5 best road trips in Sardinia, Italy

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia is home to some of Italy’s most off-the-beaten-track beaches, archaeological sites and culinary experiences, many of which are inaccessible by public transport.

With your own wheels, you can experience Sardinia’s hidden treasures at a pace that pleases you. Roads here are generally well-maintained, though access to the most sought-after mountain and beach destinations sometimes requires travel on narrow, curvy and/or unpaved roads – a perfect opportunity to slow down and enjoy the ride!

1. Highlands and canyons of the Supramonte

Best road trip for off-the-beaten-track adventures
Nuoro-Santa Maria Navarrese; 120km (75 miles); allow two days

Between the mountain outpost of Nuoro and the stunning Golfo di Orosei coastline lies a hauntingly beautiful landscape of limestone plateaus and deep gorges known as Supramonte.

From Nuoro, head southeast to Oliena, a whitewashed village backed by the Supramonte’s highest peak, Monte Corrasi (1463m/4800ft). From here, it’s a short jaunt east to Su Gologone, an emerald green pool fed by an underground river at the base of sheer limestone cliffs. Dip south into the remote, olive-studded Valle di Lanaittu to explore the Sa Ohe cave and the sacred well temple of Sa Sedda’ e Sos Carros before heading back to Hotel Su Gologone for a fabulous dinner and overnight stay.

The next morning, drive 20 minutes east to Dorgali, and turn right off the SS125 just south of town to trailheads for Sardinia’s “Grand Canyon” – the Gola Su Goroppu – and the eerie ruins of Tiscali, an abandoned Bronze Age village tucked into a collapsed cave. Continuing south, the SS125 threads beneath limestone cliffs and zigzags through rocky expanses inhabited only by shepherds and their flocks in the lonely high plateau country surrounding Urzulei. The tiny village of Baunei makes a welcoming oasis, with a few restaurants offering sustenance. Stop in for lunch or dinner on the outdoor deck at Le Radici before your final descent to the coast at Santa Maria Navarrese.

Planning tip: There are no services between Dorgali and Baunei, so fuel up before heading south on this lonely 50km (31 miles) mountain road.

A man taking a photo at the Su Nuraxi Ruins in Sardinia
Nuraghe Su Nuraxi is Sardinia’s lone World Heritage Site and is well worth a visit © Tim Bieber / Getty Images

2. Archeological treasures of Sardinia’s interior

Best road trip for history buffs
Olbia-Cagliari; 400km (249 miles); allow two days

Scattered about the Sardinian landscape are thousands of mysterious fortified Bronze Age settlements and burial sites, remnants of Sardinia’s ancient Nuragic culture, which thrived here for nearly two millennia before the Roman conquest. Tour the classics on this two-day north-to-south jaunt through Sardinia’s interior.

From Olbia, head into the hills around Arzachena to discover the impressive tombe dei giganti (giants’ tombs) of Li Lolghi and Coddu Ecchju. Flanked by semicircular assemblages of giant granite slabs, these Megalithic burial chambers are among Sardinia’s oldest archaeological monuments. Next, drive west to the village of Sedini, backed by a Dr Seuss-ish rock outcropping perforated with even more ancient prehistoric tombs called domus de janas. Cap off the day in Sassari, admiring the fabulous collection of ancient weapons, jewelry and figurines at the Museo Nazionale Sanna.

The next morning, zip south to Nuraghe di Santa Cristina, whose exquisite tempio a pozzo (well temple) bears witness to the ancient Nuragic worship of water. Stone steps descend through the keyhole-shaped entrance to a spring-fed well, which is perfectly illuminated by the sun’s rays on the spring and fall equinoxes. Meander along backroads through the Giara di Gesturi, where Europe’s last wild horses roam free, to reach Sardinia’s lone UNESCO World Heritage site, Nuraghe Su Nuraxi. The imposing ruins here are a maze of conical towers, courtyards and narrow passageways framed by massive stone-hewn walls. From here, it’s an hour’s drive south to Cagliari.

3. Cruising the Costa Smeralda and beyond

Best road trip for coastal scenery
Olbia-Alghero; 276km (171 miles); allow three days

Northeast of Olbia, the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) has long been a playground for the rich and famous. If you’ve left your yacht at home, a road trip is the next best way to experience the limpid waters and spellbinding coastlines of Sardinia’s northern tip.

Start with a spin up to Porto Cervo, the nerve center of the Costa Smeralda, where Russian oligarchs and movie stars dock their yachts. When you’ve had your fill of glitz, join the SS125 at Cannigione and head north to climb Roccia dell’Orso, a promontory that commands stupendous views over the northern Sardinian coastline, the Strait of Bonifacio and the distant mountains of Corsica. From here, hop into the holiday town of Palau for a boat tour of the Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago di La Maddalena, a mesmerizing expanse of translucent aquamarine waters, islands and pristine beaches.

