Sardinia is famous all over the world for its beautiful coasts with fantastic beaches, and its mountainous and wild interior is also worth visiting. Many travelers describe Sardinia as being a continent unto itself, with each area and town having diverse landscapes and local traditions.
Sardinia is also the land of an ancient society which has its roots in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, and was then influenced (along its coastal areas) by the most important civilization in the history of the Mediterranean: Phoenicians, Etruscans, Romans, the maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa, Spain, Piedmont. The result is a very rich mix of Mediterranean culinary heritage. Most of the recipes and products are surprisingly different from any other Italian preparation, such as "filindeu," the “thread of god,” a special pasta considered the rarest in the world.
On our Chef Bike Tour of Sardinia we will personally appreciate the specialties of both the coastal and the mountain areas. From the sea you will sample mullet bottarga, fregola with clams, Carloforte tuna, one of the most valuable and sought-after varieties in the world, and "Burrida a sa Casteddaia," a typical dish from Cagliari containing catfish and nuts.
In the mountains you will taste one of the oldest breads in the world, “pane carasau,”also called sheet music bread. Sardinian pecorino is famous the world over, and the local hams and sausages are also very good. Some dishes have a very strong flavor, such as "su callu de crabittu (a special cheese),” or “sa cordula (the braid),”made from the intertwined intestines of lamb. The national dish of Sardinia is suckling pig. To get its special taste it is made from pigs no larger than four kilos (8.8 pounds) and cooked slowly over a fire.
Sardinia is also a land of prestigious wines: full-bodied reds such as Cannonau, white wines suitable to accompany fish such as Vermentino di Gallura and meditation wines such as Malvasia and Vernaccia.
Chef Mary Sue Milliken participated in the inaugural Chef Bike Tour in 2017, in the Sicily one in 2018, in the Piedmont Chef Bike Tour 2019, and in the Friuli Venezia Giulia one. She was as happy in the kitchen as she was on the bike and she jumped at the opportunity to come back with Tourissimo for a fifth time! Her charm makes our trips come alive and she humbly shares her wealth of knowledge with guests.
Mary Sue has co-authored five cookbooks, co-starred in nearly 400 episodes of the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales.” In 2018, Mary Sue and her friend and business partner Susan Feniger became the first women to receive the Julia Child Award for their contribution to the way America eats and drinks.
Cagliari - Arrival
Our tour starts in the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari (called Casteddu in Sardinian, which means castle). Cagliari is an ancient city with a long history. It has been ruled by several civilizations, and under the modern city there is a continuous stratification attesting to human settlement over the course of some five thousand years, from the Neolithic Period to today.
Today the city is the regional, cultural, educational, political and artistic center of Sardinia and it’s also known for its diverse Art Nouveau architecture and monuments.
We plan to meet in the afternoon (exact time TBA) after airport transfers and check-ins. The guides will lead a stroll in the old town to get immersed in its unique atmosphere. A must-to do is an aperitivo - enjoy a glass of local vermentino - on the old city wall. Guides will deliver a tour overview and cover the logistics. Mary Sue Milliken will give her take on what’s ahead as well. Dinner is just a short walk from here.
Cagliari - Oliena - 18 miles - Hilly
Today we transfer to Oliena, one of the most representative villages of Sardinia’s true soul. On the way there, we will stop to visit the most fascinating archeological site on the island: the sacred well of Santa Cristina. This is the best way to introduce you to the oldest culture of the Mediterranean area, the Nuragic Civilization. Back in the Bronze Age, that civilization left its imprint with its megalithic towers, the “nuraghi.” Still to this day, the Nuragic Civilization is capturing the interest of archeologists trying to explain where those people came from and why they built those huge towers and temples all over the island. After the visit, we enjoy a first taste of the authentic Sardinian food in a local restaurant.
After the second leg of the transfer, we finally reach charming hotel Su Gologone, a perfect blend of authenticity and perfect hospitality in a truly stunning setting. You’ll have some time to rest and to get acquainted with the premises. In the meantime, Mary Sue will team up with the local chef for her own interpretation of a Barbaricinian menu (Barbagia is the geographical, cultural and natural region of this part of inner Sardinia).
