Sardinia is undoubtedly best known as a summer holiday destination, with its beautiful crystal clear beaches and blessed weather. Yet, this misconception hinders reality: the rugged island is an amazing destination all year round. From the turquoise beaches and scenic drives on the coast to the forested mountains and wilderness in the countryside, you can see it all with our 4-day road trip Winter in Sardinia itinerary!
Winter in Sardinia
This might come as a surprise to you, but Sardinia is one of the best destinations for winter sun in Europe. We visited Sardinia in February and were impressed by the pleasantly mild temperatures we found there. Something you need to consider about this time of year is that weather differs greatly from coast to mountain: the mountains can get much colder and you might even find snow in areas located at 500 meters above sea level or more. You can expect some rain, but it’s minimal.
What is really attractive about travelling to Sardinia during wintertime and the reason why we loved this trip so much is that the island is virtually empty, leaving its beautiful attractions all for you!
Day 1 – Cagliari & Villasimius
Cagliari – Quartiere Castello & Bastione Saint Remy
We started our road trip by exploring the island capital, Cagliari. Perched on the hills and facing the Mediterranean, the city is full of historical sites and pretty 19th-century pastel tones buildings. This is the perfect place to start a trip on the island!
For the first stop, head up to the historical centre, for a morning stroll at Castello quarter. As a heads up, it’s quite hard to find a place to park here, so we recommend parking a bit further away and walking up. You can walk up from Bastione di Saint Remy or park near the Giardino Pubblico San Vincenzo and walk up from there – as we did.
Located on a hilltop, the Castelo citadel is a walk through time. Make sure to visit the Archeology Museum, with exhibits dating from 6,000 BC, and the Torre dell’Elefante, a medieval tower from 1307 built by the Aragonese rulers.
Stroll through the narrow alleys and discover small traditional cafes in lovely piazzas – we recommend Caffe Libarium Nostrum if you want a prime view of the city or the small little cafe in front of the Cathedral, for a very traditional panini and coffee.
Head to Bastione di Saint Remy, an impressive neoclassical structure and one of the symbols of Sardinia’s capital city. Built into the city’s medieval wall in 1902, it comprises a monumental stairway and arch, a gallery space, and the panoramic Umberto I terrace, where you can enjoy magnificent views over the city, sea, and distant mountains.
At around 2 pm, make your way back to the car to hit the road to our next destination: Spiaggia di Mari Pintau, a secluded beach of smooth, round granite pebbles, washed by crystal clear waters.
Heading out of Cagliari, make sure to go via Poetto, where a long sand beach (Spiaggia dell Poetto) adorns one side of the road and a lake full of flamingos (Parco Naturale Molentargius Saline), the other.
Spiaggia di Mari Pintau
All the way to Spiaggia di Mari Pintau is unbelievable. The scenic route that leads to Villasimius is surrounded by thousand shades of emerald blue that contrast with the lush greenery of the surrounding hills, and you can’t help but drive ever so slowly to capture all the views. We stopped at Baia Azzurra to take in the views and we definitely recommend it.
Once you make it to the beach, it will be clear why it was named the beach of the ‘painted sea’. Even in the winter, and we dare say, especially in the winter, the place looks and feels like paradise. You can park your car in the small parking lot next to the road and walk down to the beach. Chances are that you will be the only visitor there, which makes the visit all the sweeter!
Note: The whole way from Cagliari to Spiaggia di Mari Pintau, via Poetto, should take about 36 minutes without any stops. This same way took us a bit less than 1:30 hours counting all the stops – including the time we spent at Spiaggia di Mari Pintau.
Getting back on the road, you’ll drive for about 30 more minutes to Capo Carbonara in Villasimius – enjoy the view!
Capo Carbonara in Villasimius – Torre di Porto Giunco
When reaching the Marina di Villasimius, you’ll take the first turn to the left and then enter a dirt road leading to a parking lot. There you’ll find the entrance to a trail that leads up to Torre di Porto Giunco, an imposing 17th-century tower erected to protect the area against pirate attacks coming from the sea.
The way up to the tower it’s super easy and takes about 15 minutes. But the real highlight here is the view from up there: a tropical soft sand beach in the middle of the Mediterranean, enclosed within a lagoon and the turquoise sea.
Porto Giunco, as the beach is called, has been elected one of Italy’s most beautiful beaches, and from up there, you’ll find it extremely hard to disagree – the place is indeed magnificent.
Note: We made it to the tower at around 4:30 pm and stayed for about 40 minutes. The golden light at this time of the day is beautiful, so enjoy the moment to explore the area and take some pictures!
