Exploring the less-traveled, more wine-centric parts of the iconic Italian island.

By Nicole Drummer
Updated April 16, 2019
Credit: Renata Ravot

The sun is setting over Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, and I’m standing on the rocks at a trendy bar called Phi Beach, watching a helicopter pull stunts over the ocean.

It zooms between yachts in perfect synchrony with Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which is blasting from the loudspeakers. Then it drops down from the pink-splashed sky and parks itself at the bar. There’s a thundering applause from the crowd as the bar’s owner steps out of the cockpit.

The scene couldn’t be a starker contrast to where I woke up that morning—a quiet countryside village in southwestern Sardinia. The landscape was spare, yet beautiful: bales of hay, almond trees, the occasional shepherd leading flocks of sheep through grassy pastures. I’d ended up there after convincing my husband to go on a four-day road trip to explore the less-traveled, more wine-centric parts of the island. Our itinerary took us to gorgeous beaches along the eastern coast, and, when we were tired of sun and water, to Sulcis, the rocky wine region that produces some of Sardinia’s best-known reds.

In Cala Gonone, a seaside town in the Gulf of Orosei on the eastern side of the island, you can rent rubber dinghies (no boat license required) to explore miles of caves and secluded beaches. The gulf is part of the stunning Gennargentu National Park, which offers unparalleled hiking and rock-climbing opportunities. Here, the impressively built SS125 highway carves past forests of eucalyptus and juniper trees, mountains of granite, and Gola di Gorropu, one of Europe’s deepest canyons.

From there we explored the sand dunes around Pula, a lively coastal town in the south, before arriving in wine country. It was drizzling as we pulled into the driveway of Cantina Santadi, one of the island’s top wineries. The 2018 harvest was well underway, and piles of grapes were coming in by the truckload.

More than 200 farmers supply grapes to Santadi. For years the winemaking here was overseen by Giacomo Tachis, the man who introduced the world to Super Tuscans. The driving force behind Tignanello, Solaia, and Sassicaia, he also helped develop Sardinia’s first iconic reds: Santadi’s richly flavorful Terre Brune Carignano del Sulcis Superiore and Argiolas’ Turriga, a formidable Cannonau-based blend.

In the Sulcis region, the vineyards are so sandy that phylloxera, the root louse that destroyed most of Europe’s vines in the late 1800s, never arrived here (it hates sand)—and as a result, it’s easy to come across acres of vines that are now more than 100 years old. The red wines they make tend to be big and bold, full of dark berries and a distinct herbal note that gives them away as Sardinian—likely the influence of the mastic trees and myrtle bushes that grow near the vineyards. For me and my husband, that means they ask for the island’s traditional dish, porcheddu, suckling pig pit-roasted on myrtle branches. It’s a combination that reveals in its intense flavors the very wildness that makes Sardinia so enchanting.


Hotel Bue Marino in Cala Gonone is a convenient base for a boat trip in the Gulf of Orosei. Most of its rooms (and the rooftop Jacuzzi) overlook the harbor and town beach. (Rooms from $67;


Hyper-fresh seafood is the specialty at Ristorante Da Barbara ( Solanas. The spaghetti with clams and bottarga is delicious with a glass of Nuragus (a Sardinian grape).


In San Teodoro, enjoy a post-lunch dip at Spiaggia La Cinta, with its tufts of soft white sand, dramatic backdrop of Tavolara Island, and flocks of pink flamingos (find them in the lagoon behind the beach).