The alternate name for this post could also be: A heckuva lot of beach photos … 😁
The opportunity came up for me to volunteer at another workaway in an Italian town I had never heard of: Cala Gonone.
I received the request in mid-August to come stay in Sardegna for the end of September; the two weeks after I was to fly back home.
Sometimes you feel the need to jump at an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime, so I jumped.
I’m lucky to have a good friend who is a travel agent so she organized it all for me. 😊
I arrived at the Olbia airport to meet my lovely only-Italian-speaking airbnb host Monica, and another guest arriving that same day from Berlin: Lou, a German online photo-editor who was in Sardegna for a two-week vacation, and one week of that would be rock climbing in Cala Gonone!
The next morning, after a brief exploration of the old part of Olbia with Lou and a proper Italian cappuccino, of course, I made my way back to the airport (with a free bus ride 😁 because I think the bus driver was mad I wanted to pay with cash instead of a ticket and refused my money- whoops! 😳).
I purchased a ticket for the Deplano bus from the airport to Cala Gonone. It’s a €16 trip from the Olbia airport and took about 2 hours.
And the entire trip I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.
The drive was an adventure all its own, worth every penny, and I’m not surprised that people can take a bus around the entire island like a tour. The scenery is gorgeous!!
Not sure if you can see them, but there is a pile o’ sheep on that hill.
I arrived in Cala Gonone and my host Claudio introduced me to his parents who had come over for a visit. His mother only speaks Italian but his dad speaks Italian and French so he and I could communicate well! 🙂
The garden and apartment are beautiful, and there are fruit trees and fresh herbs and olive trees surrounding us.
Possibly one of the most delightfully surprising discoveries of my trip was the lemon tree in the next door neighbors’ yard. We were grateful to pick one or two almost every day, and by far, they were the most flavourful, delicious lemons I have tasted in my entire life.
I also met the adorable pets of household: Flora, Claudio’s dog, and Leo, his cat.
I didn’t have much time to relax or even unpack, as almost immediately after my arrival, Claudio took me to the final evening of a festival in the local town of Dorgali.
Sardinians are very proud of their culture and traditions and it was amazing to see everyone celebrate it together.
Right away we came across a group of guys playing live local music. And they just didn’t stop!
The launeddas (triple pipe) was the most impressive, and it reminded me of a bagpipe with one pipe playing constant sound like a drone.
Live traditional Sardegnian music within 24 hours of arriving in Italy? Incredible!
Claudio knew all the locations of various traditional food and historical displays, and we spent the evening walking all over the town from one place to the next!
There was free wine all over the place- all private collections by owners of the shops/homes along the street. And just try saying no to Italians. I dare you. 😜
Many people opened the main floor of their homes and set up food or art or historical artifacts from the region and invited everyone in!
We watched women make cheese tarts with fresh mint (even the pastry was made by hand) and cook them in a traditional wood burning oven.
Claudio showed me where they were roasting traditional pork (porchetta) outside around an open fire and we watched a man throw pottery, handing off completed pieces to the young boy standing next to him…
We watched some women dancing and more launeddas (a group performance this time), saw original (ancient) and traditional handmade clothing of the area, tried many versions of local cheese (picorino) and I had my first taste of pane carasau (a light crisp flat bread that is served at every meal; farmers used to bring it out to the fields because it was light and lasted a long time), we perused local artwork, and drank lots of wine…
There were some festival contests in the street, too, like “guess how much the cow weighs and if you guess right, you win the cow”, and “guess how high this cheese is hanging off the ground and you can win it”.
I have been told that there is not much produce-style agriculture in the area, other than wine. Lots of sheep, though. 🙂 (approximately 3 million sheep, actually)
I also had a seada, which is a baked cheese pastry served with honey. The cheese is local new/young locally made pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and it’s actually a dessert! It was absolutely delicious.
I felt like the only non-Italiano speaking person in the whole village, but apparently this festival brings in all sorts of tourists.
My fellow workawayer and roommate for my two weeks here was Ravit, from Israel. She is a photographer and anthropologist and has fallen in love with the island here and is taking some tour groups around in October.
The food here is very good and quite inexpensive. Ravit and I often made meals together, and we only shared two meals with Claudio in his house upstairs.
One afternoon Claudio made us risotto with onions and zucchini, and another day his mom and dad came over for a visit and his mom made us all culugiones (which are Sardinian ravioli) and breaded aubergines. The culugiones reminded me of the love child of manicotti and perogies, served with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Sooo good!
The town of Cala Gonone is a tourist hotspot on the island and is very busy in the summer months and then closes up at the end of September, so shops and restaurants are becoming quieter and quieter and one by one closing up for the ‘winter’ season.
Our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the beach as well as the restaurants and shops, and it’s also easy to walk down to the port and take a boat to get to the beaches further south on the island that are not accessible by the road.
So of course I did.
Cala Luna is the first popular beach south of Cala Gonone, and it took me only an hour and ten minutes to get there, and it was over some of the most incredible blue water I have ever seen!
There are also caves here if you want some shade. Enormous, wonderful caves.
