A few years ago, I had a rather dismal experience at an out-of-season Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. It was cold and we could only find one restaurant open. The food was pretty forgettable. The weather worse, and I vowed not to go back for a while.
Yet here I am, four years on, standing outside a small vineyard near the capital Cagliari, after three astounding days of good food, good wine, rest and relaxation. The sun is shining. The wine is flowing. I am eating delicious slivers of fresh pecorino cheese and slices of local salami. The vineyard’s owner, Ferruccio Deiana (ferrucciodeiana.it) brings out two trays of Sardinian sweet biscuits. I have witnessed so many trays of these over the last few days that I have become accustomed to the intricate decorations of small silver balls and tiny patterned icing swirls. One tray is full of almond-based sweets, some wrapped in fancy tissue paper, all tassels and bows. The other is cram-packed with soft pastries.
‘These are zabaglione,’ Deiana tells me. They are similar to croissants and filled with a light custard cream. They taste oddly wonderful with a gulp of local red, the mighty and powerful Cannonau. ‘Oh my goodness,’ I think. ‘I can’t believe I have to leave this place.’
Over a long weekend with my husband, but without our children for the first time in ages, it became obvious that Sardinia, or the interior of Sardinia, really is undergoing a tourism revolution. Everywhere we went, as we crisscrossed the island, we found small inns, welcoming and helpful, many attached to a farm. Agritourism, where guests stay on the farm and eat locally cooked food, is booming. It makes perfect sense in such a rural country to combine farming with the renting out of converted outhouses. The guests get a peaceful, real experience of being in the countryside and living with a local family and the family supplements its income.
We spent one night in the Sardinian countryside near a town called Abbasanta, at the truly peaceful Mandra Edera Organic Farm . On arrival, we were greeted by the sight of three beautiful Anglo-Arab horses being ridden through fields by three equally striking Sardinian men. Having driven through the lush grounds, we reached the main farm, which is surrounded by a collection of guest bungalows and a pretty pool. The place was dotted with people taking part in an art class. Instead, my husband and I opted to help out with the cooking and that evening we enjoyed the fruits of our labours. We chatted with the other guests late into the night as we feasted on handmade pasta with salmon sauce, followed by steamed fish with chargrilled local vegetables and homemade chocolate cake for dessert.
The slow-food movement has evidently hit Sardinia’s shores with a vengeance. Founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy, it was set up in an attempt to encourage people to eat their own local food while combating the trend for fast food. This certainly seems to be true in Sardinia. On our way to the Mandra Edera, we stopped at a village called Barumini, which is host to a large nuraghe, a tower-shaped building of evenly worked stones. These nuraghe date from 1800-500BC and the one in Barumini has been designated a World Heritage site.