Part 3: Gulf of Orosei Beaches & Gennargentu Mountains (3 Days)
For the next three days of this week in Sardinia itinerary, we’ll explore the perfect beaches of the Gulf of Orosei and spend a full day in the mountains.
Day 4: Bidderosa Beach
Day four of our 7 days in Sardinia is all about beach relaxation. Post breakfast, head to the local Sisa supermarket and prepare a picnic lunch along with snacks and drinks for the day. At the recommendation of our hosts, we headed to Bidderosa Beach – about a 30-minute drive from Orosei. The beach is part of a national park where visitor numbers are restricted. It’s first come first serve around here, ensuring the beach isn’t overcrowded but also forcing a relatively early start to the day (small entry fee is required).
If you’ve managed to get in, follow the dirt road shaded by endless rows of pine trees until you make it to the beach. The road keeps veering north and the rule of thumb is the further you drive, the fewer people you’ll need to share the beach with.
The series of beaches in Bidderosa are absolutely remarkable, blanketed by soft white sand and chilled by crystal clear shallow waters. Snorkeling isn’t great but still a fun activity to break the routine between tanning, eating, snoozing, and reading.
Pro tip: you can walk from one beach to another and there’s even a small kiosk in one of them. Therefore, it’s wise to base yourself in the further beaches of the north and walk south when you feel like stretching your legs.
If you’ll want to scuba dive in Sardinia, stop on the way back to Orosei at Orosei Diving Center and book a dive for the third and last day in the region. This recommended diving center charges around 100€ for a two-tank dive including equipment and will take you to the famous K-12 wreck – a WWII German cargo ship that was sunk just off the coast. If you want to shop around, Sardinia Divers is just next door
Evening in Orosei
Tonight’s evening activity is pretty much like yesterday’s. Head to the center of the village and dine wherever you feel like it, perhaps going for pizza this time. Tomorrow’s last dinner in Orosei will be a special one.
Day 5: Beach Hopping by Boat
This is by far the most exciting day of the week spent in Sardinia so make sure the spirits are high and to get a good night’s sleep. On this day, we’ll visit a number of spectacular beaches in the Gulf of Orosei. Reaching some of these beaches is technically possible by hiking but, in large parts, they are only accessible by boat.
Logistics for the Day
The best way to enjoy this memorable day is to hire a small motorboat and do some beach hopping at your own pace. You can rent a boat from Oltramare in the Orosei marina for about 100€ per day (not including gas) and no license is required. The folks will show you the ropes of how to operate the boat, the rules of the way when it comes to anchoring, and what to do in case of choppy waters (can happen on the cruise back to the marina). If you do not feel comfortable renting your own boat, many outfits in Orosei but more so in Cala Gonone will be happy to take you to the various beaches on private tours, shared tours or on large boats to Cala Luna (shared with hordes of tourists).
Pro tip: to beat the summer crowds, it’s best to get an early start. Don’t forget to bring a picnic lunch, snacks, lots of water, sun protection, beach and snorkel gear.
The Gulf of Orosei Beaches
The stretch of coastline curving from Cala Gonone south to the tip of the Orosei Gulf is home to a number of world-class beaches. It is here that sharp limestone pinnacles from the Gennargentu Mountains meet the Mediterranean, leaving thin slivers of sand and caverns in hidden coves for the intrepid traveler to enjoy. Sculpted over the course of millennia in unique fashion, each beach is awarded with its own personality and shade of sand.
Out here, It’s not only the time spent on the beach that’s memorable but also the way, as cruisers are awarded with panoramic views of the landscape and hikers with amphitheater views from atop.
Pro tip: it is recommended to make your first stop the furthest beach you plan to reach at the southern end of the gulf and to work your way back to the marina as you anchor in additional beaches.
The southernmost beach in the gulf is the most impressive one and your first stop on this beach hopping journey. Cala Goloritze’s thin sliver of powdery white sand is dwarfed by the iconic 148m-high limestone pinnacle known as Aguglia. It is an imposing scene when viewed from the gulf and you’ll want to “park it” for a while to digest the views before heading to the actual beach. Cala Goloritze is one of the most photographed beaches in Italy.
In this particular beach, boats must anchor in a designated area away from the beach and swim to land. This is a perfect opportunity to put that mask and snorkel on and see for yourself just how clear the water is. If the sea is calm and you pause for a moment, you might think there’s nothing between you and the sandy seafloor 30 meters below.
Once you make it to the beach, be sure to spot the arch on the southern end of the beach before swimming back to the boat for a round of fresh fruit and a cold drink.
Pro tip: it is possible to hike to Cala Goloritze via a marked trail from Cooperativa Goloritze (approx 3 hours return).
Another stunner, Cala Mariolu is a good spot for a picnic lunch since you can drop passengers and gear at the beach and anchor the boat in a designated area at sea (which means the driver will need to swim back if you rented your own boat – no big deal really).
The beach is split into two sections by a collection of large limestone boulders and instead of sand, tiny pebbles melt between your toes and literally slide you down to the crystal clear waters of the deeper end. There’s slightly more beach real estate here than at Cala Goloritze and even though it can get a bit crowded, you don’t want to miss splashing in Cala Mariolu and taking advantage of the shade provided by the looming limestone cliffs which you pretty much lean on.
One of the larger beaches in the gulf, Cala Sisine is backed by a wide valley and boasts a mix of sand and pebbles.
Cala Luna is one of the more popular beaches in the gulf and is serviced by large tour boats that drop bucket loads of tourists in succession. It’s the widest beach in the gulf, backed by an impressively wide ravine and blessed with clear waters that make for an interesting snorkeling excursion.
