Archive for the Italy Category

Salerno – places to stay

Posted in Campania, Italy, Salerno with tags , , , on March 24, 2016 by gannet39

There are many good places to stay in Salerno as befits such a popular tourist destination. Please don’t consider this a definitive guide, it’s just my personal experience of a few places that I’ve either stayed at or heard about.

As I mentioned earlier, the hotel my employer uses is the Hotel Bruman at 30 Piazza Vittorio Veneto, www.hotelbrumansalerno.it. It’s partly owned by a former area manager of mine who I know quite well. The staff are friendly and helpful, the breakfast is pretty decent and the rooms and wifi are fine, however there’s no lift so you might need a hand with your luggage up a couple of flights.

We used to stay at the Grand Hotel Salerno at 1 Via Lungomare Tafuri, www.grandhotelsalerno.it which is a very modern four star hotel with its own helipad! I loved it because it has a gym (open from 8am) and a 22 metre pool in the basement (ppen 10am-1pm, 4-8pm). There’s also a sun deck on the top floor.

However the views from the rooms are quite variable. The spacious odd-numbered rooms at the front and side have fantastic vistas of the sea and the town, but you might want to pass on the even-numbered rabbit hutches at the back, unless you are a train spotter. I also found the reception staff to be quite snooty and the maids are a law unto themselves.

I’m told that back in the good old days we were billeted at the even more opulent five star Lloyd’s Baia Hotel at 2 Via Enrico de Marinis, www.lloydsbaiahotel.it but it’s a bit of a walk to town due to its cliff-top position, so many of my colleagues complained about it. It’s much better to be centrally located I think.

At the other end of the scale, the Hostel Ave Gratia Plena on Via dei Canali (on the right halfway up as you walk up), www.ostellodisalerno.it looks like a nice place to stay, at least if the lovely water feature in the picture is anything to go by. It’s a former convent that has been converted to a hostel.

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Salerno – places to eat and drink in the new town

Posted in Campania, Italy, New town, Salerno with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2016 by gannet39

This post covers bars and restaurants along the waterfront as well as places off the main pedestrian street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Please see my separate post for restaurants in the old town.

Gran Caffe Canasta
(Intermediate B+) 58 Corso Vittorio Emanuele

This is a good spot on the waterfront to start your evening, You can sit outside and watch the sun set over the sea with a well-made aperitivo. Don’t fill up too much on the copious stuzzichini (nibbles) they give you though or you’ll have no room for your dinner, and that would be a shame.

Ciccio e L’Osteria Trio (Intermediate A-), 18 Piazza Flavio Gioia (go to 10 via Roma, which is parallel to the Lungomare, and turn right), Tel. 089 237242, closed Monday.

In 2009 I had an excellent lunch here with two friends, Nicky and Alison. The restaurant is located in a pretty square where you can sit outside and people watch. I would reserve to avoid waiting and aim to arrive for about 1.30 before it gets too busy. The menu is spoken as presumably it changes every day.

We started with a carpaccio of swordfish and tuna, poached octopus, mashed potato with more octopus and smoked eel on a bed of rocket. This was followed by Calomarata ai Frutta di Mare; thick rubber bands of pasta with fasolari and razor clams, squid and mussels. We had these dishes with a good Fiano di Avellino ‘Pietramara’ Vendemmia 2007 (A).

For the main I had a fillet steak with rocket and shavings of parmesan (B+) but Nicky’s steak with a cream and truffle sauce was even better (A). We had a great Anglianico di Vulture (Cantina di Venosa ’06) with the meat (A) with the meat. The only let down was the rather forgetful waiters who didn’t remember our bread, water or knives and couldn’t provide an ice bucket. They were still very pleasant though, especially the camp narcissistic owner who was cracking jokes throughout. Even with three limoncellos on top, he rounded the bill down to an even €100 for three, an absolute steal.

Trianon da Ciro (Intermediate B+), 22 Piazza Gioia Flavio (next door to Ciccio above), closed Monday

This is the Salerno branch of a very famous Neapolitan pizzeria. The original place in Naples is one of my top three favourites in the whole city (see my pizza post).

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In 2015 I had the Margarita di Bufala (the only choice in my opinion) and two draught beers for €15. They are very busy and the service is poor, but I doubt you’ll get a better pizza in Salerno.

Cantina Del Feudo (Intermediate B+), 45 Via Velia, a side street off Corso Vittorio Emanuele

This Puglian restaurant has a very good rep and comes recommended by my former area manager who is a local and Lonely Planet who give it their ‘top choice’ accolade.

I went with my friend Dee to celebrate the last night of several weeks of work and consequently I was too busy enjoying myself to take proper notes or even to remember some of what we had!

We started with some mixed seafood antipasti which I’m sure was very nice.

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I was craving rice so I had La Tiella, made with rice, potatoes, mussels, courgettes and tomatoes. It’s basically a fancier version of Patate, Riso e Cozze, a Barese classic (see my Bari posts). A tiella is the cast iron frying pan used for cooking the dish. I think it should burn the rice slightly as the crust is delicious, but this one was a bit too refined (B).

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Dee had Fusilli a Ferretto, pasta with courgette flowers, ricotta and guanciale (cured pigs cheeks) which I’m sure was excellent.

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There’s a nice terrace outside but I can imagine it gets full on busy days so a reservation is probably a good idea, The service was very pleasant and we got 10% off by dropping our manager’s name! (I think the bill came to €60 for both of us with a bottle of wine).

I remember the food was very good but not totally amazing, hence B+ overall. I’m sure other dishes would score an A though and I’d be more than happy to come here again.

Portovecchio (High Intermediate B), 39 Via M Manfredi, www.portovecchioristorante.com

This place is the favourite of a teacher I worked with who lives in a nearby town. It’s a sizable modern place at the western end of the waterfront in the district known as Rione Porto. It’s two blocks south west from the Villa Communale, a small park which is quite pleasant.

The area was going through a transformation when I was there in 2015 with a major construction site going up around Piazza della Liberta next door, which didn’t exactly add to the ambience of sitting on the restaurant terrace. The large group of loud Americans next to me didn’t help either.

I played it safe and went with the standards. The mozzarella I had to start was okay but I know it can taste so much better when it’s a bit fresher (B). Ditto the fresh tomato bruschetta (B).
The following Spaghetti Vongole was a bit oily but tasted good (B-).

To drink, a decent Fiano di Avellino from Terredora (B+) which was correctly priced at €20.

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They charged for the limoncello as I recall but they rounded down the €47 bill to €45. The place is fine but it’s a bit out of the way and there are other more interesting options.

And a couple of places to avoid:

Zi Renata (Intermediate C/D), 170 via Roma (near the town hall)

Four of us ended up at this place when one evening when we were in a rush to eat before a piano recital that started at 9. We wanted to go to the tried and tested Ristorante Rada at #172 but it didn’t open till 8 so we made do with the neighbour rather than going further along the strip where there are at least ten other places all in a row. Big mistake.

The ridiculously cheap menu (pasta €4-7, meat €4-7, fish €5-10) and the graffiti on the inside walls should have been a warning but we forged on regardless with the time in mind. After some ‘bruschetta’ (toasted old bread with drizzled oil and oregano), the mixed starters of mussels, octopus and shredded crab stick on a bed of rocket had obviously been frozen but were just about edible (C) and the aubergines, peppers, boiled potatoes and rape that came on another plate were only just better by virtue of being vegetables (C+).

I couldn’t finish my Risotto ai Frutti di Mare (D) as the mussels were truly revolting and the rice undercooked and lacking the lovely creaminess of good arborio. Another friend had Pasta e Fagioli which was reportedly ok but another person’s Gnocchi alla Sorrentina had a horribly bitter aftertaste, once you got past the parmesan.

