Italy Journal – Southern Sardinia

{Reposted from my original 2008 trip journal and reflections in 2009}

Audra sold us on the idea of Sardinia as an off-the-beaten path adventure that was somewhat less touristy. In that sense, Sardinia delivered. It was certainly remote. We allowed enough time to see the south and the north, first staying at Hotel Tarthesh (http://www.tartheshotel.com/tarthesh.html), outside of Cagliari.

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Hotel Tarthesh, Sardinia

Tarthesh (one of several spellings I saw) was easily the fanciest hotel of the trip. It was in the middle of nowhere – a destination in itself where spa services and the attached restaurant make it the kind of self contained place you may not want to leave. A small town of Guspin nearby offered a few shops, grocery store, gelateria and restaurants.

As nice as it was, it was foreign in an otherworldly way, not just a European or Italian sense. My immediate reaction was that of a Star Trek episode where the crew beam down to a planet that sort of looks like Earth, but really isn’t. The language, the ancient stylized dress, the color scheme and even the smell of the place were all alien, but not in a super modern sci-fi sense (though the hallways all had light sensors and turned on and off as they anticipated your every move).

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Hotel Tarthesh lobby

There were many confusing design elements. The stone construction was at times perplexing. The dark stone of walls and steps and ramps sometimes blended into each other in such a way that you could easily trip because it was hard to see the change in terrain. There were glass panels everywhere and it was very easy to see how people could mistake them for doorways. There was a nice lawn (tended by robot mowers), but you didn’t feel welcome to explore it. There are no paths leading to the grass and you were diverted to stay on the stone. This was frustrating in such an otherwise brown environment.

Our bathroom had a noisy fan. The kind of noise you expect from a Motel 6. The oversized glass shower door ran right into the shower head and the sound properties in the shower were bizarre. The standing sound wave from the fan was so intense that two people could not use the shower and talk and expect to understand each other.

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Hotel Tarthesh, Sardinia

I noticed broken or problematic things in the downstairs bathroom too. The paper dispenser was broken, faucets were confusing as hell and there were ants on the floor coming up out of a place in the floor where come caulking was missing. So for all of its poshness, Tarthesh didn’t quite impress on all levels.

We ate dinner at the hotel our first night, mostly because we were completely exhausted from the car/plane/car juggling we had to do to get there (note: gas stations are not open on Sundays.) The meal was wonderful (for the full report see our cuisine section), and we had our first Sardinian wine, probably the best of the trip. My fish was not descaled very well, and was very difficult to eat – leaving a mutilated marine carcass and some appetite left over. To compensate, the waiter brought us some cookies and introduced us to mirto, an herbal aperitif specific to the region made from myrtle. This was enjoyable and reminded me of Unicum, though sweeter.

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Hotel garden robots

The next day we took a day trip to Cagliari, where most things were closed and we just roamed around. Then we went to Su Naraxi Baramini, a 4000-year-old Nuraghic ruin. It was a blistering hot, though dry, day so the opportunity to get inside of a 50 degree cave-like structure was appealing. I got my “Cites of the Underworld” fix going through the nooks and crannies of rocks.

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Su Naraxi Baramini

Back in Guspin, we visited the local supermarket, LIDL, which to Americans would look much like an Aldi Foods. The main difference was that they also sold alcohol, including a local grappa, which I sampled back at the hotel before dinner while we watched the Italian news. It was then that we learned of George Carlin’s passing, and the much more earth-shaking loss of the latest soccer finals to Brazil. It was then that we knew that the subject of soccer was off limits for the rest of our trip. After a noisy shower we had a satisfying dinner at the Hotel Santa Maria restaurant in Guspin (see cuisine report).

After checkout from Hotel Tarthesh the next morning, we went north for the next part of our Sardinian experience, a farm near Aggius. It was during the next stretch of travel that all doubts were confirmed – the Sardinian landscape has the most shades of brown possible. It is likely that the color brown was invented there, after many attempts to get it just right.