Water sports and Bronze Age forts – why Sardinia is perfect for a family holiday - No Paywall | Karta.com

Water sports and Bronze Age forts – why Sardinia is perfect for a family holiday

News Jun 10, 2024

"Man overboard!" they cried gleefully as I wobbled precariously, windmilling my arms in a desperate struggle with gravity, and then sprawled backward into the sea. "Man overboard!" they shouted again as I spluttered at the surface, just in case I’d been too preoccupied to hear them the first time around. I hauled myself back onto the board, my eyes stinging with salt and trunks hanging halfway down my backside. It wasn’t very dignified. But, of course, it would be a highlight of their trip.

My family and I were in northeast Sardinia, an Italian island with a rugged wildness perfect for outdoor breaks. We were based at the bay of Porto Pollo, a renowned water sports center where windsurfers speed and kiteboarders leap high, cavorting in winds that accelerate through the channel between Sardinia and Corsica. Porto Pollo caters to novices and experts alike, and the four of us—very much in the novice category—were spending the morning with our instructor, Jonny.

Monika and our six-year-old twins, Matty and Kitty, had been swaddled in life jackets and settled in a kayak as broad as a whale’s back. I was perched on a paddleboard the width of a strip of dental floss.

Learning From Sardinia, Italy, Where Locals Live La Dolce Vita Longer Than  Anyone Else
Source: Vogue

Or so it felt to me. Jonny had assured me that this was a super-steady beginner’s board, and as such, was really very difficult to fall off. I’d taken an instant dislike to Jonny. He had bright eyes and designer stubble, and highlighted ringlets of hair that cascaded over his shoulders. Here, I had declared to my wife while her gaze lingered on him across the sand, was a stereotypical surfer dude who thought more about shampoo than anything of substance.

"Do you see that rock in the distance?" Jonny had asked in his deep voice, nodding toward a boulder jutting from a headland across the bay. "We’ll go there." And so we launched from the beach, Jonny leading the way on his paddleboard with lazy pulls of the oar, the rest of us paddling frantically behind like a gaggle of awkward ducklings.

24 best things to do in Sardinia on your next island escape

At first, the water was flat, and I was pleasantly surprised by my progress. I kept my oar strokes close to the board, just as Jonny had shown me, and remembered to change my hand positions as I switched from one side to the other. But as we moved farther from shore, the sea became choppier and my progress wobblier.

And then the "man overboards" began. One man overboard. Two man overboards. Three and four. A motorboat passed a hundred meters away and I waited glumly for the wash to reach me and the inevitable man overboard number five.

In front, Jonny continued unruffled, dropping occasionally to his knees to navigate some bumpier swell, before returning nimbly to his feet, upright and still like a ship’s figurehead. His tanned, muscled back seemed carved from polished wood. I straightened my own back, trying to forget it probably looked more like margarine than mahogany, but the effort put me off balance and I fell in again.

Kauli Seadi fell in love with Sardinia - An interview
Source: Continent Seven

Alongside, Monika kept the kayak on course with little fuss, the twins rowing merrily with sticks they’d found on the beach. As the boulder grew closer, the breeze brought the scent of pine trees and the rattling quack of cicadas, and with a final, arm-aching effort to escape the current’s conveyor belt, we rounded the headland and entered a hidden cove.

Everything was calm here. We dragged boards and kayak up onto a thin crescent of sand, and the children immediately busied themselves searching for treasure among the rock pools at the edges. The clear water in the cove was veined with dancing lines of sunlight, and from it rose several smooth sandstone boulders, bone-colored and bored with hollows like eye sockets.

Cliffs climbed all around us, wagons circled against the open sea beyond. You could almost forget there was such a thing as open sea. No wind, no breaking waves, no people in speedboats. Suddenly, somehow, I knew that I’d misread Jonny. This place was the real Jonny.

"A bat!" exclaimed Kitty as a big butterfly flitted past, and Jonny laughed. "I love kids," he said. "Lockdown was terrible for them—like trees growing indoors." And as we rested and the sun warmed our backs, I actually talked to Jonny, and he told me about life on his family’s small farm in southern Italy, prising away the layers of judgment I’d wrapped around him. "I spend some months teaching water sports, but most of the year, I work on the farm. We have 4,000 olive trees, and our friends help make the olive oil. It’s a nice, quiet life."

Sardinia – Maddalena Archipelago
Source: Voyage Kayak

It was time to go; Jonny had a kiteboarding lesson to teach. He took some minutes to tidy the cove, bagging up a few weather-beaten fragments of plastic that had washed onto the beach, and then we began the paddle back. I was steadier on my legs now and had learned to anticipate the patches of turbulence. I’d come a long way.

We returned to the sea often in the following days. The children had a windsurfing lesson on pint-sized boards with the ever-patient Anya, who took them for a joyful spin on her own expert’s board, zipping across the seafront as they clung to her legs.

We organized a snorkeling trip from the port of Santa Teresa Gallura, slapping across the waves in a zodiac before dropping anchor near Punta Contessa, which Chiara, our guide, described as a "mountain under the sea." I followed her into its dark caves and crevices, searching for moray eels, while the kids doggy-paddled around the boat, watching damsel-fish dart among the wafting stems of a white sea plant called mermaid’s wine glass.

The call of the land is also strong in Sardinia, and scored deep with tradition and history. The hilltop village of Aggius has for centuries been a hub for weavers, and among its cobbled alleys we found Gabriella Lutzu in her workshop, pushing and pulling colorful threads of wool through a wooden loom. She was weaving a rug by hand, building it up line by line. "It takes Gabriella a whole day just to make that little strip," I told Kitty. She pondered the enormity of this for a moment. "So Gabriella doesn’t have lunch or dinner?"

Most impressive of all are the many archaeological sites scattered among sun-baked vineyards, Bronze Age forts with towers to climb and secret corridors to discover, and ceremonial stones with patterns carved by long-ago hands that can still be traced by modern-day fingers. "Just think how old this is," I reflected, as we looked through the arched entrance of an ancient burial chamber in Arzachena called the Giants’ Tomb. "Is it older than you, Daddy?" wondered Matty. "Yes, it’s older than me! It’s been here for 3,000 years!" "Older than Grandma?" he asked. "No, of course not older than Grandma," I assured him, for everyone knows that Grandma is as old as the sea itself.

1,680 Bronze Age Sardinia Royalty-Free Images, Stock Photos & Pictures


Oliver Hughes

Oliver has over 15 years of experience in travel journalism. He focuses on European travel, providing expert reviews of vacation rentals and cultural experiences across Europe.