Follow the coast west to Santa Teresa di Gallura to sunbathe at Spiaggia Rena Bianca or wander amidst the wind-sculpted rock formations and remnants of ancient Roman columns at Capo Testa. The next port of call is Castelsardo, whose tangle of medieval lanes and bright-hued houses perches picturesquely atop a coastal cliff crowned by a hilltop castle. Forge on to Stintino, where you can dip your toes in the shimmering waters and admire the Aragonese watchtower at Spiaggia della Pelosa, then ferry across to mingle with albino donkeys in the Parco Nazionale dell’Asinara. From here, a short drive returns you to civilization at Alghero.

Detour: From Castelsardo, don’t miss the 5km (3 miles) detour southeast to see the bizarre elephant-shaped rock formation known as La Roccia dell’Elefante.

A group of friends laughing together as they drink outside in the sun
Sardinia’s restaurants are worth making stops for along your road trip © ViewApart / Getty Images/iStockphoto

4. Sinis Peninsula and Montiferru

Best road trip for foodies
Oristano-Bosa 143km (89 miles); allow two days

Sardinian culinary treats fuel this weekend jaunt from Oristano to Bosa, taking in beaches, lagoons, ancient ruins and mountain villages.

North of Oristano, the RAMSAR-protected Stagno di Cabras is one of Europe’s most important wetlands. The lagoon’s mixed salt- and freshwater habitat is ideal for watching birdlife, including the pink flamingos that congregate here year-round. Stop in at Cabras’s Museo Civico to see the impressive Mont’e Prama giants, colossal statues of archers, boxers and warriors dating back three millennia and unearthed nearby in the 1970s.

Afterward, enjoy a seafood lunch at Il Caminetto featuring Cabras’s famous bottarga (mullet or tuna roe). In the afternoon, explore the adjacent Sinis Peninsula, from the magnificently sited Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman ruins of Tharros to the blindingly white quartz pebble beach at Is Aruttas, and the cliff-backed surfers’ paradise of Capo Mannu.

Climb northeast through the olive groves of Seneghe into the oak and chestnut highlands of the Montiferru, where you can overnight in Santu Lussurgiu. On Sunday morning, make a beeline for the weekly market at San Leonardo de Siete Fuentes to sample Sardinian honey, including the bitter Corbezzolo and Asphodel, against the backdrop of San Leonardo’s beautiful 12th-century church. En route back to the coast at Bosa, reserve ahead for the memorable Sunday afternoon feast at Agriturismo Montiferru, abounding in local delicacies such as wild mushrooms, roast pork and seadas al miele, a traditional pastry stuffed with ricotta and orange peel and drenched in local honey.

A woman in a white swimsuit swimming in the sea in Sardinia
The beauty of having your own wheels means you can stop for a refreshing dip whenever you like © Liliya Krueger / Getty Images

5. Southwestern Sardinian swing

Best road trip for beaches
Cagliari-Iglesias 279km (173 miles); allow two days

Southwestern Sardinia is a treasure trove of splendid beaches. The Strada Panoramica della Costa del Sud (SP71) between Chia and Porto di Teulada makes a delightful day trip from Cagliari, but it’s well worth extending this into a longer journey with overnight stays in Carloforte and Iglesias.

Half an hour south of Cagliari, the ancient Roman mosaics and columns springing from the sands at Nora are the gateway to the Strada Panoramica Costa del Sud, a coast-hugging stretch of road that dips and dives past a string of sparkling coves. Highlights along this 25km (15.5 miles) stretch include Su Giudeu, Cala Piscinnì and Spiaggia Tuerredda, a sinuous crescent of white sand lapped by crystalline turquoise waters.

Continue west across the causeway to Isola Sant’Antioco, then ferry over to Isola di San Pietro, home to the elegant palazzi and seafood restaurants of Carloforte and spectacular coastal views from the Capo Sandalo lighthouse. Back on the Sardinian “mainland,” wind your way north to Cala Domestica, an idyllic beach tucked into a cliff-framed inlet, then explore the vast, less-crowded sands of Spiaggia di Piscinas, backed by towering dunes that have earned it the nickname “Sardinia’s Desert.” Backtrack to the charming city of Iglesias for food and accommodation before looping back to Cagliari.

Detour: South of Cala Domestica, take the spur road out to Porto Flavia for a guided tour of the impressive century-old tunnels and mechanical loaders built into the cliffs here to facilitate shipping of local zinc and lead ore.

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