Situated among salt marshes and fish-rich ponds at the center of the broad southern gulf that extends from Cape Spartivento to Cape Carbonara, Cagliari is the main harbor and one of the gateways to Sardinia. The French author Auguste Bouillier, who visited it in 1864, wrote movingly of the view, with “cupolas glittering in the setting sun”, the “castle with its belt of grey walls”, and the “spectral towers”. Dotted with Pisan towers and a Spanish castle, Cagliari has other Spanish touches, such as its flower-lined patios, decorated with ceramics not unlike Portugal’s famed azulejos. Travelers interested in Sardinia’s mysterious past should visit the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, which houses an unequalled collection of ancient Sardinian, Phoenician, Minoan and Roman artifacts.
La Costa Smeralda or “the Emerald Coast” is a new feature of Sardinia, created nearly forty years ago to transform a formerly wild and isolated coast into world-class tourist destination. La Costa Smeralda occupies the northeast corner of Sardinia from Olbia to Santa Teresa Gallura and follows the dramatic coastline of inlets and gulfs.
Besides the fashionable resorts with its trendy beaches and yachts, La Costa Smeralda also has unbelievable natural beauty, with some of the clearest waters in the entire Mediterranean. Away from the coast the road travels into the ancient lands of the Nuraghi, with ruins of their distinctive structures as well as even older prehistoric dolmens known as the Tomb of the Giants.
Alghero was once a bastion of the Spanish Viceroy and even today is nicknamed “Barcelonetta” (little Barcelona) because of a dialect of Catalan that is still spoken. At the bottom of Via Umberto stands the sixteenth-century Cattedrale, where Spanish viceroys stopped to take a preliminary oath before taking office in Cagliari. A walk around the old town should take in the series of seven defensive towers which dominate Alghero’s center and its surrounding walls. Outside the old quarter, most of the tourist activity takes place around the port, its wide quay nudged by rows of colorful fishing boats and bordered by bars. Short trips outside Alghero lead to the impressive ruins of the Palmavera Nurag as well excellent beaches at Porto Conte.