Takeaway

Alghero moments

Debashree Majumdar | Updated on January 17, 2018

Pretty please: Houses in muted yellow and salmon pink—lined along cobblestoned roads—in Alghero shutterstock   -  Shutterstock

This Sardinian island town has a Spanish — Catalonian, to be precise — flavour

An empty airport at 10 in the morning is not a sight a city-dweller is used to, but the Cagliari airport, in the capital of Sardinia, was just about yawning at the bright sun streaming in through the glass walls. As I tried to figure out the way to the train station, I saw a handful of tourists, armed with blue-and-yellow maps, walk out into the windy morning, leaving the arrival lounge desolate. I was headed to Alghero, in the northwestern part of the island, and followed everyone else out into the bright summer morning that smelt heavily of the Mediterranean.

Soon, I was on a train traversing the length of Sardinia. An island that bears the imprints of the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Genoans who fought the Pisans and Arabs, the Spanish, and the historic House of Savoy. An island which, despite being a part of modern Italy, revels in a culture that, in DH Lawrence’s words, seems “lost between Europe and Africa, and belonging to nowhere.” En route to Alghero, I crossed the province of Sassari, which seemed scruffy from the relentless blaze of the midday sun. It felt less Mediterranean and more arid, yielding to patches of sudden lush overgrowth along the little streams that gurgled towards the sea.

After nearly seven hours of travel I finally set foot in the medieval town of Alghero. It was in deep sleep, resembling the rice-loving, fish-eating bylanes of Kolkata after a coma-inducing lunch. I walked up to the only visible humans in the area — two middle-aged locals manning the station counter — who smoked fat cigars to keep siesta at bay. They informed me between plenty of hand gestures, my laughable Italian and their limited English that the bus taking me to the centre of the town would be another half-hour away. Exhausted, I sought comfort in a cigarette after hopes for a Sardinian lunch stood abandoned.

As the hot afternoon inched its way towards dusk, I found the town alive, bustling with locals indulging in their passeggiata (the ritual bonding over gossip and evening strolls) and tourists along the beach. The evening light was the colour of Campari.

Centro Storico, or the old town, lay within the golden walls that lined the southern marina. The buzz in Alghero, like in many medieval cities, lies at the heart. That part of the town is criss-crossed by cobble-stone pathways and piazzas dotted with boutiques selling handcrafted spreads and coral jewellery. At the southern tip of the cliff overlooking the very blue Mediterranean, a lone musician filled the square with his velvety voice. The piazza throbbed with the hum of footsteps, the clink of glasses and cutlery, and the happy whir of conversations induced by spumante (Italian sparkling white wine).

Centro Storico, despite the battering by Allied bombings during World War II, has been mostly restored to its quiet glory of high, forlorn arches and ancestral churches. In its street names and its cuisine, Alghero retains an unmistakeable Catalonian flavour. Following a short period of Pisan rule, the town was seized by the Aragonese in the 14th century and its people have since nurtured its Spanish leanings. Algherese, a variant of the Catalan language, is what the locals use.

Mornings presented a wholly different feel to the town, bringing with it the squabbles of seagulls — screeching and shattering the calm in the lanes. Noise apart, the morning emerged surprisingly cool from the overnight dew, which induced me to curl up like a cat and observe the B&B’s resident tortoise indulge in its wanderings around the dense garden. Time kept pace with the dawdler’s steps.

By the time I decided to hit the beach, the sun was perched high in the sky. My host Liliana, wearing a thick whiff of tobacco and dark coffee, left me to the beach with a quick tip: to not leave Alghero without sampling aragosta alla Catalana, aka lobster Catalan-style, and seadas — fried dough filled with pecorino cheese and drizzled in honey, the town’s favourite dessert.

Walking along the beach, I noticed the lived-in quality about Alghero. Houses in muted yellow and salmon pink lined the streets along the promenade. The more modern concrete-and-glass structures intruded every now and then, heralding the arrival of rich tourists and their need for holiday homes. Despite the encroachment, the stretch of the shady ivory beach looked dazzling. A series of swells against the endless cerulean horizon held my attention for hours. It was strange that the agility of the Mediterranean waters brought over me an absolute necessity to stay still.

Travel log

Getting there

There are regular flights to and from all major European cities to Sardinia, and frequent flights and ferries from mainland Italy. It’s best to fly to one of the major Italian cities and take the connecting ferries or flights to the island. A ferry ride takes about five hours while flights are less than an hour.

Sightseeing

Thirty minutes on a boat from the shores of Alghero can take you to the mouth of the awe-inspiring stalactite cave of Grotta di Nettuno. Discovered by local fishermen in the 15th century, the grotto rises from the midst of the turquoise waters.

Tip

Grab your Crocs if you’re planning to visit the grotto – its interiors are damp, dark and slippery.

Debashree Majumdar is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Geneva

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Published on August 19, 2016
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