By Ryan McDonald
There are few more scenic cycle routes in the whole of Europe than the one that takes you from Olbia to the rural village of San Pantaleo. Indeed, this is a journey that will offer up breathtaking sights of the northeast of the island, which is where the more well-to-do prefer to holiday as opposed to the all-inclusive vibe you’ll find down south in the capital Cagliari.
The route, which spans just under 35km, does give the more experienced cyclist a chance to test their mettle on some of the steeper climbs into San Pantaleo but by and large, it is one which even a beginner can enjoy. This is especially the case if they are treated to the cooling breezes that usually make their way up from the North African coasts and onto this exquisite island in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Indeed, you don’t have to be Geraint Thomas to be able to complete this ride, although the way the Welshman is going these days, perhaps he would actually have a battle having just broken his pelvis for the second time in his career, on this occasion in the Giro d’Italia. Gone are his hopes of winning in Italy but more importantly, his sports personality of the year odds from Paddy Power have climbed to 150/1 after the disaster on Mount Etna. But the point stands, this is a very beginner-friendly route.
At the start, leaving Olbia is naturally where you’ll encounter the most traffic but once you get onto the SP82, it will begin to get quieter as you make your way towards Golfo Aranci. The first beach you will find on the way is Pittulongu which is eight kilometres from Olbia. This magnificent beach runs for just over a kilometre and has a wonderful seafood restaurant on it. It may not make Lonely Planet’s best ten beaches on the Sardinian island but it is a magical summer spot that provides a wonderful pit stop.
Should you want to push on then it is a mere eight kilometres to Golf Aranci from there. Once a small fishing town, Golfo Aranci now boasts a delightful harbour with many interesting restaurants. This is where you undoubtedly start to see the beauty of the Mediterranean as white sands and shallow turquoise water will meet you upon arrival. You’ll be hard-pressed to move on straight away and the splendour of the cycle route relies on you enjoying these idyllic spots.
From Golf Aranci it is another 23km to San Pantaleo and this is the point where the ride begins to demand more of your attention, for this rural village lies behind the coast. As you get closer to your destination, you’ll notice massive granite peaks coming into view, towering over the town. The road into San Pantaleo is a steady downhill that will take your breath away and deliver you to a place where you are guaranteed an authentic Sardinian experience.
The folks at Conde Nast have put together a must-read guide on the awe-inspiring Costa Smeralda that will help you identify the best hotel once in San Pantaleo, although if it is an understated class that you are looking for at the right price, then you can’t go wrong at Hotel Locanda Sant’Andrea in the centre of this small town.
There are many reasons to visit the island of Sardinia but if you want to spend a week side by side with the locals and away from the tourists, sipping on an Aperol spritz as the sound of the Italian language fills the air on warm summer evenings, then San Pantaleo is the place to go to.