With Europe slipping through our fingers, we had one weekend clear for a last getaway. One weekend on the calendar without plans scrawled across, and it was the last weekend in March. We ran through a few destinations, leaning toward revisiting an old favorite, Barcelona or Ostuni. Busy, we waited to book, and the tickets escalated (way) beyond what we could justify for a 2-3 day trip. Back to the drawing board, I went to the budget airlines and just began plugging in those dates to see what came up cheap.
What came up cheap was Ryan Air from Eindhoven to Alghero, Sardinia. I really like Eindhoven Airport. From Delft, it’s two hours on public transportation while Schiphol (Amsterdam) is one. The train tickets are twice as expensive, too; so that’s annoying. But it’s quite a nice airport. It’s small enough that there are rarely delays. It’s clean and sunny. There’s a big Starbucks, an Albert Heijn, and a surprisingly good cafeteria. Baggage comes fast and you walk to and from the plane. We’ve flown budget airlines there including Ryan Air, Wizz, and Transavia and never had a problem.
What did I know about Sardinia or Alghero? Nothing. Tim had been to Sardinia once, ten years ago, but not to Alghero. Some photos and phrases online intrigued (fresh fish; local wine; maze-like old town); two friends who had been in Sardinia raved; and we bought the tickets.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (Sicily is #1), and Alghero is an ancient port town in its northwest. Alghero’s complicated history has left it with a strong Spanish influence and Catalan as an official second language. (I’m sure we weren’t the first visitors perplexed by the dual street names.) Malaria kept it off the tourist map until after the 1950s. The small airport at Fertilia is around 10km away and accessed by an easy bus that makes a car unnecessary (and undesirable, if you have to park it anywhere in that old town). Alghero’s beautiful harbor welcomes luxury yachts in summer, and still sees local fishermen unloading in the mornings near the town’s new, flashy fish market.
The old town, with its sixteenth-century walls still braced against the sea, was lovely for a stroll, though it didn’t take long to feel like we’d “seen it.” We spent hours just enjoying the view from the terrace of our rental apartment. Long conversations and the feel of the Mediterranean sun were among the main attractions. It wasn’t summer, but at midday we could shed our jackets. We were slightly ahead of the main tourist season; the boats to nearby Neptune’s Grotto would open for the year on April 1. The city didn’t feel crowded, and we repeatedly saw the same handful of tourists we’d ridden a bus with. (We’re not the only people who find restaurants on Trip Advisor.)
On Monday we visited the daily produce market (via Sassari), realizing it was going to be awkward when we entered the open hall and found ourselves the only shoppers. It was either a slow day or the slow season; the time-worn hall was about half occupied, by four sellers, all of whom had no one to watch but us as we moved from spot to spot. Artichokes were in season, local, and ludicrously cheap. I bought some to bring home, and Tim was kind enough not to protest. The man whose artichokes we bought had a box labeled with black marker on cardboard: MY WINE. (A similar box held: MY OIL.) The bottles, red and white, were completely unlabeled, and the signage was almost the full scope of his English. We bought a bottle of the white (€5). Later in the week we opened it in Delft. If we’d opened it in Sardinia, we’d have gone back and bought more. I would love to tell the man how much we enjoyed his wine.
On Sunday morning we wandered through the town after the bells from a dozen churches had summoned worshipers to Mass. Though there were much larger churches I was drawn by the sound of chanting to a simple open door in the street. I could just see into a tiny chapel, barely even a room, ornately decorated in an Orthodox style with a blue-silver robed priest presiding. Congregants stood in a tight pack, with a few women spilling over into the street, children fidgeting beside archaic candelabras. Just next door, a restaurant was preparing to open for lunch, blaring The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”
The main tourist drag was a stretch we referred to as “Gelato Row” (Via Carlo Alberto). It had a small piazza, shop after shop selling coral jewelry, several bizarre shops selling only giant candy, and many vendors of gelato. One night we sat on a stone bench and my attention wandered to an eclectic group of men sitting nearby. They were middle-aged and older; some looked as if they might be homeless or down-and-out; others did not. I had puzzled over their relationship when one of them (a sharp-suited, somewhat eccentric man) approached us. He asked where we were from, and though a little wary of tourist scams, we began a conversation. To my surprise, he guessed that we were American but had lived outside the United States. Languages and accents are his hobby, he said, but really he is an artist. He teaches painting to the rest of the bunch. (Some of them were drawing on cardboard.) Don’t be intimidated, he assured us; they are very friendly and would love to show their art. We excused ourselves to head to our dinner reservation, but the Alghero old town is small—a day later, this same man passed us on the street in the middle of the day and said he were welcome to stop by in the evening. The gathering, I suppose, is a ritual: one of the ongoing happenings in a town where—in the off-season, at least—any tourist stands out.
We enjoyed Alghero for a long weekend, for atmosphere more than for things to “do” or see or buy. Nearby beaches must be absolutely swarmed in summer.
If you want to buy wine, try the Cantina of Santa Maria la Palma (Via Don Minzoni). The prices were way better than the shops in the heart of the old town. There were also good prices at the Conad supermarket (same street), and a better food selection than the small supermarkets in the old town.
Also on Via Don Minzoni (111), we saw a shop called La Vineria that advertised local wine, oil, and beer. We were intrigued, but it wasn’t open when we passed by. The shops of “traditional Sardinian products” in the old town seemed very touristy.
We enjoyed some tasty pizza (twice!) at La Botteghina.
We did a three-hour “food tour” (farm visit with tasting) with Naturalghero. This isn’t the sort of thing we normally do (organized tour), but we really enjoyed it. The young couple who have recently started Naturalghero have a great enthusiasm and eco-mindedness. The price (€35/pp) was unbeatable for what we did and the amount of food we tasted (almost enough to be a meal, with wine). It was also a great way to see some of the land beyond the city, without renting a car.