Along the northern coastline of Sardinia, you will discover a huge number of interesting islands which are surrounded by many rocks and cliffs, something that will especially please the adventurous and those passionate about maritime navigation. But you must be very careful here. The shallows in the water are not usually marked—in any way. The area offers beautiful towns, fishing villages, first-class gastronomy, attractive anchorages and safe harbours. The greatest attraction is probably the national parks and marine reserves, its list topped by the beautiful archipelago, La Maddalena.
- The bays and beaches on the island of Spargi
- Tahiti Beach on the island of Caprera
- Castelsardo, a fishing village
- Diving in the area around Stintino
- The narrow Passo degli Asinelli strait between Santa Maria and Razzoli
- The small harbour town of Porto Rotondo
- Capricciolli cape and beach
- The historical harbour town of Porto Torres
- Lavezzi Island
- Bonifacio Harbour
The winds blow a lot here in summer—reaching up to 5–6 on the Beaufort scale (BFT) and will drive you in a NW–W direction. Around the La Maddalena archipelago, it often blows SW and SE, whereas near Isola Asinara it is usually completely calm during strong northerly and easterly winds. In spring, the dominant wind tends to the NW and NE and may build up great strength. In autumn, winds tend NW and SE, the latter being able to very quickly build up to gale force from the NW.
Currents in the area of the Strait of Bonifacio follow the direction of the prevailing wind.
La Maddalena Archipelago
This beautiful archipelago situated to the south of the Strait of Bonifacio has been declared a national park and marine protected area just like the island of Asinara. The islands are comprised of red granite and apart from the bushland known as maquis, they have no vegetation. As the majority of these islands are surrounded by surface and underwater rocks and reefs, careful navigation is required.
The archipelago is made up of seven main islands, divided into a northern and southern group. The northern group is made up of Razzoli, Santa Maria, Budelli and the island of La Maddalena itself. In the southern group you will find Spargi, the only inhabited island in the archipelago, Santo Stefano and Caprera. Be careful of strong gusts on the leeward side of these islands even in gentle winds. A fee of around EUR 100 must be paid to enter the park, but the wardens rarely check boats flying the flag of a charter company. The bays in the archipelago are mostly equipped with buoys, which were free to use a few years ago. The ends of the bays here are usually blocked off with buoys or chains, making it difficult to anchor catamarans that prefer a deeper anchoring depth. The buoys protect the rare seagrass known as posidonia. Anchoring outside these areas is usually permitted.
Razzoli is the northernmost island in the archipelago, and also one of the lowest: at its peak, the island is only 65 m above sea level. If you are looking for peace and quiet, anchor here. The island is completely uninhabited and deserted. To the north is a lighthouse dating back to the 19th century, making navigation at night easier and also providing a wonderful view of Corsica and Sardinia.
You will find an exceptionally beautiful place to lay anchor by the island in Cala Lunga Bay (though watch out for westerly winds) and in Cala Giorgio Marino Bay. If you are extremely careful, with a catamaran in dead calm and good visibility, you can sail through the strait between the island of Santa Maria and Budelli (but do so cautiously, very slowly, and with somebody checking the depth at the bows, as there is a good reason why this strait is called Secco di Morto). Sailing through this strait is a truly awe-inspiring.
Cala Lunga is a bay with turquoise waters and beautiful rock formations on the coastline. You will find it at the western part of the island. You should be careful here due to inconspicuous rocks around the mouth of the bay and particularly at the southern side of the bay. You can drop anchor here to a depth of 3–4 m on an aggregate sandy-rocky bottom or moor up to a buoy. Entry to the southern part of the bay is only possible with a guide.
Cala Giorgio Marino
This is a beautiful bay at the southern part of the island, where (roughly in the middle) various rock formations jut out of the sea, a place where children will certainly have fun. Adults on the other hand, should take care around these rocks when sailing in. You can anchor by the south shore on sand at a depth of 3–5 m, or raise one of the moorings which were installed to protect the rare seagrass. Moorings are free of charge if you have a valid permit for entry to the national park. But be careful as not all of the buoys have sufficient depth below them. Anchoring on beds of the seagrass known as posidonia will earn you a fine of EUR 50.
