April should have seen us flying off to Sardinia to run the wonderful Celebrating Sardinia tour! Of course this year that wasn't possible because of Covid-19. However, we decided to run the tour anyway — on Facebook! Our followers were treated to fabulous pictures and interesting facts from the tour. And you can find it all here, in case you missed it. Enjoy!
Tuesday 21 April 2020
Today I’d be packing to take a Ryanair flight from Pisa to Alghero, a town in the northern part of the island of Sardinia. My Celebrating Sardinia tour based in southwest Sardinia would have started on Friday. Since my guests wanted to see some other parts of the island and Alghero is the home town of Antonio Arca (pictured), the co-leader for my Sardinian tours, he agreed readily to a little informal pre-tour tour of his territory. Since none of this is happening due to the coronavirus, I’m going to pretend I’m going and give you a virtual tour.
Wednesday 22 April 2020
On with our virtual pre-tour tour in north Sardinia. Antonio picks us up at our hotel and we drive north along the coast stopping for a walk along the beach and ending at Capo Caccia, the name of Antonio’s Sardinian food importing business in London. We lunch at the home of a friend of his and then proceed inland and up and up and up to Supramonte ('over mountain’) where we spend the night in these beautifully restored shepherds’ huts.
Thursday 23 April 2020
Day 3 of our virtual pre-tour tour in north Sardinia. Just below Supramonte the town of Orgosolo sprawls down the mountainside. The houses are decorated with protest murals. Our guide explains that the paintings started in 1969 as an expression of discontent about the government’s treatment of remote mountain villages. Since then the themes have expanded to express sympathy with other downtrodden people and protest movements. There’s another attraction, but I’ll leave that as a surprise for when you come on the tour.
When I think of lunch, I really wish this weren’t just a virtual tour. Back up at Supramonte Gino and his team have been preparing the classic Sardinian porceddu (also called maialino and porcetto), young pig spit-roasted over hot coals and flavoured with myrtle leaves. Of course there’s an abundant antipasto and many other courses including boiled mutton and local pecorino. Happy and satiated we climb into the van for the drive back to Alghero.
Friday 24 April 2020
Today the virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour begins. Massimo Privitera, our delightful driver for the tour, picks us up in Alghero. It’s a long way to Sant’Antioco. My philosophy is that the journey is as important as the destination. Rather than speeding down the super-highway, we travel slowly along a scenic route, stopping for a good lunch along the way.
Saturday 25 April 2020
Our first virtual full day in Sant’Antioco is jam-packed with activities. After our cappuccinos we’re going to meet Stefano Castello and his strange triple pipe, the launeddas. It requires circular breathing, a technique that allows you to produce a continuous note by breathing in through your nose while blowing out through your mouth into the pipe. Just try it! The instrument is fiendishly difficult to play, you fine tune it using beeswax and there is no written music. You have to learn by ear from a maestro. How has this instrument survived in Sardinia for three millennia? And why have I only seen men playing it? I have a theory, but you’ll have to wait until next Saturday to find out. Here’s Stefano near the Tomb of the Giants, where I first heard him play and which we’ll be visiting later in the week.
It’s still Saturday of our virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour. After enjoying lunch at our favourite organic café, we stroll along to the grand opening of the 661st Festa of Sant’Antioco, the patron saint of Sardinia and the celebration that gave me the idea for this tour. People from all over Sardinia arrive in their distinctive village costumes for the offering of ‘Is coccois’, an elaborately decorated sacred bread. As much as I enjoy the procession, what I like best is watching the preparations, like this wife adjusting her husband's collar. I was especially captivated by the young people wearing their costumes as if they were jeans and sitting on the curb gazing at their cell phones.
It’s aperitivo time and I hope you still have some energy to stroll along the main street of Sant'Antioco for our virtual passeggiata sampling food at the stalls of small food producers and admiring the wares of craftspeople from many parts of Sardinia. All generations from great-grandparents to babies gather round for the music and dancing. Can you keep from tapping your foot?
Sunday 26 April 2020
One of the highlights of our virtual Sunday on the Celebrating Sardinia tour is — you guessed it — another procession! This time we have a succession oxcarts which must keep all the florists of Sardinia in business for the whole year.
With all those oxen on parade, the unsung hero of the morning is the pooper scooper. Here’s his moment of glory.
Anyone for yeast for your virtual dinner? If this doesn’t sound very appetising, think long-rise pizza dough and craft beer at Birrificio Rubiu. Let’s hope I haven’t made the same mistake as last year when I booked at their pizzeria in Cagliari instead of the brewery in Sant’Antioco. They fit us in anyway, and we didn’t go hungry. Whew!
