Sardinia is the second biggest island in the Mediterranean sea, just behind Sicily, and one sailing cruiser and jet setters enjoy from spring to autumn.
Sardinia is a really big “sailing field” for cruising enthusiasts, almost three times the size of Corsica. The Italian island has more than 1.100 miles of coastline, mixing cliffs, rocky coves, white sand beaches, typical Mediterranean villages and old cities full of history.
Best season to sail along the Sardinian coasts:
As always in the Mediterranean sea, the best period to discover Sardinia is April-May and September. This allows cruisers to avoid crowded beaches and marinas, while still enjoying a warm weather and fine sailing conditions. At the beginning of June, lots of tourists arrive on the island and a continuous flow will bring them in and out until Mid-August.
It’s worth noticing that marinas are very expensive in the high season due to a lack of berths, especially on the “Costa Smeralda” the trendiest part of the island (NE).
Weather patterns in Sardinia:
From May to September, NW winds are predominating, and often blow around Force 5 or 6 around the strait of Bonifacio and the Maddalena archipelago.
On the Sardinian west coast, winds are mostly W-NW with frequent calms and rarely blow over Force 5. But things get tough when the Mistral blows and it’s wiser to stay in harbour for a day or two when it happens, as the Mistral lifts heavy seas and blows to the shore.
The East coast is the favourite coastline for cruisers as the sea is much smaller than on the West coast due to the mountains’ protection. NW wind is once again predominant, rarely over Force 5. Be careful though as the mountainous ground often generate violent gusts. It might be a good idea to sail 2 miles off the coasts avoid those gusts.
It’s very important to keep an eye on the barometer and frequently update your weather forecasting as the weather changes rapidly in the heart of Mediterranean. A light SE wind can turn into a Mistral (NW) in a very short time.
Once again, the Imray nautical guide: “Italian Waters Pilot” for the area is the best guide you can get, both for the weather patterns, the local administration and their rules, and of course precise description and charts of moorings and harbors.
Top 9 Sailing Destinations in Sardinia:
I suggest here a sailing trip around Sardinia, with 10 stopovers clockwise from Castelsardo (North) to Alghero (NW). It’s a 420 to 450 Nautical Miles sailing cruise, with 3 legs over 75 Nautical Miles, that can be done in 20 days (if you don’t have enough time to round Sardinia, I recommend to stick to the North, from Alghero to Porto Cervo).
Since I like to arrive on a quiet spot after a small crossing, I chose Castelsardo as the first stopover, but obviously it depends on where you come from.
Please make sure to sail with the proper set nautical guide and marine charts.
CASTELSARDO: 40°54’980 N; 008°42’250 E
Castelsardo is a beautiful old fishing village, with 6.000 inhabitants, that stands on a rocky promontory, in the North of Sardinia. The village lies under the protection of a Genoese Castle probably built in the 12th century that is now a museum.
The Castelsardo marina offers approximatively 500 berths up to 25 meters (max draft 3.5 meters) and a good shelter in every conditions. There is a small ship-chandler, mechanical and electrical repair services and the possibility to lift yachts up to 40 tons. A 20-minute walk separates the village from the Marina but once in the village you’ll get your share of “La Dolce Vita” in the hilltop centro storico, that offers splendid views over the Golf of Asinara. Walking in the narrow streets of the old town, you’ll see women weaving baskets and other objects…very traditional!
If you want to eat ashore, I strongly recommend to go to “Il Cavallucio“. The restaurant offers a great panorama and great food, especially sea food. (Tel: +39 079 474510). All in all, Castelsardo is a very enjoyable stopover and a great entry port for a sailing cruise in Sardinia. There is a supermarket in the marina where you’ll find most of the supply you might need.
Once you’ve enjoyed the delights of Castlesardo, let’s sail NE to the “Costa Smerala” (Emerald coast), the Island’s chic hot spot.
CALA COTICCIO, a.k.a Tahiti Bay: 41°13’013 N; 009°28’850 E
From Castelsardo, the sailing trip is 55 Nautical Miles to reach the “Cala Coticcio“, also known as Tahiti Bay, passing through the Strait of Bonifacio. Usually, the wind there is W-NW. Expect the wind to be stronger once entering the Strait of Bonifacio, so that a day of Force 4 to 5 in the area results in a Force 5 to 6 in the strait with gusts up to 7.
