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Sardinia’s Contagious Melancholy

by John Mendelssohn

Sardinia is one of those Mediterranean destinations that’s comically cheap to visit during the winter (RyanAir will pay you 79p to let them fly you there, but no meal is served, and there’s a 20kg/person baggage allowance, and I was only joking about the first part) because no one in his right mind – or who wants to get away from Blighty’s arctic chill — would visit when vengefully frigid winds are still chasing budget-minded Brits and Germans with chattering teeth through the narrow streets of the picturesque Centro Storico, or Old Town.

When visiting any Italian destination, it is imperative to keep in mind that the whole country, islands and mainland alike, stops dead in its tracks every weekday afternoon at around 13.00. There is no more depressing experience available to the foreign visitor than to arrive in a new place half an hour after everything has shut down and everyone pissed off home. My bride and I – I, who live, but seem never to learn! -- managed exactly that when we took the bus down the coast to Bosa, which, on our arrival a few minutes before 14.00, seemed the most depressing place in the Mediterranean, if not on earth, with no sign of life anywhere.

Of course, the town’s desertedness might have been a blessing. The winding, narrow coastal road that links Alghero and Bosa had seemed to make our approximately 95-year-old driver imagine himself behind the wheel of a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti rather than an Iveco City Class CNG bus. Having spent the entire journey from Alghero gasping prayers and gripping our hand rests hard enough to render our knuckles translucent, we needed a few minutes to collect ourselves.

Once having done so, we then had three hours (the next bus back to Alghero wouldn’t leave until early evening) to wander the deserted streets wondering if Bosa would be where we would finally find the Holy Grail of refrigerator magnets, one both depicting Jesus and including a tiny thermometer guaranteed accurate to within 20 degrees Celsius.

No luck.

We visited the spectacular cave at Neptune’s Grotto. Because the boat doesn’t start operating until later in the year, we had to walk down 654 steps along the edge of a very steep cliff behind a tour guide in a Nike (that is, I Condone Slave Labour) baseball cap. He asserted in a Swiss German accent, the least lilting on earth, that the Grotto is even more spectacular than the Cheddar Caves in Somerset, and we had to concur. After our tour, we ascended the same 654 steps we’d only recently descended, and our quadriceps wailed in protest.

There isn’t an awful lot else to see in the environs of Albergho. As in other Italian locales, there are, nearly everywhere you look, quartets of old men sitting together mumbling into space, and graffiti, at which, given that their painters kick-started the Renaissance, the Italians are remarkably awful. Because I would prefer to live in a world with very much less American cultural imperialism, I was no more pleased to see Red Hot Chili Peppers and Korn artlessly spray-painted on the side of an ancient building in Alghero than I was to see Bon Jovi on the side of a hut in central Borneo last autumn. It is troubling and incomprehensible to me that a McDonald’s can apparently thrive in a city in which it was difficult to have a non-delicious meal, but I suppose I should be heartened by Pizza Hut’s absence.

I become woozy with pleasure at the memory of the pizza romana I was served at the Bella Napoli in Piazza Civica, the contagious melancholy of our server notwithstanding, but very nearly weep at the memory of my dinner at Trattoria Al Refetterio in nearby Vicola Adami. My spaghetti with sea urchins wasn’t better than sex, but it was as good, and my bride had to restrain me from trying to get into the kitchen at meal’s end to kiss the hands of the chef, a genius, a wizard, a superstar. It was her view that I would only embarrass everyone, and she is commonly right about such matters.

Update: We have just viewed a television programme about eight C-list celebrities who are trying to look a little less ancient. The spa in which they've been incarcerated is in Sardinia, which looks nearly as gorgeous as the Azores. Maybe it's a question of time of year. We are now planning to reconsider the island in October 2018.

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