
The church of Nostra Signora di Tergu (church of Our Lady of Tergu) is another architectural jewel of Sardinia. It stands majestically on a plateau in the Anglona region and has a history stretching back almost a thousand years. Probably built between 1065 and 1082, it is a masterpiece of Romanesque-Pisan architecture embellished with Gothic and Baroque forms. Its polychromy is made of red-violet trachyte stone, white limestone and reddish vulcanite. Next to the church are the ruins of the monastery.
One of the most important religious traditions of the whole of Sardinia is linked to this sacred building. Nostra Signora di Tergu is the destination of the Lunissanti procession. This rite marks the beginning of Holy Week for the inhabitants of Castelsardo. This village rises 11 kilometres north of the Romanesque basilica.
Basilica Nostra Signora del Regno
Here is the church where the judges of Torres took their oath and where they were buried. Nearby, the ruins of the royal palace.
Near the village of Ardara, in Logudoro, the cathedral of Nostra Signora del Regno (Our Lady of the Kingdom) appears as a dark stain on the slopes of Montesanto. At first impact, what strikes one immediately is its majestic grandeur, then the contrast between the black of the trachyte and the gold of the 16th-century altarpiece behind the altar.
A journey through the history of Sardinia has the flavour of infinity. Indeed, to speak of 'history' here is reductive because, in this magical land, a thousand stories and a thousand legends merge into a single plot. Here is the authentic charm of an island with so much to tell.