Although islands immediately make people think of sea, blue colour, swimming, for me they are parts of previous cultures torn away from the rapid transience of life. Somehow always, with no exception, I find on islands deep fragments of the former processes of nature, history, culture and lifestyles. Sardinia is such an island, where I saw, experienced, imprinted so many hidden, suppressed and deep things that I didn’t even feel the glow of a turquoise sea that splashes the island’s coast.
The whole of Sardinia has an image of underdeveloped and remote region. Sardinia has always been, until recently, an island of refuge for incurable patients, bandits, mobsters, criminals and others who for various reasons wanted to be hidden from the world. Geologically and geomorphologically this island allows it. With countless caves and coves in the hilly area it is easy to hide. The Sardinians say this is the place where had started the fashion of "kidnapping” land, property and well-known and wealthy people for money. Many of those criminals – „bandits“, as they are called, remained living as residents of Sardinia, and some, as well as many other Sardinians, left the island looking for a wealth or a promised land. This two-way process of people moving has created a very interesting background for today's cultural and natural treasure that can be seen in Sardinia.
This treasure is still partly unknown, from the origin of the old inhabitants and the origin of the language, which they nurture in their homes, because they don’t learn it in schools. The origin of the Giants tombs, from the Stone and the Bronze Age, is also unknown, as well as the walls of the former Santa Cristina Sanctuary from the Nuragic period (from 12th century BC to the 2nd century) with countless mysterious details about the construction of walls, rooms and the famous object of the Holy Spring of Fertility, then the complexes of underground graves from the prehistoric period and so on. Impressive are the nuraghi complexes – archaeological sites with the remains of large stone buildings from the Stone and Bronze Age. Like the famous Stonehenge and similar sites, the purpose of the nuraghi is not fully understood. They were built in a circular arrangement of buildings, with the obligatory water source below the main building and a whole set of mathematically compliant details. On the island, there are a total of about 7.000 of them, where numerous small and large objects were found and that are stored in two very beautiful, modernly decorated and equipped museums in Cagliari and Barumini. The most impressive is the complex of six nuraghi near the village of Barumini, which is under the protection of UNESCO.
All this together, not forgetting even the famous little island of Maddalena on the coast of Esmeralda and even smaller island of Caprera with a beautifully arranged house-museum in which the legendary Giuseppe Garibaldi lived for the last 27 years, and quite unusual karst sculptures of huge stone blocks, make this island, this region, very interesting for all travelers who like originality and to explore.
Nuoro – a fraction of the world's cultural heritage hidden in the hills
The central mountain area of Sardinia – Barbadia with the centre in the small town of Nuoro is rich in historical artefacts, cultural heritage and the harsh mountain-landscape, where originated small stone villages inhabited by warm, strong, short and persistent people who love their country. It was a real experience for me to walk along the streets of the town of Nuoro and the villages of Orgosolo and Mamoiada. In Orgosolo most of the houses are painted with large murals with a dominant political connotation. The village residents started to paint murals in 1969, what in this way showed their resistance to the state initiative to open military barracks above the village to guard it from bandits’ attacks. The villagers were persistent and managed to defend their territory. Since then, painting the walls has been a tradition and Orgosolo is a place where famous or unknown muralist painters come to show with their art the opinion of the world and events happening around. There is a movie about this called „Bandits of Orgosolo“.
Except for the pleasure of discovering messages from the mural, I was exceptionally impressed by peace, seeing only a few tourists and many hosts, sitting in cafés where life is still and people breathe freely, talking with one hundred years old people, who are numerous in these villages. For not so many tourists there are shops and even some souvenirs of mostly domestic products, and in the village of Mamoiade there is a beautiful small local museum dedicated to the Mediterranean masks where you can hear a very interesting and deep story of a local guide who himself makes masks and deals with revealing the essence and purpose of the masks. I cannot leave out the impression of tranquility, gentleness, simplicity of the birth house of Nobel laureate writer Grazia Deledda, embedded in an alley of the town of Nuoro.
Asinara – the island of hidden stories
It would be a pity to go to Sardinia and not visit the National Park and very interesting island located 2 km from the northwest coast. The island was once inhabited by people who were engaged in the cultivation of vines and olives, and left it after a huge fire. The island was also a refuge for sick people of leprosy and smallpox. Stationeries and hospitals that have been built for these needs are ruins today, and some are transformed into offices and research centers. After the closure of the hospitals on the island, there was a prison for predominantly political prisoners in several complexes. The prison was of working character, and the prisoners cultivated the land, kept goats, horses and donkeys. Interesting is the fact that some of the prisoners were so attached to this island, that after serving their prison sentences they remained with their family there. On the island there are beautiful sculptures of sculptors who fell in love with it and lived there for the rest of his life. Asinara is a bare, stony and rough island, with little Mediterranean vegetation and beauty of the coast, bay, sea, and mountain peaks. The island's attraction is a large population of white donkeys, which in Italian are called asinari, so it is possible that the island was named after them. On the island there are also wild horses and mountain goats. I was strongly impressed by the fields bloomed with yellow flowers and hills covered with red-bronze bushes, as well as a view from sharp cliffs to the turquoise blue-green sea bays.