Once through the strait, round the Maddalena archipelago to the north until you see on your starboard the easternmost Island: Isla Caprera, and turn South to sail along its east coast. In the middle of this coast, behind the “Punta Coticcio“, you’ll find a dream anchorage where you can anchor on sand and spend the night. Read carefully the nautical instructions as there is a prohibited area around the Punta Coticcio to avoid.
Cala Coticcio is actually two coves, quite deep whit crystal blue waters, and the most exciting one is the West one. It’s a very popular anchorage for jet-setters in summer, and between June 1st and September 30th, it’s forbidden to anchor overnight. One more reason to cruise in April or May.
CANNIGIONE: 41°06’470 N; 009°26’630 E
The next step is the small village of Cannigione and its green environment in sharp constrat to the usual rocky landscape of Sardinia.
Cannigione lies in the Golf of Arzachena (the largest inelt in Sardinia), approximatively 8 nautical miles South from Cala Coticcio and it will be a beautiful navigation to get there. There are more than 400 berths available in the Marina for boats up to 25 meters and with a maximum draft of 4 meters.
This is a very pleasant destination, full of life although not as “prestigious” as Porto Cervo, and worth visiting. Don’t miss the street market if you are in Cannigione on a Friday. Many operators offer excursions to the Maddalena archipelago, so it’s an excellent occasion to go diving in the marine reserve (between 50€ and 200€).
The beaches in the north of Cannigione are really nice.
PORTO CERVO: 41°08’230 N; 009°32’560 E
After sailing 10 Nautical Miles, the next stop is Porto Cervo. Get ready for stars, millionaires, paparazzi…and a lot of tourists.
Spring and early autumn are definitively the best periods to visit the beautiful village of Porto Cervo and its natural harbour. Days are mild and the village is not overcrowded. In May you could participate to the wine festival and tast excellent Vermentino whites. In early June, assist to the Loro Piana Superyachts Regatta, that opens the Mediterranean Superyachts calendar.
Porto Cervo is the most famous destination on the costa smeralda. Useless to say that you’ll find a lot of excellent restaurants, fun bars and lots of Luxury shops to visit.
Once you feel ready to leave Porto Cervo, I recommend that you sail south for approximatively 80 Nautical Miles, to the magnificent Cala Goloritze.
CALA GOLORITZE: 40°06’665 N; 009°41’395
To me, it’s the most beautiful anchorage in Sardinia. Cala Goloritze is a wide anchorage, in front of a beautiful beach surrounded by a spectacular landscape . The cove is officially an “Italian National Monument”.
ARBATAX: 39°56’700 N; 09°42’800 E
From Cala Goloritze, sail 14 Nautical Miles South and you’ll reach the village and Marina of Arbatax.
The marina has 400 berths for boats up to 50 meters and is very welcoming. It stands in a commercial harbour that serves as a logistic support for plywood factories. All supplies can be found in Arbatax, or in Tortoli, a few miles inshore.
There is not much to do in the hamlet but the marina is a great place to rest and a way of cutting the sailing trip to the south in half, avoiding night sailing. The mountains surrounding Arbatax marina are really beautiful. Great walks can be done in the area to discover coves and strange red granite rocks. Start by walking over the east pier of the harbour to discover those rocks.
There are not a lot of good anchorages or nice villages between Arbatax and the extreme south of Sardinia, so I suggest to go for a long sailing leg of approximatively 100 Nautical Miles to Cagliari, Sardinia‘s biggest city.
CAGLIARI: 39°11’043 N; 009°06’230 E
You must stop in Cagliari as there is a lot to see, starting with the medieval “Castello” (Citadel) and its fantastic grandstand views (try the view from the Bastonie San Remy), the National Archeological Museum, or a nice Roman amphitheatre. Cagliari is one of those cities where a good guide can be very useful and help you make the best of your stay in the city.
