Sardinia will forever hold special memories for us. The second largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia is blessed with some of the finest cruising coastline and heavenly turquoise coves to be found this side of the Med. Though specifically, it was here that we’d share part of the adventure with two dear members of the Darling family – sister Bree and brother-in-law Brett.
The crew grew by two when, after a touring a handful of mainland Italy’s drawcards, we collected the weary travellers off an overnight ferry in Olbia. My sister Bree is a wonder-mum. Juggling a hectic life schedule of mother-to-two, career, university midwifery studies and casual Tough-Mudder challenger – I often wonder how she gets out the door each morning.
Knowing boat life would offer a dramatic change of pace: “I hope you don’t get bored easily,” I queried once we’d motored an hour to our anchorage for the first night. Her response would instantly set the mood: “I can’t remember the last time I was bored!” And with that, she was soon snoozing on the bow nets beside mum, Mike and Brett were catching up propped on floaty noodles and the well-deserved put-your-feet-up-and-do-nothing slice of their long-awaited holiday had begun.
Sardinians, similar to their French Corsican neighbours, are fiercely proud of their identity – they are Sardinian first and Italian second. Their flag, which carries the symbolic bandaged heads of the ‘four moors’ dominates the skyline. Compared to hectic mainland Italy 180 km to its east, seductive Sardinia is laid-back and sparsely developed. Avoiding the wind-swept west coast we stuck to the northeast corner, which provided several safe anchorages and where enviable villas surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens lined the rocky granite shoreline.
The Costa Smeralda is Sardinia’s exclusive vacation region, a concentration of meticulously-kept, purpose-built resort towns that reminded me of Whistler’s perfected town planning. The prima donna of them all – Porto Cervo is primarily a mega yacht marina crammed with unfathomable money in the form of private floating hotels. Having now encountered hundreds of super yachts over the years, I find the excessiveness and flamboyance of wealth somewhat nauseating (how about feed a small starving nation perhaps?), with ports where they gather having much become a tourist attraction in themselves.
To me, Porto Cervo’s quirky architecture resembled a soulless Flintstones-like village. And I was puzzled that the swath of high-end stores such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci could stay in business – given the short season and when it appeared that 99% of visitors were holiday gawkers hoping to spot someone famous stepping off a yacht (though more likely to be an anonymous billionaire). Still none-the-less, it was an interesting place to wander for an hour or two.
We purposely avoided picking up one of the 150 euro per night mooring buoys (!!) that were strategically positioned to make anchoring around them difficult. Hanging off our anchor in a gusty 30 – 35 knots for most of the afternoon, on dusk we watched as other boats were moved on, or coaxed inside the exorbitant marina. The dinghy-bound marina staffer eventually gave up beating against the wind and wave chop, thankfully leaving us be for the night.
One example of the wealth that’s common place in this area: moored in Porto Cervo during our visit was 105-metre Lady Moura which is said to have cost US$ 200 million when launched way back in 1990. With the capacity for 30 guests and 60 crew, today she’s the world’s 28th largest private yacht – her name and insignia carved in glistening 24-carat gold. At 28 metres her main tender is more than twice the length of our catamaran! Though a little research into the Saudi owner, Dr. Nasser al-Rashid, clarified he’s also a generous bloke and has made his fair share of substantial charitable donations…
Anchored alongside more stinky-rich mega yachts in Cala di Volpe, Bree impressed us all when, unprompted, she requested an express joyride in the bosun’s chair to the top of our 20-metre mast. Now all but one of our female guests has been initiated with a trip up the mast – including Deanne and Tess last summer. So let that serve as a forewarning to future lady guests – I hope that you’re not afraid of heights!
The La Maddalena archipelago is Sardinia’s crown jewel. A protected marine park; it’s blessed with the most breathtakingly powder-blue anchorages we’ve encountered thus far in the Mediterranean. Throw in a handful of cute beach bars, a freckled rainbow of sun umbrellas and the infectious laughter-filled air of happy beach-goers – it was easy to fall in love.