Santa Maria is separated from Razzoli by the Passo degli Asinelli Strait, being only 10 m wide and shallow enough for a donkey to cross with supplies for the lighthouse if the weather is too poor for boat transportation. The island is characterised by its habitation and lush vegetation. Santa Maria beach to the southeast of the island is truly beautiful. It is 200 m long, covered in golden sand, and washed by a gradually sloping sea which creates a sort of natural pool. And anchoring here is also great. Either use your anchor in the sand at a depth of 3–4 m or moor up to the AMP buoy. Just behind the beach, you will come across the brackish Lake Palude with its ducks, wild geese, grouse and coots. Another good anchorage can be found in Cala Muro Bay.
The island of Budelli in the northern group is home to a beautiful beach known as La Spiaggia Rosa (The Pink Beach). The beach gained its characteristic colour thanks to the microscopic residue of pink coral and shells. It is now surrounded by buoys and access to it is thus not permitted. Anchoring is possible in Cala Nord, Cala Sud, and the SE part of The Pink Beach.
Be on the lookout near the island of Budelli for the stinging jellyfish which are sometimes in abundance here. Also worth visiting are the beaches in the Seca di Morto strait.
The island of La Maddalena is associated with many historical personalities. Napoleon Bonaparte tried in vain to conquer the island in 1793 during his first military expedition, and then the island was used during the Napoleonic Wars by Admiral Nelson for attacks against the French, and again, in 1943 the island played host to Benito Mussolini—as a prison. It now boasts beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, ancient forts and a beautiful capital city. You can anchor in one of three harbours in the capital: Cala Gavetta, Cala Mangiavolpe, or Cala Chiesa. Diminutive old Venetian streets lead from the main harbour Cala Gavetta and disappear into the hill above the town. You can also anchor in one of the many countless bays across the whole island, but watch out for the dangerous rocks and reefs, which as recently as 2003, a technologically sophisticated American nuclear sub managed to take a chunk out of. Of all the bays, we make special mention of Spalmore Bay, where you can remain moored up to a buoy.
Cala Gavetta Harbour
The original earth dam has now been transformed into a breakwater with bollards which you can moor up to. The breakwater offers water and electricity. A unique feature here is that the area serves as the city breakwater from 11:00 to 17:00, everything being free of charge according to the information from 2012. The harbour has 130 berths, the maximum boat length is 16 m.
From here and over the bridge, you get to the adjacent island of Caprera, brought to fame by the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, who bought the island in 1855 and died there 27 years later. His house has been transformed into a museum that we definitely recommend you visit. But what interests us most as yachtsmen is the abundance of beautiful bays and beaches. There are two fabulous beaches in the Cala Coticcio Bay on the eastern coastline. This bay is known as Tahiti and is definitely worth visiting. To the south of the island is a safe anchorage in Porto Palma Bay.
Allegedly the most beautiful bay in Sardinia. You will find it in the Moneta strait on the NW side of Capreri. Drop anchor here to a depth of 4–5 m on a sandy-rocky bottom and it will hold well. Be careful of the stronger north-westerly wind. If this is blowing, it is advisable to leave the bay. There is an old holiday village on the shore.
Porto Palma is the large bay immediately south of the island. Thanks to its ruggedness, it offers shelter from almost every direction. Recently, restrictions were applied to the bay, and you can only anchor at the official buoy park. The small bay to the east is recommended if a strong surge forces you from your anchorage near Porto Cerva.
This famous bay attracts a lot of tourists during high season, particularly the cream of society from Porto Cerva. The eastern bay is prettier and more popular, so if it is very crowded, wait in the western bay and move in once the motorboats have left. The environment is beautiful and the location offers nice snorkelling. If a strong W wind is blowing, it will be gusty, so it is safer to moor up to the shore.