The best thing was the Fiano Beneventano (B+) but the following Aglianico from the same cantina (Vinicola del Sannio) was poor (C). Although the service was pleasant enough the only really good thing was the soundtrack with Aretha singing Walk On By. If only she’d told us earlier…

Kikko Sushi (Intermediate C-), 8/9 Via Tenente Colonnello Carmine Calò, at the eastern end of the waterfront

Japanese food is my automatic go to when I need a change of flavour after being in Italy for a while. This Japanese restaurant (actually Chinese owned) has a sign outside saying Kaiten Sushi. Kaiten means it’s one of those places which have a circular conveyer belt that you choose small dishes of food from as it speeds by. In Japan these are the cheapest places to eat sushi and when I lived in Tokyo I tended to avoid them as you don’t know how long the food has been sitting on the belt.

I came here hoping it would be better than my expectations but sadly they were confirmed. The Edamame (fresh soya beans) should have been a vibrant green but instead were dark and brownish and had obviously been frozen a while ago so I sent them back (D). The salmon and tuna nigiris I chose from the menu were tasteless to the point of being indistinguishable (C). I decided to go hungry and left after that. Avoid this place if you love real Japanese food.

Salerno – places to eat and drink in the Centro Storico

Posted in Campania, Centro Storico, Italy, Salerno with tags , , on March 22, 2016 by gannet39

Salerno has heaps of restaurants and it can be difficult to chose a good one so I hope my experiences will help you find the good stuff. I’ve divided the dining posts into two geographical zones; the old town or Centro Storico on the one hand and the waterfront and the new town to the east on the other (please see next post). The better places to eat generally seem to be in the old town. I’ve listed the establishments in order of preference. Here’s a Google map with everywhere I mention plotted on.

Caffè Mercanti (Intermediate B+), 114 Via Mercanti

This is a really cool, atmospheric little bistro that serves precooked food to drink with your tipple.

In 2015 my friend Dee and I each had a slice of Parmagiana and Torta di Scarola (escarole pie) for €5 each (B) and shared a good bottle of local Coda di Volpe (B) for €18.

Antica Pizzeria del Vicolo della Neve (Elementary B+), 24 Viccolo della Neve, www.vicolodellaneve.it, closed Wednesday, no reservations on Friday or Saturday.

This old place is a little hard to find however if you go to 148 Via dei Mercanti, the alley opposite is Viccolo della Neve (Alley of Snow). The restaurant is a short way down on the left.

Okay first off, haute cuisine this ain’t but what this place lacks in finesse it makes up for in atmosphere, in spades. Listed in Gambero Rosso as a low cost restaurant, it’s very popular with locals, especially families, because of its rustic value-for-money food.

I’ve been twice; early on a Tuesday night in June when it was about a third full, and at 8pm on a Saturday night in November when I had to wait twenty minutes for a table. There were still twenty people waiting outside when I left at 9.30 so on busy nights you might want to go at 7 when it opens to try to avoid the queues.

When it’s busy the action is frenetic; scruffy waiters in ill-fitting red waistcoats and plasters on their faces negotiate the fifteen cramped tables, doling out big mounds of food from the kitchen and the huge pans sitting in a glass cupboard. You have to shout your order at them as they go past.

My chap was a bit brusque at first but lightened up when I started taking notes! (I even got a smile and a pat on the back). The food arrives in metal bowls on trays (because they’re very hot) and there’s little time between courses. At the weekend this certainly isn’t the place for a relaxed slow meal; they want you in and out as quickly as possible.

In 2009 there are only two pasta dishes on the menu; Lasagna (with mozzarella, ricotta, salami, eggs and small meatballs) or the equally classic Pasta e Fagioli (various sizes of pasta tubes baked in a sauce of beans and tomato), both of which are subject to availability. Think they have a choice of three pasta dishes now.

I tried the Pasta e Fagioli on my 2015 visit. The pasta was overcooked, flabby and slightly singed (the heat it up in the pizza oven) yet somehow lovable (C+).

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Just in case you feel cheated on the carbs, you also get half a French loaf, toasted and drizzled with olive oil (C).

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In contrast to the pasta, there’s no shortage of vegetable side dishes; about sixteen in all I think. I had the Peperoni Ripieni; a whole capsicum of truly gigantic proportions, stuffed with bread, capers and anchovies and slightly blackened again. It was fine (C+) but could have fed a family of four on its own. The picture shows just part of it.

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There are about a dozen meat and fish mains, including some scary items like cotiche (pig skin), and back in 2009 but no longer, busecca (veal spleen). On both occasions I’ve had the Polpette; their very large and very dense meatballs (C+), with roast potatoes. Again, I couldn’t finish it all despite being ravenous.

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The house Aglianico red is usually relatively drinkable (C or C+) and very cheap.

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My four dishes and a half bottle of red in 2015 cost me the grand sum of €31 and the amount of food I got could easily have fed three or four people, so bring reinforcements if you can. As I say, it’s rough and ready but definitely worth going just for the ambience.

One place that I really wanted to try was Osteria Canali (1 fork from Gambero Rosso, three courses for €30, closed Sunday evening and Monday) which is at 34 Via dei Canali, www.osteriacanali.it, but they seemed to be recovering from a private party all the time I was there.

Please see my other posts for restaurants and bars in the new town, and places to stay.

Salerno – out and about

Posted in Campania, Italy, Salerno with tags , , , , on March 21, 2016 by gannet39

I’ve been to Salerno twice, in November 2009 and June 2015, staying just a few nights each time.

The town can be divided into three zones; the medieval area, the 19th century area and the post-war area. All the places I mention in my posts (predominantly in the first two areas) can be found on this Google map. See my next three posts for restaurants and one on hotels.

Most people alight in Salerno at Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the square in front of the train station where buses also terminate. Conveniently, the Hotel Bruman where I stayed is located here.

There’s a beautiful Art Deco war memorial in the middle of the square.

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The main pedestrian street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, leads out of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. It’s about fifteen minutes’ straight walk along it to the medieval area.

I love walking around the maze of streets and alleys.

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They’re especially atmospheric in the evenings.

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In the Middle Ages Salerno was a Lombard principality. The most picturesque street in in the old Lombard area is Via Botteghelle.

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Nearby is another must-see; the Cattedrale di Salerno.

The entrance courtyard has a portico with arches that allude to an Arabic influence.

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The 12th century bell tower is built in an Arabic-Norman style.

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Several Roman sarcophagi are on show under the portico.

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Ancient lions guard both the inner and outer entrances.

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Inside my favourite sights are the two beautifully patterned pulpits. Sadly my photos didn’t come out but here are some from the web to give you an idea.

The ceiling above the altar is pretty stunning too. I’d like to come back and get some better pictures.

Salerno also has a castle on the hill above it; the Castello di Arechi. Built by the Lombards over a Phonecian fort it has Norman and Aragonese modifications. Unfortunately, the castle is not accessible by foot, but the #19 bus goes up there. I’ve never had the time to visit it sadly.

The tourist info at 2 Corso Vittorio Emanuele will be able to help you with suggestions. It’s on the corner on the right as you turn right out of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Apparently there are many good walks in the area.

A boat trip to Positano or Amalfi would make a good day out in the summer. You can also easily visit the Greek temples at Paestum (best by bus) or Pompei (best by train).

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Having a good time in Avellino

Posted in Avellino, Campania, Italy with tags , , , , on March 20, 2016 by gannet39

I’ve been to Avellino twice, in 2005 and 2015, and stayed for just a couple of nights on both occasions. The town doesn’t have the greatest of reps amongst my colleagues as there’s not much to see or do, possibly due to the various earthquakes it has suffered over the millennia (the last was in 1980).

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I always look forward to coming here though as the region, known as Irpinia, is very famous for its viticulture, in part due to the temperature changes made possible by its mountainous location. Two of Campania’s best wines, both personal favourites of mine, are made in Avellino province; the white Fiano di Avellino and the red Aglianico which is produced in the nearby Irpinian town of Taurasi.

The first time I came I stayed in the Hotel De La Ville (B) at 20 Via Giovanni Palatucci, www.hoteldelavilleavellino.it which was comfortable but quite a way from the centre of town, at the far end of the seemingly never-ending Corso de Vittorio Emanuele II; the main promenade through town.

The second time I stayed at the Viva Hotel at 123 Via Circumvallazione www.vivahotel.it which was faded and basic but essentially okay for a short stay (B-), and very near the bus station and centre of town.

