“Why I have never come here before?” I asked myself, feeling slightly embarrassed when entering the old town. Having a Sardinian background, I know the island well. Although I have been here plenty of times, for some reason, I never made it to the north-western coast. If not for my girlfriend I would have never even thought of stopping by! I travelled all the way from Sydney to show off ‘my island’ to her, only to realize that I had never been to Sardinia`s most absorbing town – Alghero.
SARDINIA IS MUCH MORE THAN COSTA SMERALDA
This idyllic Mediterranean island holds tourists spellbound with the turquoise waters of Costa Smeralda and the pink sands of La Maddalena, but there is so much more hidden in Sardinia`s implicit isolation; fascinating historical heritage and cultural diversity, which nowhere else on the island you can find more than in Alghero – a town that long time ago used to be in the crown of Aragon in the Spanish Empire.
Throughout centuries, the coast of Alghero became home to many civilizations, and the town is defined by Catalan Gothic churches, Phoenician buildings, and Roman cathedrals. As an ancient trade hub, the city has always been popular with merchants who brought new goods, ranging from fabrics to spices, and the fashion and cuisine truly are unique.
MEDIEVAL AMBIANCE IN THE OLD PORT
My initial travel plan was a brief visit of Alghero, just to ‘tick’ the last remaining spot on our road trip itinerary around Sardinia. Having entered the town at pretty slow pace – “no rush”; I said to myself, in a wrong assumption that there would not be much to get excited about – we decided to park the car at the ‘Parcheggio Viale Della Pace,’ outside of the old town.
That turned out to be the best idea as strolling along the waterfront towards the city was one of the highlights of the day. The seaside scenery was absolutely stunning since the old port still keeps that medieval atmosphere that brings you back to the old days. Indeed, the waterfront images are seen from the top of the city walls, and their towers almost make you feel like being in the Middle Ages when the locals would hopefully await merchant ships to arrive.
ENTERING THE OLD TOWN GATES
With great curiosity, we passed through the monumental town walls to see what is hiding behind. Alghero`s old town greeted us with radiant lanes lined with stylish shops, antique churches, and cosy taverns – all that are unbelievably fitting into the historic inner city.
Streets were quite busy, filled with both the locals and tourists walking, chattering or eating at a very slow and relaxed pace. Many smiling families and couples could be seen, sauntering arm in arm, yet what really got me was getting lost in the maze of narrow, cobbled alleys adorned with hanging flower baskets.
STRONG SPANISH HERITAGE
As we walked further into the heart of the city, Alghero was starting to get even deeper under my skin. It felt like being somewhere in the middle of Andalucia. In fact, after being founded by the Doria family from Genoa, the city was conquered by the Aragones in the middle of the 14th century, and they evidently left here their footprint. You will quickly notice that the streets are first named in Catalan and then in the Italian language, and the local dialect is similar to the ancient Spanish.
Alghero is a compact town what makes sightseeing very easy. Noticeable historic landmarks are: Chiesa di San Michele, Santa Maria Cathedral, Palazzo d’Albis, Chiesa di San Francesco and all the towers that encircle the old towns: Torre San Giacomo, Torre Dello Sperone, Torre Della Polveriera, Torre di Sant’Erasmo and Torre Della Maddalena; the views from any of them are just spectacular.
QUIRKY LOCAL ART
“Let’s browse around the shops!” my girlfriend was super-excited. We could have easily spent the whole day window-shopping. Alghero is famous for craft, and we quickly understood why; seeing all the artwork created out of nothing but cork, yet made witch such detail and precision, beautiful hand-made bags, wallets, purses, and jewellery – the local artistry left me literally speechless. Italy is famed for fine style, elegance, and fashion but this was something more than that – perhaps it is the Catalan touch of quirkiness what makes Alghero handicraft so special.
ITALIAN ROMANCE BY NIGHT
Although the Spanish influence is pretty obvious, Alghero is still an Italian town and guess what – it has some of the best food I have ever tried! Trust me; I am Italian.. One can find a wonderful fusion of Italian, Spanish, Arabic and local Sardinian cuisine and I cannot imagine anyone in this world to be disappointed with this unique fusion.
The Alghero-glamour continued, and we spent the evening in the harbour – silently watching sun disappearing below the horizon – when an awaking “whiff” of grilled seafood interrupted the moment, and we realized that there were dozens of restaurants nearby and we were starving. It was time to find a nice trattoria where to keep the romance going!
CHOOSING A PLACE TO EAT IN ALGHERO IS NOT AN EASY TASK
Once you start to wander through Alghero`s network of lanes, you will see how difficult it is to decide the place where to eat. Every single tavern and restaurant boasts charm, grace, passion, and romance, and the irresistible fragrance coming from every side makes it so hard to choose a place where to spend the night. You can choose between waterfront dining – ideal for a sunset supper and contemporary drinks or one of the rustic old-town eateries that are more traditional, and there are hundreds of options.
After a good hour of cruising around the town, we finally decided on the ‘Osteria Barcellonetta.’ Thanks to a nice gesture of the owner, who grabbed us to taste a glass of prosecco and some artisan cheese when passing by his restaurant, we finally took a seat outside, in the middle of a small ‘piazza.’
The pleasant sound of church bells and the scent of food coming from the kitchen surrounded us completely, and the ultimate Sardinian candle-lit dinner was ready to start!
THE EPIC SARDINIAN FEAST
Italian dining is very particular: firstly, complimentary bread is served with some olive oil, and our case was not an exception. Besides, we were offered the local ‘pane carasau’ – flat and very thin crunchy bread. It did not take very long, and we got our drinks and food on the table; traditional Sardinian ‘Culurgiones alla Campidanese,’ ‘Frito Misto’ and ‘Malloredus alla Nuorese’ to start with, accompanied by a bottle of the local ‘Vermentino’. The food was simply divine! All ingredients were local and as fresh as can be.
Next, we ordered something for a sweet tooth – the local ‘Seadas’ – a filo-pastry-raviolo filled with soft cheese and honey and the famous ‘Crema Catalana.’ YUM!
Regardless of the fact that we were pretty full, there was no way to resist the temptation of an Artisan Gelato at ‘Gelateria Igloo’ – sensational!
We spent the rest of night walking down the seaside promenade, relishing the splendour of night-Alghero and secretly wished the night would have never ended.
Our serendipitous discovery of Alghero came to an end, and I was incredibly happy to have found this ‘little Spain’ on my mums` home-island, as it truly was a perfect day, probably one of the best in my life. I left a big piece of my heart at this special place, albeit in exchange for some of the best travel memories.
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