Sardinia is home to one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world; there must be something in the water here – or perhaps in the wine. With its beaches of white sand lapped by sparkling waters, rugged countryside peppered with ancient relics and luxurious harbour towns on the edge of the Med, few places in Italy are as captivating. You’ll discover rustic traditions standing shoulder-to-shoulder with contemporary comforts, and that’s especially true of Sardinia’s food and drink.
Despite its 1,850 kilometres of coastline, Sardinia’s traditional cuisine is as much inspired by the land as the sea. Meat is high on the menu: goat, horse, pork, rabbit, sheep, wild boar and more, all prepared in authentic Sardinian style. Suckling pig, or porceddu, is a classic celebratory dish – possibly imported by the Spanish when the island was under the nation’s rule. A slaughtered piglet is spit-roasted for hours over a fire of fragrant wood such as juniper, myrtle and olive, as well as herbs such as thyme, mint, basil and bay. As the pig cooks, it absorbs the gorgeous aromas of the smoke. You’ll find young goat and sheep prepared similarly.
Closer to the coast, seafood takes centre stage, and in the town of Alghero spiny lobster is the star of the show. Freshly caught, this crimson crustacean is a popular addition to pasta such as spaghetti or fregola (toasted balls of semolina dough). Another local delicacy is bottarga – salted and cured fish roe – traditionally made here using grey mullet or bluefin tuna. You’ll see it served with pasta, and as an appetiser drizzled with lemon or a little olive oil.
Sardinia’s green pastures have been dotted with thousands of woolly sheep for time immemorial. The Sarda, which sleepily grazes the Campidano plain, is an indigenous breed, and shares the island with the lesser-numbered Arbus – distinctive for its black wool. Hills alive with the sound of bleating, it’s no surprise most of the island’s best cheese is made using sheep’s milk. Boasting DOC status, pecorino sardo is a local hard cheese, smoked lightly and ripened in cellars. If you’re feeling brave, you can tuck into the notorious casu marzu – literally ‘rotten cheese’; pecorino is left outside to be impregnated and devoured by fly larvae, transforming the flavour and consistency over time. It’s a once-outlawed delicacy, and not for the faint hearted.
Bread always goes well with cheese – even rotten cheese, and Sardinia has plenty of distinctive varieties to try. An ancient Sardinian flatbread once a staple for local shepherds, pane carasau is made from twice-baked sheets of wheat-flour dough. It’s nicknamed ‘carta musica’ – sheet music – due to its paper-thin diameter, and wonderfully crisp. Other delicious Sardinian breads include pane pistoccu – ideal for mopping up soup, as well as coccoi pintau– a bread so decorative you’ll be ‘loafed’ to eat it.
Unlike much of Italy, beer is more popular in Sardinia than wine, with Ichnusa a locally-brewed favourite. You’ll still find exceptional vino, though. Cannonau – widely known as grenache abroad – is the stand-out; during your Sardinia holiday, try a glass of Cannonau di Sardegna, a DOC-certified red that must be 90 per cent cannonau by law. Then there’s the island’s famous liqueurs. Mirto is made by macerating myrtle berries in alcohol to form a red, aromatic liqueur, while fil'e ferru is a crystal-clear grappa once home-brewed illicitly by residents.
For easy access to some of Sardinia’s best eateries, stay at the Forte Village Resort in Cagliari. You’ll be a short walk from 20 restaurants and bars, as well as cooking classes helmed by Michelin-starred chefs.