I went to two restaurants and a bar during my short second visit. Along with the hotels, they are all on this Google map along with a couple of other places I didn’t get to. I’d like to try Barone next time.

Antica Trattoria Martella (Advanced A), 10 Via Chiesa Conservatorio, www.ristorantemartella.it, closed Sunday evening and Monday

According to my research, this old school place is the best restaurant in town. I came for a blowout Sunday lunch and really enjoyed it.

I began with Ravioli di Magro con Pomodorini; ricotta filled pasta pockets with cherry tomatoes (A).

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Then Costolette D’Agnello ai Ferri, or grilled lamb chops (B+).

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These came with Patate Fritte; chips that look like crisps, unless you’re American, in which case they’re fries that look like chips (B+).

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I was still ravenous so I had the Manzo ai Ferri; grilled beef with some great olive oil, green peppercorns and oregano (A).

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The Taurasi Donnachiara was a little thin on the aftertaste but still very good (A-).

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I indulged myself with a slab of their excellent Millefoglie, made with chocolate and cherries (A), alongside a glass of Passito (B).

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Finally I had a shot of Nocello (nut liqueur; Avellino is also famous for hazelnuts) which was the best I’ve ever had (A+). The waiter described it as ‘multo particular’ and it was very strong! I liked it so much I persuaded them to give me a bottle to take home, which bumped up my final excessive bill to €85. Whoops.

Degusta (High Intermediate B+), 35 Via Ammiraglio Ronca, www.ristorantedegusta.it

I heard about this place through the blog of Luciano Pignataro, a local wine writer and restaurant reviewer. It’s quite modern and brash, and quite popular.

I nearly didn’t stay because I didn’t like the table I was offered, or the first two bustling servers I met. However, a more welcoming waiter, Paolo, and Giovanni the off-duty head chef persuaded me to stay and I was glad I did.

The dishes Pignataro raved about were out of season but they did put together a special menu for me. They are big on specialist ingredients here which meant the menu took some translating.

The starter ‘Cipolla Ramata di Montoro’ was described as ‘cipolla ramata di Montoro, cotta al sale, ripenia con fonduta di formaggio, crostini di pane’ or a particular onion from Montoro, baked in salt, stuffed with melted cheese and served with croutons. It was a novel serving method but the flavours weren’t particularly special (B).

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The next course was ‘Scialatiello’ which the menu described as being made with ‘fave Avellinesi, cipollotto nocerino, pecorino Carmasciano, fiche secchi cilentani’ or spaghetti with local broad beans, a certain spring onion (with its own DOP), sheep’s cheese and dried white figs from Cilento. The specialist ingredients (all from Campania) worked well together but not amazingly so (B).

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Surprisingly I was given ‘Raviolo’; a second pasta course of ‘Raviolo di ricotta di fuscella, pomodorini del piennolo Casa Barone, caciorioctta Bruna Alpina’ or ravioli filled with ricotta cheese (made in a special wicker basket), cherry tomatoes from a certain farm near Vesuvius and scattered with cheese made from the milk of the Bruna Alpina breed of cattle.

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For the main I was given the ‘Hamburger di Razza Podolica Azienda Agricola Cerrone’ which was served with ‘misticanza capricciosa, maionese senza uovo, ketchup di San Marzano e patate’. I translate this as being a burger made with beef from the Podolica cattle breed (from a particular farm) served with a mixed salad, eggless mayonnaise, San Marzano tomato ketchup and chips. It was great (A) and I was particularly impressed by the ketchup (A) although the mayo was too subtle (C).

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The Aglianico Molettieri had a great nose (B+) but didn’t follow through on the palate (B). It was fine for €15 though.

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I finished with pear and ricotta crumble, also excellent (A). Two limoncellos brought the bill to a reasonable €44.

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The adventurous menu made a nice change after samey Naples. I’d definitely come here again.

Godot Art Bistro (Low Intermediate B+), 13/15 Via Giacomo Mazas, www.godotartbistrot.com

This cosy little place is a really cool literary bar that I stumbled across while I was walking around. I didn’t try the food (freselle buns with cheeses and salads) but I had an average Negroni (B) for €4 whilst grooving to Coltrane and other jazz vibes. They put on live acoustic gigs on a regular basis.

So that’s all I have on Avellino from a very short visit. Despite first impressions not being particularly favourable, you can eat and drink very well here so I hope you can make the most of it.

Olbia – eating out

Posted in Italy, Olbia, Sardinia with tags , , , , , , , on March 19, 2016 by gannet39

Here’s a Google map of all the places I mention below. I’ve put them in order of preference in terms of food.

I really like this first place for seafood.

Osteria del Mare (Advanced A/B+), 8 Via del Terme, www.osteriadelmare.it

I came here twice in three nights and had different but still very good experiences each time, hence the split rating.

Each night I had a tasting menu, first the seafood for €50, and then the meat for €40, both of which involved seven courses and included a bottle of house wine which, given the standard of the service and the presentation, was excellent value.

The seafood experience began with an amuse bouche of prawns with yogurt (A).

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Next some fantastically fresh octopus with potato (A+).

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Then some ravioli (B+) accompanied by an excellent tempura prawn (A).

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Then some turbot which was good but needed a bit of salt (B).

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My notes go to pot here as I got chatting with a friendly couple on the next table. This looks like grilled tuna steak. I’m sure it was good.

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Can’t remember what the dessert was either (creme brulee maybe?) but it looks nice.

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A bottle of the house Vermentino (B) was included in the price, however I added a glass of Lupus in Fabula which is an excellent local wine (A).

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I was back a couple of days later for round two.

The Menu di Terra began with egg and asparagus (B)…

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… followed by some veal carpaccio with mojito sauce, potato and smoked with juniper (B).

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The pacchieri alla caprese were nice but a bit cold (B-)…

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…but the veal oot roast with chickpea puree, tomato and anchovies was great (A).

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The house red was just okay (B) but the extra glass of ‘Meno Buio’ Carignano from a fat little bottle was fantastic (A). The Carignan grape is a local varietal that seems to have Spanish origins.

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For dessert their ricotta-filled seadas with yogurt ice cream were tasty but tiny (B). Dolceaqua (see below) does them better.

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I was finished off with a house mirto and some complimentary chocolates.

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The service I got was excellent. I received fresh cutlery for each dish and the plates had been warmed, a rarity in Italy. The tasting menus should be for two but it wasn’t a problem to just cater for one. Definitely a place I want to come back to. Maybe reserve if you want to sit on the small terrace on a nice day.

Ristorante Dolceacqua (High Intermediate A), 4 Via G.Palo, www.ristorantedolceacqua.com, closed Monday

After reading about it in Lonely Planet, I came here for Sunday lunch and the food and service I got was very good.

I had the Gamberi alla Catalana, a prawn salad (B+), to start and for the pasta course, spaghetti with squid, artichokes and bottarga (A). The food was even served on a warm plate, hallelujah!

For dessert, I had Seada con Miele e Scorzette de Arancia which is a kind of crepe filled with ricotta and doused with honey and served here with orange zest. It stood out as the best of several versions I have tried (A+). With a bottle of wine and a limoncello this all came to €60.

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Antica Trattoria Pizzeria (Intermediate B), 1 Via delle Terme, www.anticatrattoriaolbia.com

Recommended by both Peter the shop owner (I think they are his customers/friends) and the Daily Telegraph, this spot seems a bit touristy but was full of locals on the Saturday night I went in December, perhaps due to its location just opposite the cinema.

The interior is quite modern but nods to tradition with local ceramics and old maps of the island on the walls. They have three kinds of Menu Touristico at €15, €20 and €25 which are a pretty good deal. The service was fine, the food just okay.

For my primo, I had the Gnocchi di Farina Galluresi, some unusually textured pasta made from spelt and tossed in a simple but tasty tomato sauce (A).

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I followed up with the Arrosto Misto di Carne, a mixed grill involving a pork chop, bacon on the bone, a sausage and a slice of lamb, all of which were fine but plain and uninteresting (B-). Even though I had skipped lunch in preparation, I couldn’t finish it.

