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Alghero, Sardinia

From: Wind Surf Cruise Review

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ABOVE: A pedestrian promenade runs along the walls and fortifications that protect Alghero's Old Town.

photoAlghero is a large and lively fishing port on the northwestern coast of Sardinia, which is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily. The city dates back to the 12th Century, when it was founded by a Genoan family.

The house of Aragon captured the city in 1354 and made it a colony; Catalan (the language spoken in Barcelona and northeastern Spain) became the official language. Even today, many of the locals speak a dialect of Catalan and street signs are inscribed in two langages--Itallian and Catalan--sometimes with entirely different meanings. (This can be confusing to the many tourists who visit Alghero from spring through fall.)

Wind Surf anchored just beyond Alghero's breakwater at 7:30 a.m. and remained until 11 at night. I signed up for the "Discover Alghero" tour, which offered a chance to visit scenic highlights in the countryside followed by a walking tour of the Old Town.

photoThe 4-1/2-hour tour began with a bus ride to the Nuraghe Palmavera, one of several thousand prehistoric ruins on the island of Sardinia. (The Nuraghe Palmavera consists of two towers that date back to 1100 B.C. Our guide gave us a rundown on the site, explaining that the ancient Sardinians were contemporaries of the Etruscans who exported bronze items to locations throughout the Mediterranean.) After we'd explored the towers, we drove to Capo Caccia for views of the dramatic coastal scenery and returned to Alghero for a walking tour of the Old Town.

photoLater, I wandered around the Old Town and the bastioni, or city walls, on my own. The walls are remarkably well-preserved in most places, and in the late afternoon the broad promenade atop the bastioni was busy with young couples, children at play, clusters of old men, and the occasional tourist.

The Old Town's buildings extend right up to and above the walls, so that you can sit at a cafe table, order a pizza, buy a gelato, etc. without having to leave the promenade. You can even climb down to the rocks below the walls for an afternoon of fishing.

The Old Town itself was compact and attractive, with narrow medieval streets and several churches of interest. Here and there, the irregular grid was broken up by little piazzas where the locals were hanging out.

photoDogs were everywhere: big Alsatians, little Dachshunds, and everything in between. All had collars and looked well-fed; most were accompanied by their masters, while a few belonged to the friendly owners of nearby shops.

The Old Town is filled with shops, mostly selling the local coral jewelry or dishing up scoops of gelato. Pecorino cheese, a liqueur called Mirto, and wines are other popular items with tourists; Wind Surf's excursion manager recommended a food and wine shop in the Piazza Civica called "Il Ghiotto."

photoBack at the waterfront, I strolled past the extensive yacht marina, which was mostly filled with large sailboats. If I'd been in the mood for a boat trip, I could have taken an excursion boat to the Grotte di Nettuno, or Neptune's Caves, from the waterfront next to the Old Town walls. The trip lasts 1-1/2 to 2 hours, and the modest fare is for the boat only--you'll pay another 10 euros or so to enter the grotto.

I didn't visit the beach, but Alghero does have a long stretch of well-maintained sand beaches north of the Old Town and the marina. Hotels line the beaches in many places, and--according to the Wind Surf's shorex manager--some have been converted from villas once owned by Central Europeans who came to Sardinia after World War I.

Next page: Trapani, Sicily





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