Sardinia is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations and, if you are planning on visiting, you probably don’t need another guide to the whitest beaches with the bluest sea, which is literally all of them. As usual, however, we tried to put together a list of unusual experiences for the discerning traveller. This does not mean that you should give the white beaches and the blue sea a miss (that would be heresy!), but if you have a few days to spend on this spectacular island, you might want to explore a few unusual corners and get off the beaten path for a day or two. Just like Sicily, Sardinia is mostly perceived as a summer holiday destination, but it has much more to offer to those who dare to venture into the inland instead of spending their whole stay on the beach. Its culinary traditions might be a bit puzzling to some, but the best way to experience Sardinia is to taste all of the local delicacies – yes, even the one at number 2 of this list, we dare you. As an incentive travel destination, Sardinia will prove a fortunate choice, in that it allows for different kinds of corporate events, from adventure team-building projects to luxurious holiday experiences.
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1. Visit the deepest sinkhole in Europe
On the High Plains of Golgo, in the part of Sardinia known as Ogliastra, you will find one of the many natural landmarks of the region. Su Sterru (which can be roughly translated as “the excavation” or “the abyiss”) is the deepest vertical sinkhole in Europe, measuring nearly one thousand feet from top to bottom, with an average diameter of 80 feet. According to the local history, the first speleologist to explore the full depth of Su Sterru in 1957, Umberto Pintori, was so thrilled and terrified by the whole experience that he emerged from it to discover that his hair had turned entirely white during the descent. Until that first complete exploration, some thought Su Sterru to be the mouth of a volcano, partly because the rocks in the upper part of the hole are volcanic in origin. It subsequently transpired that the cave was created by a process of natural erosion. As a tourist, you will not be allowed to explore the sinkhole, which can only be accessed by trained professionals, but you will be able to see it from the outside and get a feeling of its vertigo-inducing fall. Thesedays, Su Sterru is mostly studied for its unique microclimate, which allows for particular varieties flora and fauna, that is extremely difficult to find elsewhere, including a rare species of salamander and several types of spiders and crabs.
2. Eat worms
No, really. And you will like it too. Ok, technically they are not worms but larvae, although this might not be particularly reassuring to the average tourist. I am not suggesting you actually track down a clew of worms, scoop them up and eat them. One of Sardinia’s most prized specialities is a particular type of cheese known as Casu Marzu (literally “rotten cheese”: I know, still not reassuring) which takes its pungent smell and taste from the larvae of a particular type of fly (Piophila casei), that feeds on the cheese as it ages. It is tricky to come by and it can’t be exported, which makes a thrilling, authentic and definitely not repeatable culinary experience. Casu Marzu is generally goat cheese, but it can be made with sheep milk too. Rumour has it that it has been outlawed by the EU on grounds of health and safety (which, let’s face it, would not be entirely absurd), but that is not completely correct. Casu Marzu has been briefly banned because the conditions in which it is produced violate several European standards of security, but the local farmers took action to proof that their cheese does not constitute a threat to public health. As a result, Casu Marzu is protected by special laws because of its acknowledged relevance as a vital element of Sardinian culinary and cultural tradition.
3. The barefoot run
On the first Sunday of September, in the Sardinian village of Cabras, an ancient religious rite takes place. The image of St. Salvatore is carried through the town by hundreds of devotees and this in itself is not unusual: religious processions are a common sight in rural Italy. This procession though, is not for the faint hearted, because it is a run and shoes are not allowed. Hundreds of people, barefoot and clad in white sackcloth, run through rocky dirt tracks and hot tarmac roads, carrying the saint from the church of Santa Maria Assunta to that of San Salvatore. The whole run covers a distance of twelve kilometres (approximately 7,5 miles). The tradition is thought to date back to the XVII century, when the statue was swiftly taken away in order to save it from the moorish invaders that were coming to raid the little church. According to the legend, the people of Cabras discarded their shoes and tied palm leaves under their feet, in order to raise as much dirt as possible, in order to be shielded and hidden in their run by a thick cloud of dust, to conceal them from their attackers. If you are wondering how is a massive cloud of dirt moving through the land less eye-catching than a group of people walking, you clearly haven’t grasped the gist of Sardinian legends.
4. Stonhenge in Sardinia: the Menhirs of Biru e’ Concas
Menhirs are vertical megalites and they are usually mentioned in conjunction with dolmens, which are portal-like structures composed of three stones. These massive structures are thought to date back to the Neolitic age and their history, original function and how they came to be assembled or positioned are shrouded in mystery. Sardinia boasts several fascinating sites in which prehistoric forms of worship have left a durable mark in the form of gigantic menhirs. The area known as Biru e’ Concas hosts an archeological park that contains over 200 of them, making this remote spot near Sorgono one of the most interesting archeological sites in the mediterranean area. The megalites are positioned in different formation and reveal skills that can only be called prodigious, when applied to prehistoric times. In Biru e’ Concas many more landmarks from the same age can be found, in the form of ancient burial places or rudimentary cult-related structures that prove how, long before language, writing and recorded history, communication was refined enough that a complex work, such as building your own zen garden with boulders that weigh several tons, could be negotiated smoothly and safely.
5. The Giants’ graves
These burial places date back to approximately 2000 b.C. and the techniques that led to their construction have puzzled historians and archeologists for years. Their characteristic shape, which resembles a bull’s head, is traced by a large number of gigantic monolites, with a massive stele at the very centre (ideally between the bull’s horns). These structures are thought to be collective burial grounds, likely to belong to families or clans. Throughout history, alas, many of these sites have been raided for raw materials and souvenirs (in Piattabanda, the centre part of a marble slab has been stolen in order to use it as a plough). These curious graveyards, along with the Menhirs of Biru e’ Concas, attract discerning tourists as well as enthusiasts of all things esoteric and conspiracy theorists, since the wildest guesses have been taken as to how they came to be. From ancient Egyptians to aliens, from supernatural healing forces to esoteric cults no suggestion has gone unexplored. Some believe that the peculiar position and orientation of the Giants’ Graves were designed to absorb and channel the telluric energy of the land underneath and convey it to the bodies that were laid there to rest, so that their souls could be effectively wrenched from their bodies and return to the mother earth to be reborn.