Cagliari is a rich historical city, with almost 3000 years of history and a great cultural place. Strangely, it’s a city that is not really attractive from the sea. You have to come over the first impression you’ll have from the bay, as the old city is surrounded by an ugly industrial complex that ruins the view for a yacht sailing in the Golf of Cagliari.
But as soon as you reach the harbour, you’ll get to see the real thing. An old and beautiful Mediterranean city protected by a set of Pisan fortifications. Great walks, fine restaurants, typical bars on paved streets and enough attractions to keep you in town for days.
To eat the best pizzas in town, go to the terrific “Il Fantasma“, ideally having already booked a table (+39 070 65 67 49; Via San Domenico 94). The environment, the atmosphere and the food are terrific, you can’t be disappointed.
Staying in Cagliari doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy the beaches and the crystal blue waters. From the city centre (Piazza Matteotti), a bus can take you to Poetto Beach, one of the longest beach in Italy. Poetto is the rendez vous for Cagliari’s youth. There are lots of bars, private beach clubs and restaurants.
You can also go to the beach by sail, since the Marina Piccola and the yacht club are located at the southern end of the beach. The restaurant “The spinnaker”, at the marina, serves great seafood.
CARLOFORTE: 39°08’640N; 008°19’370 E
Now sail South to the exit of the Golf of Cagliari. The next stop is Carloforte, on the Isola di San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Island). Leave Cagliari early as you will have to sail more than 60 Nautical miles to get there.
You are now going to sail along the West coast of Sardinia, with stronger seas so pay extra attention to weather forecasts.
Carloforte is a pleasant and elegant town on the west coast of Isola di San Pietro, with pastel-coloured houses and a seafront tree-lined boulevard full of nice restaurants. A lot of beautiful beaches, both sandy and rocky are accessible from the town.
Carloforte is a town of fishermen and each year, at the end of May, the Mattanza is held in the San Pietro channel, when tuna stream in the channel heading to their matings grounds and are caught in a system of nets to end up in the “camera della morte” (chamber of death). Once in this final net, fishermen catch them with hooks. The Mattanza is a very popular and traditional event on the island, though quite a bloody one.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, Carloforte is a great destination to eat tuna. I recommend the restaurant “Osteria della Tonnara“, a reference when it comes to seafood. The restaurant is owned and run by the island’s tuna cooperative. It’s not chic, not especially beautiful either, but the tuna dishes are fantastic.
There are coves and nice anchorages to explore around the island if the conditions allow it.
ALGHERO: 40°33’950 N; 008°18’450 E
The last stopover of this sailing cruise around Sardinia is Alghero, 90 Nautical Miles North from Carloforte. Alghero is a splendid walled city from the 12th century with a strong Spanish influence, even today. The setting is really a perfect representation of what you would expect in a great Mediterranean destination: green hills, sandy beaches and a quiet walled town with an inner harbour.
To me, this is the best destination in Sardinia. Alghero is by itself a good reason to go sailing in Sardinia, if only for 2 to 3 days.
The centro storico is a genuine wonder, it’s time to open your Lonely Planel Guide and enjoy.
What to do ashore when Mistral blows in Sardinia:
You would be wise to stay in harbour when the mistral blows. It’s a perfect occasion to rent a car and go inshore to discover the beauties of Sardinia. Here are 3 places worth visiting:
- Sassari: Sassari is a genuine city of Sardinia, a few miles inshore from Castelsardo and Porto Torres. Sassari is Sardinia‘s second biggest city. It has a very interesting medieval center and some modern areas. It’s a really pleasant town, though not a big tourist destination, which makes it even better. There are great museum in Sassari, a lot of things to do and fine shopping too.
- Gola Su Gorropu – Sardinia’s Grand Canyon.
- Visit the village of Orgosolo, in the mountains of Barbagia. Orgosolo famous for its great graffiti that recall, on the walls of the village, the main historical events from the since the early 20th century.
Useful books and charts:
- Italian Waters Pilot, by Rod Heikell, IMRAY. The best guide to sail safely along Sardinia.
- Imray chart for North Sardinia
- Imray chart for South Sardinia
- Fodor’s Italy 2016 (full-color Travel Guide)
Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary to be able to express yourself when your native language is not an option.
Have fun sailing in Sardinia !
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