With guests on board, for the first time since leaving Greece in early June, we tied quayside in La Maddalena’s bustling port. In addition to the benefit of mooring on the edge of the town buzz, it’s a treat to catch up on a few loads of washing (without running the water maker and generator), hot showers and for us ladies to walk off the boat in a nice dress (difficult when otherwise struggling awkwardly in and out of the dinghy). Yet paying 190 euro (approx. A$270) to effectively tie up to a car park (the wharf was busy all night with vehicles loading on and off the ferry) simply cannot be regularly justified for the fulltime, self-sufficient cruiser. Though for just a few months of the year these ports are popular with the large French and Italian boating community whom happily pay a premium to be in the heart of the action.
Mooring around these islands provided our first true taste of peak summer season on the water, with literally hundreds of sailing and super yachts, RIBs, motor and tour boats snuggling into the most scenic bays. Lately we’ve often laughed thinking back to last summer and our first few months in Croatia when we’d complain about boats anchoring too close – sometimes asking them to move away, or otherwise upping anchor and moving ourselves. Now, like the locals, we too drop our pick wherever we can safely squeeze in. Provided the wind continues to blow steadily from the same direction, as should the wind begin to swing – particularly with the widely varying lengths of anchor chain each skipper lets out – it could quickly descend into a bumper-to-bumper gong show!
Situated in the archipelago’s north, Isola Budelli was yet another magical setting to spend the night and explore by dinghy. Topped off with our first – but certainly not the last – BBQ dinner on the beach. Sardinia was certainly the kind of place we could have happily lingered longer.
When the prevailing Mistral blows from the Golfe du Lion, the narrow 15km stretch between Sardinia (Italy) and Corsica (France) – known as the Strait of Bonifacio – can create a treacherous wind and wave tunnel. Though for us, it was a fast and mellow sail as we hoisted our third new courtesy flag in as many weeks.
Not unlike its southern neighbour, if given the choice Corsicans would happily stand alone as their own country. Most famous as the birthplace for Napoleon Bonaparte, its strategic location ensured it was fought over for centuries, eventually remaining under French rule. The singular ‘moor’ head from the Corsican flag along with the island’s geographical profile is patriotically etched on the side of buildings, road signs and embossed on merchandise. And similar to Sardinia, the vibe is laid-back, the local hospitality welcoming and development has been controlled in favour of glorious open space and the preservation of its natural assets.
Preparing to say farewell to Bree and Brett, a road trip through the island’s interior revealed a strikingly diverse landscape. Departing an endless string of glistening beaches along the coast, we drove past towering craggy granite peaks, densely forested mountains divided by deep runoff-carved ravines and to the northern weather-effected areas – bald grassy hillsides. Rustic campgrounds were scattered throughout the valley and families picnicked along the pine-shaded riverbanks. In the summertime outdoor enthusiasts flock to Corsica for superb hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, rafting, river fishing and diving.
At the heart of the island, with the haunting backdrop of 2,700-metre Mount Cinto, historic Corte’s mountain setting was enchanting. Today a buzzing university town, shabby stone buildings were haphazardly stacked in a tight cluster and a citadel perched on the highest rocky outcrop.
After eight relaxing days on board, we said a sad farewell as Bree and Brett departed us in Ile Rousse to join their ferry to Nice. Family time is precious and we’re so grateful to have shared a slice of our journey with them!
On Corsica’s southern tip, Bonaficio’s deep natural harbour is protected by a craggy limestone headland. Perched precariously on top, its dramatic medieval citadel housed a labyrinth of narrow streets, overlooking nearby Sardinia and the often turbulent seas of the Strait of Bonaficio.
Our last stop on Corsica was the bustling old port town of Bastia, where we conveniently tucked behind the harbour breakwater with lines ashore. The primary ferry hub from the mainland, our guidebook perfectly described Bastia as a “good surprise” and a “lived-in city that’s resisted the urge to polish up its image just to please the tourists”. A real working township, it was a pleasure to wander Bastia’s gritty streets and soak up the warm island hospitality, before heading northwest to join the throngs at Corsica’s glitzy polar opposite – the touristy and pompous French Riviera.
Salut for now!