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Author Sara Alexander shares her love of Sardinia
6th May 2017
#TalkingLocationWith…. Sara Alexander, author of Under a Sardinian Sky.
Sardinia is my ancestral home. My tribal land. Its turbulent history is marked by invasions from the Spaniards, Phoenicians, Arabs. Its people are islanders in the true sense of the word; proud, independent, suspicious, alluring. My mother left her island aged 16 but we returned every summer after I was born, escaping the day to day life of London as soon as school was out, returning minutes before the next academic year began. I was left free to roam the dusty streets there, arguing and falling in love with the neighbours. I’ve left memories hovering around my mother’s town of Ozieri, which lies in the northern central area and on which I base the fictitious town of Simius in my novel Under a Sardinian Sky. I spent those endless summer days along the bays of the east coast, dreamy expanses of turquoise waters and white sands, all which feature in the story.
I spend as much time there as my work life permits. I am bewitched by the Sardinian nature; diffident, ardent, passionate yet reserved. Their hospitality is heartfelt. All my family describe their feelings for you through what they prepare to eat and how. The Sardinians take time to earn your trust, but once you are considered a friend, their loyalty is fierce. I adore the way the ancient traditions muddle with Catholicism. The landscape is dotted with Neolithic sites. To the west coast the area known as Tharros has beautiful ruins which inspired one of the chapters in my novel. At the centre of the island lies a vast expanse of wilderness, Gennargentu, a nature reservation, which invites hikers, trekkers, ramblers, those travellers with a taste for adventure. Those interested in loosing themselves among the dense forests, amongst the cork oak trees, bark stripped revealing their burnished red trunks, the waterfalls that spurt from the ancient granite mountains, and amongst towns such as Dorgali and Oliena where some say people still dabble in magic.
To the east, the coast is lined with miles of hidden coves, some like those near Cala Gonone, reachable by boat only. Others further north, like my favourite beach Lu Impostu, require visitors to wade through gentle currents of sea to reach the beach, which sweeps in a wide arc, surrounded by mountains, facing the looming rocky island of Tavolara. A day trip to this smaller island is recommended, as well diving off the boats you can hire to sail to it.
Those who are happy to laze through days can indulge in crystalline sea and sunshine and, when the heat intensifies, retreat to the local restaurant to twirl your way through a bowl of linguini with garlic, parsley and fresh clams, or perhaps a plate of grilled calamari with a side of charred radicchio. Accompany this with a glass of a local crisp vermentino white wine, finish with a sip of mirto (the aromatic digestif typical of the island) and a smoky espresso and you have yourself a perfect foodie day.
Food in Sardinia is a language. It’s the way families honour themselves and their friends. Fridays and Tuesdays are usually market days. In the town of Ozieri I love nothing more than to float around the fanatical cooks surrounded by crates of fresh artichokes as they judge which is best for their lunch. I can almost hear them planning how many potatoes to dice alongside the artichokes when they return home, how much garlic to smash, how many handfuls of fresh parsley they’ll need. I needn’t concentrate too hard to smell the heady sweet earthiness of that pot simmering in the kitchen, just like it would at my Nonna’s.
Head to Cagliari for a taste of a metropolitan city still steeped in rich history. Cagliaritani know their food, and the capital is a burgeoning community of organic, well sourced products too.
You visit Sardinia to be bewitched by its rugged untouched landscape, the smell of sun parched wild fennel springing up in tufts along the streets. Sardinia is the scent of rosemary and juniper floating on the early evening breeze. Sardinia is for those who want to feel what its like to live life at a digestible pace, to place food and family at the centre of their lives, to feel the ancient footprint leaving its indelible mark on the every day.
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