Sardinia: Nuoro and the East
24.06.2009
It takes us just 10 minutes to pack up our belongings. Igor is greasing the bike chains that have been "singing strange songs" for quite a while. Delicious breakfast has given us enough power to spin the pedals. We are heading for Gesturi. Unfortunately, Igor makes my spirits sink by warning that "it's going to be a day of uphill cycling". Well – we'll see.
To begin with – I wish Polish roads had such an excellent surface like the one we are enjoying here between villages in the mountains. Plus you get silence and peace for free. We reach Laconi without great effort. During the times of the Spanish rule the town was a seat of aristocracy. Its castle surrounded by an oak park, with a cold water spring and a colourful garden, as well as the sanctuary of St Ignatius of Laconi make the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Speaking of tourists – we are applauded by a group of pensioners who "occupy" a bar where we wanted to drink coffee and relax for a while. In this situation calm relaxation is out of the question, but at least we get a special treatment at the bar. The Italians explain to us what types of coffee are served in Sardinia. Of course they also ask where from and where to we are travelling. Using sign language, they tell us not to hurry, because they want to look at our bikes, take some photos, etc. All in all, the meeting is loud but very nice.
In Laconi we begin the climb to the Ortuabis pass (840 m). Going further – just like Igor promised in the morning – we struggle with another climb to another pass – Sa Casa (1040 m). This day is extremely tiring for me, because I am the type of person that likes to know the goal, the end, or at least successive stages of a trip. However, up until Laconi I see no villages or other landmarks. Nothing but pedalling. A 5 km downhill stretch to Aritzo does not soothe my pain. But a night spent at a hotel (instead of a tent) does.
We are the only guests at Modern (www.hotelmodernoaritzo.it; EUR 55 for a room with breakfast). Even before we take our luggage to our room, we decide to wipe all the pain of the day at the hotel bar.
After a reinvigorating shower we obviously go out to experience Aritzo. Old granite buildings (some of them ruined), narrow streets decorated with geraniums... great atmosphere! We don't feel at all that the place is a popular tourist resort. It seems more like a sleepy heritage park somewhere in the mountains. In some corners time seems to have stopped several decades ago!

25.06.2009
In the morning we cover a 9 km downhill section and the same distance uphill, eventually reaching Tonara. We take a lot of pictures and movie clips, because the road is fantastic: hardly any traffic on a route with numerous railway bridges.
Passing Tiana and Ovoda, we constantly cycle uphill to reach the highest situated village in Sardinia – Fonni (1000 m). Its new buildings stand side by side with old stone houses. We greet elderly gentleman sitting on a bench, and head towards the Basilica. We fasten the bikes and leave the luggage next to the "bench-sitting folks", being 100% sure that they will secure our stuff better than any alarm system.
The 17th-century Basilica della Madonna dei Martiri is one of Sardinia's most important and most finely decorated sacral buildings. At the entrance we spot the first "murales". They are wall paintings that clearly depict various problems troubling the islanders. The murales of Fonni show traditional life of the Sardinians. You can see how a given street looked several decades ago, or how olive oil was produced. You can also participate in a procession, although we were not lucky enough to be there on any festive day. What we like about Sardinia is that tradition (festivals, parades, handicraft) is very much alive and thriving there, involving many young people. Luckily, nobody has yet covered the old murals with modern graffiti.
Igor takes a look at the map, and finds a shortcut to Orgosolo. As usual, serpentine roads lead mostly uphill, but the views are rewarding! The town welcomes us with murals, too. We read that even in the first half of the 20th century Orgosolo was a hideout for criminals. Moreover, it was once infamous for frequent sheep thefts and kidnappings. The murals most probably started to appear on the town walls in 1975, serving primarily as a political weapon. Today they total around 150, ornamenting walls in even the most distant nooks. It is difficult to find a building that carries no slogans, appeals or manifestos. Unlike the murals in Fonni, those in Orgosolo mainly focus on protesting against the greed of authorities, against injustice, unemployment, migration, wars, and many other plagues of our world.
