​A Sardinian Getaway

Story by David Bavin

Photos: Graham Longford, Alain Rumpf

Nov / 5 / 2016

When the Giro d'Italia announced that it would be starting the 100th edition of the race in Sardinia I have to say I was a little surprised. Not as well known for cycling as its larger neighbour, it seemed like an odd start for such a prestigious edition of the Giro. However having just spent a weekend getaway there with Grand Tours Project and Dirty Wknd, I can completely understand! Glorious coastal roads, challenging climbs and epic descents are the norm in Sardinia, making it a lesser known cycling paradise. The locals also add to the atmosphere with their warmth, their love of cycling and their incredible food and wine. The organisers of the Giro have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem in Sardinia!

Day 1 - Arrival, Bike Fitting and Evening Ride

The UK participants, members of Dirty Wknd Cycling Club, arrived in Alghero full of hope for a great weekend, but maybe a little apprehensive about what to expect. There isn’t a huge amount of info about cycling in Sardinia online (compared with other EU destinations), so it was a bit of a leap into the unknown. We were met at the airport by Alain from Grand Tours Project and Marcello from Sardinia Grand Tours (our guides), along with the other members of the ride group. A short drive along the most beautiful coast road we'd collectively ever seen helped to put any doubts about the quality of the roads to bed. When our guide Marcello told us that we would be riding along that same coast road on Sunday, our excitement began to build.

The Hotel Asfodeli is a 19th Century villa set into the hills above the town of Bosa and was the perfect base from which to begin. Large, quiet rooms and a delightful outside decking/pool area gave us plenty of post ride relaxing space. Now onto the important things: the hire bikes! Most of the group had opted to hire bikes rather than bring their own, and it was certainly a tense moment when they were unveiled. It’s always a worry hiring a bike, as the sizing, ride comfort and other factors are so important. However, we had been assured of the quality by Grand Tours Project and we weren’t disappointed. A nearly new Canyon Ultimate was a very fine weekend substitute for my own trusty steed! As the sun was just beginning to descend, we set off down the hill into Bosa for a 25km leg loosener ride. The short loop took us down into the town and onto the seafront, before winding into the old town centre where we stopped for a quick coffee. Like pro cyclists on a short rest day ride, we rolled up to a restaurant in the pretty old town square and ordered Aperol Spritz and Bruschetta. It was lovely spot, and a great chance to get to know the group, which turned out to consist of Canadians, Americans, Brits and Swiss. A very international bunch!

After soaking in as much evening sun as we could, and deciding against a second round of Aperols (serious will power was exerted), we hopped back on the bikes and climbed back up the hill as the sky turned orange and lit up the horizon. Winding through cobbled, hillside towns as the sun goes down in something I will never forget. After a quick turn around at the hotel we were on our way to dinner at a local Trattoria for a delicious traditional Sardinian meal. Cheese, followed by fresh fish, ravioli and plenty of delicious local red wine. It was simple, beautifully cooked and just what we needed. After a quick ride briefing for the next day, we ambled back to the hotel and fell into bed.

Above: Sunset in Bosa

Day 2 - 8km climbs, Shepherd's Bread and Saturday Night in Bosa

Our peaceful 19th century villa hotel did make it a little difficult to get out of bed, but the open road was calling, so after a hearty Sardinian breakfast we were once again rolling down the hill towards Bosa in the glorious morning sunshine. Today's ride would total 80km and 1200m of climbing on almost empty roads. The biggest road obstacle we faced turned out to be a flock of sheep being quietly driven up the hill by a relaxed shepherd!

Above: Kathryn enjoying a traffic jam, Sardinian style

The bulk of Saturdays' climbing was one long stretch, totalling 8km in length and taking us up to nearly 900 metres above sea level. The chance to tackle some 'proper climbs' was one of the biggest draws to riding in the Mediterranean, and we certainly weren't disappointed. Switchback on top of switchback for 8km is just not something you can find in the UK and made our decision to come to Sardinia all the more rewarding. We were met at the top of the climb by a glorious view and Marcello's road side feast. We're pretty used to stopping halfway for cake and coffee on a Dirty Wknd ride, but we're certainly not used to a mid ride snack of shepherd's bread, fresh olive oil and Pecorino cheese! It was a delicious spread and perfect for the setting. From the top of the climb, we rolled down the hill to a local town for espresso and a toilet stop, before turning back to the hotel. Before the hotel, however, is the village of Tinnuro; the village of the murals!

Above: David, Kathryn and Alain checking the murals in Tinnuro

The village was completely empty, save for the characters painted onto every wall space. All of Sardinian history and myth was represented, from local farmers and townspeople to a two story portrait of Garibaldi. We could easily have spent hours there exploring the town and discovering the works of art, however tummies were rumbling and the desire for food took over! It was a very short ride back to the hotel for another delicious lunch of homemade pasta and salad and lounging by the pool. After a few hours chilling out in the evening sun, we were driven down to Bosa for a night on the town. Bosa is a beautiful old town, a collection of winding cobbled streets and ancient town squares, all overlooked by the castle on top of the hill. Every turn revealed a picture perfect postcard scene!