Oliena - Oliena - 34 miles - Hilly
Today we hop on our bikes and pedal to the town of Oliena where we will observe the baking of “carasau” bread. This traditional flatbread, also called "carta da musica" in Italian (meaning sheet music) is named for its large and paper-thin shape, which is said to be so thin before cooking that a sheet of music can be read through it. The recipe is very ancient and was conceived for shepherds, who used to stay far from home for months at a time.
From the bakery we continue towards Orgosolo, a town that has been known for its beautiful murals since the late 1960's. They are political paintings that can be found on walls all over Orgosolo and reflect different aspects of Sardinia's political struggles but also deal with international issues.
In the past, the town was known for the phenomenon of “banditry." At one time, Orgosolo was known as the "Village of Murderers" due to its high crime rate. Bandits from the surrounding mountains used the church door to post notices of death sentences passed on their enemies. No worries, no more bandits around!
The best way to experience what and how shepherds eat is lunch at a local agriturismo that will feature carasau bread.
The way back is along a stunning panoramic road in the peaceful countryside. We cross the wine production area of the Nepente di Oliena, a variety of Cannonau grape that, thanks to the unique terroir of the Lanaittu Valley, has a really intense and persistent flavor.
Genna Silana - Baunei - 17 or 22 miles - Downhill and rolling
Today you will ride along one of the most scenic roads on the island (and perhaps in all of Europe) as we go deep into the Blue Zone area. We begin with a short transfer to reach the starting point at the Genna Silana Pass, 1,000 mt above sea level (3,280 ft). From there, we ride towards the town of Baunei, which is the most important town of the Ogliastra region. Between Genna Silana and Baunei lays a rugged protected area characterized by wild nature, high cliffs, and dense forests. Due to its position and landscape, the Ogliastra has been isolated for a long time and that has allowed its inhabitants to maintain a strong genetic identity. That could be one of the elements, combined with a healthy lifestyle and a simple organic diet, that makes them one of the longest-lived people in the world.
For lunch, we enjoy a typical spread in an authentic shepherd hut on top of a stunning limestone plateau. It’s a unique experience that takes us back in time and to a simpler way of life.
We start again and ride or shuttle to our next hotel, La Bitta, right on the beach. Time to relax and then dinner on the terrace in front of the sea.
Armungia - Villasimius - 28 or 46 miles - Rolling
At this point in the tour, you will gain a sense of Sardinia’s size and geography, with mountains that dramatically rise over three thousand feet above the pristine coastline. On this day, we plan to experience and appreciate some of the island’s most ancestral aspects. A short transfer will take us to unpretentious Armungia, a village in the mountains in the southeast, which is also a scattered museum with artisan workshops and an ethnographic museum of pastoral and peasant culture. A nuraghe sits in the center of the village and has been there over three thousand years. Next to the nuraghe, we can visit the ethnographic museum, artisan shops, the blacksmith's, and the weaver's rooms with the carpet workshop. We will spend the morning here and then be hosted for lunch in the nearby village of Villasalto. A handful of proud local women are the tradition keepers and they will open their home - and courtyard - to prepare and serve ancient recipes for us. We’ll learn about those genuine recipes that are at the center of the culinary knowledge carried on from previous generations: seasonal, fresh and local ingredients and slow preparation of dishes anchored to tradition. It’s all done with extreme passion by expert hands and with genuine hearts.
In the afternoon the ride will take us along a mostly coastal road to the renowned seaside resort of Costa Reiand down to the southeast cape and the famous seaside village of Villasimius.
Boat ride of Capo Carbonara or optional ride
The coastline of Villasimius is within the Protected Marine Area of Capo Carbonara (Marine Park). Established over 20 years ago, it has allowed the repopulation of the sea and the conservation of biodiversity. The best way to appreciate this gem (its turquoise sea, small rocky islands and white quartz sand beaches) is definitely from the sea itself, that is, from a boat, even better from a local fishing boat, with lunch based on the catch of the day. It’s a privileged point of view that stimulates all the senses. We will touch upon biodiversity guided by what’s on the table. The taste and scent of freshly caught fish, served on the fishing boat, surrounded by one of the most beautiful seas in the world, is a unique experience that allows you to better understand the rich beauty of Sardinia but it is also an immersion in its true everyday life and one of its traditional economic activities. We can’t deny the fact that those activities are endangered, yet both this land and its people are very resilient. We can help keep them going through mindful tourism.
