Sardinia, In Search of a Beach and on Safari looking for an Elephant

Sardinia Flag Postcard

“There is not in Italy what there is in Sardinia, nor in Sardinia what there is in Italy.” – Francesco Cetti, ‘Storia naturale di Sardegna

I suppose I was expecting Sardinia be all things Italian but except for a shared language and National Government, Sardinia it seems  is a very autonomous and could almost be mistaken for a completely different country.

One thing that I noticed most of all was the absence of the Italian flag because instead of the green, white and red tricolour almost everywhere there is I quattro mori, the Four Moors which is an especially striking and memorable national symbol.

According to tradition, it was a creation of King Peter I of Aragon, celebrating his victory at the Battle of Alcoraz in 1096. It was said that St. George miraculously appeared on the field of battle that day and that and the end of the saintly intervention there were four severed heads of Saracen kings.  (This is rather similar to the story of St James at the battle of Clavijo in 844 where a similar miracle occurred).

St George

So, the red cross and white background of St George and the black heads represent the Spanish Reconquista and further the four severed heads celebrate four major victories in Spain by the Aragonese, respectively, the reconquest of Zaragoza, Valencia, Murcia and the Balearic Islands. There are some alternative explanations for the origin of the flag but this is the one that I like best.

I found driving different from other parts of Italy.  You may remember me telling you that I was apprehensive about driving there again but I have to say that I found the Sardinian drivers courteous, patient and polite and not at all like the lunatics who drive on the mainland.  On the open roads driving was a real pleasure here.

Garibaldi Caprera

Finally, Garibaldi, the great Italian hero of Italian unification and who lived for many years on the nearby island of Caprera, because as far as my research tells me, except for Caprera itself, there is not a single statue of him in any town or city on the island.  I asked about this and was told that a lot of Sardinians are not that keen on being a part of united Italy at all, are rather defensive about their autonomous status* and rather like Scots in the UK and Catalans in Spain a great many of them look forward to the day of independence.

Perhaps Francesco Cetti was right.

After a disappointing breakfast we left Castelsardo and took a drive east in search of a beach that Kim, Mike and Margaret had found on a previous visit to the island and were so overwhelmed with it they were determined to find it again if only just to show me.

Sardinia Beach

What made this difficult was that not one of them could remotely remember where it was so we drove for twenty miles occasionally driving down unmade roads down to the sea only to draw one blank after another.  Eventually we reached the pretty little fishing port of Isola Rossa surrounded by crimson hills and all three of them had to admit defeat and face up to the inevitability of never finding it again.  This was a shame because they way that they described the location, it did sound quite magnificent.

Isola Rosso Sardinia

Instead we parked the car and walked around the harbour where yachts and pleasure craft competed for mooring places with traditional working boats where fishermen on deck  carried out all of the on-board jobs that need to be attended to upon return to land with a catch to sort and prepare for sale and nets to repair and stack.

Isola Rossa is only a small place so it didn’t take long to complete our circumnavigation of the village so after a short stop for a drink in the sunshine we returned to the car and drove all the way back that we had come earlier.

Iola Rosso Fishermen

Now we were looking for something else.  The Elephant rock, which is a curious natural sculpture, chiselled by erosion into the shape of an elephant which stands rooted forever to the spot by the side of the road and attracts a constant stream of visitors.

This should have been much easier to find than the elusive beach but we still managed to make hard work of it despite the fact that it was very clearly signposted and was only a couple of miles outside of Castelsardo.

Eventually we found it and ok, it looks curiously like an elephant but that is just about all I can say about it and my advice would be unless you have a fascination for rock shapes then don’t make a special journey to see it.

It was now mid afternoon and the sun was shining so we made our way down to the coast and found a wide sandy beach where we laid out or towels, changed into our bathing costumes and went for a swim in the sea.  It was lovely.  Except for a paddle in Wales this was the first time in the sea this year.  It has been a different year travel wise, we have been away a lot but this was the first time to a coast where the temperature made it safe to get fully submerged.

I generally find that an hour on the beach is long enough so as we were all in agreement we packed up, found a bar where we could sit and dry off and then returned to the hotel.

As we arrived back the siesta was coming to a close and after a couple of hours of shut down and inactivity life started to slowly return to normal and the little town began to stir into life once more.  Shutters rattled open, washing lines were cranked inside, car ignitions began to chatter, Lambretta scooters croaked into action and sleepy people began to reappear from their front doors.  The hotel reception opened for business, shops began to look for customers and within a short time normality was fully restored.

Later we climbed back to the top of the town in search of a restaurant but the choice was limited so we were forced back down again and found one at the bottom of the steps that we had passed by earlier and a predatory waiter persuaded us to go inside and after an excellent meal we were glad that he did.

Elephant Rock Sardinia

Have you ever gone out of your way to visit something in the guide books and then been disappointed?

*The Italian Constitution grants home rule/autonomy to five regions -Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia acknowledging their powers in relation to legislation, administration and finance.

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32 responses to “Sardinia, In Search of a Beach and on Safari looking for an Elephant

  1. I didn’t go out of my way to see it, but the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is the most disappointing site I have visited. In the US, it has taken on mythic status and did not meet my expectations.

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  2. Andrew the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was my disappointment. A great deal of standing with thousands of people to see a glimpse of a brief exchange. If short on time in London it’s one to miss in my opinion.

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  3. Prague’s astronomical clock has to be the winner for biggest tourist let down. Gino d’Acampo is doing a TV series around Italy’s islands (Friday at 8 on ITV), and he loved the elephant last week.

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  4. Interesting to hear that they are also interested in their independence. I wonder what things will look like in another twenty years.

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  5. That elephants is too cool!

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  6. Loved the alternate Changing of the Guard you added for Sue! I love a rebel!

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  7. Wasn’t it Doctor Johnson. who famously said that the Giant’s Causeway was “worth seeing, but not worth going to see.”?

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  8. Now that I know that Sardinia is not so much like Italy, I’m more fascinated, especially since they put images of decapitated enemies on their flags. Now about your question…
    When I was in the Sichuan province in China(Chengdu), I went way out of my way to visit one of the only contemporary history museums in the country. You see, there’s this big chunk of history that the Chinese would like to forget (ahem*Cultural Revolution) so the only museums that display this information are privately owned, off the beaten track and quite expensive. It was interesting, but only slightly so. I think my time would have been better spent having my photo taken with a cute little panda bear.

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  9. Sardinia reminds me of the same independent mindset of the Corsican people, with the same type of flag

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