Monday 27 April 2020
On our virtual Monday morning, at the end of a dirt track we arrive at Giulio's. I hope you're enjoying our virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour so far! Before taking you to a producer or an event, I check it out in person. I first met cheesemaker Giulio Basciu on a research trip in February 2017 with my architect friends Laurence and Nina.
You watch Giulio make pecorino cheese and then ricotta and will stay for his homemade and home-grown lunch.
Something you might not notice hanging on a hook is this traditional shepherd’s cloak in which Laurence looks quite at home.
I don’t often include museums on my tours, because you can find them on your own, and in general I have nothing to add to the excellent videos and storyboards museums provide. But the Archaeological Museum of Sant’Antioco is on the fringes of town and even taxi drivers have trouble finding the front door. On the slopes above the museum is a tofet, a Phoenician-Carthiginian cemetery dedicated to remains of infants buried in terracotta pots. Child sacrifice or high infant mortality? You can make up your own minds when you’re there. For now, I want to show you one of the many beautiful objects on display inside the museum building which show off the exquisite workmanship of jewellers of that era. Don’t you wish we had a time machine and could visit the jeweller's workshop?
Tuesday 28 April 2020
Since Friday evening at the start of your virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour, you’ve been staying in the town of Sant’Antioco on the island of Sant’Antioco. In the early 13th century, because of harassment by Saracen pirates, the people of Sant’Antioco moved away from the coast and the seat of the diocese was moved to Tratalias, where they began building the cathedral in 1213. Today, whether or not we’re attacked by pirates, I’m taking you inland to Tratalias. You’re going to have a pottery lesson with Antonella Ajò, who will teach you three simple techniques you can use to make either a useful or decorative object.
Antonella wasn’t a potter by training, she was inspired by the romanesque cathedral of Tratalias to make pottery models of all 66 romanesque churches still intact in Sardinia.
Having completed the project, she has allowed her creative muse to take her in other directions. I love her models of daily life.
I don’t know about you, but this virtual eating isn’t filling me up. It makes my tummy rumble just thinking about Lorella’s home cooking which we’re having for lunch today at her Agriturismo Sirimagus. Everyone misses vegetables in restaurants, but Lorella always includes what she has in her garden.
Her sommelier husband Gianni chooses a local wine for every dish.
Behind the scenes at their farm are fruit trees, tomatoes and friendly pigs.
Wednesday 29 April 2020
Since Saturday of this virtual tour Celebrating Sardinia, fisherman Mauro Pintus and I have been checking the weather to decide whether we’ll go fishing today or Friday. Today is perfect—sunny and calm! We walk down to the Lungomare and board the ‘Alessandro P’, where his son Alessandro is preparing the boat and his wife Roberta is unloading groceries to go with the fish we catch for lunch. Today is the most relaxing of the tour. You can lie on the top deck and bask in the sun or stay below and help with the work. I love to watch every detail of the fishing. Mauro goes out the evening before and lays the line of netting. He knows exactly where the fish will be depending on the season and the weather. We come along and reel in the net to see what we’re having for lunch. Lifting the net is precision work. Either Mauro or Alessandro drives the boat very slowly forward while the other reels in the net.
The work done, suddenly the net is whisked away and a table appears all laid for lunch. The freshest, best cooked fish I’ve ever eaten. Brava Roberta!
It’s late afternoon of our virtual fishing trip as we glide back along the coast of the island of Sant’Antioco.
You have the best view of the town of Sant’Antioco from the boat as we come in to moor. It’s not a perfect jewel like Tuscan hilltop villages, but its sun-baked friendly face recalls its North African and Spanish past.
Sant’Antioco the Martyr is said to have been a doctor in the Roman province of Mauretania (Morocco & northern Algeria) banished early in the 2nd century AD for teaching Christianity. He landed on the island of Sulci (now Sant’Antioco).
Thursday 30 April 2020
You should wake up this morning feeling excited. What a virtual Celebrating Sardinia day we have in store! Last year my usual bread teacher wasn’t available. I asked the potter Antonella Ajò whether she knew anyone who makes bread at home and would be willing to teach. She introduced me (electronically) to Anna Marras and her group dedicated to keeping their traditions alive. Usually I test every activity myself, but there was no time. I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers when we arrived. No need. Anna and her friends, some in their traditional costumes, are bustling around getting ready. We immediately get to work mixing various types of dough: for weekly bread, for stuffed bread and for decorated festival bread all of which we learn to do ourselves.
They light the wood-fired oven. Start a huge pot of boiling water to cook an enormous sack of malloreddus pasta they’d made the day before. Other people keep arriving. We go to another house where the men are roasting the pork in a wood-fired oven.