This rocky and hilly island with a peak 155 m above sea level is situated roughly 1 km equidistant from La Maddalena and Point Diego on Sardinia. On its northwestern side, the sea intersects the small islet of Spargiotto, but according to the latest information, sailing there is forbidden. The official anchorages are Cala d'Alga with a very nice beach, Cala Corsara, and Calla Ferigno which is especially beautiful. However, yachts anchor along the whole of its eastern coastline where the sea is deep enough.
This is a relatively flat and deserted island between La Maddalena and Sardinia. There is a military zone at its northern end, to which entry is strictly forbidden. There is practically only one anchorage here (the lovely Cala Villamarina Bay) to the south of the island. You can land stern-to or side-on to the small breakwater, drop anchor at a depth of 9–12 m further from the breakwater, or moor up with a line to the shore. Watch out for the surface and underwater reefs when entering. The coastline inside the bay is a national park zone and entry is forbidden without an official guide. On the shore is a mysterious, unfinished statue, most likely belonging to Admiral Ciano, an Italian naval hero of the First World War.
The Lavezzi and Cavallo Islands
The French Islands of Lavezzi and Cavallo are truly magical. Their enchantment lies in the beautiful lagoons with their dazzling white sands. On Lavezzi is a beautiful anchorage in the Cala Lazarina lagoon on the southern side of the island and in Cala di u Grecu Bay. For romantics, we recommend a stroll among the white cliffs of the island. Watch out for the large number of reefs when arriving! We recommend sailing only during the day and under good visibility.
The long narrow fjord of the Bonifacio harbour is well hidden between the high cliffs and can only be recognised from up close, by the entry beacon and busy traffic. The small town on the cliff is beautiful and best enjoyed if you combine your visit with a lunch or dinner up in the citadel. Corsica’s flag design is based on the cliff in the shape of a head that extends into the sea, on the southern side below the castle walls. If you do not want to spend the night in a busy harbour, in calm weather, you can anchor, for example, in the romantic bay of Anse de Fazio. Be careful of the wake caused by passing boats. Definitely tie up to the shore with longer ropes.
The island of Tavolara cannot be confused with any other. Its steep, rectangular, granite massif is only open to visitors at the southwest where the rocks plummet into the sea. The official national park buoys are found at the same place. Several small houses and a restaurant at the shore open during the summer season. Don’t get too close to the northern side of the island as there is a military zone there and a NATO base. The nearby island of Molara is a nature reserve, so you are not allowed to anchor there. Strong wind currents are formed between these two islands, with gusty winds attaining speeds of 50 KN.
This desolate island is situated at the northwestern tip of Sardinia over the Fornelli strait. However, the island is not entirely uninhabited, since the island’s population in 2001 was understood to be a single, solitary soul. The name "Asinara" in Italian means something like "inhabited by donkeys" and the island is indeed a home to a rare breed of albino donkey. The island is mountainous, with four groups of relatively low mountains: the peak of Monte Scomunica is 408 m high and is located at the northern side of the island. The coastline is rocky and lined with low cliffs. The beautiful and untouched nature is Asinara’s greatest appeal. The island was declared a national park in 1997 and a marine reserve six years later. The island initially served as a quarantine, then as a camp for prisoners of war during World War One, and later as a "superjail" for an organised crime leader.
You will not find many opportunities for anchoring due to the strict environmental protection measures. Instead, you can find a night stay for your vessel in Rada della Reale Bay at the eastern side. As the island is a marine reserve, anchoring is strictly prohibited here. However, you can use the authorised buoys at the northern side of the bay and in the nooks of the northeastern coastline. Authorised buoys are also located at the southern part of the island near the Fornelli Strait and at the northeastern side of the island.
The Forneli and Pelosa straits are a handy shortcut and beautiful place for sailing. Sailing through the Pelosa Strait with its sandy bottoms, turquoise waters, several nice beaches, and one anchorage at the southern part is especially magnificent. Sailing through these straits is not advisable during strong swells from the west.
Interestingly enough, you will find almost nothing of interest in this small town.
Marina di Portisco
The marina in Portisco is pleasant, well sheltered, and equipped with shops and restaurants. All berths are equipped with moorings. Sanitary facilities are free (as of September 2012), which is unusual in Italy. Car parking costs EUR 90 per week;. On site, you can connect to WiFi and even do your laundry. This is a large marina with 600 berths, where our company’s boats also set out from.
