Sunday, July 15, 2007

June 2007 - South Coast, Sardinia - Protected Coves & Spanish Towers

We picked up our rent-a-car in Cagliari and began our journey around the island, one that would take us three weeks and a couple thousand miles to complete.
Aftern signing all the necessary paperwork, the car rental rep walked me over to this tiny blue bicycle-tired vehicle that . . . resembled a car. I'm not even standing up straight and I tower over it!No, it's not that big. Just a perspective trick with the camera.
But a Mini Cooper looks like an SUV next to it. Anyway, we were able to fit all of our luggage (and us) in it, so we started her up and drove out of Cagliari.
She was actually pretty peppy and her color matched the sky above and water to our left, so we quickly grew attached to her. Casandra affectionately named her Smurfette.

We heard that the southern coast of Sardinia had some of the most secluded coves and beautiful beaches on the island so, on our way to our Bed & Breakfast on Sardinia's west coast (where we'll stay four nights), we decided to take the long way and check out some of those coves and beaches. As we left Cagliari and headed west, we drove past the ancient marshes and salt flats that extend around the outskirts of Cagliari, which after years of neglect and deterioration have recently become nature reserves containing a rich and varied fauna, including egrets, purple herons, grebes and other migratory aquatic birds including flamingos! A half hour or so west of the marshes and salt flats, we reached the city of Laguna di Nora, which had a beautiful sheltered cove, a medieval tower, and ancient ruins.
The ancient city of Nora was founded under Carthaginian rule in the 9th - 8th Centuries BC. The town quickly became Sardinia's most important city, a role it continued to enjoy under the Romans, who made it the capital of the Roman province of Sardinia in 238 AD. In the early Middle Ages, the Spanish occupied the land, building watch towers at various points along the coast. But Saracen raids and the lack of fertile land forced the inhabitants to abandon the land in the Middle Ages. As a result, Nora's three ports were gradually covered up by the sea.
The ruins of the Roman Terme di Levante, baths decorated mosaics dating from the 4th Century can been seen in the foreground and the Spanish Torre del Coltelazzo is in the background.

The column in the distance on the left marks the raised Carthaginian Temple of Tanit, and the ruins on the right are of Roman Theater and rectangular Forum from the 2nd Century AD.

The water in this cove was amazingly clear but really cold and a little too early in the day to get in.

So we hopped back in the car and continued driving along the southern coast to the next cove that we had read about, Baia Chia, one of the most picturesque protected coves we have ever seen. Just inland from this cove is the town of Chia, a hamlet set among orchards and fig trees.
The water, like that in Laguna di Nora, was crystal clear, reflecting a turquoise color that we've only seen in the Caribbean. The almost perfectly semi-circular beach is flanked on one side by the Torre di Chia, dating from the 17th Century . . .
. . . and on the other by red cliffs covered with maquis vegetation. Casandra tested this water but it too was a little too cold for swimming.
So we decided to climb up to the tower to get a better view of the area.
And it was worth the climb. The water just got more and more beautiful with each step up the hill.
I tried to climb the tower but it was closed so I settled for this picture.

From up there, though, I looked towards the open Mediterranean and saw colors and shades of blue that I've never seen in the Caribbean or anywhere else in the world. It looked almost like there were lights under the water. The large rocks under the water further evidence the clarity of the water.

Near the foot of the tower are the remains of the ancient Phoenician city of Bithia, mentioned in the writings of Ptolemy, which are currently being excavated.

On the other side of tower is another, larger and less protected cove. We hung out up hear, staring in awe at the water, for a while. Afterwards, we walked down the hill, jumped in Smurfette, and continued west along the coast.

Along the way, we came across our first herd of goats, grazing on the side of the road. We had heard that Sardinia's rocky, mountainous terrain along the coast is more suitable for raising goats (as opposed to cows or sheep which prefer the flatter plains of the interior). As a result, goat (or capra) is a popular main course (or secondo piato) in Sardinia and we should expect to see it on traditional Sardinian menus.
We then came upon Porto and Capo Malfatano, a series of bays, filled with glistening acquamarine water and dark but colorful rocks scattered along the sea floor, separated by rocky, pine-forest-covered promontories and nearby islands.
The stark contrasting patches of water from bright neon green to midnight blue was like nothing we had ever seen in our lives. From Capo Malfatano, we marveled at the colors for a while and then continued along the coast, past the port and to the other side of those bays.

From this side, known as Capo Spartivento, the midnight blue patches of water in the bay became a richer medium blue while the neon green patches took on a warmer teal color. From up here, we could also see some sand dunes and beaches down near the water.

Here's a shot looking out towards the open Mediterranean and the tip of the cape, crowned with an old Spanish tower. You can see how the rocky promontory is covered with pine forests and lush green vegetation.
And here's one last shop of us in front of that colorful patchwork of a bay. We couldn't take our eyes off it (and I couldn't take enough pictures).
Our next stop was Spiaggia Colonna, another half-moon shaped cove flanked by two rocky promontories, one of which was capped with another Spanish tower.This one, however, was notable for its expansive white sand dune leading to the sea . . .
. . . and its salt marshes inhabited by flocks and flocks of Flamingos!

You can't really tell from this picture but these seemingly white birds with their heads in the water are actually light pink flamingos with coral-colored feathers near their wings.

The winds that swept across the dunes were so strong and constant that it carved ripples in the sand. Just look at our hair!

It was getting close to the hottest point in the afternoon and we were getting anxious to take our first dip in these beautiful Sardinian waters of which we had heard, read, and now seen so much. The beach we chose was Spiaggia di Teulada near the town of Tramatzu and across from a jagged red rocky island called Isola Rossa.

The sand was fine, soft and off-white in color, and the water absolutely crystal clear. So amazed with the clarity, I filled a clear plastic cup with it and could not possibly distinguish it from a cup full of bottled water! Casandra tested the water first. She reported that it was cold but refreshing while I continued my photo shoot. The gradually deepening, sand covered yet firm sea floor, surrounded by dark colorful rocks made it seem like we were in a swimming pool, but one filled with drinkable water!

After enjoying the sun and sea for awhile, we hopped back in Smurfette and continued west along Sardinia's southern coast to our last stop, before heading to our B&B on the west coast, Porto Teulada. Like Porto Malfatano, this port comprised a couple of bays surrounded by rocky promontories, two of which were topped with Spanish towers.
It was later in the day and the sun had gone down a bit so the water didn't glow the same shades of neon blue and green as it did at Malfatano but it was beautiful all the same.

And we did spot from the road one of the prettiest and secluded coves we'd seen all day, overlooked by one of those towers, Torre Budelli. You can even see how the rocks in the bay (the dark splotches in the water) surround and protect the cove and create a "swimming pool" like the one we went in earlier.

We didn't think we'd have time to climb down to that cove, plus it was getting late and we still had to find our B&B in a small town near Sardinia's west coast called Arbus. So we headed inland a bit, cutting across the southwest corner of the island, and began our drive north. While the southern coast is supposed to be the most natural and unspoiled, the west coast where we are heading is supposed to be the greenest.

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