Sardinia, Alghero and Sassari

Alghero Sardinia

The next morning, the night after the cyclone,  when we opened the shutters of the room and looked out into the storm battered streets Alghero looked rather damp, drenched, soggy and windswept, forlorn and feeling rather sorry for itself.

In the lobby there were some newspapers and glancing through one looking for a weather forecast there was a two page spread about the storm and the deluge and the damage and a weather map which explained exactly why.  It seemed however that whilst it seemed quite wild to us that Alghero had got off relatively lightly compared to the disruption and the flooding in Olbia which was where we were heading for our final day.

Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the whole island had been smashed and battered by strong winds and heavy rainfall causing huge widespread damage.  Sardinia had been plunged into chaos as the cyclone slammed into the island, causing two months’ worth of rain to fall in just twenty-four hours.

Sardinia Cyclone Map

We were in no rush though so this morning we attempted a second walk into the town and were delighted to see that overhead the clouds were occasionally breaking to show a patch or two of blue.

If Castelsardo reminded me of Istria and Dalmatia then Alghero had an immediate Spanish feel and this shouldn’t have been surprising because for nearly four hundred years it was part of the Aragon monarchy which was an empire that stretched as far as Sicily and Southern Italy.

Even today Catalan is recognised as an official language and street names appear in both Catalan and Italian. A good percentage of the population speak this language although being rather isolated from direct Catalan influence over the years the dialect of Alghero today is said to be similar to the language spoken in Catalonia between the middle of the fourteenth and the end of the seventeenth century which for an Algheran to speak to a Catalan today would be rather like me trying to have a sensible conversation with William Shakespeare.

As if to emphasise this Catalan connection Alghero has four twin towns, Tarragona and Balaguer in Catalonia, Encamp in Andorra (almost Catalonia) and Catalan speaking Palma in Majorca.

Sardinia window

There is no getting away from an Iberian influence here and walking through the narrow streets of the old town it was easy to imagine being in Girona or Figueres.  Enclosed by robust, honey-coloured sea walls the imposing medieval bastions and defensive towers mark out the unmistakable outline of the town and inside the walls there is a tightly knit enclave of shady cobbled lanes, Gothic palazzi and cafe-lined piazzas.

We navigated the city and as went peered down slightly shabby narrow streets, disfigured by graffiti, care worn but lived in with brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint like fragments of history which have blotched and been blurred by a combination of successive harsh summers, equally hard winters and general neglect resulting in a glorious wash resembling water colours running in the rain, everything dripping and running, liquefying and merging, leaking and fusing.

The streets between the houses were like deep gullies made brilliant by vibrant washing lines even after a night of torrential rain strung outside of windows like carnival bunting as though in anticipation of a parade, stretching across the streets dripping indiscriminately and swaying gently backwards and forwards above the secret doorways and back alleys and with realistically today, in view of the weather, only an outside chance of drying out.

Alghero Streets

Everywhere there was water as we picked our way through the town north to south and then east to west and then walked around the battlements where below the sea continued to churn and surge as though someone was taking great pleasure in stirring it into a froth with a giant ladle.

If the weather had been better we almost certainly would have stayed a little longer, perhaps gone to the beach for an hour or so followed by lunch, but it wasn’t to be so we walked back to the car and on the way stopped at a supermarket called Nonna Isa which as it turns out is the leading supermarket business in Sardinia which you may not find especially fascinating but I mention this because Nonna Isa has a service that I fully approve of – it has a bar!

Now, if supermarkets in the UK had bars then I am absolutely certain that I would find shopping a whole lot more enjoyable.  And it was cheap so before we did our shopping we found a table and had a beer, a Sardinian beer called Ichnusa which we had rather acquired a taste for over the last few days.

Nonna Isa Ichnusa Sardinia

And so we left Alghero somewhat ahead of our carefully planned itinerary and drove east to the city of Sassari, the second largest in all of Sardinia where we would be staying overnight on our way back to Olbia.

We arrived at our hotel which turned out to be a sort of edge of city, functional but not too glamorous sort of place and after checking in and with nothing to excite us very much about the location we decided to bring forward the plan for tomorrow morning to visit Sassari city and do it this afternoon instead and so under leaden skies we drove to the centre.

The guide-book suggested some things to see but I should have consulted my friend Dai Woosnam on the matter because when he knew that I was in Sardinia he emailed me this – “We had an interesting time in Alghero about twelve years ago. Also recall being bored out of our skulls in the second city of Sassari.”

Dai is rarely wrong and he had hit the nail squarely on the head again this time.  The guide-book said that it is possible to see the sights of Sassari in just a morning but having been there I reckon that you can do it in half an hour including time for a beer and a glass of wine.  Sometimes when travelling it is possible to come across an unexpected gem, Bari in Puglia or Trujillo in Extremadura for example but sadly Sassari is not going to get a nomination from me to join that exclusive list.

To be fair the weather was awful, cold and wet and the streets were deserted, it may well be better on a warm sunny day but I have to say that I am most unlikely to ever test this out.  Some places you vow to go back to, Sorrento for example, Sassari is sadly not one of them.

We had evening meal in the hotel and decided to abandon the itinerary altogether now and just leave early the next day and go directly back to Olbia.

Have you ever ended up somewhere desperately disappointing?

Alghero Fishing Boat

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18 responses to “Sardinia, Alghero and Sassari

  1. I do get sad and angry at seeing graffiti on walls of the buildings in such historic, narrow streets. As to bar in supermarket I think that would be cool too – I was very disappointed when some 20 years ago the large department stores here in Sydney got rid of their cafeteria style restaurants where on could say have lunch and drink etc – now all they want is not our “rest & a bit of socialising” all they want is our money for gods on shelves or on hangers

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  2. I went to Saint Thomas to get married during the dry month. .. haha! Most rainfall in a month in 10 years. Don’t regret going, but will never trust a climate report again!

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  3. Shame about the weather, I know that can really affect how much you enjoy a place, blue skies and sunshine and you might have felt very different. On a different note why haven’t we got supermarkets like that here!! The chore that is the weekly shop would be just a bit different.

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  4. Supermarkets with bars? Now there is a great idea. I too could become an enthusiastic shopper! I was excited when coffee shops started appearing in grocery stores. 🙂
    As far as disappointments Andrew I think I find that when I travel to destinations that have been so written about, so photographed from every angle, it’s not really disappointment but almost a letdown, as if the surprise of discovery has been taken away.

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  5. I am always fascinated by the compactness of old streets in European towns.

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  6. You’ve got to visit a lot of desperately disappointing places to find the hidden gems. It’s part of the adventure of traveling. That’s why it’s important to pack a good dose of humor – and a deck of cards.

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  7. When I was working the corporate job many years ago, I worked 65-hour weeks to pay off my debts. After a year and a half of doing this, I really needed a holiday, but couldn’t afford to go anywhere, so I took a road trip to the Gulf of Mexico to see the ocean. I drove through a white squall in Mississippi to arrive in Gulfport. The area is industrial, the weather was gray and gloomy, and the only hotel that I could afford had seen one too many hurricanes.
    It was disappointing, but a day trip to New Orleans made up for it….especially because six months later Hurricane Katrina would come and completely wreck the place.

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  8. this comment is not about disappointing travel, although I have had fortunately only a few. However, I was quite interested in your observations about the continued Catalan influences. As I now live in the Valenciana area of Spain, I am aware of the Catalan and Valencian influences in modern-day Italy, but was surprised that the Catalan language is still in use. Thanks as always for your erudition.

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