When we board a ferry with our motorcycle, it's always a good day. And if the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean is waiting for us at the other end, well, it just gets better. The classic deck passage ticket is the price we pay in order to enjoy the sunrise over the sea, after a sleepless night interrupted by the constant reminder that “docking is scheduled at ..."
The little islands outside the port of Olbia, lit by the pink light of dawn, are enough to chase away any tiredness or headache. And we know that once we disembark, there’s a whole new land to explore. Five friends and an approximate route, our motorcycles loaded with tents and sleeping bags. The only certainty is our return ticket, ten days from now.
Off the ferry in Sardinia and after breakfast our first destination is Tempio Pausania and Mount Limbara, less than sixty kilometers west of Olbia. From state road SS392, we take provincial road 51, its hairpins leading us towards the top of the mountain, a little less than 1,400 meters in altitude. Shortly before the former NATO base, after about eight kilometers, the asphalt runs out and we head onto the renowned TET, or Trans Euro Trail, a network of tracks ideal for maxi enduro motorcycles that cross the whole continent. And a new world opens up.
A world of colors, scents and hidden views, unreachable if not with a pair of knobby tires. The scenery spans alpine passes and Mediterranean scrub, the hidden paths making us feel like real explorers, despite us having only just left the asphalt.
The village of Berchidda marks our first real stop. In the background is the artificial lake of Coghinas. It’s midday, and we still don’t have a destination. We choose Orosei, it’s a good way off. We decide to put the adventurous intent of our trip aside for a moment and book two rooms in a bed & breakfast. It is a vacation after all, and we’re still recovering from the brutal ‘deck passage’.
The Santa Maria Resort and its pool appear like a mirage after a full day of eating dust on the spectacular Sardinian dirt roads.
Just outside the town of Oliena, a long, winding mule track weaves its way towards the plateau of Mount Corrasi and makes for an increasingly tough climb. Riding a maxi enduro on these loose stones is not easy, especially if not equipped with the right tires, but the view from the top makes up for the effort and anxiety. This is only recommended for those with good off-road riding experience. For anyone else, we suggest a trip as far as good sense prevails, among the holly oaks and ancient cork oaks.
Our next stop is Orgosolo, world famous for its murals. From here the trail continues south. We follow it as far as Arbatax, crossing the Alto Flumendosa in the area of the famous collapsed bridge and approaching the artificial lake of Bau Muggeris. The square welcomes us like a monument with its red rocks, but our stop is brief because we’re not yet at our final destination for the night. The tents are there, just waiting to be used.
It's almost sunset, the sky is tinged orange and pink and a dip in the sea is all we could ask for. We stop at the first beach bar we come across, exchange a few pleasantries with the managers who are closing, and the Tirreno is all ours. But what if we enjoyed more than just a dip?
Like a whole night by the sea, free of charge? All we have to do is ask. The Sardinians are hospitable people, one smile and they open their doors as if we were family. Having shyly mentioned the possibility of pitching our tents on their land, not only do they decide to stay open to make us dinner, but they entrust us with the keys to the place until the next morning.
Waking up to the sound of the waves is a dream. It's paradise here in June and, with few tourists, everything is quiet. Half a day’s rest seems like the absolute minimum to us, we’re on vacation after all.
We only wake from our wonderful slumber in the afternoon. The route takes us further south, towards Villasimius. About fifty kilometers from Arbatax we have a spectacular view of Porto Santoru, a small port for the loading of minerals built a century ago in a suggestive corner of the Sardinian coast. It is from here that the next off-road stretch begins, not easy with a motorcycle weighing over two hundred kilos, but not to be missed. The trail follows the cliffs with sections that overlook the emerald water but that are never exposed or dangerous. This undulating track of rare beauty winds for no less than ten kilometers between the Mediterranean scrub and the sea.
Our next point of reference is Torre Murtas, in the municipal territory of Arzana, a fortification probably built at the end of the 18th century to protect against any threats coming from the sea.
Once past Cagliari, our next stop is Porto Pino and the Is Arenas Biancas dunes, mountains of white sand shaped by the wind just steps away from the sea. This area is located within the Capo Teulada base, the second largest military area in Europe, and is therefore accessible only during the summer period. There is no access throughout the rest of the year due to military shooting practice.
In Porto Pino itself, the restaurant of La Barchetta comes highly recommended, with its pyrotechnic display of flamed fish, cooked in full view of the customers. What better way to round off a day of riding and ocean views?
