A 45 minutes flight from Rome and we land in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, a young, international, unexpected coastal city.
Perhaps you have already heard about the Poetto beach, where you can spend the day immersed in Caribbean coloured waters, or the more secret one of Giorgino where the locals take refuge to escape from the summer crowds and the sunset in Cala Mosche or the evenings in the centre strolling in the vibrant alleys, where between an aperitif and a plate of burrida you are inebriated by the sea breeze which, even on summer days, makes Cagliari an oasis where you can shelter from the scorching heat. I bet that you will hardly have heard of Cagliari and its hinterland as a top destination for wine & food lovers, the vibrations that come from the kitchens of emerging chefs such as Pierluigi Fais patron of Josto or Luigi Pomata who reigns over the restaurant of the same name, the intriguing wine lists, the magnificence of the San Benedetto market, the largest covered market in Europe, with a floor entirely dedicated to fish that could be a competitor of the Spanish Boqueria. The capital of Sardinia gets rid of the swimsuit and reveals itself as a destination for all seasons: exhibitions, concerts, cultural events and gastronomic experiences.
In just 20 minutes by car, we arrive in Parteolla, we do not even realize that we have left the city and here is Dolianova and Serdiana. With their wineries that offer the gourmet tourist high-level and above all diversified visiting and tasting experiences. Let’s start with the wonderful Cantina Cooperativa di Dolianova, a pearl of the region, where the ideals of cooperatives run parallel to investments in technology and quality. And, the attention to detail and customer care to be admired in the elegant wineshop and visitor center which is managed with competence and above all with a smile, an essential business card for those who visit.
A few more kilometers and we reach the main entrance of the historic cellar of the Argiolas family, protagonist in the long history of wine in Sardinia. This winemaking family have invested in a structure where hospitality is studied in detail. There’s a large tastings menu but also art, food, history, and entertainment for children, tailor-made events for tourists and companies, tasting rooms for every season and occasion, open-air spaces and a trail open to groups and individuals with visits in 5 languages. The large and historic structures are flanked by what I would call garden companies such as Audaria and Antonella Corda, smaller estates. With the same attention to detail, they also offer the opportunity to dive into vineyard landscapes of rare beauty surrounded by the mountains of the seven brothers and the ponds populated by elegant flamingos, allowing the visitor to alternate tasting with hiking and biking.
The Parteolla area is completed with gastronomic experiences linked to other products of the Sardinian tradition, primarily cheeses, the Argiolas dairy company allows you to watch the production of some cheeses and book guided tastings or picnic baskets, and even a liqueur factory and an oil mill.
In short, let’s say that just with a 45-minute flight from the mainland and a rented bicycle, the weekend would be more than full of opportunities for recreation and tasting, but the strategic position of Cagliari allows us to reach other precious ones within two hours. Places where the culture of beauty and goodness surprise us and also fascinate us for the naiveté with which they are presented.
But let’s move forward in order: along the SS 128 we arrive in Cabras, we are in the province of Oristano, whose fame is linked to two milestones: mullet fishing from the spectacular pond and its processing and His Majesty Vernaccia.
Mullet fishing has its roots in ancient times with the tradition of Fassoi small hulled boats, with which fishermen up to 50 years ago collected the fish and proceeded to transform it into the precious bottarga, whose delicacy makes it a more sought-after product internationally than its cousin derived from tuna.
Vernaccia, on the other hand, present in the popular and family tradition of the area, owes its notoriety and its election as a product of excellence to the Contini family, which over time has invested in this native vine and in its processing, achieving valuable results and clearing Vernaccia. as a wine for the whole meal.
Contini’s merit in disseminating the Vernaccia story does not stop, on the contrary it grows with the investment in the new cellar, an elegant and modern place that preserves respect for authenticity and local warmth in the colors and materials. A wooden casket in the shades of Vernaccia that integrates a photographic exhibition on the territory, tasting rooms for individuals and small groups, a children’s room, the ancient barrel cellar where the most precious Vernaccia wines are aged and a delightful winebar \ wineshop. The company offers tastings for all target visitors enriched with food pairing based on local products.
The indissoluble link with archeology and archaeobotany, the frames that celebrate the seeds found in the pre-Nuragic excavation of Sa Osa stand out and there are constant references to the majestic site of the giants of Monteprama where combine a walk to discover the Phoenician heritage.
Town in Oristano
Oristano and its province continue to amaze us also for the gastronomic offer of great refinement, in the capital the small restaurant La Brace offers menus based on mullet very accurate both in preparation and in presentation, while a short distance away in Santu Lussurgiu, another pearl of the island opens its doors to us: the Antica Dimora del Gruccione, a family-run hotel spread in different buildings (albergo diffuso) where, in addition to staying in rooms decorated with skilfully restored ancient furnishings, you can eat all year round in the courtyard combining the local cuisine with a menu of wines of the highest level, worthy of the best European Michelin starred, created by Marco Delugas, importer and well-known Sardinian sommelier who personally takes care of the pairings.
An hour’s drive and we enter Barbagia, we catapult ourselves into the out-of-time atmosphere of Mamoiada, with the inhabitants lining up to get supplies of water from the sources scattered around the town (all have running water but they claim that the spring water has a better taste), children and adults who train for folkloric events linked to the tradition of the Mamutones, tourists who visit the Museum of Masks and so far we are still in the well-known visitor attractions. The Mamutones and their apotropaic rituals are also mentioned by the Lonely Planet, what is still a precious secret is that Mamoiada represents a sort of playground for vine and wine lovers, a hidden garden, a labyrinth of surprises. 140 producers, 40 bottlers in a territory divided into ghiradas, the equivalent of French parcelles, separated by dry stone walls, a sort of Mediterranean Burgundy populated by Cannonau for the red and Granazza for the white and governed by small producers, mostly all linked from family relationships that surprise you with elegant wines that are the result of hard work in the vineyard (almost all the sapling vines are located in steeply sloping soils) and hard study in the cellar. It is easy to meet the producers gathered in informal tasting committees at the village bar, the legendary Bar Mele, where they compare themselves, taste their productions, and test the refinements. Not everyone has the opportunity like the historic Sedilesu to host you in a modern cellar suitable for hospitality, so they strive like Muzanu with many experiences in the vineyard from a picnic, to the wine and hike experiences while maintaining a profile of the highest professionalism and a great enthusiasm.
The gastronomic offer is also of a high standard, from the charming atmosphere of Su Lapiu to the Osteria Abbamele, research in raw materials, reinterpreted with creativity but without plagiarism, delightful locations, and high-level service. Hospitality is fragmented over dozens of B&B and holiday homes on which there is still work to be done as well as on the signs, because the concept of a hidden garden is not a metaphor, it is really difficult to find them.
At the end of the tour, before resuming the road to Elmas International Airport, happy and satisfied, you find it hard to frame the places you discovered in what was your idea of Sardinia because: Parteolla, Sinis and Barbagia are Sardinia that you do not expect.