I should simply not be allowed to drive in Italy. I am a danger to my fellow Italians. My solo adventures typically have me flying down autostradas trying to navigate maps, directions, a cell phone and manual transmissions all while trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the way of the wild eyed Italians who believe they are all Formula One race car drivers. (Remind me to tell you about my little accidental tour of Palermo some day.) My arrival in Sardinia was no exception. After finding my way north, I arrived at my accomodations for the next 3 days – a peaceful agritourismo, Tenuta Pilastru, deep in the Gallurese countryside. Absolutely perfect.
This northernmost region of Sardinia, known as Gallura, is home to stunning whitesand beaches, an aqua blue sea and huge wind-scuplted rocks all set against a backdrop of stark granite mountains. It is also home to the fabled Costa Smeralda which thankfully was a solid 30 minute drive away from my peaceful surroundings. The next 3 days entailed motoring up and down windy, hilly terrain along the northern and eastern shores, darting from one picturesque coastal village to another – Castelsardo (famous for its woven baskets), Santa Teresa di Gallura (main jumping off point to nearby Corsica), Cannigione (small yacht-stop), Porto Cervo (the glitzy Costa Smeralda – more on this later), Palau (sleepy naval base). Aromas wafting from the open windows alternated between freshly washed floors and long-simmering tomato sauce.
As often as possible, I would stop at roadside markets to buy my lunch so I could sit among the craggy headlands and enjoy the amazing views.
I buy pecorino sardo, pecorino romano, homemade salame, prosciutto di Desulo, freshly baked bread, local wildflower honey, the local white wine, Vermentino Bianco. One day I am lucky to find fresh, still ever-so-slightly warm ricotta of which I buy an armload along with the day’s freshly baked bread. I drive like the wild eyed Italians to the nearest spot by the sea and spend a heavenly hour slathering my creamy ricotta on the bread while watching the sea lap at my feet. Pure heaven.
These are a people who like to chat about their world given the slightest encouragement. And chat they did. Very little English is spoken in the area and their dialect is completely incomprehensible but thankfully, many spoke ‘mainland’ Italian. My Italian is barely passable and has gotten me into trouble more times than it has gotten me out (yup, remind me on that on too). However, it was certainly enough to get these folks talking. I chatted with the fishermen. I chatted with the waiters. I chatted with the fruttovendolo. I even chatted with the garbage guy (hmmm, how do I say that in Italian?). These are simply warm and gentle souls. They wanted to teach me how to make pane carasau (‘Sardinian sheet music’, their unusual bread that is as thin as paper).
They wanted me to try their freshly made cheese, their homemade wine, their amazingly wide array of honeys. They brought me plates of food I had not ordered simply because I needed a ‘taste’. Over there on the left is one example – the owner appeared with this ‘because I needed to know what carpaccio tastes like on pane carasau’. As the food was excellent but also included in the room rate at Tenuta, I ate there each evening. And although my table was booked for one, the chairs surrounding me were rarely empty. If you visit this enchanting island, just start chatting!
I spent a lazy afternoon toodling around the fabled, glitzy Costa Smeralda. Oh my. Nothing like seeing how the other half lives. The architecture of the area, specifically Porto Cervo, was rather disturbing…..cinderblock homes faux painted in some rather tacky colors. I felt as if I had woken up in Italy’s version of Oz. However, once I got past this, the fun began. Enormous yachts bobbing on the horizon and top end designer threads in shop windows and on the nicely bronzed folks toodling about the marina (with nary a wrinkle – on the threads nor the faces). How fun it would be to come to this Emerald Coast by yacht. Aaah, visions of my deckhands answering to my every whim floated through my mind as I sipped my 25 euro glass of vino. However, after a few hours of all this excess, I found myself longing for the peaceful solitude of my grassy knoll near the pool at Tenuta. Enough hobnobbing.
The food at Tenuta was fantastic. I made the mistake of choosing the ‘menu locale’ the first evening and the staff and diners around me chuckled as plate after plate after plate of food were delivered to my table. The local Sardinian specialities were cooked to perfection – Zuppa Gallurese (Sardinia comfort food at its absolute best), fregola (marble sized semolina pasta bathing in pecorino), mallordeddus (‘calves’, tiny saffron-scented dumplings of semolina and water shaped like gnocchi), porcheddu (roasted suckling young pig infused with myrtle), and the finale – a bowl of fresh sun-kissed fruit, baskets of homemade Sardinian cookies and the prize – saedas (fresh pecorino cheese wrapped in a thin sheet of pasta, fried, and drizzled with warm wildflower honey). All this was washed down with a crisp white wine and a bit of Mirto, Sardinian’s version of a ‘digestivo’ distilled from the leaves and berries of the myrtle plant. My ‘digestivo’ worked rather well – not by helping with my digestion one iota but by making me feel pleasantly fuzzy thereby taking the edge off the major guilt complex I had after ingesting that much food in one sitting. The nights thereafter I kindly asked the staff in my best Italian to bring me only a few plates – they thankfully obliged.
I rolled into bed with a smile on my face. You could hear the snores coming from my window – top floor, far right, open window in the photo. Sogni d’oro as we say in Italy (‘dreams of gold’).
After 3 glorious days, it was time to move on. It was with a sad heart that I said farewell to this magical region of Sardinia. Ahhh, but peace had been restored. America and all the stresses of the daily grind seemed very, very far away.
Well, all for now – next we are off to the wild western coast of Sardinia but first we will try our hand at making a few local specialities. Zuppa Gallurese is up next time – lets cook! A presto!