Sardegna, or Sardinia, is a beautiful, unique place. An island off the western coast of Italy, south of Corsica and in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Sardegna is only about 190 miles long and 70 miles wide.
Rocky with sparse vegetation due to the dry climate, the terrain is harsh and hard to cultivate. Agriculture is basically non existent, and the population has been living off sheep for millennia. The few cows are too skinny and slightly sunburnt, and there is only one industrial milk farm. Most products, like cheese, come from sheep or goats.
I have been to Sardegna a few times and always cherish training there. This year, I spent about a week alone in the tiny town of Porto Alabe which isn’t a port at all, but more of a small collection of houses. There’s one store selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and a miscellaneous collection of other household items (also known as “giornalaio” in Italian). The lone mini market, a single room grocery store which seemed too small to serve more than one person at a time, had enough variety to satisfy me for the time I was there.
My days revolved around my morning run, swim and shorter afternoon run, plus all the work I had to do on the computer. For internet access, I purchased a hot spot from Vodafone, one of the Italian cell companies. For 50 euros, I had all the portable internet I needed, allowing me to make business calls with Skype for mere pennies. Because of the time difference, the U.S. work day did not start until my mid afternoon, giving me plenty of training time in the morning.
The coast is very rough and rocky, but from Porto Alabe there are plenty of trails and jeep roads heading up the hill to the towns above, towns with names such as Tresnuraghes, Macomer, Modolo, Magomadas, Bosa.
Sardegna has a language all its own. The dialect is very different than anything else in Italy, and, reminiscent of Sardegna’s long and turbulent history of conquest, it’s difficult for anyone who doesn’t live there to understand.
The Sardi, or people from Sardegna, are happy with their quiet life, small olive farms, vineyards, and herds of sheep. They have no ambitions of power, riches or fame, making Sardegna one of the most visited yet solitary and remote places in Italy.
Hoards of beachgoers descend from the main land and from all over the World in July and August. Most congregate on the East coast, leaving the West coast more isolated, remote and devoid of modern-day services. I always prefer solitude, so the West coast is perfect for me. The beach at Porto Alabe was a little crowded on weekends, but, beyond that, it was just me, a few wandering cats and the perfect, crystalline sea.
The topography combined with the intense sun and heat meant all of my runs started uphill and before 6:30 AM. The trails and jeep roads are steep and littered with loose, large rocks lined by Mediterranean bushes.
During one of my runs, I discovered a forestry building surrounded by a pine forest. Michele, the firefighter who was manning the building and monitoring for wild fires, showed me the wild boars and some of the trails he was working on. Built with a small front loader, he’d just finished a 4-mile loop, decorated by beautiful directional wooden signs. After some cold water from his fridge, I headed out to complete the loop and start making my way back to town.
If you know where you are going, you can follow the coast line along isolated jeep roads and single track trails for miles. In the summer, the only limiting factor is how quickly you can find water. Although there are several water fountains, only the ones in town flow with potable water All the others are for animals and farmers and not to be trusted.
When the sea is calm, Sardegna is a perfect swimming spot. The water is clear, and you can swim for miles along the coast. However, conditions can change very quickly, especially between early morning and afternoon. Every year, beachgoers are sucked out by rip currents. If the wind picks up, the water becomes cold, turbulent and unbearable without a wetsuit due to the deep water currents.
This year, I pulled out a 12 year-old English girl that was playing in the waves. She was so light that all it took was one big wave, and, all of a sudden, she was in higher water and sucked out.
The sea is Sardegna is like the myth of the sirens. Despite the danger of drowning, you can’t resist its call. It’s no coincidence that the myth was born in these waters.
If you want to go to Sardegna, the low cost airlines that fly from many destinations are your best bet. Plan ahead, as they get very busy in the summer months. Car rentals, hotels and apartment rentals are very reasonable, unless you go to one the more popular destinations, like Porto Cervo or Costa Smeralda.
All seasons are beautiful. The weather is acutely different between summer and winter, with sweltering summers and cold winters with snow at higher elevations.
Sardegna is a window on a time now passed, where life does not change and the slower rhythm of life moves with the ocean tides.
Francesca Conte is a professional runner, race director, and co-founder of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports. She has won numerous 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile races. Born in Italy amidst the Alps, Francesca is now a proud U.S. citizen and splits her time between Virginia and Colorado.