While the trail along the cliffs south of Arbatax is the best we could ask for in terms of scenery, the finest off-road riding comes as we descend from Montevecchio to the beach of Piscinas. Montevecchio is an ancient mining site, abandoned for thirty years but still largely preserved. It feels like we're crossing a ghost town, and indeed we are. One not to be missed.
From the “center” we have a choice of two routes, of varying difficulty. The SP66 is a wide dirt road that is easily passable even with road tires. It does not require any particular riding skill and promises a quick, smooth trip to the sea (after the Ingurtosu and Naracauli mine, follow the SP4). But it's not the right choice for those who like things complicated.
If you head in the same direction, but turn right about fifty meters after the kiosk of Montevecchio, you can take a downhill mule track, but this is only recommended for those who have good off-road riding skills, and particularly a twin-cylinder motorcycle. Don’t be fooled by the first few hundred yards, as the road narrows within a mile or two. Once at the bottom of the valley, it becomes a spectacular track, a combination of sand and stony sections. We come across many fords and are struck by the bright orange color of the Rio Piscinas stream, the result of an iron-rich subsoil.
The last stretch runs entirely along the river bed, a mix of sand, stones and rust-colored water. This section is the best, as there’s a wide visual field and the ground is not too rough. We all feel a little like Edi Orioli or Franco Picco, so much so that when we rejoin the main road, we feel like heading back for another lap.
With its coastal section that runs up from the Dunes of Piscinas (not to be missed!) to Portu Maga, the SP4 is something spectacular and doesn’t require any particular effort, unless you’re riding it in the pouring rain. You will encounter a couple of fords though, and if the creek is high you’ll need to take care. Not impossible, but in poor conditions it’s not for everyone.
The tower of Flumentorgiu is another evocative monument, built in the 16th century to serve as a lookout in case of any coastal attacks by pirates. The dunes at the top of the Torre dei Corsari beach complete a beautiful backdrop. We don't know where to turn our gaze.
Our destination for lunch can only be Ristorante da Lucio in Marceddì. Marceddì is a fishing village like something straight out of a nineteenth century painting, with its low one-story buildings and unpaved streets weaving between the houses. Seafood lovers should not miss the chance to enjoy a plate of ‘arselle’, similar to clams, savoring them just a few meters from the sea. And it’s not unusual to find yourself sitting next to the person who caught what's on your plate that very morning.
The SP49 Bosa-Alghero, which turns into the SP105, is a perfect ribbon of asphalt that runs for forty-five kilometers along the Sardinian coast. Ideal even for hardcore off-roaders as we head back north. Up and down the cliffs, the sea is always in view. A joy to the senses.
What could be better than Sardinia for an off-road trip with a maxi enduro? An idyllic blend of smooth asphalt, mule tracks, gravel paths, Mediterranean scrub and touches of an alpine setting with the sea in the background. Visit once and you’ll fall in love, come back and you’ll be hooked.
To fully enjoy the island, you shouldn’t limit yourself to paved roads. Off-roading is the only way to get to places that, without a motorcycle, we could only see on Google Maps. So knobby tires are a must. The more you dare with the tread, the fewer problems you'll have and the more relaxed you'll be as you tackle the trails. Even better if you have a motorcycle with a 21" front wheel.
Between June and August, temperatures can reach 40°C in some areas, so a fully ventilated summer outfit is highly recommended for a motorcycle trip to Sardinia. It is always a good idea to have at least one waterproof jacket to protect yourself from unexpected downpours or for evening travel, when temperatures can drop by fifteen degrees or more. A backpack with water bag is a great ally, especially for those who suffer in the heat or are used to drinking a lot. Being able to quench your thirst at any time is no small thing, and also drastically reduces the risk of dehydration, increasing your safety.
The more ‘off-road minded’ you are, the more important protective boots become. A technical adventure boot or pure off-roading boot may not be the most practical for a vacation, but you'll be thankful when you need to put your feet down in the stones to support more than two hundred kilos of motorcycle.
The amount of luggage you’ll carry depends on the expected duration of your trip. It’s best to equip yourself with a soft and spacious bag that can be tied onto the rack, so that you don't have to deal with side panniers, which add to the motocycle’s bulk and are not the best when riding through bushes. Be careful when fastening it to the motorcycle though, as a luggage net is convenient but not enough. We use as many straps as we deem necessary. Don't underestimate the jolts you’ll experience when riding; it's better to take an extra five minutes in the morning to fasten everything properly than to have to stop on the road to fix any loose bags.
A small or medium tank bag is perfect for storing frequently used items such as wallets, cameras and the like. Large tank bags are practical in terms of their capacity, but can be annoying when you’re riding in a standing position.