The town bids us farewell with a scenic downhill stretch. We head for Dorgali, cycling past the majestic Sopramonte mountains. My right knee is giving me more and more trouble. The steep uphill climb in Oliena only aggravates the problem. Now every push of the pedals gives me pain. We take a rest near the beautiful Lake Cedrino. Giant, magnificent pine trees reach as far as the lake shore. In the late afternoon sunlight the place acquires amazing colours. We cycle past the dam on the lake, but I soon feel totally exhausted. We are still 10 km away from Cala Gonone, but each next meter gives me unbearable pain – I have to call it a day. At 9 pm we find a hotel (www.ilquerceto.com). Igor books a room with breakfast. He takes care of the bikes, the luggage, and the food, and tells me to go take a shower. This is exactly why I love him so much.

26.06.2009
In the morning neither of us has enough energy to get up. Were it not for the alarm clock, we would probably stay in bed until noon. The view from the hotel window lifts my mood – I see a magnificent mountainous landscape sprinkled with our own sweat. This gives me a good boost of energy for the day to come.
Dorgali is a typical mountain town, so cycling along its steep streets is not a piece of cake. Still remembering the pain I felt yesterday, I decide to walk the bike up the most challenging streets. Outside of Dorgali we find something unbelievable – a separate tunnel just for cyclists! It is the first time I have ever travelled in such luxury! Having left the tunnel I wait for Igor to take a commemorative photo. And now a reward for the torment of the previous day – a beautiful 10 km downhill ride full of nice curves, leading down to the very sea shore! We race on our recumbent bikes, mindful which knee to bend on which curve, delighting in the views and the speed. The fact that on our way back we will have to go all the way up does not bother me now. Thus we arrive at Cala Gonone campsite. The personnel of the reception desk, bar and the shop is both polite and professional. Camping facilities are great too: there are roofed structures for vehicles, tables and benches between the tents, a grilling area, as well as spacious bathrooms and toilets. Only the price is a bit shocking – EUR 15.5 per person. It is a lot, even with such a standard. Of course we should have predicted the price, bearing in mind that the place is a popular tourist destination. We set up the tent, wash our clothes and go to the harbour to find out what we can see. The shore of the Orosei Gulf mainly comprises beaches, but it would be a mistake to regard it just as a sunbathing spot. Cala Gonone is a superb destination for walking (even for a few days), horseback riding, rock climbing, and diving – especially due to underwater caves and shipwrecks. Obviously, the place also attracts enthusiasts of various water sports and regular beachgoers. We are somewhere in the middle, eager to see as much as possible, but also willing to say hello to the waves. On our way to the harbour we read the guidebook and wonder which beach to choose. The book says that each one is different, unique and worth visiting. It is almost noon; each trip costs around EUR 12 per person, so... Igor solves the problem, deciding to hire a motorboat for EUR 70 plus fuel. It is the best solution – we can use the boat until 6 pm, going wherever we wish. We buy some soft drinks, bread and cookies, and come back to the harbour. Suddenly it dawns on me that we are supposed to sail alone! Without a pilot! Igor listens to a short instruction on how to navigate the boat. Terrified, I keep repeating to myself "we have never done it before! What if something bad happens?! I can't swim!" I am paralysed with fear. But Igor is not – his eyes are so ablaze with excitement that I can barely recognise my own husband!
After leaving the harbour, checking the performance of our boat, and setting certain speed limits, the smile on Igor's face is so broad that it almost pushes his ears to the back of his head. Like in the advertisement: my husband's satisfaction – priceless! For everything else, there's...
Limestone cliffs of the Supramonte plateau tend to form steep walls up to 600 m high, so reaching the shores of the Orosei Gulf from the land is only possible through deep ravines. Thus, experienced travellers can enjoy swimming in secluded bays. Although the area frequented by tourists is constantly expanding, you can still come across white sandy beaches or shores covered in virgin vegetation, which make an excellent habitat for the golden eagle, Griffon vulture and Eleonora's Falcon. In order to protect the unadulterated wild nature of this region, the National Park of the Orosei Gulf and Gennargentu was established.
The sun is shining while Igor is still "testing our boat", revving its motor. Finally we agree on an average speed that satisfies both of us, and we can focus on the surroundings. With only 5 hours at our disposal, we decide to go to Capo Monte Santu first, and visit all the beaches on our way back. I must say I enjoy the cruise very much, especially seeing how absorbed Igor is by steering the boat.