Olbia is the main connection between Eastern Sardinia and the Italian mainland. In contrast to the tranquil north of the island, it may seem somewhat chaotic. Buzzing with life, it has some very interesting architecture. It was founded by the Carthaginians, and they made a prospering port out of the city which grew in influence with the arrival of the Romans. It lost its position with the arrival of Goths and Vandals. In 2001, a road tunnel was built beneath the harbour, and 26 shipwrecks were discovered during its construction. Among them, were some unique items, such as an oak mast from the first century AD, a hull from the 5th century, and several ships from the Middle Ages. These items are exhibited in the new archaeological museum on an island near Circolo Nautico, where the wrecks were found. Besides that, you shouldn’t miss the beautiful Romanesque Cathedral of San Simplicio or the medieval church of St Paul the Apostle.
There are six possibilities for anchoring in Olbia. Most often though, boats land in the Marina di Olbia and at the old commercial jetty in the city.
Marina di Olbia
You will find the new marina in Olbia on the southern side of the harbour, all you need to do is follow the channel marked with buoys and watch out for the surface as well as underwater rock formations. The marina on the water can accommodate 270 boats on moorings. You will have all of the basic amenities—bathrooms, showers, and WiFi.
Old Commercial Pier
The old pier does not offer many spaces for mooring, most yachtsmen therefore tie up to the old covers on the former crane track. In 2011, 100 L of water cost EUR 5. From the nearby shopping centre, you can borrow carts to move your supplies. Occasionally, the Coast Guard can contact you with a Registration of Stay form. This registration form requires a EUR 7 stamp, available from the local newsagent.
Yacht break-ins have been reported in the area. If Olbia is full, anchor immediately across from it, at the nice island of Tavolara in the southern bay of Spalmatore. The rest of the island is a reserved military area. The nearby island of Molara is a reservation and anchoring there is forbidden.
Palau is particularly significant due its location relative to the La Maddalena archipelago, and regular ferries depart from here to the capital. It was once just a small farming village, but today it is a relatively modern town, though, unfortunately, there are no major monuments or an interesting town centre.
Palau, is a larger harbour with 400 spaces for mooring. Anchoring is bows-to or stern-to and all slips are equipped with moorings. Electricity and water are available at almost all berths, and at the port you will even find showers and bathrooms. At the ferry terminal office, you can buy an entry permit for the La Maddalena National Park.
The harbour tends to be quite crowded, with the option of buoying in the bay in the bay east of the harbour. The bay is sheltered, with the exception of stronger N and NW winds, and you might also experience the wake caused by the ferries.
Bays in the area
A very pleasant and interesting bay is west of Palau, with a small island in its eastern part. Entering the bay can be an experience in itself—there, the skipper must guide his boat through the middle of the fairway. When you are opposite the small island, you need to keep away from it (as there are shallows) and stay closer to the beach. The bottom is hard sand and rock and anchors hold poorly, so it is better to use two. Small yachts can safely get to the pontoon at the eastern corner.
This long fjord is named after the village on the hill. It is also good to anchor near the end of the bay. The depth here is 2–5 m, and the bottom is mud and seaweed - anchors do not hold all that ideally. On shore you will find a few trattorias, shops with provisions and a beach restaurant. You can also land at the pier near the tourist village of Conca Verde at 2–4 m. There is water at the pier. You can drop anchor in the bay directly across from Conca Verde, which offers excellent cover. The depth is 3 m and the bottom is a combination of mud and seaweed.
Porto Cervo, built during the 1960's, is without a doubt the centre of the Costa Smeralda area. Today, it looks like an overgrown fishing village or a millionaire's playground. It does not disturb the local landscape in any way. On the contrary, it adds something to it. The local harbour is of interest to yachtsmen, being one of the loveliest in the whole of the Mediterranean. You can also admire the most luxurious sailing yachts as well as huge motor yachts. One of them could, for example, belong to Mick Jagger or Bruce Willis, who regularly spend their holidays at this resort. The town centre is organised as a staggered, multi-level centre with expensive shops, boutiques and cafés.