I had Patatine Fritte as a side which were probably McCains by the look and taste of them (C). The small portion of roast potatoes that came with the meat were fine though (B) so maybe order Patate al Forno instead.

To go with these a bottle of the house red Cannonau di Sardegna (Sella-Mosca 2009) www.sellamosca.com which was a good choice (B+) for the €10 asking price.

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Finally, the ubiquitous Seadas, again. They were mediocre but did the trick (B).

With this a glass of Su F’ile Ferru aka ‘Rod of Iron’, the local grappa, but the homemade version here had a strange aftertaste (C). The name comes from the practice of using a thick piece of wire to indicate the hiding place of the secretly buried bottle!

I came here again in 2015 for lunch and had the €20 menu which was fine but not particularly exciting.

La Lanterna (Intermediate B), 13 Via Olbia, www.ristorantelalanternaolbia.it

Another Lonely Planet pick, handy for the Hotel Panorama. I had an okay Pizza Margherita here (B). With cover, two beers and a limoncello the bill came to €24. It’s very popular so I’d recommend making a reservation.

Ristorante da Paolo (Intermediate A), 27 Via Garibaldi

I had a good seafood set menu for lunch here. Three courses with house wine came to €32.50. Nice old place but a bit dark and slightly gloomy brightened by pleasant service. It’s very near the Hotel Panorama.

Near the Hotel Stella, on the other side of the tracks in the new town:

Pizzeria L’Antico Borgo (B) 12 Via de Fabris, Turn right out of the Hotel Stella and turn right at the fifth side street, you’ll see its terrace on the right.

One of many pizzerias in the area but this one seems to be the most popular with the locals, and is open the latest. They let me in just after 11pm to get my fix of Pizza Margherita (the ‘Buffalo Bill’ with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes). I’d been fantasising about my first Margherita for several weeks before coming and this one hit all the right buttons (B+).

Several Belgian beers were on the menu but at €10 or more a bottle, I settled for the local Ichnusa which was fine. Factoid: Sardinians are the biggest consumers of beer per person in the whole of Italy at 60 litres per person per year!

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By the way, the flag you can see on the bottle (and everywhere in Sardinia) is the St.George cross with four Moor’s heads in each corner, the history of which is quite interesting.

Total cost was €15 with a complimentary flask of limoncello. I liked the Christmassy atmosphere here, very cosy and warm. The service is very young and inattentive but friendly. Perhaps avoid the indoor terrace where they have a patio heater pumping out carbon monoxide. These things should be outside.

As far as bars are concerned, I quite liked the laid back atmosphere of the intimate Jazz Art Café (at 129 Viale Aldo Moro, just before you get to the turn for L’Antico Borgo) with its chilled musical vibes, although I wouldn’t make a pilgrimage to come here. A limoncello costs €3.

Some places to avoid in the old town:

I had a mediocre Pizza Margherita (C+) at Pizzeria Trocadero at 14 Via Achenza. The brightly coloured décor is quite alarming. With cover, wine and a limoncello the bill came to a reasonable €17. La Lanterna above has better food and ambiance but is a bit more expensive I think.

Ristorante Il Gambero di Roberta Serra at 6 Via La Marmora was a Lonely Planet pick many years ago but is no longer listed by them. It was empty every time I passed by.

The legendary restaurant of the Hotel Gallura at 145 Corso Umberto is mentioned in many guides and articles but sadly it’s now permanently closed.

Please see my separate posts for things to see in Olbia and beaches nearby.

Photos uploaded January 2015 and March 2016.

Olbia – going to the beach

Posted in Italy, Olbia, Sardinia with tags , , , , on March 18, 2016 by gannet39

While Olbia itself might not have much going for it, there are several good beaches in both directions along the coast. I’ve plotted them all on my Google map. I was only in Olbia for three days on my second visit in 2015, but one of them was on a Sunday when I wasn’t working, so I managed to get a bit of beach time.

Another place you could consider going is the nearby island of La Tavolara, which is one of Sardinia’s most famous beauty spots.

However one local couple I met felt that the trip via ferry was more hassle than it was worth at this time of year (pre-season June) and that it was nicer to be on a beach that had a good view of the island. This webpage has more information if your interested.

The ferry to the island leaves from the small village of Porto San Paolo. To get there from Olbia you need to take the southbound #5 bus but it only runs a few times a day before the peak season starts, around July 15th.

Funnily enough I worked at the school in Porto San Paolo in 2013 and on the way back to town the teacher stopped off at Spiaggia Porto Istana, a nearby beach, so I could get a nice view of La Tavolara. The teacher said this was the beach where she personally spent the summer.

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Due to the lack of buses I decided to head instead in the opposite direction on the #4 bus towards Spiaggia Pittalongu, a twenty-minute drive to the north.

I got on the bus at Via San Simplicio, but if you want a seat, it would be advisable to get on a stop or two earlier because by the time I got on, it was already full with tourists, local kids and beach hawkers with their huge bags of tat.

I meant to ask the driver for Lo Squalo (a recommended beach bar) but I ended up going to the end of the line to Spiaggia Bados. Any of the preceding four stops would have been fine for Pittalongu as it’s a very long beach. I think Lo Squalo is the fourth stop on Pittalongu.

I could easily have walked back but Spiaggia Bados seemed like a nice, relatively quiet spot and it had a nice view of La Tavolara on the horizon.

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I hunkered down in front of Bar Bados (geddit?), one of the two bars on the beach. Sun loungers (lettini) here are €6 for the day, and an umbrella another €6, which is quite expensive given I paid €6 for both in Alghero the previous weekend.

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The food at Bar Bados is fine but nothing special, as is usually the case at the beach. I had Spaghetti con Arselle, which was a bit too salty and not al dente (C+).

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Arselle by the way, are known as Coquinas in Spanish and English, and are a member of the Donax bivalve family. By contrast Vongole, which are more commonly eaten in Italy, are in the Veneridae family of Venus clams.

I also had grilled squid which thankfully is hard to get wrong (B).

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And that was my day off. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Sardinia and head back to the mainland.

When you fly, make sure you look out of the window to catch a glimpse of the beautiful azure blue waters along the coast. I really must come back some time with the yacht.

Olbia – out and about

Posted in Italy, Olbia, Sardinia with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2016 by gannet39

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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).

Alghero – eating out

Posted in Alghero, Italy, Sardinia with tags , , , on March 16, 2016 by gannet39

There are heaps of good restaurants in Alghero and I was only there for two days and one night so please see this as just a brief impression rather than a definitive guide.

I did find a few nice places in the old town though. Here’s my Google map with all the places I mention.

Al Refettorio (High Intermediate A), 47 Vicolo Adami (parallel to Via Roma)

This is a modern wine bar located in a tunnel on an atmospheric cobbled street.

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I only came for an aperitivo but was sucked in by a friendly English-speaking waiter.

He introduced me to the concept of a ‘Negreddu’, a Negroni made with mirto, the Sardinian national spirit, instead of red vermouth, and mixed with Campari and Tanqueray and a mirto leaf garnish.

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I fell in love straight away (B+).

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I’m a sucker for oysters and couldn’t resist when I saw them on the menu. They were the biggest I’ve ever seen (B+).

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I had them with a glass of excellent Vermentino (B+) before heading off for my proper evening meal. The bill came to €19.

Interestingly the waiter described himself as Catalan and was supporting Barcelona in their Champion’s League final versus Juventus that night.

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Al Vecchio Mulino (Intermediate B+), 7 Via Don Deroma, www.alvecchiomulinoalghero.com

According to my rudimentary research this place seemed to have the best rep in town.

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The food is very good but I got poor service from the husband and wife team who run it. The female owner was very unfriendly and made me feel like a nuisance as a single diner.

Also her husband didn’t like me asking whether the mozzarella was made from cow or buffalo milk (you can’t get the latter fresh in Sardinia it seems). I’m guessing they were both a bit stressed by having such a busy restaurant on a Saturday night.

