If Italians do it better, Sardinians do it best. Just take the humble omelette. I opted for a quick ham and cheese number after a morning in the saddle, but it arrived – for the price of a Dublin coffee and croissant – mixed with aubergine and peppers, zucchini, sheep milk cheese and green salad, with focaccia, olive oil and sparkling water on the side.
Sardinia is a food-lover’s paradise; a gastronomical carrefour with influences from North Africa, Catalonia, France and mainland Italy. You’ll find local organic produce on offer everywhere, from delectable sheep and goat milk cheeses to home baked breads, wines, juices, yoghurts, fruits, herbs and cured meats.
When exploring this deceptively large island by bike, you’re best to take it in bite-sized pieces. I opt to take a tour of the southwest corner with Saddle Skedaddle, a British-owned company providing cycling holidays in dozens of countries. Although they offer eight different cycling holidays in Sardinia alone, I chose the self-guided “island flavours” route, which snakes through aromatic olive groves, vineyards, oak-splattered valleys and deserted villages, before you emerge on the coast to panoramic sea views and sequestered beaches worthy of an aftershave ad.
The thirst of the interior croaks out as you pedal past, with villages sporting names such as Arixi, Escola, Lixius and Ussaramanna
The winding, well-surfaced roads are near-empty of cars (especially outside summer), and without the noise or imminent danger posed by passing traffic, the cycling experience is much more sensory – from the dry flowering fragrance of wild fennel and rosemary to the high-pitched tinkling from flocks of collared sheep hidden among the scrub.
Then you may wheel into a quiet village – ostensibly well-populated and maintained – where you won’t see a sinner, and the only sound is that of a church bell ringing loud, as if everyone is hiding in the church. Vendesi [for sale] signs are a common sight inland; what properties are not for sale is more the question.
From Villanovaforru to Marmilla, the thirst of the interior croaks out as you pedal past, with villages sporting names such as Arixi, Escola, Lixius and Ussaramanna. We end our first day in the saddle fringing the Giara di Gesturi, a high, steep-sided basaltic plateau where small, wild, native Giara horses roam, before reaching the ancient megalithic stone edifices known as nuraghie. The best-known and best-preserved of the 7,000-plus nuraghie – and the only Sardinian Unesco World Heritage Site – is Su Nuraxi di Barumini. Over 3,500 years old, its queen bee tower is stacked 18m high in local sandstone and giant basalt boulders.
At the end of each day’s cycle – averaging out at approximately 55km – we are ravenous
Rare for an island in the Mediterranean, the Sardinian coastline remains largely unspoilt, with development contained to compact, well-planned towns and villages. Emerging onto the west coast near Arbus, we pedal south: initially across more testing terrain, buffeted by the Mistral cross-winds blowing down from France, before reaching the more protected realms of Nebida, Teulada and Pula on the south coast.
It’s St Pietro Island, about 7km off the coast, that steals my heart, with its brightly coloured fishing and resort town of Carloforte near the ferry port. After a seafood lunch in one of the many roadside restaurants, I lurch past a mirror-lake of pink flamingos, and later have a sparkling dip and a beer on a secluded beach, before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
Towards the end of the week, we take off on a glorious half-day of sea kayaking, shadowing craggy headlands that yield to sandy, horseshoe coves. Inland from the dunes is a coastal carpet of maritime pine trees, where we find rest under their dappled, aromatic shade.
At the end of each day’s cycle – averaging out at approximately 55km – we are ravenous. Luckily, most evening meals are a four-course affair, consisting of an appetiser ( such as champignon mushrooms in dry tomato sauce, or smoked ricotta cheese with dried mullet roe), a pasta dish (fregula semolina pasta with goat meat ragout), a main dish (such as boar stew in red wine sauce, or grilled entrecôte horse steak) and dessert (lemon sorbet or ice-cream), followed by an obligatory, on-the-house, local digestif.
You see? Sardinians really do it best.
Jamie Ball was a guest of skedaddle.com.
The week-long Island Flavours self-guided cycling holiday in Sardinia includes transfers (but no flights), accommodation in agriturismos (farm stays) or small hotels, four evening meals, route maps and daily luggage transfers. Prices from €1,340, bike hire is extra.
April to mid-June, and mid-Sept to mid-October are the best times to visit Sardinia, as temperatures in July and August repeatedly exceed 40 degrees. Ryanair flies Dublin-Cagliari from €30 each way.
Italy: Adige River to Lake Garda
British-based Flexitreks (flexitreks.com) specialises in leisure cycling holidays in Europe, offering more than 150 different cycling holidays, guided or self-guided, with everything you need provided, from bikes to route notes, daily luggage transfer and a choice of accommodation.
One such holiday is the self-guided, 245km Adige River to Lake Garda route, over seven days. The route starts close to the Austrian border, and “follows the Adige River as it descends through stunning Alpine landscapes past quaint mountain villages and historic towns to Lake Garda”, according to Flexitreks. Prices, excluding flights, start from €885.
France: Canal du Midi
Connecting the Pacific with the Mediterranean Sea in the southwest corner of France, the broad 17th century Canal du Midi is a tree-dappled gem, with a rich history and surrounded by gorgeous landscapes. As the route snakes along the canal towpath, the terrain is not strenuous, but there’s opportunity for more challenging “off piste” diversions across the wider canal corridor.
Stretching 240km from Toulouse (in the de facto centre) to Sete (on the Mediterranean), the Garonne Canal, which forms the southern segment of the Canal du Midi, can be cycled over six days with Responsible Travel, for €920 excluding flights. responsibletravel.com
Catalonia: Costa Brava
Catalonia boasts more than 250km of beaches, with 18 natural parks, but it’s Catalonia Bike Tours’ self-guided cycling trip over the southern half of Costa Brava that catches the eye. The route is awash with charming fishing towns, sandy cove-like beaches and picturesque medieval villages, while the tour starts and finishes in the city of Girona. Barcelona-based Catalonia Bike Tours (cataloniabiketours.com) offer either a four-day or five-day package, with approximately 50km cycling per day, starting from €390 excluding flights.