On the way back to the Orosei marina, you can closely inspect the series of limestone caves known as Grotta del Bue Marino and if there’s any extra time left, you can park it in Cala Gonone and go for drinks.
Despite the slightly rough voyage back to the marina, the feeling of absolute freedom on this day, combined with gulf’s natural beauty is something we’ll never forget. Looking back, we wish we had an extra day to spend in the harder to reach beaches. This is a stunning part of Sardinia.
Dinner in Orosei
You’ll likely be exhausted after this active day in the sun. After dropping the boat off, go for a quick meal in the village and head back to your accommodation to rest and to reflect on this special day.
Day 6: Gennargentu Mountains
The last day in the Gulf of Orosei can be spent in a number of ways but basically, the main focus will be on exploring the majestic limestone mountains that make up the Gennargentu range. This area is blessed with deep cave systems, grand canyons, ancient settlements, and tough “country folks” that in the past included escaping bandits.
Options for the Day
Here are a few ways how to spend this sixth of 7 days in Sardinia: (1) go scuba diving in underwater caves and explore WWII wrecks (2) head back to the beaches of yesterday or hike to Cala Goloritze (3) hike to the massive cave which houses the Tiscali archeological village – about five hours return (4) hike the Gola su Gorropu – a.k.a the “Grand Canyon of Europe” – via a trail along a gorge squeezed by 400m-high cliffs (5) go on road trip to explore the region with a possibility to combine with #4 if there’s time and if you got an early start.
We personally went for option #5 and though we did not have enough time to hike the canyon, we’ll stop for a scenic break right next to the trail head.
From Orosei, drive on the scenic SS125 mountain road in the general direction of Santa Maria Navarrese. The return journey is 160 km (~ four hours) but you can stop and turn around at any point. This “highway” slices through the mountains and passes beautiful country scenery where farming communities and small towns cling to the mountains overlooking the sea.
Grotta di Ispinigoli
You can’t say you’ve been to Sardinia until you’ve visited one its limestone caves. In the Gulf of Orosei, you have the chance to see the world’s second highest stalactite column (38 meters) at Grotta di Ispinigoli. Just before the village of Dorgali, descend 280 steps into the massive underground vertical chamber for a tantalizing feeling of entering an abyss. The large chamber springs full of curious formations carved over millions of years by the elements into the limestone rock. You can also peer down towards a second chamber way below that’s named the Virgin’s Abyss. Excavations have found bones and various artifacts including jewelry implying this was sacred to the historical residents of the area.
Entrance to the cave isn’t cheap but it sure is recommended though photography is not allowed, so you’ll need to take covert shots.
About a 15-minute drive from the limestone cave, Dorgali is a scenic town whose main exports are its breathtaking scenery and crafts. Stop here for a quick stroll, pick up a few souvenirs, and treat yourself to a cold drink.
Take the tunnel from the SS125 and literally slice beneath the mountains to the laid back fishing village turned resort town of Cala Gonone. This picturesque holiday village is a good place to base yourself at and it is from here that chartered and organized tours depart for the gulf’s beaches. The town literally leans against the huge limestone mountains and if you’re just passing by, Cala Gonone is a good place for lunch, drinks, and a quick swim. Note that it is not worth stopping here on the way back (unless for dinner) as the sun will have already set beyond the mountains.
The “Grand Canyon of Europe”
Continue the drive on SS125 for a few more kilometers until you reach B&B I Delfini. Park the car and take the short path to an excellent viewpoint down to Gola su Gorropu – known as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Europe. It is from here that you can pick up the ~3-4 hour trail to the famous gorge or simply admire the views from the top. There are various other lookout points towards the gorge along the way and you’ll easily find them.
Scenic Village of Baunei
From here the road continues to snake its way along the mountains leading to a desert-like plateau where sheep easily outnumber humans. This section of the road is seriously scenic and you’ll be making frequent stops to digest the views and gather your thoughts.
A pleasant and an off the beaten track stop is in the village of Baunei. There’s not much happening here aside from awesome views of the fertile valley meeting the bay. We decided to try our luck and take a detour up the mountains following the signs to Il Golgo / Su Sterru. The twisting road is very steep for the first few kilometers but offers excellent stops for spectacular panoramic views.
A few slow-going kilometers later, the road leads onto a strange-looking plateau. There’s very little here aside from sheep, donkeys, and lots of pine trees. After a while, the paved road turns into gravel but you can manage with a regular 2WD. Follow the impromptu signs to Il Golgo and don’t be afraid if you’re the only ones here as very few tourists venture up here to get off the beaten track.
The Il Golgo is a fascinating 270-meter near perfect round sinkhole. It is one of the largest in the world and you walk around while peering down into the abyss. It’s impossible to see what’s actually happening down there but the journey getting here coupled with virgin scenery is what makes the visit worth it – though not an absolute must. And speaking of virgins, there’s a remote church not too far away from the sinkhole that you can pay a visit to.
On the way back down, we paused in the village of Baunei to walk around and enjoy the views from one of its cafes. At this point, we decided to head back in the direction of Orosei as we had made dinner reservations.
To wrap up the most special part of our week in Sardinia, we made dinner reservations at a romantic restaurant that has unfortunately shut. The good news though is that on the way back to Orosei, you can still enjoy a romantic dinner near the cave we visited earlier in the day. Be sure to make reservations at Ristorante Ispinigoli, which also doubles as a hotel.