A large bay, south of Porto Cervo. In good weather or with gentle westerly or southerly winds, this is a very pleasant anchorage. The most popular place for anchoring is located near the beach to the south, the bottom being 3–5 m deep and sandy. Be careful of the cliffed coastline to the southeast.
Passo delle Galere
This strait between the Sardinian coastline and the Nibani islands, which is barely recognisable until you get up close, is a pleasant anchorage during the day. This is a good shortcut during the day if the weather is good.
Porto Liccia and Romazzino
The two most popular bays in the area around Cervo are divided by the Punta Capaccia cape. Be certain to take into account the Capaccia cliffs south of the cape which are hard to see when the sea is calm.
This mysterious town is located at the top of a hill within the striking panorama of the Gallura region. Although the town is not situated directly on the coastline, it would be a shame if you missed it. The numerous, massive granite blocks that have been eroded and smoothed over time are especially worth seeing. This unique environment was the birthplace of the so-called Arzachena culture, which existed and developed here around 2 000 BC and is still the subject of research. To set out on a trip to this mysterious landscape, it is best to anchor in the nearby Cannigione marina, situated just 7 km from Arzachena.
The small marina of the same name in the north of Sardinia is part of the picturesque resort of Porto Rafael, a veritable gem in the whole of this area. Picturesque villas are mostly set amongst greenery and concealed behind huge, round boulders. Most owners are foreigners who only come here for a few months of the year. The beautiful, little square is lined with stately colonnades and the local chapel is sculpted from volcanic rock, covered with myrtle. The surrounding landscape is wonderful, with wild coastline in the foreground where beautiful beaches alternate with huge, ornate boulders. The marina itself is part of a hotel complex and offers 70 berths. It is better to anchor inside the pool, as coverage outside is relatively bad.
Castelsardo is a small, fairytale town situated in massive rocks high above the Mediterranean Sea. It is dominated by a medieval castle which has an amazing view of the sea and the islands of Asinara to the west, and Corsica to the north. The network of winding lanes hides many interesting nooks and crannies, street corners, and buildings, such as the Sant' Antonio Abate cathedral with its tall bell tower surmounted by a gleaming dome, or the parish church of Santa Maria delle Grazie set in the rocks below street level. Inside, you will find a beautiful picture of the Madonna dating back to the 15th century. You can also visit a museum of basket weaving, a craft the town was famous for in the past. There are many things to see and do here. You must not miss one of the emblematic monuments of Sardinia—Elephant Rock, a megalithic wall dating back to a time before the construction of the nuraghes or Nuraghe Paddaju. After anchoring in the old harbour, take a dinghy and sail over to the old tower, or further along to the beach for a shortcut into town.
Porto Torres is a huge commercial harbour, bustling with life. The harbour might not impress you as there is a crude oil dock right next to it. Ferries, freighters and fishing boats are continually anchoring or setting sail here. During the Roman era, Porto Torres was an important harbour, which flourished in the Middle Ages but then underwent a lengthy decline only to be resurrected in this century. Instead of rebuilding the old town, the locals built a new town right next to the harbour. But the remnants of Roman occupation are certainly worth looking at. For example, the ancient bridge on Via Ponte, or the town Antiquarium with exhibits of interesting artefacts from surrounding finds. One of the most beautiful monuments on the island is the Pisan Basilica of San Gavino on the coast.
Sassari is the capital of the region and in the opinion of many visitors, probably the most remarkable city in the whole of Sardinia. The medieval district is made up of narrow streets and little squares that all lead to the cathedral. Make certain to visit the Sardinian Museum displaying Nuragic artefacts. The Nuragic civilisation was a very advanced Neolithic culture that also left a large number of immense fortresses such as the nuraghes in the area around Sassari. Lovers of antiquity can enjoy the many ancient paths, the ruins of a Roman aqueduct, or the remains of a Roman villa discovered under St Nicholas' Cathedral. If you visit this area at the end of May, find out the date when the Ascension, Horse Fair takes place. The city will be filled with processions of locals performing traditional dances and songs in colourful costumes. You can easily get to Sassari by bus on the direct service from Porto Torres.
