Water sports and Bronze Age fortresses: why Sardinia is perfect for a family holiday

“Man overboard!” they shouted happily as I staggered precariously, my arms wiggling back and forth in a desperate struggle with gravity, and then fell backwards into the sea. “Man overboard!” they shouted again as I sputtered to the surface, in case I’d been too busy to hear them the first time. I lifted myself back onto the board, my eyes stinging from the salt and the logs hanging halfway down my butt. It wasn’t very dignified. But of course it would be a highlight of their trip.

My family and I were in northeastern Sardinia, an Italian island with rugged wilderness that makes it perfect for an outdoor vacation. We were based on the bay of Porto Pollo, a world-class water sports center where windsurfers and kiteboarders jump high, wild in the wind that speeds through the canal between Sardinia and Corsica. Porto Pollo is suitable for beginners and experts alike, and the four of us – largely in the beginner category – spent the morning in the hands of instructor Jonny.

Monika and our six-year-old twins, Matty and Kitty, were wrapped in life jackets and seated in a kayak as wide as a whale’s back. I was sitting on a paddleboard the width of a strip of dental floss.

Or that’s how it felt to me. Jonny had assured me that this was a super stable beginner board, so it was very difficult to fall off. I immediately hated Jonny. He had bright eyes and stubble, and noticeable curls of hair that fell over his shoulders. Here, I had declared to my wife as her gaze lingered over the sand at him, was a stereotypical surfer who was thinking more about shampoo than anything of substance.

Writer Adrian and his six-year-old twins in Sardinia

Writer Adrian and his six-year-old twins in Sardinia – Monika Phillips

“Do you see that rock in the distance?” Jonny had asked in his deep voice, nodding towards a boulder jutting out from a headland across the bay. “We’re going there.” And so we set off from the beach, Jonny leading the way on his paddleboard with lazy tugs on the leash, while the rest of us paddled frantically behind like a bunch of clumsy ducks.

At first the water was flat and I was pleasantly surprised by my progress. I kept my oars close to the board, just as Jonny had shown me, and remembered to change my hand positions as I switched from one side to the other. But as we got further from the coast the sea became choppier and my progress shakier.

The picturesque coastline of SardiniaThe picturesque coastline of Sardinia

The picturesque coastline of Sardinia

And then the ‘man overboard’ started. One man overboard. Two men overboard. Three and four. A motorboat passed a hundred yards away and I waited gloomily for the wash to reach me and the inevitable man overboard number five.

At the front, Jonny walked unperturbed, occasionally dropping to his knees to navigate bumpier swells, before nimbly rising to his feet, upright and still like a ship’s figurehead. His tanned, muscular back seemed carved from polished wood. I straightened my back and tried to forget that it probably looked more like margarine than mahogany, but the effort threw me off balance and I fell back into it.

Northern Sardinia is also home to Bronze Age fortsNorthern Sardinia is also home to Bronze Age forts

Northern Sardinia is also home to Bronze Age fortresses: Monika Phillips

In addition, Monika kept the kayak on course with little fuss, while the twins happily rowed with sticks they found on the beach. As the boulder drew closer, the breeze brought with it the scent of pine trees and the rattling chatter of crickets, and with a final, arm-sore effort to escape the conveyor belt of the current, we rounded the headland and entered a hidden bay inside.

Everything was quiet here. We dragged boards and kayaks onto a thin crescent of sand, and the kids immediately started looking for treasure among the rock pools at the edges. The clear water in the bay was veined with dancing lines of sunlight, and from it rose several smooth sandstone boulders, bone-colored and with holes for eye sockets.

Cliffs climbed all around us, wagons circled against the open sea beyond. You would almost forget that there was such a thing as the open sea. No wind, no crashing waves, no people in speedboats. Suddenly I knew somehow that I had read Jonny wrong. This place was the real Jonny.

Writer Adrian tries windsurfingWriter Adrian tries windsurfing

Writer Adrian tries windsurfing – Monika Phillips

“A bat!” Kitty exclaimed as a large butterfly flew by, and Jonny laughed. “I love children,” he said. “Lockdown was terrible for them – like trees growing indoors.” And as we rested and the sun warmed our backs, I talked to Jonny, and he told me about life on his family’s small farm in southern Italy, peeling back the layers of judgment I had wrapped around him . “I teach water sports for a few months, but most of the year I work on the farm. We have 4,000 olive trees and our friends help make the olive oil. It’s a nice, quiet life.”

