Sardinia – and how to have a happy family holiday
We all have different interests. We all like our holidays to beat to a different rhythm. Yet the past week on the sunny and beautiful Italian island of Sardinia proved to be the most perfect of family holidays. I guess we could have chosen to holiday in a resort, somewhere that caters for all types, from lounge-by-the-pool addicts to learn-to-surf fanatics. But we did not. We prefer not to be surrounded by lots of people.
Instead we went for a far-from-touristy town, Lotzorai, in the Province of Ogliastra, on the east coast of Sardinia and booked simple accommodation that was run by people who knew a thing or two about where to book outdoor activities.
I confess I was nervous about the trip. I have a daughter who is keen to be inactive, unless you offer her a horse to sit on. Her idea of the perfect summer holiday is a swimming pool, 12 hours of sun and a pal to entertain her. I also have a partner who likes to climb outdoor rock faces whenever and wherever he can. He isn’t a dad and hasn’t attended a family holiday since he was 15 and on vacation with his parents. My own holiday aspirations include being busy and active for much of the day – and a hatred of sitting around on beaches and by pools.
So I knew it was going to be difficult to keep us all happy on one holiday.
Amazingly we all enjoyed the trip far more than we imagined and I believe we may have discovered a vacation that pleased our “family” most of the time.
Where and what on our family holiday
We booked in at the Lemon House in Lotzorai, which is run by British couple Peter and Anne. They do not do press trips or discounts (I asked, of course!) but they do offer straightforward and comfortable B&B in their clean and tidy three-storey home. Brilliantly the G-Force and I had our own en-suite room, while Little Miss had her own room, too. If you have a teenage child you will know how wonderful it is not to have to share on holiday!
The Lemon House does not have a pool or a garden but does have a roof terrace and is a 15 to 20 minute walk from a lovely beach
Ask about activities, such as sea kayaking, road cycling, mountain biking, walking, horse riding and climbing, and you will be given what I can only imagine is the best and most authoritative information from Peter, himself a cyclist and climber. He knows all the best spots in this area of Sardinia and has contacts with the right people. He speaks fluent Italian and will book your sessions for you. Just ask and he sorts it. All you need to do is turn up on time and pay the people who offer the sea kayaking etc.
Anne makes the best carrot cake I have ever tasted (for afternoon tea/early evening nibbles). She is also a great knowledge on the best beaches, the best walks to beaches and where to go for a short cycle on smooth roads. The couple have shelves of information books and laminated maps so guests should never be at a loose end, unless they want to be.
Peter lays out the breakfasts (fruit, yoghurt, cereal, home-baked bread and fab coffee) and gives you his chat. Sometimes I do not need all that chat at breakfast time but it means the breakfast table, where all guests gather to eat, is never silent! Visit and you’ll see how it is…
Family activities for all
Sea kayaking was our family favourite. We spent two three-hour sessions with Kayak Cardedu. We journeyed along two different sections of coast and we loved it. Little Miss had not kayaked before so she paddled in a double kayak with the guide Francisco. The G-Force and I oohed and ahhed at the clear sea, the stunning landscapes and the chance to enjoy easy-going exploration on a stunningly beautiful coastline. Sardinia’s sea and coast is among the best I have ever seen.
Horse riding was number one for Little Miss. She enjoyed an early morning hack , organised through Peter at a nearby stables, along a beach with only her and the stable guide. The G-Force and I would only have held her back on a horse so we left her to enjoy this outing herself while we made the most of the cool 7am start for an easy jog.
Sardinia boasts a wealth of locations for sport climbing. This is climbing that is a cross between indoor bolted and outdoor rock climbing. The G-Force loved the challenge and the scenery during two afternoons of rewarding climbing with The Lemon House owner Peter. This is not guided nor paid for. If you can climb and Peter is keen to do so/free for a few hours then you might end up enjoying a few hours of good climbing with him. If you come as a pair of climbers and have the climbing gear, all the better. There are plentiful places for climbing and also great spots for soloing, especially if you like to fall off into the sea.
The roads are some of the smoothest I have seen in years and offered the perfect environment for me to do a bit of cycle training. I took the Planet X Pink Panther and kept up some of the training programme for my forthcoming World Age Group Triathlon Champs. In early mornings or early evenings, when the temperature was just about bearable, I headed out for a fast one-hour bike ride on super smooth tarmac and then ran for 20 to 25 minutes. I would like to move to this area of Sardinia simply to enjoy the tarmac!
The beaches are amazing, from stony and rocky to grain sandy and white sandy. The sun was hot and the sea was clear and bath water temperature. For the first time in my life I came to understand the joys of lazing on a beach, sunbathing and taking frequent dips into the gorgeous Med. I practised my open water swimming, swam with fish, read my book, chatted, ate ice cream and enjoyed the company of Little Miss and the G-Force. Sardinia does truly beautiful beaches and we were all thrilled to discover them. In this part of untouristy Sardinia there is no fight for your piece of the beach.
The Sardinians are very, very friendly. They speak only a little English and we spoke almost no Italian. Yet we communicated with friendliness and good humour. We enjoyed pizza, pasta and seafood meals. We bought delicious bread, cheese, meats, fruit and veg at small and relaxed supermarkets. We even managed to buy the right stamps to send out postcards back to family in Scotland. Pointing, gesticulating and reference to a phrase book and Google translations gave us reasonably consistent results.
The Sardinians are also strikingly thinner o average than us Brits. We enjoyed people- watching wherever we went, on the beach, in restaurants and just wandering around in the town. We spotted a far greater number of slim people than back home. They don’t seem to drink as much as we do, nor do they feast on fast food and takeaways. They smile a lot and enjoy long-lasting and chatty family meals. Sardinia boasts a lovely atmosphere for families.
Sardinia also does great mountains and amazing caves. Climbing mountains in high temperatures and with a normally inactive teenager was not for us, but the G-Force and I did eye up Selvaggio Blu, which is billed as Italy’s most difficult trek. The seven-day expedition from Santa Maria Navarrese, 3km from The Lemon House, to Cala Gonone could be one for our bucket list but we will attempt it in a cooler season.
Going underground for 1km and exploring Europe’s largest cave, La Grotta di Su Marmuri, in the Commune of Ulassi, was fascinating. The tour guide revealed amazing facts, pointing out Europe’s tallest stalactite and a vast column, where a huge stalactite and stalagmite have merged. Apparently the mites grow by only one cubic centimetre per 100 years, which is utterly remarkable. The cave has an average height of 35m, which is impressive. It was also the coldest place we found on Sardinia and saw us marching back on our return walk through the caves just to regain heat in our hands and feet.
We also made new friends. The Lemon House can be as sociable, or not, as you wish. The dining room and roof terrace are available for meeting others who are staying in the B&B. We also enjoyed our two sea kayaking trips with another couple, Helen and Chris, and instead of hiring a road bike, Helen took my Pink Panther out for a couple of rides. As a family we like meeting new people so it worked really well for us.
If you are looking for a family holiday that includes lots of activities and plenty of beach time and to suit a range of desires I’d recommend Sardinia.