Having chosen Sardinia on account of its high potential for grand adventure, I’ve arrived in Cagliari a day before my travelling companion to ward off jetlag and see the capital prior to heading north- and eastward, to Lotzorai, to begin the adventuring for real. And it’s there that I am to spend my birthday week, celebrating with fantastic company, food and outdoor adventure.
The planets align and one of my dearest friends is able to take the weekend and pop over to Cagliari for a short holiday (the downside of living in the Northeastern United States is that a weekend trip to a different country with spectacular food and centuries-old history is not particularly feasible). Thus, I get to spend my first night here with a friend who not only speaks fluent Italian, but knows this island well. Let the celebrations begin.
By night, Cagliari reminds me of a medieval relic, caught somewhere in the centuries between the lure of modernity and its roots in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, where Cagliari housed a tribunal. I’m even staying at a guesthouse with a history (Casa Mundula): it was once a convent (if the walls could talk!!). I’m instantly enamoured with the grand doorways set into the old stone walls that make up the steep and windy streets.
Sardinia is a large exporter of Pecorino cheese and claims fame to myriad other specialità. And so, we’re off to taste the local fare and in the process hunt down some of Sardinia’s famed flatbread, pane carasau. Though the restaurant does not serve pane carasau (this is a disgrace, I’m told), the grilled pecorino sardo (a slab of sheep romano, grilled just so: the exterior is slightly browned and the inside is warm but not melty), grilled calamari, melanzana or Sa Fregula (a small pasta that reminded me of Israeli couscous but better) do not disappoint. Nor does the gelato (which would factor highly in the days to come).
By day, the city comes alive and its Marina district, in the South of the city (where I’m staying), opens itself to international trade and tourism (here’s where both the tourist and cargo ships dock); luckily I’ve not arrived on a cruise ship day, so do not have to compete with the swarms of tourists to see the city.
Throughout its history, Sardinia has been invaded by many regimes (it’s conveniently located between Italy and North Africa and was considered an ideal strategic base amidst the trading routes), and as such a fortress was built above what would become the marina district. There are three lookout towers in the fortress, and it’s said that the Torre dell’Elefante has the best view of the city, so I set out to do that.
As I climb the streets of this old wood and stone fortress-cum-city (the village above the Marina is aptly named Castello), I can see the mountains looming in the distance, as well the points at which they seem to melt into the alluring (and methinks magical) Mediterranean Sea.
Up at these heights, you can see for miles, perhaps imagine the sounds and smells of ancient goings-on. I encounter only a smattering of tourists, some shop owners and students. I am, to my amusement, propositioned by a charming and handsome Italian man sitting at an outdoor café. In an effort to avoid doubling back across his path (I am to meet my intended handsome European man in a matter of hours, and I feel this tête-à-tête would be in poor taste), I miss the street on which Torre dell’Elefante sits, get a bit turned about, and climb even farther uphill than planned. A fortunate bend in the road, perhaps, because the view up here is stunning.
I finally wind my way about the cobblestone streets and find the Torre dell’Elephante and make the ascent. 6 flights of old wooden ladders and stairs open to a fantastic view of the city. When I come down, I decide to go back up to the Torre di San Pancrazio to compare views (Elephants win the day, and will become a theme of the week to boot!).
After climbing towers and cobbles, I make my way back down to sea level to prepare for the next part of the journey. I acquire some of the local cheese, pane carasau and (in ridiculously broken Italian) also procure focaccia, pomodori, mozzarella, prosciutto crudo and other snacks from a local shop and I’m off to the airport to meet my co-conspirator/adventurer for the drive up the coast to Lotzorai, where we will spend the week hiking biking and exploring the Sardinian mountains of the Golfo di Orosei region.