I had their signature dish of Spaghetti Al Vecchio Mulino; pasta with mushrooms, tomatoes and Parma ham. It was excellent (A) but so it should be.

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The total cost was €37 for a pasta course and a bottle of wine. Too much if you ask me but they were packed out, mainly with tourists I’m guessing, so lots of people must think they’re worth the money.

If I’d had a second night I would have gone to Al Tuguri at 113 Via Maiorca, www.altuguri.it. It’s listed in my Gambero Rosso guide and the menu looked really interesting when I walked by.

After this I wandered the streets looking for a bar to watch the final on TV and found this cosy place tucked down a nearby back street.

Birreria Sant Miguel (Elementarty B+), Via Raffaele Arduino,

Like the waiter at Al Refettorio the friendly barman here also considered himself a Catalan and was supporting Barcelona. All the bar’s customers seemed to be local Italians though and they were definitely on the side of Juventus who are probably one of the most disliked teams in the country.

Barca won the game 3-1 but the barman was quite restrained in his celebrations, perhaps for the sake of his custom.

A visiting Catalan-speaking friend told me that although many people define themselves as Catalan here, very few still speak the language, except for some of the old ones,  and it’s quite unusual to hear it.

After the match I kept walking and stumbled on this next place which seemed quite lively.

Sardoa (Intermediate B+), 4 Piazza Duomo, www.sardoadivino.it

Run by partners Igor, who is Basque, and Elenor, who is Sardinian, the concept seems to be a kind of fusion pintxo bar. The logo of the bar’s name plays on the Basque word for wine which is ‘ardo’.

Unfortunately the Italians don’t really do tapas so not much was being eaten this late at night but they were absolutely killing it on the gin and tonics.

I helped them out by having some of their great Jamon Iberico…

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…and some nice salami on Pane Carasau.

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Also a couple of glasses of their excellent wines; Cagnulari from Alghero (B)…

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…and Valserrano Crianza, an excellent rioja (B+) which outshone the local wine. It was nice to have some Spanish flavours out of context.

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Elenor is also an English teacher and Igor speaks English well so I stayed chatting with them for quite a while, eventually having a G&T made with Gin Mare (from Spain) and cherry tomatoes and basil, which was excellent.

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My bill came to €26.50 which wasn’t too bad. In a nutshell this is a friendly place with good quality food and wine that’s open Spanish hours i.e. when most other places are closed.

And that was my Saturday night in Alghero. Not sure what time I got home but it didn’t matter as I had the whole of the next day to sleep it off.

Santa Cruz (Intermediate B), 2 Via Lido

I came here for no other reason other than it was the nearest decent looking beach restaurant to my sunbed. The food is okay but not out of this world and the service is fairly brusque as they’re always busy.

I ate two lunches here. The first time I had their Risotto ai Frutti di Mare (more like a paella) which didn’t wow me that much (B-). Nor did the house white (C).

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The second time I had the Linguine ai Frutti di Mare and enjoyed it more (B+).

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It’s very popular so get your reservations in, especially if you want to sit outside on the coveted terrace. It’s probably the best place along the beach, or at least I didn’t see anywhere that looked better.

Alghero – stuff to see

Posted in Alghero, Italy, Sardinia with tags , on March 15, 2016 by gannet39

I had the weekend off while I was in Sassari but rather than stay in this landlocked town I persuaded my coordinator to let me swap hotels and go to nearby Alghero which is by the sea.

There’s a little train that runs between the two towns. It has its own platform and ticket office at Sassari station.

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Alghero is unique for a few reasons. To begin with I’ve been told it’s the only Sardinian town that has a beach within walking distance of its centre.

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Consequently it’s one of the island’s premier resorts and the population quadruples in July and August thanks to a huge influx of tourists. I was there in June when it was busy but not too crowded.

I stayed at this place on the recommendation of some locals…

Hotel San Marco (Intermediate B), 67 Via Lido, www.hotelsanmarcoalghero.com

Located on the seafront, this is a large, mid-range family hotel. The rooms and breakfast are nothing special but I was only there for one night so I wasn’t too fussy.

I spent two days at the beach. The hotel has its own section of sun loungers which cost €4, €6 or €8 a day depending how near the water you want to be. As you can see, the sea is beautiful and very clear but the hotel has a pleasure pool too should you prefer it.

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The old town is about twenty minutes walk along the beach. It’s really lovely and crammed with great bars and restaurants (see my next post).

The fortified port was founded by the Genoese in 1102 but fell to the Aragonese in 1372.

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The Aragonese expelled the local population and facilitated the arrival of Catalan colonists whose culture still dominates the town.

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Catalan is the joint official language, although only 22% of the population speak it nowadays.

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The old town is located on a small peninsula and is encircled by defensive walls with a series of towers and bastions dotted along them.

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The Catalan-Gothic Cattedrale de Santa Maria dates from 1570.

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Inside there are some nice late-Renaissance features.

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The lions guarding the altar are the happiest I’ve every seen in an Italian cathedral!

The ancient cobbled streets are very atmospheric at night.

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However this is mosquito territory so bring protection for the evenings if you are walking around.

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Alghero is a really special town and I’d love to come here again.

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There are lots of other places to explore nearby such as the Grotta di Nettuno, Nuraghe Palmavera and the secluded Lazzaretto beach. www.alghero-turismo.it

Here’s my Google map which has all these places on it.

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Sassari – restaurants and bars

Posted in Italy, Sardinia, Sassari with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2016 by gannet39

This post is purely about food and drink in Sassari. Please see my separate posts for things to see and do. Everywhere mentioned is on this Google map.

CHEAPER RESTAURANTS IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE:

Trattoria da Gesuino (Intermediate A) 17 Via Torres

This was my favourite place in terms of food in the eight days I was here. It’s a bit of a walk, and there isn’t anywhere you can sit outside but it’s still worth going just for the great grub. It’s a good place for vegetarians too as they have a large antipasti buffet.

I began with the Linguine con Bottarga e Dadolato di Pomodori (mullet roe and diced tomatoes) which was excellent (A).

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The house red was pretty decent (B) and went well with the mixed grill of horse, donkey and pork (all B/B+). The donkey was much better than what I’d had at La 2 Lanterne (below) earlier in the week, which proved that it can be nice to eat.

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The bill came to €38.50 for pasta, meat, contorno, wine, water and a commercial mirto, which was excellent value, especially given the large portions.

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There’s lots of space so you probably won’t have to book and they have a big telly to entertain you in the otherwise bland space. I watched Sassari (who have one of the best basketball teams in Italy) stuff Milan 86-81 in the play offs.

Trattoria L’Assassino (Elementary A), 18 Via Sagarat, www.facebook.com/Trattoria-LAssassino

For me this is the best choice in the old town, recommended by receptionists, teachers and travel guides alike. The food is good, local and reasonably priced. It also has a nice ambience and you can sit outside in a pleasant, spacious courtyard and be served by the multilingual owner.

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The menu is heavily weighted towards offal and unusual (for non-locals) meats (horse, donkey etc) so it’s not a great place for veggies or picky meat eaters. I had a mezzo of house red with a primo and secondo for €28.

The lovely, salty Pane Carasau that came in their bread basket was addictive and I ate the lot while waiting for my food. Apparently remains of this bread have been found in the nuraghi so it was already in existence before 1000 BC.

For the pasta course I went for the Chinsone alla Gallurese which turned out to be the ubiquitous Malloreddus (aka Orecchiette) with salami-like sausage and tomato sauce that you get everywhere. I think they called it something different here so people would be intrigued and order it. Despite this sleight of hand it’s still a good choice (A).

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The donkey wasn’t on that night so I had the Primo Latte which turned out to be sweetbreads (aka thymus glands, a favourite of mine) with slightly singed roast potatoes (B+).

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The red was good for a house wine (B) and I enjoyed their homemade Grappa Barricada (B+).

The service is friendly but they have a lot of ground to cover so everything takes a while. More importantly the location and food are great so I’d definitely come back.

