Experience the grottos and lobsters of Alghero, a Catalan city in Sardinia

Beaches, a medieval city centre, a marina and one of the best Italian grottos... but Alghero is also about food and the 'aragosta alla catalana', a celebrated lobster dish

Experience the grottos and lobsters of Alghero, a Catalan city in Sardinia
05 September 2012

It’s Catalan, it’s Italian. But, most of all, Alghero is Sardinian in every aspect. This coastal city in northern Sardinia, facing Spain, is an old seaside resort, once home to royals and dignitaires, now mainly to backpackers and cheap-flight travellers. But visiting Alghero is always ‘posh’, due to its glamorous allure, its vibrant nightlife and a lot of things to do.

Landing at Fertilia airport, the scenery is already stunning. As I touch down in Sardinia wonderful beaches welcome me, olive trees make this land green and bright, and the Capo Caccia promontory looks like a Brazilian landscape, like somewhere in Rio de Janeiro.

The first day, I visit the medieval city center. You can explore the old town walls which provide stunning views towards Capo Caccia and stroll around the narrow lanes of the old town. I return here in the evening, as the west-facing direction of Alghero offers wonderful sunsets. Seagulls squark, the waves gently lap at the coast – it’s a feast of sounds, not only of light and fresh air.

Piazza Civica, the old square, contains a number of boutiques and restaurants. Here, at the Palazzo d’Albis, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V delivered a speech to the townspeople before leaving Sardinia to fight the Turks in Africa.

Then, the Santa Maria Cathedral, dating back to the 14th century, is a triumph of Catalan style. In fact, this city is a Catalan ‘island’ in Sardinia. Around 5,000 people still speak Catalan and Alghero is more closely linked in terms of culture and society to Barcelona than to the rest of Sardinia.

But, as I notice, Alghero’s food, faces, mood and lifestyle are strictly Sardinian. This is the Italian island’s most diverse city. And that’s why Scandinavians, English and Germans have decided, long time ago, that this is a perfect place for a holiday.

Before dinner, I decide to spend some time on the city beach, just north of the Marina, which has some incredible yachts moored up. This white sandy strip offers bright colors, the sea is incredibly blue and a nearby ‘pineta’ – pine wood – is a perfect place to relax and to fight the heat.

Now, I’m hungry. Alghero is renowned for its fresh fish and seafood and this can be seen at one of the many restaurants in the old town. As it’s a Catalan city, it’s  no surprise to read many of the menus are offering paella and other Catalan dishes. But I decide to go to a real Sardinian place, Trattoria Cavour.

It is located on the street of the same name, set a few yards from the old town ramparts. The small comfortable dining room is a good place for savoring the selection of Sardinian meat and fish specialities. I try ‘aragosta alla catalana’, lobster in the Catalan style. Onions, tomato, herbs… something that, despite the name, is truly Sardinian.

The following day, I decide to visit the surrounding area. The most famous sight is certainly the cave complex of Grotta del Nettuno – Neptune’s Grotto. It is one of the most breathtaking in Italy. I decided to come here by ferry, a short journey from the city harbor. It’s a good choice, as the cliffs are wonderful and can be fully enjoyed only by the sea.

After the grotto, I go to Argentiera, a stunning example of industrial archeology in Sardinia. Here, every year, a local association organizes a literature festival. But at other times, you can only hear the sound of the wind and the sea. ‘Argentiera’ means ‘the place of silver’. But the experience is really golden.

Now it’s time for another beach. I head to Porto Ferro, one of the wildest beaches in Sardinia. Nearby there’s the only natural lake on the island, the Lago Baratz, where birds and fish make the large pond a biodiversity ‘champion’.

Finally, I return to the city, just to enjoy an ‘aperitivo’, an Italian combination of drinks and food at the right price. Another sunsets awaits for me. Another explosion of colors, sounds and sea breeze.

Practicalities

Getting there: Fertilia airport is served by several companies. Direct flights are available from the rest of Italy, Stockholm, London and Dublin.

Sleeping: Try the Hotel Villa Las Tronas, a 19th century art nouveau villa that was once a holiday home for Italian royalty. Rooms are expensive, but they are worth their price. Villa Las Tronas, Lungomare Valencia 24, +39 079 981 818

Eating: The city centre hosts a lot of restaurants and ‘trattorias’. We tried Trattoria Cavour.

Gay life: Some bars and cafes, in summer, host drag queen shows. The gay beach is at Porto Ferro, north of the city, and is also popular with nudists. 

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