Slowly it dawns on us that we're the excuse for a grand feast for all the members of the group. Anna is pushing to teach us pasta next time, but I want to repeat the bread. Whoever wins, it’s guaranteed to be a fantastic day.
After that gigantic lunch we need a virtual siesta, and I hear the (real) good news that there were only three new cases of Covid-19 in Sardinia. I want to introduce our driver Massimo properly because at 4.30 he’s coming to pick us up to show us his island. Massimo is one of the kindest, most generous people I know. When I’m preoccupied and tearing my hair out because someone wants to change tomorrow’s activity, Massimo is there for you (and me) smiling and ready to help with whatever you need. He takes us to see the ruins of the Bronze Age nuraghe Grutti Acqua with its underground pools, ritual lake and view over the island.
On to the so-called Giants’ Tomb.
We stop at the Genovese Torre Canai (lookout tower) and finish our tour at Mario & Pinella’s fish shack near Massimo’s house for aperitivo (that’s him 2nd from the left). How we manage to eat dinner is beyond me. I’m omitting Massimo’s stunning surprise for when you come on the tour in 2021.
Friday 1 May 2020
I’m feeling sad. Our virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour is nearly over. But I perk up when I remember I’m taking you to the salt pans this morning. The expanse of white at the edge of the lagoon is awe-inspiring.
And it doesn’t end there. Canals carry water from the sea at Porto Pino 20 km (12.5 mi) away, evaporating as it goes. We don’t visit the canals on the tour, but my insatiable curiosity took me there on a research trip and I’m including a photo so you can see what’s behind the scenes.
Here you see salt crystals forming at the edge of one of the pans. See how red the water is? The colour comes from microscopic brine shrimp on which flamingos feed, which is why their feathers are pink.
One thing we don’t see today is the little train that used to chug along a track carting salt from the pans to the processing plant at the far end. I saw it the first time I visited, but it has been replaced by huge lorries.
Are you feeling virtually thirsty? I thought so after all that salt, so we’re going for a virtual wine tour and tasting. As soon as we walk into Cantina Sardus Pater we see the craziest thing — Alberto Massa filling a bottle from a petrol pump!
When we stop laughing, Alberto leads us down into the bowels of the Cantina where production takes place. He tells us that the vin ordinaire of France used to come from the vine-covered hills of Sant’Antioco, until the EU implemented quotas. The Cantina decided to go up-market. They’re now making fine wines which they export to many countries of the world.
Having done some virtual packing in preparation for our departure tomorrow from Sant’Antioco, we set off for Agriturismo Sa Reina, a biodynamic farm that cultivates cereals and artichokes. Anja teaches you to make malloreddus pasta using stone-ground flour from their farm. Judging by the photos you’ve done a good job.
The flour is swept away, the tables rearranged and a dinner produced with ingredients from the farm appears. (My iPhone was so tempted by the food that it ate all my photos before I could download them. You’ll have to come on the tour to see and taste how good it was.)
Saturday 2 May 2020
The final day of our virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour has come all too soon. We put our virtual suitcases in Massimo’s virtual van and head to Cagliari (pronounced Cal-yi-a-ri), the capital of Sardinia. On Tuesday we had left our pottery drying on the window ledge at Antonella’s workshop so she could fire it for us. On the way to Cagliari we stop to pick it up. How exciting to see our finished creations, and Antonella, who greets us like old friends.
At Cagliari we hastily leave our bags at the Gallo Bianco (White Rooster) hotel and rush eagerly to the Mercato San Benedetto. The abundance of fresh Sardinian produce knocks you off your feet.
After a quick lunch, we head to the National Archaeological Museum where I may have discovered the reason for the persistence and popularity of the launeddas. This bronze figurine dated to the 10th century BCE in the National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari (Sardinia) is labelled as an ithyphallic launeddas player. No wonder it's still being played today!
I hope you enjoyed your virtual Celebrating Sardinia tour and are now safely in your real homes.
If this has whetted your appetite, come next year from 16–25 April 2021. Visit the website to find out more, and to book drop me an email at email@example.com.
Our Giants of Sardinia tour from 3–10 October 2020 still has places too. If you'd like to come, but aren't sure whether it will be safe, don't worry. Fill in a booking form now and pay the deposit later when we know whether travel is likely to be possible.
Here are some more of my favourite photos because it's so hard to leave Sant'Antioco. And here’s a link to my blog about how I discovered Sant’Antioco. I encourage you to follow the link at the end to the full blog on the Slow Travel Tours website.
Stay safe and well and wash your hands so we can soon drink a toast together in Sardinia: 'Salute!' (to health)
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