La Cozzeria de Arborea (Intermediate A), 14 Viale Caprera, on the corner with Via dei Regoli, www.lacozzeriadiarborea.it

I was brought here for lunch by the teachers from the school around the corner so it’s very much off the beaten track, although not too much of a walk from the old town. The decor is a bit garish in a nautical way but the staff are nice.

They advertise that you can have twenty different mussel dishes, including eleven different sauces. I can’t remember the name of our sauce but it involved lemons, breadcrumbs and parsley, and was delicious (A). It’s only €10 for a kilo of mussels.

Taberna Santona (Elementary B+), 21/22 Piazza Tola, closed Wednesday

This place was recommended by the American manager of a local school owner who had married and settled in the city. The food is okay, and the owner likes to crack bad jokes. There’s a terrace out in the square where you can sit under sun umbrellas.

The restaurant is apparently a crepe and gallette specialist but I came to have a three course meal.

To begin, Zuppa Gallurese, which despite the name is actually a kind of tart made with stale bread and a variety of cheeses. The name comes from ‘inzuppare’, meaning to soak, as the bread is soaked in meat stock. It was okay but quite bland (B).

Next Sardine in Verde; grilled sardines with a green sauce of parsley, capers and anchovies (B+).

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Finally a homemade Crema Catalana and a Mirto, both homemade and good (B) brought the bill to a measly €26 which also included a flat half litre of beer.

Trattoria La Vela Latina, (Elementary C), 3 Largo Sisini, www.lavelalatina, closed Sunday, open Monday

A Lonely Planet pick. The restaurant terrace shares a little square with a popular café (owned by the same people I think) so you could start with an aperitivo there first.

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On arrival I was served two bowls of olives. I especially liked the small variety which I think were wild. The Pane Casacau was disappointingly tasteless though.

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Having tried the Iselis white at Bella Be earlier in the week (see below), I went for the red version this time for €18. It started off well (B+) but seemed to deteriorate towards the end of the bottle (B). Iselis is made by Argiolas, the biggest producer on the island www.argiolas.it.

For the pasta I once again had the ubiquitous Malloreddus with sausage and tomato sauce. The pasta was slightly overcooked here and the tired garnish looked like it had had it was left over from Saturday night (this was Monday). Given that they only had three customers and at least three staff to pay I’m guessing a few corners had been cut.

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For the main there are several risqué options. For example you could have Cervella e Granelli Fritti (deep fried brain and testicles) but I wasn’t feeling brave enough that night.

They were out of the local speciality of donkey so instead I had a medium rare horse steak and roast potatoes (apologies to my equine loving friends). The steak was fine (B) and much more enjoyable than the horse I’d eaten a few months before in Bari.

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They had no homemade digestives so I tried a shot of their commercial Mirto which was just okay (B).

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The bill came to a slightly pricey €43. Overall I’d score them a B- which isn’t too bad. Might be best to try them on a busier night, although the fact they’re open on a Monday is a blessing.

Le 2 Lanterne (Low Intermediate C), front door in Piazza Tolo, back door at 28 Via Mercato

Another Lonely Planet pick, this place is of a similar ilk to Assassino above in terms of its authentic menu of local specialities and location in a courtyard accessed through a tunnel. However, I prefer Assassino for food and service.

The owner here isn’t a great communicator and doesn’t dish out any freebies. I’m pretty sure he doctored my bill by hiking up the price of his mediocre wine (C) as well.

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I enjoyed the Pane Carasau which was nice and salty (B+). All the other customers (all locals) were having fava beans to start (I think), so maybe they are a good choice.

However his Curgliones with sugo were quite spongy (B-). LP describe Curgliones as being Sardinian Ravioli but here at least they aren’t filled with anything and are more like dough balls, or gnocchi.

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The Asinello (donkey) was tender but cold and flavourless except for the virtually raw garlic it was topped with (C). Thankfully the chips the dish came with were great (A).

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Rather than a dessert I had some grilled provolone to finish but it was unimpressive (C+).

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The homemade mirto was very good though (A-).

At the end of the meal the owner suggested I have a look in his old cellar which was built during the Spanish epoch (so 14th century). He’d turned it into a private party space, as attested to by a pile of mouldy Ry Cooder records, but it was too musty for me to want to spend any time down there.

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In short, a strange place. Think I’d rather go elsewhere next time.

Fainè alla Genovese Sassu (Elementary), 17 Via Usai

Fainè is Sardinian for Farinata di Ceci, a chickpea pancake originally from Genova. It’s all this shop sells but you do get a choice of toppings such as sausage, anchovies, onions and mushrooms. I really wanted to try it but sadly they were closed when I was there in June as it’s more of a winter food, or so I was told. Hope you have more luck.

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Although its roots are probably more ancient, a legend says that Farinata was born by chance in 1284 when Genoa defeated Pisa in the battle of Meloria. The Genoese galleys were caught in a storm and some oil barrels and sacks of chickpeas fell over and became soaked in salt water. The sailors were thus given bowls of chickpea puree and oil to eat. Some sailors refused it and left it in the sun where it dried into a kind of pancake. The next day, driven by hunger, the sailors ate the pancake and discovered it was delicious. Once back on dry land, they cooked the puree in the oven and got even better results. The Genovese called it “the gold of Pisa” in celebration of their victory.

The same battle also allowed Sassari to free itself from Pisan rule and it went into alliance with Genoa, which much have resulted in this culinary influence. The flag of Genoa, the Saint George cross, is still used for the background of the Sardinian flag.

HIGHER END RESTAURANTS IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE:

L’Antica Hostaria (Advanced B), 55 Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, www.lanticahostaria.eu

Described by Lonely Planet as one of the top restaurants in the city and also getting an entry in Ristoranti di Italia, this is indeed a good high-end place for a treat on my last night in town.

The chef owner was trained in Sicily so many of his seafood dishes have Sicilian roots whereas the meat dishes are typically Sardinian. He was very friendly and helpful, as was his English-speaking wife who waits on the tables.

I opted for the Antipasti di Mare, which started with some smoked salmon (B).

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This was followed by Sgombro (mackerel) which was also smoked (B). This was served with Panzarella, a bread salad, which was salty but interesting (B+).

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Next the Razza (skate) and tomato was good (B+) but I have no picture sorry. After this Insalata di Sepia (A).

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I also had another go at eating gattuccio (spotted dogfish) which is used to make burrida, but I still couldn’t bring myself to like it (C-).

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Finally, the Spigola (seabass) with prawn, celery and Pachino tomatoes was very good (B+).

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I drank the best Vermintino (‘Canayli’ Superiore from the Gallura DOCG) on my trip so far (A) which I was happy to pay €20 for. I found the 2014 vintage for just €6.50 a bottle at www.bernabei.it but the website wasn’t functioning properly so I couldn’t order it sadly.

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I finished with the Cassata, a classic Sicilian dessert made with ricotta, pastry cream and candied fruit. It was the best I’ve ever tasted (A+).

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All of this, along with cover, water, a Zibibbo passito (B+) and a local ‘ferro’ grappa (B+), came to a tasty €70.

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I did enjoy myself, but it was expensive and I probably wouldn’t go back now I’ve been once. If I want a high end experience next time I’m in town I’ll probably try Liberty at 3 Via Nazario Sauro instead.

Giamaranto (Advanced B+), 69 Via Alghero, www.giamaranto.it

For my end of week treat it was a toss-up between this place and Liberty (also a Gambero Rosso recommend) but as this was also a Lonely Planet pick I came here.

Given that it’s fairly high end, I got surprisingly good service here for a guy wearing shorts and trainers. It’s the kind of place where they serve off trolleys they trundle to the table. I was the first in at 8.30 but every table was full by 9.30. There is no outdoors area. The service is smiley and friendly and not as stuffy as you might expect.

Things didn’t start well however with a bland carpaccio of tuna with tomato (C). The following Antipasti de Mare were much better though (all A/B) although the waiter spoke to fast for me too catch all the names. Some were quite unusual, especially the fritturi.

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After this the Tagliatell Nere fatte in casa con Calamari, Vongole e Bottarga (homemade black tagliatelle with squid, clams and grated dried grey mullet roe) which was superb (A).

