Thursday, July 11, 2013

Welcome to the Maddalena archipelago

Welcome to the Maddalena archipelago
The Maddalena archipelago off the coast of Sardinia's Costa Smeralda is a quiet place of turquoise seas and sandy coves.

In these translucent seas, you're in another world. It doesn't feel like the Mediterranean here. It feels like a more rugged version of the Caribbean. Suspended between Sardinia and Corsica, this scatter of seven large islands and 55 other tiny islands, has some of the most spectacular beaches you'll find in Italy, and some of the cleanest and clearest water.

The Maddalena islands are only 20 minutes by ferry from the Sardinian port of Palau, and geologically connected to the pink granite rockscapes of Gallura in the north-east of Sardinia. But the local dialect is closer to that of southern Corsica than to the Gallurese of northern Sardinia, and the maddalenini have always seen themselves as a race apart from Sardinian 'mainlanders', just as the latter feel culturally distinct from the rest of Italy.
This has a lot to do with history. The first inhabitants of the islands in modern times were Corsican shepherds who crossed the dangerous Strait of Bonifacio with their herds, in search of pasture that was not subject to taxation or competition from cropping farmers.
La Maddalena Town Hall

In the archipelago, swimming, sailing and long walks are the default activities. At the end of a long day's communing with nature, you come home to La Maddalena, a surprisingly large, lively, sophisticated town, buzzing with bars and bookshops, cinemas, shops and restaurants. Because all the development has been concentrated in the town, the island itself has some quiet corners which are well worth exploring. On the north coast, dune-backed beaches such as Bassa Trinità offer tropical sea and sand.

You'll need to take a boat to reach the archipelago's most spectacular land- and seascapes. On uninhabited Spargi, pristine beaches such as Cala Soraya, backed by fragrant shrubs of lentisk and pistachio, have fewer footprints than Crusoe's island. Across the first (often choppy) stretch of the Bocche di Bonifacio, the three northern islands of Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria are for true castaways. Santa Maria has a bar-restaurant and a few simple houses that change hands at stratospheric prices. One belongs to actor-director Roberto Benigni, the latest Italian film personality to be associated with these islands.
La Spiaggia Rossa, Razzoli

On the uninhabited island of Razzoli, the archipelago's granite rocks reach their apotheosis, piling and twisting into muscular shapes which make them look like eroded, petrified giants. Budelli is a tamer and more verdant island, with what must be the most famous beach in all Italy: the Spiaggia Rosa, which featured in Antonioni's film Il Deserto Rosso, and is so-called because of the blushing pink colour of the sand, caused by a microorganism that lives on seagrass. At least, it used to be blushing pink. After years of depredations by tourists filling bottles with the sand to take away as souvenirs, it's now a much paler, subtler hue: more blushing white. Since 1993 this has been a protected area, and the beach is now cordoned off, you're allowed to walk around the footpath that borders it, but not step onto the sand. It's still a seductively beautiful spot, pink or no pink.

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