7 Reasons to Add Asinara to Your Sardinia Itinerary
Claudia is currently urging travelers to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, but she looks forward to the time when the world can once again enjoy her beautiful homeland and beyond.
Not many people who visit Italy go all the way to Sardinia. It’s an extra flight or ferry ride; public transportation is somewhat lacking; and most visitors are forced to rent a car to move around. In fact, many people outside of Europe don’t even know where it is.
Of those that venture all the way to Sardinia, very few make it all the way to Asinara, an island located off the north coast. It’s name comes from the Latin “Sinuara” or sinuous. That may well be an omen – Asinara will seduce you and leave you speechless.
7 Great Reasons To Visit Asinara
If you’re considering a trip to Sardinia, make sure to add Asinara to your itinerary.
Inhabited for centuries, it was not until the end of the 19th century that this 52 square km island became more known to the outer world. But, Asinara has a unique history.
In 1720 the Habsburgs, who had succeeded the Aragonese in ruling Sardinia, decided to surrender Sardinia to the Savoy in exchange for Sicily. Following this decision, shepherds coming from Corsica started moving to Asinara. These left in 1767, when their land was bought by the Velixandres brothers, who opened it up to French settlers.
Starting in 1774, shepherds coming from Italian Liguria moved in when the island was ruled by Don Antonio Manca Amat.
All the inhabitants of Asinara were forced to leave in 1885, when the king of Italy decided to turn the island into a sanatorium and a security prison. Ten prisons were opened around the island; they are now open to visitors. There was also a sanatorium for people who suffered with cholera or leper.
In 1915, Asinara held prisoners of war from Austria. 20,000 lived on the island, and more than 7000 died there. Their remains were dumped in mass graves, and in 1936 the Austrian authorities asked for an ossuary to be built. This is located in an area called Campu Perdu and can be visited.
In the 20th century Asinara became a maximum security prison that held infamous mafia bosses such as Provenzano and Riina. The prison was closed in 1997, and until then the island was completely off limits.
In 2002, Asinara became a highly protected National Park. Nobody other than park rangers live on the island.
Asinara’s isolation contributed to its preservation. Nowadays, you can observe the thick Mediterranean bushes, a few ponds perfect for various species of birds, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The island is at its best in spring, when Mediterranean bushes are in full bloom and paint the island in spectacular red.
Not all beaches in Asinara are open for public access. Many have become havens for sea turtles and marine life and are highly protected. The ones that can be accessed are simply splendid. Picture small coves with incredibly white sand, surrounded by thick vegetation and with the clearest, most azure waters you can imagine.
The best part is that even during peak summer months, there aren’t any crowds. Make sure to spend some time in Cala Sabina. It can be reached via an easy hike from Cala d’Oliva.
Lush Marine Life
The isolated nature of Asinara helps preserve the surrounding marine environment and sea life. If you go diving or snorkeling, you can admire the local sea turtles and several species of fish. Guided tours are required to minimize impact and preserve protected areas.
Donkeys are the most common animal seen on Asinara. You’ll spot many of them roaming around the island; there even are some albino ones. You’ll also see boars, deer, goats, and various species of birds, including pink flamingos.
Hiking & Biking Trails
Hiking and biking are by far the best ways to explore Asinara. There are seven incredible hiking trails on the island. I recommend Sentiero del Leccio to get to Punta della Scomunica, Asinara’s highest peak. Be sure to hike the Sentiero del Faro (Lighthouse Trail) for impressive island views.
Dress appropriately for the hikes! At a minimum, you’ll need good hiking shoes, a sun hat and women’s hiking shorts. Carry enough water for the day as there are no fountains or water sources on the island.
Silence and Solitude
This probably is the best reason to spend a few days in Asinara. As the island is closed to cars and nobody lives there, silence is a real blessing. The only noises you’ll hear at night are the wind or the donkeys braying softly. Add to this the fact that phone reception is scarce, and you’ll see why Asinara is a perfect destination to escape the stress of daily life.
Helpful Hints for Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Asinara
Summer is perfect if you want to enjoy the beaches, but if you want to hike and see the island in full bloom, make sure to go in the spring. There will be less people there, but rest assured that the island is rarely crowded at any time of year.
How to Reach Asinara
The only way to reach Asinara is by taking a ferry from mainland Sardinia. There are regular ferried connecting Porto Torres with Cala Reale (1.5 hours), as well as ferries from Stintino to Fornelli (30 minutes). You can also get to Asinara by private boat, but this is significantly more expensive.
Moving Around Asinara
The only cars you’ll see on Asinara are service cars, those belonging to the very few businesses on the island, and jeeps for guided tours. You can’t take your car there. However, exploring the island is easy.
You can rent a bike in mainland Sardinia and take it on the ferry. Fornelli and Cala Reale also rent bikes. The island is very hilly so consider an e-bike.
By Electric Car
You can rent an electric 4-seater car in Fornelli or Cala Reale. The price is approximately €100 per day. This is an extremely fun way to explore Asinara.
By Train on Wheels
There are a few trains on wheels that roam the island, and touring costs around €45 to €55, depending on season. This is probably the most budget- and family friendly way to explore Asinara.
Guided jeep tours depart daily, carrying up to 7 passengers and taking them to the most interesting places on the island. The tour costs €55 (doesn’t include lunch). Make sure to book in advance during peak season.
The bus service on Asinara is less than reliable. Some years it doesn’t run altogether!
How Long to Spend on Asinara
Many people think a day trip is enough to enjoy Asinara, but I wholeheartedly recommend spending at least a couple of days to enjoy everything the island has to offer. The island is special at night, when only a few visitors remain, and they get to enjoy the silence and the incredibly starry sky.
Where to Sleep and Eat on Asinara
There are two places where you can sleep in Asinara. One is a basic but clean hostel where you can pick a private room or a dorm (bathrooms are shared). The price of the room includes breakfast and dinner, but dinner is between terrible and disgusting.
The alternative is the newly opened bed and breakfast La Locanda del Parco which is significantly more expensive, but where you get beautiful rooms and meals prepared using locally sourced seafood.
For lunch, you can opt to eat at Asino Bianco, the only restaurant in Cala d’Oliva, or at the restaurant in Cala Reale.
Claudia is a former human rights lawyer who changed careers to follow her true calling. She now travels the world in search of adventures and unique hiking experiences. Follow her travels at My Adventures Across the World.