The second time I was headed to Cala Luna but decided to stop at the little beach just before. You can only access it by boat or hiking, so it was pretty quiet with only a few people there, and the swimming is perfection.
These beaches are excellent spots to bring a picnic, but to kayak there and back was the best excuse to warrant going for gelato back in town, or better yet, go for pizza. The pizza here is just the way I like it: fire burning oven-cooked, thin crust style. And inexpensive! A marguerita pizza is only €5 or €6! (And they are not small!)
The town of Cala Gonone may get busy in the summer and cater to tourists, but it doesn’t feel commercial like other beach-towns I have been to before.
There were still many (mostly German) tourists, and I met up again with my new friend Lou partway through her climbing week.
Now I have a friend to visit in Berlin!
One day Claudio picked us some cactus fruit on his way back from work and prepared them for us.
Ravit has has them often because they are all over in Israel, but I had never tried a “prickly pear”!
You have to wear gloves to handle them because they have tiny needles you can barely see and are painful and irritating if you get them stuck in your fingertips. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and soft and full of giant seeds you swallow whole (I can assure you from personal experience don’t even attempt to bite!).
Another fruit I discovered was the corbezzolo ‘berries’ that happened to grow in Claudio’s garden. They look almost like a lycee and are ripe when they turn red. They are squishy and the pokey-looking exterior is actually soft. They are like nothing I have ever had. Not too sweet, with a slight citrus-crossed-with-fig flavour, and the texture of a strawberry. (How’s that for a description?)
The workaway jobs at the apartment have been mostly painting. Some simple things like refreshing the white paint on exterior garden walls, while others are tougher like sanding off years of old paint from metal benches and lots of detail-work like adding Greece-inspired blue trim around the garden, and faux-finishing furniture to look antiqued.
It seems I was destined to paint blue this summer, be it called “Picasso”, “Sky” or “Sea Breeze”.
What’s amazing is that every day our schedule was entirely affected by how much it looks like ‘beach weather’. For example, on particularly nice days we would work for a couple hours in the morning, and then go to the beach at the heat of the day, go swimming, sunbathe, and then come back home and finish the day’s work. This is possibly the dream kind of job, really.
One afternoon we went out to the countryside property of Claudio’s family and helped organize wood for the winter. The work was removing giant nails and screws and fencing wire from old boards and fence posts and chopping various lengths of wood that were piled all around the garage there, all while taking turns playing soccer with Flora.
Every day there were beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets, and stunning sunrises. Great photo ops for this beach-lover.
On the last full day in Sardegna Ravit and I joined Claudio and his parents to harvest all the grapes from their vineyard!
Thank goodness it’s a tiny vineyard. 😁😳
Afterwards we went to his parent’s home in Nuoro where they have an entire room and basement to make wine.
We had a delicious pasta lunch, including some of their home made wine.
First they washed all the equipment with a high pressure hose, and we set up the grinder on top of the juice barrel and stainless steel ramp/trough from the front garden into the basement window. Then Claudio and Ravit dumped the 18 cassettes of grapes onto the trough and Claudio’s dad and I used pieces of wood to push the grapes through the grinder (grapes and stems, but no leaves).
Once they are all through the grinder, Claudio raked them out evenly, and put weight on them to create the juice.
Claudio says that he has been helping his parents make this wine every year as long as he can remember.
One thing I have never heard of before is using the same grapes to make both white and red wine!
Claudio’s family immediately drains 20% of the juice from the large barrel of grapes within the hour of macerating them. They make the vino bianco from this.
Then they wait 5 or 6 days for the grapes to sit in the barrel and then drain all the juice then, and then they will use a press to squeeze the remaining juice and flavour from the pulp and wood left in the barrel, and add that to the dark juice and make the vino rosso.
I then learned that the rest of the grape fibre/wood/skins is what is used to make grappa.
We got to try some of the grape juice after the ‘vino bianco’ was drawn. It tasted unlike any grape juice I have ever had.
It doesn’t quite look like white wine to me yet…
I stayed overnight in Nuoro before taking the Deplano bus back to Olbia for my flight to Paris. (Being October 2, we were now in the ‘winter season’ and the bus didn’t run to Cala Gonone any more.)
It was only an €8 ticket from Nuoro, and just less than 2 hours drive. Before checking in for my flight I even had time to get a pizza at the outdoor restaurant next to the airport. 🙂
An easy flight back to Paris for one night, and the inspiration to leave my luggage at the airport for the night so I wouldn’t have to lug it around the metro with less than 24 hours on the city. For €18, I could leave it at the security baggage check at Terminal 2, and I felt like a genius. 😎
I then made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I caught a gorgeous sunset and snapped a couple photos before heading to my friend Hugo’s apartment where I got to enjoy a visit with him before we both crashed for the night.
The next morning we headed off at the same time- Hugo to work, and me back to the airport.
I savoured one last croissant and café crème before boarding my flight home!
And thus ends my unforgettable summer travel of 2016! ❤️
…Okay, a few more beach photos because I can’t help it. 😁
Okay, and a video.