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The ‘Petrizza’ Vermentino by Tenuta Masone Mannu in the Gallura DOCG was excellent (A), especially for just €15. I later wrote to Tenuta Masone Mannu directly on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/tenutamasonemannu and they sent me 12 bottles for 145€ which included the cost of delivery to Sheffield.
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The final bill at the restaurant came to €46 with two complimentary shots of commercially-made mirto.

Ristorantino Bella Bè (High Intermediate B), 8 Via Usai, www.facebook.com/Bella-Be, open Sunday

Tucked down a side alley off Corso Emmanuele, this is a modern place with quirky décor. I sat in the alley outside but I found the chairs to be quite uncomfortable.

I had the €18 Degustazione Antipasti which included a tartar of spigola (seabass) (A), squid with radicchio (chicory) (B), courgette and bacalao fritti (B) and mussels with green beans and datterini tomatoes (C).

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With two glasses of Iselis Bianco (an 85% Nasco, 15% Vermentino blend) from the Isola de Nuraghi IGT (B+) and…

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…a shot of their fairly sweet homemade liquor d’erbe (B+) the bill came to €33.

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The service was friendly and efficient but overall the it felt like you were paying for pretension rather than quality. I’d give it another chance, and may try their €35 tasting menu.

BARS:


BNO – Birreria di Nord Ovest
(Elementary B), 2 Piazza Tola

A craft beer bar where ales are around €3.50 for a pinta. The pilsner and IPA that I tried were okay but a little flat. They serve cheese and ham if you’d like something to nibble while you drink.

Vineria Tola (Intermediate B), 10 Piazza Tola

A wine bar on the opposite side of the square from BNO. You can sit outside on bar stools at high tables. I paid €3 for a glass of red.

LP mentions Café Chiara and Accademia Café, respectively at 1 and 11 and Via Torre Tonda, towards the university district. I did a walk by but they were dead so I didn’t try them.

On Via Roma a local recommended Da Michele but all the tables outside were full so I kept on walking. Off Via Roma, Via Giorgio Asperoni had a couple of bars that were pumping with music.

Sassari – Museo Sanna

Posted in Italy, Sardinia, Sassari with tags on March 13, 2016 by gannet39

The best museum in Sassari (there are a few) is the Museo Nazionale “G.A. Sanna” www.museosannasassari.beniculturali.it which has a comprehensive archaeology collection albeit not as large as its counterpart in Cagliari (see this post).

It’s housed in an old Palladian villa at 64 Via Roma which has a nice garden as well.

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The collection starts off in the Sala Preistorica with some Stone Age and Neolithic finds.

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Not sure if the whole in this person’s head was caused by the archaeologist’s pick or something more sinister…

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The exhibition then moves on to the Bronze Age with some ‘bronzetti’; small figurines from the Nuragic civilisation.

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Not sure what period these finds are from but they are beautifully made.

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These are all just objects that caught my eye so please don’t think of my photos as being representative of the whole collection, there’s heaps more to see.

I love the form of these jugs, they look so modern.

The Roman collection is the largest as you might expect.

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There are some stunning Sarcophagi.

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And other beautiful carvings from the late-Roman period.

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Sassari – walking around

Posted in Italy, Sardinia, Sassari with tags , , on March 12, 2016 by gannet39

Sassari is the second largest city in Sardinia with a population of about 130,000. The first university in Sardinia was founded here in 1562 and today it still has a bohemian reputation due to its large student population, although I didn’t particularly notice this in the ten days I was there in June.

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You’ll find everything I mention on this Google map.

My first impressions weren’t that great when I arrived at the small train station and walked to the hotel but the town grew on me the longer I was there and the more I became aware of it’s long history.

Near the station, in the square at the bottom of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, you can see the Colonna di Tavolara which depicts important historical events of the city.

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I stayed at the Hotel Vittorio Emanuele (Intermediate B+), 100/102 Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, www.hotelvittorioemanuele.ss.it which is less than ten minutes’ walk from the station (left out of the station, first right and the hotel is on the right after a few hundred metres).

The hotel rooms are rather small and cramped (if you need desk space ask for a bigger room) but the breakfast is excellent and the staff are really friendly and helpful.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele was once the main street of the medieval town and many of the city’s squares and important buildings are placed around it.

I think this attractive lintel was along here somewhere but can’t quite remember where.

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The streets and alleys can be quite narrow in this part of town.

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The most beautiful building in the city is the Cattedrale de San Nicola which has a stunningly intricate façade.

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Another famous sight is the Fountain of Rosello which is the symbol of the city. It was built in 1603 by Genoese craftsmen.

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It’s located outside the old Pisan city walls, under the bridge Ponte di Rosello. For a small fee it’s possible to get a closer look but I was always working when it was open to the public. You can get more information here.

Another impressive place is the Piazza d’Italia which is the largest open public space in Sardinia.

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The imposing Palazzo della Provincia which houses the prefecture of Sassari is located here.

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A couple of old disused fountains are located in front of it.

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In the middle of the square is a statue dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II who was King of Sardinia until 1861 when he became the first king of the united Italy and reigned until his death in 1878. He was the symbol of the Risorgimento; the Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s.

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On the other side of the square is the neo-Gothic Palazzo Giordano (now home to the offices of a bank) which has some nice features around its front entrance.

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Via Roma, which leads out of the south east side of Piazza d’Italia, has many impressive buildings along it including this wonderful ceramic tiled house at #48 (opposite the court building).

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Further along at #64 Via Roma is Museo Nazionale “G.A. Sanna” which I have given its own post due to its extensive archaeological collection.

Other things that caught my eye include this nice modern sculpture on the crossroads of Via Brigata Sassari and Via Cagliari.

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The city council also seems to have a penchant for these bonsai style trees which are dotted around the city.

Sardinian nationalism seems alive and well, at least according to some of the graffiti around town.

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Although other pieces are less political.

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And then of course there are the restaurants, of which more in a later post…

Cagliari – street art

Posted in Cagliari, Italy, Sardinia with tags on March 11, 2016 by gannet39

Like most Italian cities there is street art everywhere in Cagliari. This isn’t a guide, just a few bits and bobs that I personally stumbled across when I was walking around.

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A bit of graff…

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…and some street art. The first is a whale by CRISA.

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The heads below are by S.I.I. Felice who seems to be the most prolific artist.

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Stencils are very popular.

 

Lots more pics and links here.

Cagliari – Quartiere Castello – Palazzo Viceregio

Posted in Cagliari, Castello, Italy, Sardinia with tags , on March 10, 2016 by gannet39

Next to the cathedral in Piazza Palazzo is the Palazzo Viceregio or Viceregal Palace www.sardegnacultura.it.

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Entrance is free and it’s not very big so it’s worth a look quick look around.

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Built in the early 14th century by the Pisans, it was the residence of the representative of the king during the Aragonese and Savoy occupations.

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It has undergone various refits over time and is now the seat of the prefecture of Cagliari.

Between 1799 and 1815 it was occupied by the Italian royal family who had been forced into exile by Napoleon.

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The most impressive room is the council room which was remodelled between 1893 and 1896 with new frescoes and stucco work.

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Cagliari – Quartiere Castello – Cattedrale di Cagliari

Posted in Cagliari, Castello, Italy, Sardinia with tags on March 9, 2016 by gannet39

For me the most beautiful building in Cagliari is the stunning 13th century cathedral. www.duomodicagliari.it

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The original style was Pisan-Romanesque (Pisa once controlled Sardinia) but it was given a Baroque makeover in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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The cathedral was renovated again in the 1930s when it received its current neo-Romanesque façade which is quite similar to the original. This and other features were greatly influenced by the Cathedral of Pisa.

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Above the lintels of the three front doorways are lunettas containing brightly coloured mosaics.

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The two beautiful pulpits, sculpted in the mid-12th century, were originally destined for the Cathedral of Pisa but were later donated to Cagliari.

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Below the presbytery balustrade are four marble lions.

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The one outside, on the wall opposite the cathedral, has seen better days poor thing.

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In the northern transept is the ornate 17th century mausoleum of Martin I of Sicily who died during an invasion by Sardinia’s island neighbour.