You can choose to either stay or head to Spiaggia di Simius for sunset. During wintertime, sunset in Sardinia happens at around 5:50 pm. You’ll probably have a better view of the actual sun setting at Capo Carbonara, but the pinky dusk colours at Spiaggia di Simius make it an exceptional place to watch the day end.
Or you can also choose to stay in Villasimius for dinner (note that the restaurants are only open for dinner after 7:30-8 pm), or head to Baunei and eat there. We recommend having coffee and trying some Italian pastry in Villasimius and having a proper dinner in Baunei, as the road trip there is quite a long one.
Once the day is over, hit the road again for about 1:36 hours, to the small mountain commune of Baunei, where you will spend the next 2 nights. Be aware that driving in the dark in Sardinia can be quite challenging – you’ll find pitch-dark, narrow and curvy roads when heading up the mountains. Drive safely.
With a population of about 3.600 inhabitants, Baunei is a village clinging to a sheer slope at almost 500 meters over the sea. Once you reach the village at night, head to your hotel or B&B for check-in.
Once you’re settled, head out for dinner! You will be surprised how quickly you can cross the whole village on foot. We had a hard time finding a place to eat, and after inquiring a bit we discovered that the road-sided Bar Ristorante Pizzeria Pisaneddu was the only place serving dinner in Baunei that night (which shouldn’t have surprised us since there is no need for more than one place serving dinner at such a small village in the winter, right?!). The food is really good and traditional.
Tip: Pisaneddu only serves pizza during the weekends, and we recommend getting the Goloritze!
Day 2 – Hiking in Baunei
Baunei – Hiking Punta Salinas
Surrounded by steep mountains, wild nature, and one of the most dazzling seas in the world, it is thought that the village of Baunei was founded by a goatherd who wished to escape the invasion of the Arabs in 1015. Home to some of the most famous Sardinian beaches, here you will also find some of the best hiking and climbing experiences in Europe.
Since laying on paradisiac beaches and enjoying scenic boat rides are out of the question during wintertime, we decided to include a hiking day in Baunei in our road trip itinerary in Sardinia. The mountain range where the village is located, known as the Supramonte, has trekking trails that stretch from the mountains to the sea. There are plenty of options to choose from, from moderate hikes to multi-day trekking and rock climbing. We decided upon doing the Punta Salinas trail, a 4:30h hiking route that leads to a viewpoint at 466m up the mountainside from Cala Goloritzè.
Important: Due to the lack of signposting on this hiking trail, you’re better off using a GPS, the app AllTrails, or getting yourself a guide. For more information about this trail, check our Hiking Guide to Punta Salinas – Baunei.
Another option is to go down the main Cala Goloritze trail, which should take about 3 hours both ways. Overlooked by a majestic pinnacle, this famous beach has translucid turquoise waters flowing from underwater springs. This trail is well-signalized, so it should be a safe moderate option.
In the morning, head to the center for coffee and a quick stroll around the area. There’s not much to do in the village, but you can check the Nicola di Bari parish church standing out in a piazza with views from the valley and an impressive cliff as its background. Make sure to have a good breakfast and grab a snack for the hike.
When heading to the mountain, stop at Belvedere Supramonte and at Terrazza Panoramica su Baunei for impressive views of the area (and make your way back here for sunset!).
Day 3 – Scenic Drive
The third day is a driving day along the northeastern and north coast, so be prepared for an early rising, a lot of driving, and beautiful scenic stops! You’ll start your day with a long 2-hour trip from Baunei to Spiaggia La Cinta, but rest assured this will be in no way a boring time. The scenic route down from the mountains is just as beautiful as the coastal roads, with the addition of wild animals such as cows, ponies, and sheep all around.
You can stop at several points for pictures: we stopped in Urzulei and will never forget the complete silence we felt there, so peaceful!
Spiaggia La Cinta
This beach is somewhat similar to Porto Giunco in Villasimius: a stretch of narrow sandy beach surrounded by two bodies of water: a lake and the sea. Though here, you won’t be able to see it unless you have a drone. Nonetheless, the beach is absolutely beautiful. Even in cloudy weather such as the one we experienced that day, the sea was clear and blue, and a large mountain in the background completed the landscape.
Spiaggia di Capo Coda Cavallo
Twenty minutes further and you’ll get to a secluded beach called Capo Coda Cavallo. The combination of turquoise waters and red rocks, with huge rocky islands in the background, is such an interesting and unique one.
Forty minutes further and you’ll reach the coastal city of Olbia. On our way to Olbia, we stopped at Spiaggia di Capo Ceraso, but the trouble we had with the dirt roads to get there was so big that we decided to remove it from the itinerary. You can use this time to explore Olbia and its incredible history instead.