We were all very surprised however to be led away from the main square, through a green door and into an apartment block. It was a little strange, but we trusted our guides and it paid off to do so - we were greeted by a fermenting room full of barrels of wine and a cellar restaurant with just two or three tables in it. Brothers Manuele and Luigi make Malvasia di Bosa, the local Sardinian wine, in their basement, and serve it along with delicious food to those lucky enough to find the place. It was difficult to leave the brother’s cellar, and we definitely drank too much of their wine, but it was only a short drive back to the hotel where we collapsed into bed, ready to do it all again the next morning.

Above: Manuele and Luigi love to share their passion for their wine

Day 3 - Church Bells, The Coast Road and La Speranza!

The ancient church opposite the hotel ensured we were up and ready to get on the road, by ringing its bells loudly at 7:30am. After another delicious breakfast we were on the road again. Today we were leaving our lovely hotel behind, loading up the support van and riding to the bigger town of Alghero. This meant we would be riding along the epic coast road we had driven down on Friday. The group were eager to get out on the road, particularly because the sun was already fully shining and it was looking like the beginnings of a glorious day. With Alain leading the way, we rolled down to Bosa for the last time and started on the coast road. I've ridden in a few different countries now, and I have to say that this road was up there with the best of them! Reminding me a lot of the Cote D'Azur, we hugged the coast and wound our way up several climbs (at a fairly gentle gradient) basking in sunshine and admiring the amazing views around every corner. To say we saw a car about once every 10 minutes is not an exaggeration, and certainly a welcome change from London!

Marcello and Simone had told us about a tough climb that was coming up, but everyone was too busy taking photos of the amazing scenery and chatting to pay any attention. How foolish we were! Turning off the coast road, the gradient immediately pitched up to around 10% and disappeared around the first of many, many corners as we began climbing “La Speranza”. The 5km climb at an average of 10% gradient was really tough going, especially in the 30 degree heat, but boy was it an amazing road! Beautiful switchbacks meant that we always had a fantastic view to help us up, and the sense of achievement when getting to the top was more than worth the effort.

We regrouped after the climb with yet another fantastic Sardinian lunch of bread, cheese, salami and olive oil; this time with the added delight of Fregula, a local dish that's halfway between pasta and couscous. After 60km in the saddle and two big climbs, we were all very glad to hear that it was all down hill to Alghero. What we weren't prepared for was just how incredible of a descent it would be! Around 10 switchbacks on a perfectly paved road meant for an awesome ride down the mountain. The final 10km saw the group rolling into the beautiful old town of Alghero, the very same road that the Giro d'Italia will depart on in May next year.

Above: The perfect downhill to Alghero

After negronis on the beach whilst the sun set (Katherine and Graham) and a quick dip in the hotel rooftop pool (Steve), we made our way into the Old Town for our last dinner! After a tour around the Old Town courtesy of Simone, we arrived at our restaurant on the harbour wall for 3 courses of stingray, seafood linguini and rabbit, all washed down with more lovely local wine. As it had done all weekend, conversation flowed easily for a group of relative strangers; another reminder of cycling's ability to bring great people together in great places!

After an evening walk back along the sea front to the hotel, everyone turned in and got a good night's sleep. Well, nearly everyone got a good night's sleep! Steve and I decided that one nightcap was in order and made our way to the seafront bar opposite the hotel to dissect today's ride and discuss just exactly which of the many switchbacks was the hardest. A good few hours, and a couple of negronis later, we stumbled back to the hotel and into bed.

Day 4 - Breakfast ride, Sightseeing and Farewell Sardinia

After a delightful breakfast ride for half the group (the other half opting to enjoy a lie in, two of us with slightly sore heads!) the sad time had come to break up our merry band and go our separate ways. The Swiss contingent had an earlier flight and made their way to the airport, leaving the UK crew to wander into town for coffee and a bit of sightseeing before also heading to the airport and home.

I can't express just how much fun this trip was, not to mention how surprised and delighted I was with just how good Sardinia is as a cycling destination. Great company, great roads and fantastic food make for an unforgettable weekend, all organised superbly by Grand Tours Project and Dirty Wknd. Not only did we not have to organise or worry about any details, the addition of local knowledge from Marcello and Simone meant that we were treated to the genuine Sardinian experience! I would like to say a massive thank you to Alain and Grand Tours Project as well as Marcello and Simone for all their organisation and expertise. I cannot wait to come back to Sardinia for another cycling weekend, and with the added incentive of watching the Giro d’Italia, my next visit might just have to be in May 2017!

David Bavin

Do you want to join us in Sardinia in 2017? There's a tour for everyone! A short early season getaway, a week long training camp or the trip of a lifetime: ride and watch the start of the 100th edition of the Giro

Bye bye Sardinia, you've been great to us! Until next time...

Une photo publiée par Grand Tours Project (@grandtoursproject) le

Above: David and Alain on the coastal road to Alghero