We were told at the rental office that near Cala Gorolitze and Cala Sisine we should stay at least 200 m away from the shore because of bird habitats. If we want to come closer, we must turn the motor off and paddle.
It took us 1.5 hour to reach that place. It features a giant cleft – something of a water ravine – through which you can sail, being surrounded by cliffs climbing hundreds of meters up in the sky. Unbelievable! A few minutes later we land at the almost deserted Cala Goloritze. It is a narrow strip of land between the tall cliffs and the amazingly clear water. The nearby Cala Mariolu seems as if torn off from the rocks. Covered with white hazelnut-sized pebbles, it doesn't attract many tourists. A few rocks scattered on the shore and the turquoise water in the background create an idyllic picture. Before I said anything, Igor has dropped anchor. Hmm... I love it when we communicate without words. We take a swim and leave reluctantly. Cala Biriola is a bit bigger beach, with more tourists. Cala Sisine, in turn, is ideal for those who want a nice suntan: a wide belt of white fine sand, surrounded by lush vegetation, with a few islands within sight. Once glance at the colour of the seawater, and the scarce number of moored boats are enough for Igor to demand a break. Why not? This shore is simply fascinating! It is good that we have a chance to swim and cool off, because what are about to experience is beyond all our expectations. We see the most amazing beach in the world – Cala Luna. No wonder it was called this name, because the bay indeed has lunar charm. Glistening white sand highlights the shades of a few small caves visible from the shore. And the colour of water? Countless shades of blue – from navy blue through turquoise and azure to almost light green. Calling this beach phenomenal and dreamlike is by no means an exaggeration. Right behind it, in the bottom part of a giant rock wall there is the entrance to the famous Blue Marino grotto. There is no way to get there on foot – only by boat from the sea. The name of the cave stems from the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus), which was common in the region 100 years ago, but now is among the most endangered species in the world. The cave was once a shelter of those animals. Today, the main attraction of the Blue Marino is a maze of underground lakes and passages with numerous stalagmites and stalactites. You can admire the interaction between the colours of the water and the dripstones. Unfortunately, we do not have enough time to tour the cave. We sail to another beach, the smallest one called Cala Fuili, whose rocks are scattered around a wild ravine that is open to the sea. This can be a starting point of a 2-hour trip to the top of Cala Luna rocks.
We conclude this "day of rest" around 5 pm, mooring the boat in the harbour, charged with so many emotions and experiences that the uphill section awaiting us tomorrow cannot mar our happiness.

27.06.2009
A 7km climb took 1.5 h. Of course in the morning we realised we had a long road ahead of us, and my knee could give me trouble, so we cycled at a reasonable pace. After the uphill stretch we indulge in a moment of rest, finally looking around. The view of the entire coast and the surrounding mountains is truly picturesque.
From Dorgali we cycle downhill most of the time. Ahead of Orosei, just by the road, we see an impressive marble quarry. I have never seen anything like it before. From afar it looks like a demolished town. The uphill section to Orosei is under repair, and we have to take a detour. In fact we are fed up with all those detours. The well-known Sardinian wind starts to blow again, the sun is high up, the road goes constantly up and down, and of course there sky is cloudless. Soon we start to long for a siesta. Cycling through popular tourist resorts between Marina di Orosei and Cala Liberotto, we find "Villa Campana" hotel and restaurant – a quiet, shaded place with a family atmosphere, run by an elderly lady.
Three jugs of ice tea, a huge plate of pasta, and legs resting on the terrace balustrade allowed us to enjoy an almost 2-hour siesta. We pay for the meal and Ms Caterina bids us farewell. She could have wished us an "easy road" – we needed that badly: all the section running through Posada and Budoni is mountainous. The climb to San Teodoro is particularly challenging. On top of it all, we can't find a campsite. Going round in circles, we quickly come to the conclusion that the only sensible solution is to browse through Sardinia's campsite guidebook, and then rely on the GPS and Igor's sense of orientation. Thus we reach La Cinta campsite (www.campingsanteodoro.it; tent EUR 6.8 plus EUR 5.4 per person). We are shocked to see how many people, tents and caravans can fit in such a space. It is the first time during this trip that we have been told exactly where to set up the tent.