The Costa Smeralda has a reputation as the playground of the rich and famous, especially during July and August, but the rest of Sardinia offers tourists the opportunity to enjoy a quiet and relaxing holiday at an affordable price.
The ancient port city of Cagliari, on the island's southernmost tip, is a haven of calm compared with the Costa Smeralda and is also near to some spectacular sandy beaches. Situated on a long and expansive bay, the Sardinian capital is home to nearly 160,000 inhabitants and has changed little in a century.
There is an authenticity about life here that is very different from the glamour of the illustrious northern resort. Here, unpretentious locals enjoy coffees and quality cuisine in the bars and restaurants on the Via Roma along the harbour front.
Cagliari is said to be built on seven chalkstone hills and the Bastione San Remy provides views over the city and around the bay. The medieval district of Castello, meanwhile, was founded as a Phoenician colony to be Sardinia's gateway to the world. The castello, situated on a rounded hilltop, can be reached by a steep cobblestone path or a lift.
A sense of history is everywhere here. Cagliari was settled in ancient times by those drawn to its fertile lands, excellent port and strategic proximity to Africa. It passed to Carthage before being conquered by the Romans.
As the sun begins to set and the giant palms cast their shadows across the streets and squares, the city acquires a relaxed, timeless feel.
The Sardinians are friendly and approachable people who know how to enjoy life and good food.
Although the island's cuisine is based on meat, Cagliari also prides itself on its fish dishes.
Fresh bread, roasted skewered meats, fresh seafood, pecorino (the sheep's milk cheese that is a local speciality) and, most importantly, local and seasonal fruits and vegetables are the staple ingredients of Sardinian cuisine. Naturally, everything is washed down with a glass of the local red wine.
Typical Sardinian dishes include a fish stew called burrida, flaky pasta pies known as panadas, and pouch-shaped ravioli called culingiones, stuffed with spinach and pecorino. Fried pumpkin blossoms, snails, crabs and tiny squid are also popular ingredients.
You'll find countless varieties of pecorino. Sardinia's most famous cheese is the spicy and sharp Fiore Sardo, while Pecorino Osilo is also popular.Other delicacies to tempt the tourist include saffron, Vermentino white wine and, of course, olive oil.
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