Most of the towns in Sardinia are small and quiet, especially when you venture into the center of the island. Having a car for part of our trip gave us the opportunity to get out into the countryside to explore some of these interesting little towns.
We only spent one night in the sleepy village of Laconi, which is located in the Oristano Province, and a good mid-point between the west and east coasts. It’s city website boasts 2,000 inhabitants, but it felt more like 200 while we were there in early April.
We stopped because I had read about the beautiful trails that were in the nearby Aymerich Park. In fact, the town has earned an orange flag ( Bandiera Arancione, the Seal of Approval of the Italian Touring Club) because of the splendid park and the nearby Menhir Museum. The park is an easy walk from the center of town. Once you enter the gates, you get a sense of the special care given to keep the trails groomed and cared for. Smoking is forbidden and there was no sign of any litter. The different trails were well marked and it was easy to make our way to the castle ruins and the ancient Lebanese Cedar. We also found several waterfalls and a small lake. There were several trails that led up into the wilderness of the Funtanamela Forrest above the city for longer day hikes. The gates of the park are closed and locked by 5 p.m.
The people in town were friendly and seemed a bit more open to conversation. Life isn’t easy for the small farmers, but they are managing. We talked to a couple of rugged, elderly olive oil producers who may be the last generation to work this land. They said that their children have gone to Germany and other places for work. The hotel owner, Rita, also works hard to keep her family business afloat. Her parents started the hotel years ago, but she’s not sure what will happen when she retires. She has no one to inherit the business and she thinks it will be hard to sell, due to the economy.
Another day, we drove up into the hills to see the murals of the hill town of Orgosolo, near the more famous town of Nuoro. On a Sunday morning, we entered the quiet town to see their famous artwork. We ran into very few people as we walked the streets and took our photos of the various murals. The first murals were done in the late 60s during the years of political unrest in Italy. Quite early in the phase, an artist from the town encouraged the youth to add their artwork to the town. They continued to paint the murals during the 70s and 80s, adding different themes depending on the times. The city has also helped fund preservation of the murals and they seemed to be in good repair. We were impressed with the quality of the artwork and the variety of styles.
That same day, we also visited the small beach town of Cala Gonone, near Dorgali. Although this is probably a typical beach town, full of tourists in the summer, it was very appealing. Not only did it have a pleasant series of pedestrian walks along the water, it also had wide, paved walking/biking paths throughout the town. It’s also conveniently located at the north end of the Selvaggio Blu wilderness trail.
Sardinia has more small towns than large cities. When you drive on their two lane highways, you hardly ever circumvent a town. Instead, the highway becomes a city street, then a narrow road that winds through the middle of the town. This gave us the opportunity to see quite a few towns and marvel at the cleanliness and tranquility of so many burgs. The settings are picture perfect — green valleys dotted with goats and sheep, rocky mountains with rose colored cliffs or turquoise colored beaches with colorful ports. But we are also struck by how quiet the towns are and the lack of activity. We can see many construction projects at a halt and houses for sale. The economic crisis has arrived in Sardinia and the smaller towns seem to be losing their inhabitants. But the upside of the crisis is that ecotourism is on the rise and the Sardinian people are taking better care of their natural resources, such as their parks and beaches. For natural beauty that is well cared for, Sardinia is a good place to be.