Sardinia is as famous for hiking, cycling and rock climbing as it is for its breathtaking coastal beauty. The colours of the sparkling waters lapping the coastline of Sardinia have been described as “shades of the jewels”, and its bone white beaches are among the most famous in the world.
But the second largest island in the Mediterranean is famous for another reason. It is also one of the planet’s designated “Blue Zones”, reserved for places where the residents enjoy unusual longevity.
The high number of centenarians could be explained by the physical strength needed to walk the mostly mountainous countryside. But then maybe it’s the abundance of fresh seafood, or the strict observance of the daily Siesta.
The people of Sardinia have also kept close to tradition – visitors from all over the world to come to enjoy a full calendar of religious and cultural festivals.
I only visited one tiny corner of the island, the tourist town of Cala Ganone, a few hours north of the capital Cagliari.
From the port, boats ply the waters daily, taking people to the dramatic caves, cliffs and beaches of the Gulf of Orosei.
In the many caves along the coastline, the water changes from emerald to turquoise, and drops in pools of green and blue where shafts of light break through the limestone ceilings.
There’s as much to see away from the beach, such as the majestic Goropu Gorge, which is billed as the “Grand Canyon of Europe”.
To reach the start of the walk, you take a hair raising ride in a jeep down into a valley, then an hour long walk through a mountain path ablaze with wildflowers.
At the entry to the gorge some charming young men record your name, supposedly in case you don’t come back, and advise that if you notice rocks falling near you to “hide in a cave”.
Community safety announcements out of the way, the gorge is then navigated by clambering over giant limestone boulders strewn across the canyon floor. But the scenery is worth it.
On another day, we hiked through fragrant coastal bushland from Cala Fuili to the movie-star beach of Cala Luna. There is a bar there where you can grab some lunch and a beer before catching a boat back.
There’s no shortage of restaurants in Cala Ganone and the local fried calamari, chargrilled Cuttlefish and sea bass is the kind of food I could live on.
The vermentino di sardegna is very good and astoundingly cheap, as is the local after dinner liqueur, Myrto, which was offered in place of the usual Limoncello.
You can fly to Cagliari from Rome or Naples and there are also airports at Olbia and Alghero.
We stayed at the Hotel Bue Marino, named after the famous Bue Marino Grotto, where you eat breakfast overlooking the lovely town beach. The rooms were sunny and clean and cost around $100 a night in the shoulder season.
After a week of brisk swims in the sparkling waters, healthy walks in the mountains, afternoon Siestas and meals of freshly caught seafood, I feel like I could live till 100 too.