This picturesque little village is one of the few yachting harbours on the west of the northern coastline of Sardinia. It was built in 1885 for the inhabitants of the island of Asinara, who were relocated from the area due to the construction of a prison. The town was formerly an unassuming fishing village. However, after a time, the tuna factory was closed due to the decline in fish stocks and today, the village makes its living primarily from tourism, which is all too evident at times. But the area is still beautiful, a wide strait here divides the mainland from the islands of Asinara and Piana where you can rest and relax at La Pelosa Beach, nearby. The marina offers good shelter against the wind and is equipped with all the necessary services. Unfortunately, it is often very full, the alternative in that case is the town breakwater with the crane.
Sardinian cuisine is a rural and pastoral cuisine. The most traditional dishes include excellently prepared fish and seafood. The so-called porcetta (roast piglet) is also excellent. Everything is prepared using high quality olive oil and seasoned using plenty of freshly picked Mediterranean herbs. Make sure you try the local caviar from tuna and mullet roe known as bottarga, and the delicious pecorino sheep cheese, Fiore Sardo.
Sardinia is also famous for its confectionery: honey-filled nuts and figs. Another wonderful dish is the local dessert—curd cheese with honey and myrtle, drizzled with the local spirit known as mirto.
The best and cheapest food in Sardinia is to be found in the regular pubs known as trattoria, which usually specialise in perfectly prepared fish and seafood. If you fancy a pizza, then look for restaurants with signs displaying forno and legno. Here they will prepare your pizza in wood-fired ovens. A simple rule applies to the local restaurants: if it is empty at lunchtime, find somewhere else.
Do not forget about the high-quality wine here, which has a great tradition in this area. Wines bear the designations D.S., D.O.C., and D.O.C.G., ranging from table wine which sells in the largest quantity, to the very highest quality wine.
The northern coastline of Sardinia is the perfect area for diving. Three locations deserve the greatest attention—Costa Paradiso which lies roughly in the middle of the coastline, the La Maddalena Archipelago to the east, and the Stintino area to the west.
Lo Stazzu, Costa Paradiso
An excellent dive. The name in Italian means "shepherd’s hut" and one such building can be found right on the shore. The dive starts with a descent to a cave 26 m deep with a sandy bottom. After entering the cave, you can swim up and surface in the shallower part of the cave. Along the way, you will see crabs, red corals, eels and the rare species of mussel, Pinna nobilis, which is regarded as the largest in the world.
Punta Tamburino, Stintino
It is incredibly hard to choose the best dive in the Stintino area. However, Punta Tamburino certainly belongs at the top. The most attractive things about this area are the high visibility, crystal clear sea, beautiful undersea scenery, and huge, mixed shoals of barracuda and yellow snapper.
Galera, La Maddalena, Caprera
It is also difficult to choose the most impressive place to dive at La Maddalena National Park. One of the best dives is Galera, right near the island of Caprera. Everything a passionate diver’s heart could desire can be found here. The wreck of an old fishing boat, the remains of a Roman amphora, and amazing marine fauna with shoals of scorpion fish.
The bluefin tuna has been a symbol of Sardinia since time immemorial. It was traditionally caught in mattanza, fixed nets, which often posed a great hazard for marine navigation. However, these nets are no longer installed for catching tuna as abundantly in the past due to a decline in tuna stocks. The tuna have changed their migration route significantly, and now avoid the coastline. Their numbers have also been reduced due to overfishing and marine pollution in some areas. This is why strict quotas now apply for catching this tasty fish.
However, Sardinia is still a very attractive fishing area for recreational fishermen. Apart from bluefin tuna, you can catch a lunch here of Atlantic horse mackerel, tarpon, grouper, snapper or dentex. Conditions for underwater fishing are very good along the Sardinian coastline, but the use of harpoons and scuba equipment is forbidden.