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Other sculptures depict scenes from the Bible.

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In the crypt is the Sanctuary of the Martyrs…

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…which contains relics of the martyrs of Cagliari.

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The crypt is divided into three chapels decorated in Baroque style.

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Back outside, the carvings above the side door of the cathedral are quite nice too.

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One of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy. I thoroughly recommend it, and that’s coming from an atheist!

Cagliari – Quartiere Castello – Museo Archeologico Nazionale

Posted in Cagliari, Castello, Italy, Sardinia with tags , , on March 8, 2016 by gannet39

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari www.sardegnacultura.it was the highlight of my visit to the castle. It’s open from 09.00 to 20.00 every day except Monday. It’s right next door to the Pinacoteca Nazionale, the National Art Gallery, but I didn’t have time to go there as the museum took a couple of hours to get around. Like regional galleries and museums all around Italy they call themselves ‘national’ for some reason. In 2015 the museum cost €4, or you could get a joint ticket that takes in the gallery as well for €5.

The photos that follow are just of objects that caught my eye. They are just a few of the thousands of objects on display.

The exhibition begins in the Stone Age with a few Neolithic icons.

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The star of the show however is the Nuraghic civilisation, so-called because of the stone Megaliths they built, called Nuraghe, which can be found all over Sardinia (there are 7000 in all).

The other remnant of this Bronze Age civilisation are the Bronzetti, small bronze figurines that depict people from different social classes and groups (mothers, hunters, warriors, chiefs) as well as animals, divinities, ships and everyday objects.

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About 500 of the figures have been found in total, mainly in Sardinia, but also at Etruscan sites on the mainland, in Campania and Lazio, as well as the Greek site of Crotone in Calabria.

On a larger scale, also from the same Nuraghic civilisation, are the Gigantis de Mont’e Prama, or Giants of Mont’e Prama; a group of tall stone statues possibly depicting heroes or gods.

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There are also a lot of clay figures on display, some quite amusing and bizarre. This first one might be a baby feeding bottle, or perhaps an oil pourer. I was whizzing through so I can’t remember which civilisations they’re from sorry.

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There are pieces from more far-flung civilisations, such as Egyptian…

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…Greek…

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… and even Indian.

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Not sure where this interesting necklace is from.

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Of course there are plenty of Roman finds. These I think were offerings thrown into a lake.

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The Romans liked to have plenty of statues around…

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… and to be buried in stone sarcophagi.

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And finally a bit of Medieval.

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This is one of the best museums I’ve been too in terms of the quality and number of finds on display. It gives you a good idea of the importance of Sardinia as an interface between the many cultures that have passed through the Mediterranean.

 

Cagliari – Quartiere Castello – walking around

Posted in Cagliari, Castello, Italy, Sardinia with tags , , on March 7, 2016 by gannet39

The most interesting area to walk around in Cagliari is the citadel, known as Quartiere Castello, or Su Casteddu in local parlance (also a name for the city as a whole), and by the tourist board as La Cittadella dei Musei.

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As well as the fantastic views over the city, there are several attractions up here, including the Cathedral, Viceroyal Palace, Archaeology Museum, National Gallery and several other museums (please click on the names to see separate posts). =coming soon.

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The citadel can be accessed from various points. From the Hotel Italia I walked up Largo Carlo Felice to Chiesa Santa Clara and took the lift behind the church up to the final level in front of Torre dell’ Elefante, one of the defensive towers built by the Pisans at the beginning of the 14th century.

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Further to the north in the citadel is the Torre di San Pancrazio, built at the same time. www.beniculturalicagliari.it For two or three euros you can climb the towers to get good views.

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Built in local white limestone, the effect of the sun shining on the towers and other buildings caused D.H.Lawrence to describe Cagliari as a ‘white Jerusalem’.

Part of the fun is walking the long narrow streets which are kept cool by the high buildings that tower above them. Gateways and tunnels are everywhere.

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The architecture is not particularly ornate but every now and then you come across a little gem.

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The citadel also seems to be the bohemian and artistic quarter, perhaps because property is relatively cheap up here due to it’s inaccessibility.

After several hours of walking around, a pit stop was definitely in order. For that there’s no better place than Caffè delle Arti at 1 Via del Fossario, just down the road from the Cathedral. Google map here.

The terrace has commanding views out over the eastern side of the city and they sell great thirst-quenching craft beers from a local craft brewery called Barley www.barley.it based in Maracalagonis,  just outside Cagliari.

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Their quality ales come in big chunky bottles. It’s the first time I’ve been served beer as if it was champagne!

I can vouch for their Duenna, an American Saison (6.5%, slightly bitter, gold coloured) and Tuvi Tuvi, a blond beer (6.2%, less bitter, more fruity, straw coloured).

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The terrace would make a great place for a date. Definitely one of my hot tips 😉

Cagliari – walking around Quartiere Villanova

Posted in Cagliari, Italy, Sardinia with tags , on March 6, 2016 by gannet39

Quartiere Villanova is north of Quartiere Marina and below the eastern slopes of the citadel. Map here.

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The area is famous for its brightly coloured houses which feature on many postcards.

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In Piazza Constituzione is the Bastione di Saint Remy, built in 1901 on the defensive wall of the citadel. You can usually get into the citadel through it but it was closed for restoration when I was there in 2015.

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At the top of the stairs is a covered promenade and a huge terrace with views over the city.

On the other side of the square at 10/11 Piazza Costituzione, to the east of the rampart, is the Antico Caffè www.anticocaffe1855.it, the oldest café in the city (since 1855) and a local cultural institution.

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This was the literary hangout for writers such as D.H.Lawrence who was in town writing his book ‘Sea and Sardinia’.

It functions as a café and tea room in the day time and a bistro and wine and cocktail bar in the evenings. It’s also a celebrated patisserie and creperie. There’s an outdoor terrace and the food is okay according to Fodor’s guide.

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I stopped in for a macchiato and a Pardule, and to see its attractive Liberty Stile interior.

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Suitably fortified, it was now time for me to attack the citadel!

Cagliari – Quartiere San Benedetto – Mercato San Benedetto

Posted in Cagliari, Italy, San Benedetto, Sardinia with tags on March 5, 2016 by gannet39

Quartiere San Benedetto has a famous market called the Mercato San Benedetto www.mercatosanbenedetto.it which is the largest covered market in Italy and one of the biggest in Europe. There are 300 stalls in all.

I got up at 6am to go and have a look one morning. It’s open from 07.00 to 14.00 every day (except Sunday when it closes) so you have to arrive early to catch the action.

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The fruit and veg is on the upper level.

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Along with butchers…

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… bakers…

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and cheese mongers. I meant to ask them for Casu Marzu and Su Callu (see my Extreme Cheese post) but was too entranced by the market to remember.

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And of course there are the lumache (snail) stalls.

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I counted three varieties in all. The smallest are Tappadas (also called Monachelle).

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Sizigorrus I think are also grey with a striped shell but larger.

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Monzette are bigger and browner. Snails cover their cavity with a white membrane when they are in hibernation.

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Sardinia is more famous for its land ingredients rather than fish but the whole of the lower level of the market is dedicated to seafood.

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Another thing I forgot to ask for was bottarga, made in Sardinia with the dried roe of flathead mullet (as opposed to tuna in Sicily). It’s a local specialty that is served with bread or grated onto pasta.

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When I got home to Sheffield I did manage to get some Sardinian Bottarga di Muggine (pictured above) from my friend’s deli for about £17.50 ($23) for 100g, which was much more expensive than in Cagliari I’m sure.

All the stall holders were happy to let me take photos when I asked. One chap even put me behind his stall so he could take a photo of me pretending to be a fishmonger! Unfortunately I think I made a better fishmonger than he did a photographer!

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There was even a stall for sea anemones (anemoni di mare or orziadas) but the photo didn’t come out very well sorry.

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I’ve only seen them being eaten deep-fried in Andalucia in Spain before. They do the same here apparently but also have them on pizza and with spaghetti and bottarga. I’ve never seen them on a restaurant menu though.

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