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Sardinia’s largest city and its capital for centuries, Cagliari is a heaven for tourists. Like most Italian cities it offers succulent food, art, culture, and entertainment but it also offers one of the most beautiful bays of the Mediterranean, a five-mile-long beach with fine sand and crystal water, wetlands with pink flamingos. It is like being in the Caribbean surrounded by monuments, museums, castles, all the comforts of a city. You can visit the Archeological Museum or any other cultural site in the morning, have lunch and shop in the medieval district, go to the beach in the afternoon, have dinner on the bay, and catch a concert afterwards.  

Cagliari is an ancient city founded by Phoenician traders, and, like Rome, it spreads across seven hills: Castello, Colle San Michele, Colle di Bonaria, Monte Urpinu, Monte Claro, Tuvu Mannu and Tuvixeddu. The city, which has preserved towers and sections of the massive walls which once encircled its medieval Castello district, has the largest and most important Phoenician necropolis in the Mediterranean, whose finds are on show both at the city’s Archaeological Museum and at the British Museum in London.

The Botanical Garden, a green oasis in the heart of the old city, has a wide variety of tropical and Mediterranean plants.

Cagliari is also a birdwatcher’s dreamland, thanks to its huge wetland areas of Santa Gilla and Molentargius with a rich and diverse wildlife, dominated by large colonies of pink flamingos.

In the heart of the city, the main monuments include the ancient Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Basilica of Bonaria.

The city’s – and the whole island’s – main festival and historical pageant is the Festival of Sant’Efisio, Cagliari’s patron saint, held on May 1. The long colorful procession, with groups in precious traditional costumes from all over Sardinia, on foot, decked carts and horseback, slowly winds through the city centre, accompanying the horse-drawn coach bearing the Saint’s statue. The Saint then proceeds out of town to the small church of Nora, where he was martyred, thus honoring every year a vow made by the cagliaritani during the plague that struck the city in the 17th century. The festival ends on the 4th of May, when the Saint’s statue returns to Cagliari.

Not far from Cagliari, you can visit Su Nuraxi, a nuragic archaeological site in Barumini dating from the seventeenth century BC. There is a bastion of four corner towers plus a central one, and a village inhabited from the thirteenth to the sixth century BC, developed around the Nuraghe. They are the most impressive expression of the Nuragic civilization and are included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1997.

Nora, also close to Cagliari, deserves another visit. It is an ancient Roman and pre-Roman town placed on a peninsula near Pula.

According to legend, Nora was founded by a group of Iberians from Tartessus led by Norax, a mythological hero son of Eriteide and the god Hermes. It is believed to be the first town founded in Sardinia and to have been settled by the ancient Sherden or the Nuraghi people, and later colonized by Phoenicians.

And, if you get tired of the city beach, you have plenty of choices: velvety white sand in Villasimius, golden dunes in Chia, black and white beaches in Teulada, you can pick your favorite.

A heaven from April to November, put it in your must-see list.