My good friend Nina and I try to plan a cycling trip every year. It's a good time for us to catch up as she lives in London and I don't. A good reason in and of itself of course. A better reason is that we both love our food, but to eat as we wish to we also need to burn some serious calories. Last year we did Provence because we both have a love of anything edible and Provençal, and we figured it was interesting landscape to cycle through. The only catch was that we managed to eat so much that we still put on weight, even with riding a bicycle for the better part of the day.
Clearly we had to ratchet up the physical activity a notch. This time Nina booked us into a proper road cycling week in Sardinia - an island not know for its light food or its flatness. Now, I have to admit that I left the planning up to Nina. She knows more about bikes then I do and she had very successfully found us our holiday in France last time. The bikes were clunky old things - nicknamed Marcel and Hypolite - and our average distance was 45 kms a day. Very, very manageable and once or twice a bit tiring. I thought that's what I was headed towards when I joined Nina in London for our 7 am EasyJet flight to Cagliari.
Our arrival in Cagliari was the moment in the story when I started to get a bit worried. In the back of the small van that came to pick us up were two very sexy road bikes, not two old clunkers. Now I've never ridden a road bike, they look painful, flimsy, and completely unsuited to crossing an entire island on Italian roads. Nina regularly rides road bikes and had been training for this trip for months. The most I've done is gone on a short hike with my mother about 2 months earlier, so yeah, I was not prepared.
Our five day trip took us from the mountains of the east coast, over the mountains in the middle to the mountains of the west coast. Somehow we made it up and over two mountain passes over a 1000 m in 5 days. I'm pretty proud of all these mountains, but then again I'm also still recuperating.
The southern part of the island is surprisingly unspoiled, though you do see the ravages of the economic crisis. We stayed in lovely little agri-tourismos each night which are essentially the Italian B&Bs. After cycling between 90 or 60 km, up and down mountains, I would devour the four courses of food we where served each evening. This kind of tourism isn't for picky eaters; you don't get a menu you are simply served what the (usually) lady of the house has prepared. Usually prosciutto, saucisson, cheese then pasta and only then the meat course. One hostess nearly panicked when we devoured the vegetables she served as starters and ignored the cured ham. We just hadn't seen vegetables since arriving. She came out of the kitchen with a worried look on her face but we put her fears to rest and ate most of the enormous lamb dish she served as mains (after the starters and pasta). My favorite town was probably the town of Laconi, located near the center of the island and home to a Saint (St. Ignacio di Laconi).
We got very excited every time we caught a glimpse of the 'Sardinian Nona' - dressed all in black, head covered, usually heading into or out of a church and probably in her 90s. Sardinians take their Catholicism and their aging seriously. We stayed in the village of Villanovastrasailli, famous (or so its Welcome sign said) for being the village with longest male life expectancy in the world. Not a lot of dating prospects, though they may not have thought so as we were treated to a drink by the local men in the only bar open in town.
We finished our personal Giro Di Sardegna in a beach side town called Cala Gonone. It was quaint and though touristy not as spoiled as many other Mediterranean spots I've been too. After saying goodbye to Silvio and Gandolfini (we like to name our rides), our last meal, sitting by the side of the ocean, was divine (spaghetti with bottarga and clams, tomatoes with fresh fiure cheese, and a couple Aperol Spritz).
Here is the company we used (www.skedaddle.co.uk), I recommend them highly.