Hospitals and prisons are closed after the designation of the island for a national park and a wildlife reserve and marine life. On the island there are no residents, so it can be visited only in organized groups. In some of the facilities there are premises of centers for exploring the sea and Mediterranean vegetation, as well as the prison museum. In these years, the opening of the first accommodation facilities for visitors is under way by adapting the existing facilities in which the workers who worked on the island lived. An one-day excursion and jeep riding on the island with immersion in the wilderness and the unusual story of the island accompanied by experienced, very pleasant guides is an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to everyone, because on the island you can breathe the wilderness with its deep story.
Every journey is a rich individual experience that, if we want, could highlight some part of our personality, our being, that may have been hidden somewhere, whose release is important for our further growth and development, for our lives. The experience of traveling and staying on the island of Sardinia and three small islands: Asinara, Maddalena and Caprera, was completely unexpected for me. I realized how seemingly mismatched and totally different things, spaces and events can lean toward one another in a series of sad-hard and beautiful-light experiences. These islands had a very difficult and burning history and development that left deep scars on nature, settlements, cultural goods and people. But, over time, these scars are getting thinner and transform into wonderful memories and emotionally very strong spaces that have their own story and have people who are aware of their history and the nature they live with and offer them with pride, warmth and some living wisdom to visitors. The people’s stories, wild nature, spaces and objects that change their form, keeping scars as parts of themselves are an unforgettable experience for me.
One experience – Experience hotel Su Gologone, Oliena, Sardinia
Turning off one of the main roads in Sardinia, we went from the small town of Nuoro in the hilly centre of Sardinia on the road to the small town of Oliena. After only a few kilometres, driving through vineyards and forests, we saw a huge stone with the inscription: Hotel Su Gologone. After a few meters walk on a stone road we stood in front of the big gate tucked in dense greenery and blooming bushes. In the lobby we were greeted by art paintings on the walls, a large playful area with corners with comfortable chairs, a refreshment corner with home-made cookies and juices, and a smile of hosts dressed in beautiful clothes that resembled a tradition. They wished us welcome and as much freedom as possible to find and sink into countless corners of the hotel and the large garden looking around for the most beautiful one.
Before dinner, the group was greeted by owner Giovanna Palimodde. In a brief conversation I asked her what her main motive was, the message that is leading her through this business. She simply said: „I am a Sardinian. I love Sardinia and this area. The only thing I want is to give our guests this feeling of love.” And it could be felt everywhere – during a very rich, imaginative, original and delicious dinner, just like during the breakfast with aromatic smells… We could feel this love the most on painted details – on stones placed everywhere, stairs, walls, art objects, in colours, in imaginatively decorated rooms, each telling its story. Giovanna paints herself the hotel space (because she is a painter) and also attendees of some of the courses that are organized for guests here.
The story of the hotel began in 1960 when Peppeddu Palimodde, grandfather of the current owner, began to serve local cuisine near the spring of the river Su Gologone. “When we got married”, recalls his wife Paskua: “Peppedu wanted to do something to celebrate the country he loved. He thought that opening the restaurant was the perfect way to do it. When we returned from the honeymoon, he convinced me that this was a good idea.” Peppeddu is "responsible" for getting Supramonte out of the historical isolation. In 1967 he opened the first restaurant in Oliene, Su Gologone. No one could have predicted that the local population who cooks the same food every day would come in so many numbers. Something else was obviously the bait. The restaurant has had such a success that the Palimodde family has opened a small hotel to accommodate guests coming from abroad to taste Sardinian cuisine. Slowly, tourists realized that there is another Sardinia that is being discovered beyond the beautiful beaches on the island. The management of the hotel was taken over by a young artist-painter Giovanna, founder’s granddaughter.
The entire business is focused on the use of local resources. Only local residents are working, but they only work for 9 months, because Giovanna respects the fact that they have their families and that they need to care for their children who will continue the life of Sardinia. All materials – stone, sand, fabrics, hygiene, and certainly food are local, whose production is stimulated by the work of the hotel. Design of the hotel, each room and corner is made by Giovanna and that woman's warm, gentle and colourful spirit is felt everywhere.
This very short stay in the hotel that offers a lot of warmth, art, experience wasn’t enough for a total impression, but sufficient for recommendation – if you come to Sardinia and wish to have a truly unpredictable experience, be the guests of this experience hotel Su Gologone. You will not be disappointed.