THE DEVELOPMENT OF TOURISM IN SARDINIA
The first time I was in Sardinia was in 1965, I’ve witnessed the transformation of Sardinia from a white spot on the map of tourism to the most sought after holiday region of Italy. In 1998 the tourist industry in Sardinia had the highest growth rate of all Italian regions and from then on the boom has been continuing.
I got to know an Italian student from Sardinia when I studied in Heidelberg. When he had gone home in summer I decided to visit him there. I stayed with him and his family on the beach in a hut made of bamboo, wood and cardboard. The winegrowers have nothing to do on their fields before the vintage in September, so they put up those ‘baracche’, all in all there were about twenty. They transported some furniture, kitchen things and beds in vans to the beach, and then the families lived there for some weeks. The children played in the sand and in the water, the mothers watched them, sitting far up on the beach, or chatted in front of the huts like the men, sitting on chairs, never in the sand, and with their backs to the water!
The Sardinians don’t love the water; since the beginning of time all evil has always come across the sea, and even nowadays many people can’t swim. Only the youngster go into the water, but most of them can’t swim well, it’s more splashing around than swimming. Swimming isn’t taught in school, either. The ferries, diving for corals, fishing - all that is operated or done by continentals, mostly people from Naples. The Sardinians call the mainland ‘continent’ and their fellow Italians ‘continentals’.
You can buy fish in Sardinia now, there are also restaurants where you can eat fish, even excellent ones, but fish isn’t typical for Sardinia, at least not for the interior. The Sardinians are meat eaters, the specialities being: sucking pig, lamb, kid, preferably roasted on a skewer over an open fire.
The men occasionally ventured a little swim, for the women a pole had been rammed into the sand with a rope tied to it. After crossing themselves and looking to heaven, they worked their way along it into the water, that is 2-3 m, fully dressed. Then they lay on rocks for a while waiting for their clothes to dry, and as the salt water made the cloth stiff they went back to their huts as if they were wearing crinolines.
After that time camping reached Sardinia; as tents were very expensive in those days, it was considered a little luxury. The first ‘continentals’ discovered Sardinia, a region they didn’t really know anything about. They had learnt in school that it was one of the Italian regions, but that was it, more or less.
Meanwhile the north of Sardinia, the Costa Smeralda (because of the emerald colour of the water) developed into one of the top regions of international top tourism. Marbella, the Caribbean, Costa Smeralda, the jet set has to go somewhere, hasn’t it? I don’t want to go into details here, although the transformation of the formerly wild coast where only some forlorn sheep used to graze into highly elegant, artificial holiday resorts with artificial harbours for yachts and ships is quite interesting, especially the question in how far - or if at all - the Sardinians have profited from it.
The camping sites remained, but ‘wild’ camping was forbidden. The Sardinians gained a bit more prosperity and started turning the sheds and small houses they had on their fields for the storage of tools, manure etc. into real houses in which they, and also some tourists, could stay during the summer months. When you go to Sardinia now, you can see new houses everywhere, already or nearly finished. You can also find holiday clubs, a main building with the restaurant and small houses for the guests around. Of course, there are hotels, too, but in all Sardinia you can’t find a really tall building. I guess that on the whole island there are no more beds for tourists than in, say, Torremolinos, Spain. Everything is kind of low scale and will stay like that, at least in the near future (and hopefully forever).
WHO SHOULD GO THERE?
Who would I advise to go to Sardinia? Families with small children! The beaches are so wonderful, the water is so clean and warm that they won’t want to leave. Divers have told me that Sardinia offers no great attractions for them, but surfers are extremely happy on the north coast between Sardinia and Corsica.
A word about the beaches: although more and more tourists come, it must be said that many beaches have neither toilets nor showers. If you’re lucky you’ll find a bar with some kind of bathroom - this side of beach tourism isn’t the nicest.
If you belong to the fun generation and see life as a party, you should NOT go to Sardinia! To be sure, there are some discos, but this is ring-a-ring-o’-roses compared to what is going on in Rimini and other resorts on the Adriatic coast.
During the last years a new kind of tourism has sprung up which attracts individuals who look for something genuine and out of the way. The beach season is concentrated on July and August, and that’s not long enough. Jobs are scarce in Sardinia, and unemployment is high. Many people still emigrate, but not all want to do so. Some have come up with good ideas: Now more and more tourists come in spring and autumn to get to know the interior. You can explore caves, climb mountains, go on hiking tours on horseback or on foot. But if you can’t read a compass, beware! The interior is really wild, no footpaths there like you know from home! You can follow the paths made by the shepherds and their sheep if you find them, if not, then you’re on your own. You can study the Mediterranean flora and fauna, meet wild boar and wild sheep.
I’d prefer spring to autumn, because then the vegetation is still fresh and green, in autumn the dominant colours are yellow and brown, everything is dry or burnt.
There are horrible forest fires, every summer, raging for days. Some, very few, are caused by the proverbial cigarette butt thrown out of a car, more by acts of vendetta among the shepherds, maybe even more by land speculators. The idea to pay a reward for each fire which has been detected and is reported has certainly not helped to reduce the number, on the contrary!
If you’re interested in history, you can study the culture of the ‘nuraghi’, conical buildings, whose function hasn’t been cleared up yet, then there are giants’ tombs, houses of fairies and dolmen, all belonging to the bronze age. Don’t miss the Archeological Museum in Cagliari!
What you won’t find is the refined urban culture mainland Italy is famous for, no Gothic Siena, no Renaissance Florence, no baroque Rome in Sardinia. Tourists don’t go to Sardinia to admire architecture.
WHAT ARE THE SARDINIANS LIKE?
Compared to the continental Italians they’re quiet and reserved. Some women might like this, others might feel disappointed. They should go to Sicily where they can be sure to attract attention! Geographically speaking the Sardinians belong to the ‘meridionali’ (Southerners), but they are never subsumed, always referred to what they are: ‘Sardinians’. If you know Italian you’ll be able to understand them well, because their pronunciation is very clear, if they speak a Sardinian dialect, not even the continentals can understand them, philologists see the three main dialects as separate languages.
WHAT DO WE TAKE HOME?
The best and most expensive souvenir shops are called I.S.O.L.A, they can be found only in the cities, however. The village with the most souvenir shops, cheaper ones (cheap doesn‘t mean bad here), is Dorgali on the east coast. There are also villages in which you can buy carpets directly from the loom, one is Ulassai, where you might go anyway, because there’s one of the two big stalactite caves (the other one is near Alghero). The carpets I like best come from Isili, which you can visit when you go to Barumini to see the great nuraghi complex. the weaving mill (too big a word for the room with the looms) is beside the church.
And wine, of course! Poor you, if you come by plane! The most famous quality is called ‘cannonau’, more red wine than white is produced. The wine cellars are called ‘cantina’, they sell open wine, too. People go there with plastic (!) containers and fill in the wine with the help of a pump, just like at a filling station. The wine is so good and strong, it can stand that treatment. Another speciality is bitter honey, ‘miele amaro’, which is sold in supermarkets.