The coastal city, named after the Greek word for “happiness”, is the driving force behind the economy of the Gallura area. Traces of man’s presence in this area date to 4000 BCE, having been occupied by Phoenicians, Greeks, Punic, and Carthaginians. It became the east coast’s largest city when the Romans took over.
The highlights we recommend seeing are the Basilica di San Simplicio, built in the 11th & 12th centuries, and the Chiesa Parrocchiale di S.Paolo Apostolo, with its brilliant ceramic dome. We only had time for a quick stroll around the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and Via Regina Elena, which happens to be the perfect place for grabbing lunch.
Palau – Porto Rafael
Forty-six minutes more and you’ll make it to Porto Rafael, a small village near Palau. Famous for its whitewashed sculptured villas, it was founded in the 1960s by the Spanish nobleman, Count Rafael Neville. He wished for a charming village with a central Piazza where people could celebrate life, and every year, on the 11th of August, people still dress in white and dance in a special event to honour the Count.
Tip: Drive a few minutes further to the Punto Panoramico di Punta Sardegna for amazing views of the area.
Spiaggia Lu Litarroni and Porto Torres
In case you still have about one hour to sunset, we recommend driving for another 40 minutes to Spiaggia Lu Litarroni to watch it. Otherwise, you can drive straight to Porto Torres, where you’ll spend the night. We barely made it to sunset on Spiaggia Lu Litarroni, but it was beautiful nonetheless. There are two car parking nearby, the southernmost one having a trail that cuts through thick pine forest before getting to the beach – a magnificent entry indeed!
From Lu Litarroni to Porto Torres, you will drive another 1:16h. Once you reach the town at night, head to your hotel or B&B for check-in.
Note: We stayed at La Casa del Poeta. Perfect for a one-night stay, the room was clean and tidy and the location is great.
Day 4 – Waterfall and Porto Flavia
The last day will be mostly spent driving, but believe us when we say that it’s totally worth it! We recommend having coffee in Porto Torres and buying a snack for the trip. Your first stop will be about 2 hours south of Porto Torres, in the incredible Cascata a Mare di Capo Nieddu.
Cascata a Mare di Capo Nieddu
A scenery very rare in Italy and quite unusual in the rest of the world takes place on the western coast of Sardinia: the waters of the Capo Nieddu waterfall plunge into the sea, plummeting down from 40 meters. The plunge is all the more spectacular in spring or during the rainy season in Sardinia.
Note: Google Maps will take you to a gate that says “No access to the waterfall”, which is quite frustrating if you don’t really know how else to get there. You can park your car there and follow this trail to the waterfall.
About 2:15h south from the waterfall is the last stop of this road trip itinerary before heading back to Cagliari. We recommend leaving Capo Nieddu at 1:30 pm maximum so there’s enough time to actually visit Porto Flavia, a mine complex that ends at a construction carved out of the rock face. The structure used to serve as a sea harbour, lowering the heavy minerals onto the anchored vessels below, and is named after Flavia Vecelli, the daughter of the harbour’s engineer Cesare Vecelli.
Note: Tickets to enter Porto Flavia costs 10 euros per adult, and there’s a small place selling snacks at its gate.
The stretch of road that leads to Porto Flavia has to be the most beautiful scenic route in Sardinia. Once the visit to Porto Flavia is over, find yourself a good spot on the road and wait for the sun to make the whole coast look impressively golden as it goes down. This is a sight you’ll most likely never forget!
Drive back to Cagliari
At 6 pm, make your way back to Cagliari. This is an easy 1:15-hour trip via a well-signalized highway. It passes through Cagliari Elmas Airport as well, in case you’re flying back to your country this same night.
Tip: You can set the route per day on this map by clicking on the icon at the top left of the map and unchecking the days you don’t want to see.
Extra travel tips for visiting Sardinia
Don’t beep on goats!
We mentioned before that you’ll have all sorts of encounters with wild animals when driving in Sardinia, but our advice is to never beep on goats. They are unpredictable and could attack your car if you do so!
Appreciate the local food
Sardinia is one of the seven Blue Zone regions of the world – places where people live much longer than average. It is believed that the secret of their longevity lies in Sardinian food, a diet based mostly on cheese from grass-fed sheep, goat milk, and lots of fruit, vegetables, and fish. Enjoy the local food!
Prepare for siesta
Sardinians practice siesta, which means that from 1 PM and 4 PM, the shops are closed. All restaurants close after 3 PM and will only open again after 8 PM. Be aware of that when planning your meals!
Pack an adapter!
Pack an adapter with you as plug sockets in Italy are type F and L. The standard voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. We highly recommend getting yourself a Universal Travel Adapter.