It was time to go; Jonny had to give a kiteboarding lesson. He took a few minutes to clean the bay, picking up a few weathered bits of plastic that had washed up on the beach, and then we started the return journey. I was now more stable on my feet and had learned to anticipate turbulence. I would have come a long way.

The following days we often returned to the sea. The children had a windsurfing lesson on small boards with the ever-patient Anya, who took them for a merry spin on her very own expert’s board as they zoomed along the coast clinging to her legs.

Kayaking is a popular pastime for families in SardiniaKayaking is a popular pastime for families in Sardinia

Kayaking is a popular pastime for families in Sardinia

We organized a snorkeling trip from Santa Teresa Gallura harbour, hitting the waves in a zodiac before anchoring at Punta Contessa, which Chiara, our guide, described as a “mountain under the sea”. I followed her into the dark caves and crevices, looking for moray eels, while the children paddled doggy around the boat and watched damselfly fish dart back and forth among the swaying stems of a white sea plant called mermaid wineglass.

The call of the land is also strong in Sardinia and scores deep with tradition and history. The hilltop village of Aggius has been a hub for weavers for centuries, and among the cobbled alleys we found Gabriella Lutzu in her studio, pushing and pulling colorful wool threads through a wooden loom. She wove a rug by hand, building it line by line. “It will take Gabriella all day to make that slip,” I told Kitty. She thought for a moment about the enormity of this. “So Gabriella isn’t having lunch or dinner?”

Sardinia has some of the bluest waters in ItalySardinia has some of the bluest waters in Italy

Sardinia has some of the bluest waters in Italy

Most impressive of all are the many archaeological sites scattered among sun-drenched vineyards, Bronze Age fortresses with towers to climb and secret passageways to explore, and ceremonial stones with patterns carved by hands of long ago and still used by modern-day fingers can be traced. . “Think how old this is,” I pondered as we looked through the arched entrance to an ancient burial chamber in Arzachena called the Giant’s Tomb. “Is he older than you, Dad?” Matty wondered. ‘Yes, he’s older than me! It’s been here for 3,000 years!” “Older than Grandma?” he asked. “No, of course not older than Grandma,” I assured him, because everyone knows Grandma is as old as the sea itself.


Planet Travel Holidays (planettravelonline.com, 01273 921001) is an award-winning ATOL-bonded specialist in luxury ocean sports holidays, offering tailor-made trips to Sardinia. A week’s package, including accommodation a short drive from the watersports center at Porto Pollo and beginner instruction (including equipment hire) in paddleboarding, windsurfing, wing foiling, kiteboarding or diving, is available from £1,400-2,000 pp (excluding flights).

Bronze Age Sardinia

Bronze Age archeology can be found all over Sardinia, and it is said that there are as many as 7,000 sites in total. These constructions – dating from around 1500 BC – were the work of the Nuragic people, a civilization that flourished for a thousand years until it was conquered by the Carthaginians and then the Romans. The island lay on several trade routes, and the Nuraghe people appear to have thrived by selling valuable raw materials such as copper and lead.

The prosperity of these ancient islanders is reflected not only in the refinement of some of the decorative and religious pieces they left behind (including bronze statuettes), but also in the buildings they lived in and the places where they buried their dead. The most intriguing are the so-called nuraghe, which are unique to Sardinia. These round towers (looking like squat stone beehives) stood at the heart of villages, and their function is not known with certainty: they may have been the homes of village leaders, fortified defenses, temples, or spaces used for gatherings.

Nuraghe La Prisgiona in Arzachena – 24 kilometers south of Porto Pollo – offers a fabulously well-preserved example, the nuraghe reaches up to 6 meters high and contains stairs and several rooms. It is flanked by a few smaller side towers, while behind them lie the remaining walls of almost 100 village buildings. These include huts, grouped in small clusters, connected by paved passageways, which were probably used by various craftsmen for making goods sold outside the village itself. There is also a well, at the bottom of which archaeologists have found decorated jugs that were placed there as part of some kind of ritual ceremony.

Nuraghe La Prisgiona is one of seven sites – including the nearby Giants’ Tomb, a horseshoe-shaped, covered stone passageway where villagers were buried – that make up the Arzachena Archaeological Park (entrance for one site €7 [£6]combination ticket €25 [£21]children under 12 years free).

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