Olbia – out and about
Olbia is the main town in the north-east of Sardinia and is the airport for the Costa Smerelda, the super-rich enclave developed by the Aga Khan and a group of international investors. It’s the capital of Gallura which was one of the four independent kingdoms of Sardinia in the Middle Ages.
I’ve broken my posts into three topics, this one about some of the hotels, delis and sights and others on the beaches, and the restaurants. Here’s my Google map with all the places mentioned in this post.
I was here twice in eighteen months. The first time was in the off season in mid-December 2013 for just four nights. A few months earlier this Northern tip of the island had suffered a tornado which caused a lot of damage but most of the repairs had been done by the time I arrived.
In 2013 I stayed at the Hotel Stella 2000 www.hotelstella2000.eu at 70 Viale Aldo Moro, in the more modern part of the town. The hotel is small and basic with a limited breakfast but strong, free wi-fi and friendly non-English-speaking staff. It’s a 20 minute walk to the old town on the other side of the railway tracks but there are lots of shops and eateries nearby. Apparently their own restaurant is highly renowned but I didn’t get round to trying it.
The second time I came in June 2015 I stayed at the Hotel Panorama www.hotelpanoramaolbia.it at 7 Via Giuseppe Mazzini in the heart of the old town. It was a huge improvement (better location, rooms, breakfast and communication with staff) and lived up to its name with a 360 degree vista from its windy sun deck on the roof (video here). La Tavolara looms large on the horizon.
You also get a good view of the lovely multi-coloured tiled roof of Chiesa di San Paolo Apostolo on Via Cagliari.
I think the oldest building in town is Basilica Sam Simplico on Via Fausto Noce, named after the patron saint of the town, which dates from the 11th century.
There is apparently a Nuraghe in the industrial part of town north of the harbour but I got lost as soon as I tried to walk there.
One day I stumbled across Stella Sapori Sardegna (133 Corso Umberto), a deli specializing in Sardinian specialties. ‘Peter’ the owner is a talented salesman and will declaim at length in a hybrid of English and local dialect about the quality of his goods.
He also has a head for numbers and will tell you exactly how many DOP’s and cheeses you can find on the island (full national list here), as well as the exact weights and heights of his son and Chinese wife (who he met during a professional fishing competition in Shanghai) at various points in their lives whilst showing you his scrapbooks and family photo albums.
The samples of local flatbreads, Salami al Mirto, Peretta, Casilbolu and Tavedda sheep cheeses, honeys and drinks (‘nougat’, mirto and limoncello) were so numerous I didn’t feel the need for lunch afterwards!
After such hospitality, it would have felt churlish not to have bought something (he knows what he’s doing!) so I went for some prickly pear jam, hazelnut honey and a bottle of the famous myrtle-berry (myrto) liqueur, the latter costing €21.
I coveted his Limoncello di Pompia (made from very special lemons) but at €44 a bottle I couldn’t quite bring myself to fork out for it. I later picked up a bottle at the airport for much less and was glad I did as it’s amazing (A).
I was also fascinated by some of the local pastas; Lorighittas (twisted loops) and Su Filendeu (fibrous sheets) which are made by only a couple of remaining producers and retail at a hefty €25 for 500g. Everything is handmade however so the steep prices are probably justified.
Peter threw in a free pack of Pane Guttiau (a version of Pane Carasau, the famous shepherd’s flatbread, but with the additions of olive oil and salt) as a sweetener before I said goodbye.
On another occasion I found another small deli/wine-seller called Sensazioni di Sapori Sardi near the market (at 71 Via Regina Elena I think) and bought some Abbamele a kind of concentrated honey found only in Sardinia. A very special product indeed.
The market is near here on Via Dattori, but I was unable to get there when it was open.
Piazza Matteotti is the centre of the town but there isn’t anything to see there except a rather ugly modernist statue and fountain. A stroll or jog along the waterfront is a slightly more pleasant option.
It was pretty quiet when I first went in December but I’m sure it livens up a lot in the summer. Indeed when I went the second time in June I happily coincided with a beer and sausage festival along Corso Umberto, the main street through town.
It seemed very popular with the locals, unlike these two policemen who foolishly decided to drive along the street while the festival was in full flow. The authorities aren’t well-liked at the best of times and I was glad I wasn’t in their shoes.
In conclusion then there isn’t much to excite you about Olbia itself but it is an important jump off point for tourists to more interesting places nearby. And of course the food is good (see next post).