Sardinia, is an island of contrasts and surprises just waiting to be discovered.
Kids and grown ups will love the vast desert like beaches with sand dunes and big waves that give way to still emerald blue/green coves with smooth pebbles and colourful shells and fish. Inland you’ll find dense forests and millenial olive trees begging to be climbed. These are nestled between lakes, rivers and rocky mountains inhabited by wild horses, deer and eagles. Ancient medieval towns and quaint fishing villages sit adjacent to modern cities and affluent harbours filled with super yachts.
You could spend a long time in Sardinia and still discover new sights to see.
We based ourselves in north west Sardinia in a town called Valledoria. Valledoria is a seaside town equipped with all the bars, restaurants, pizzarieas, supermarkets and bakeries you could ever need. Despite the fact we visited in August, height of the Italian holiday season we found the area was quiet. Most of the north west has a relaxed surfer, family feel to it owing in part to the international campsite located by the water. Our AirBnb was around a 2 mile easy walk to the beach and what a beach!
San Pietro de Mare was a vast white sand beach with gentle sloping sand, clear waters and a constant breeze to cool you down.
The best way to discover Sardinia beaches is via the water. There are hundreds of boat tours you can do and you can even hire a water taxi…
The best family friend activities in the North West
Another way to get out on the water is via kayak, paddle board or windsurf. Valledoria is built on a natural wetland where the Coghinas river mouth meets the sea. Resident birds and migratory birds live and nest along the banks of the river and New Kayak Sardinia provide independent Kayak tours of varying distances down the river. The New Kayak team simply drop you at a certain point along the river and you are free to take your time meandering back to the mouth of the river. We saw so much wildlife including at least 8 herons and the kids had a fantastic time learning to kayak in a very safe environment. It took us about 3 hours to kayak the 6 km route, it was incredible value at €28 for the two, two seater kayaks, we were even treated to much needed light refreshments on our return.
Paddle boarding, windsurfing, sailing and even kite surfing are all available via the campsite on the banks of the river. Plus there is fishing, boating and pedalos too. We hired two paddle boards and spent the entire time chasing shoals of fish that jumped out of the water right in front of us. It is all very reasonably priced, friendly and there is a bar for refreshments with a playground to relax at afterwards. The sunsets from here are also outstanding.
A day trip not to be missed is a visit to Neptune’s Caves or Grotte di Nettuno. There are two ways to discover Sardinia’s wondrous stalactite caves. Climbing down (and back up) 656 steps, or by boat to the mouth of the cave. Even though the boat sounds more appealing be aware that the weather and tides can change dramatically even in the short time between boarding the boat in the harbour and reaching the cave. This sometimes means the boat cannot dock and leads to a disappointing trip. We therefore chose the steps and were really pleased with the choice. Firstly, because the view offered by descending the steps cut into the sheer rock face is breath taking. Secondly, because not long after leaving the cave there was indeed a big change in the weather which left many visitors stranded in the caves to wait out the passing storm. Thirdly, you get a good workout (and huge sense of achievement) on the way back to the top!
The caves themselves are vast and offer many twists and turns, underground lakes and fantastical shapes created by the rock formations. A place where history, legend, wonder and magic all collide for imaginative kids.
You can buy tickets at the entrance at the top of the steps. Double check your navigation if you are driving as ours initially took us to Alghero harbour several kilometers away where you would get the boat.
Here is the official link by Alghero tourism: https://www.algheroturismo.eu/en/grotta-di-nettuno/
What kid doesn’t love a castle and Castelsardo does not disappoint. The medieval tightly packed village is filled with historic lanes that transport you back in time. There are many attractive restaurants, gelaterias and souvenir shops filled with red coral a local craft item that can be found all over Sardinia. The village was defended and is still dominated by the castle itself which sits at the highest point and offers tremendous views of the village below and the Gulf of Asinara.
Speaking of Asinara. While there are many islands to discover around the coast of Sardinia, Asinara is by far the most fascinating. The island is virtually uninhabited, by humans that is, for it is home to many wild animals especially donkeys, wild boar, wild horses and many species of birds. The island’s name is actually Italian for “donkey-inhabited”.
We are not normally tour people, we far prefer to discover places by ourselves we find this more fun and flexible but occasionally a tour is the better option. If you look on the internet you’ll find a few bad reports about Asinara mostly from people who have tried to visit the island independently. If you do this you’ll find it expensive to get to and very difficult to get around. You can hire jeeps and bikes but booking these seem to be a little hit and miss. We opted for an organised tour that delivered us to the island by boat and then took us around the island by land train which the kids loved.
The island is an former high security prison which formed a large part of the tour, while Lee and I found this interesting it was somewhat lost on the kids and I feel the tour could have focused more on the nature of the island which has more universal appeal. The train took us to the opposite end of the island for lunch on the boat which have to admit was a very poor lunch unless they were trying to keep with the prison theme! The tour finished with a swimming stop on an incredible area of cove which was filled with marine life (see our video here). There was also the paid option to visit the turtle hospital instead at this point.
All in all it was a lovely day trip. In our opinion it would be more family friendly if there was less prisons and more swimming and turtles and the food needs a dramatic improvement but it is definitely a good option if you want to visit this beautiful and peaceful island that is challenging to visit independently.
Our tour was the Gabbiano Boat and Green Train Tour which you’ll find mixed reviews about online due to the reasons I have outlined above.
Casteldoria Themal Mud Baths
Sardinia has several thermal and mineral springs, of which the nearest to us Casteldoria just a few kilometers away. The thermal springs is fed by what looks like a large tap which is very, very hot! Beware, especially with children not to touch the water from the tap directly and to move slowly in the river as there are ‘hot patches’ near the tap. This point of the river has been known since ancient times for their salt, bromine and iodine waters that flow at up to 70 degrees.
There is a hotel spa on the banks of the river but is unfortunately only for the use of hotel guests but if you continue up the kill for another kilometer you’ll find the public swimming pool which also uses the thermal water. This was approximately €30 for the 4 of us for 1 hour. It seemed expensive but was well worth the money. There were two pools one was like a giant jacuzzi with a fountain and jets that the kids loved. The other was a large lane swimming pool, cooler but still using the thermal waters. The views from outside were fabulous too. I can’t find a link to this swimming pool but I promise it is there!