For those who prefer to pedal we can take you on an optional loop that explores the hills of the hinterland and along the coastal roads and enjoy splendid views.
Villasimius - Cagliari - 37 miles - Rolling and flat
Today's ride takes us back to Cagliari. We have chosen to offer you this itinerary not only to return to the main city of the island and to the flavors and aromas of its seafood specialties, but also because the coastal road we ride offers unique glimpses of the sea. The first part of the ride is mostly undulating as mountains stretch towards the coast, with many ups and downs and splendid views (take your time, this is as Instagrammable as it gets). Near the city, the route becomes flatter and connects to the bike path that runs parallel to the long beach and a lagoon. One of the traditions of Cagliari (and an experience not to be missed) is lunch at a restaurant right on the beach and with elegant pink flamingos just a short distance away, in a pond across a short sleeve of land. After lunch, we arrive in the historic center via a bike path that crosses the salt pans (a natural preserve), reaches the harbor and then the hotel.
A special farewell dinner menu awaits. Have you ever tasted pasta with sea urchins? It is jut one more dish that expresses the best that Sardinia has to offer. All dinners are paired with wines that only the Sardinian sun can deliver.
Sardinia is one of the very few places in the world that boasts "Blue Zone" designation. This refers to areas across the globe where people live longer and have healthier, more natural lifestyles. We’ll ride straight through the Blue Zone and appreciate the authentic food and the excellent wine, just a few reasons Sardinia holds a world record in longevity, together with an active life in the open air and a social life still linked to the community. Sardinians still hunt, fish and harvest the food they eat. They remain close with friends and family throughout their lives, retaining a rich social life that wouldn’t be complete without plenty of laughter and a glass or two of wine.
A Blue Zone is a truly rare place, almost enchanted. Incredible as it may seem to you, the inhabitants of a Blue Zone seem to have discovered the elixir of life. Sardinia is a land of happy and healthy centenarians, and in the mountain villages of Sardinia the percentage of the population living to at least 100 is the highest in the world. Maybe they themselves do not realize it, but they have shown us, in practice, the secret to a long and healthy life. What matters most is that these splendid seniors enjoy excellent health above all, and they are happy. They smile at life!
Humanity has been looking for the elixir of long life everywhere for centuries, and it has remained only a myth, an unattainable mirage. Yet this secret of happiness was hidden in small remote villages in the mountains of Sardinia. Today there are five Blue Zones recognized around the world, and in 2004 the Sardinian province of Nuoro was the first to be discovered and studied.
As soon as the discovery was announced, prestigious publications, such as National Geographic and the New York Times, as well as great academics and best-selling writers, took an interest in this phenomenon. How is it possible? Initially it was thought that the secret to such a high concentration of centenarians was genetics and they began to study the DNA of this population.
But they soon realized that the secret (as usual) was not hidden at all; it was under their eyes and you didn't need a microscope to see it. Everything was much simpler: the elixir of life is made up of an active life (not sedentary), good food (simple and local, and mostly vegetables and legumes), a good glass of wine (rich in antioxidants and obtained from the grapes from local vineyards), delicious cheese (from local goats), and fresh air.
A Blue Zone is a place where people have been able to preserve their ancient ways of living, including recognizing the importance of the elderly in society. They are not marginalized from family or village life and they are still active and independent. They still cultivate the vineyards and their vegetable gardens. Their company is a pleasure: they are givers of good humor and laughter. The will to live is another secret of the Blue Zone.
If you want to get to know these enchanted places, far from the pollution and the frenzy of modern civilization, it will be our pleasure to accompany you; we always return the Sardinia with joy. We will lead you to discover beautiful mountains and spectacular coasts, through primary forests and wild canyons. Above all we will get to know a healthy lifestyle, and a rare humanity.