Small enough to be classified as an island but big enough to be a universe unto itself, Sardinia lies about 120 miles west of the Italian peninsula. Its coastline is probably Europe's most spectacular. Its waters teem with fish and shellfish. Its broad valleys turn into golden oceans of wheat in summer. Its rugged mountains, pocked with caves, are home to large flocks of sheep that feed on pungent wild herbs and produce a cheese your palate will never forget. Nestled into its silent olive groves are some of the continent's oldest archaeological remains, dating back to 1700 BC. Its people speak a language incomprehensible to all other Italians, celebrate more saints' days than anyone else in the nation, and love to dress up in elaborate costumes at the drop of a finely-embroidered hat.
But Sardinia is not for the faint-hearted. In summer, the heat can be blistering. Winter winds are some of the most vicious in the Mediterranean. Hotels and restaurants can be either outrageously expensive or dismally primitive. Public transportation is unreliable and moves at a snail's pace. Even getting to the island can be arduous, especially in summer when ferries and planes are packed. Sardinia is for adventurers, for those of us who like to feel we've accomplished something when we travel, those who want to push just a little bit farther than the crowd, those who are intrigued, not frightened, by civilizations that initially may seem inexplicable. Sardinia, it seems, is just the kind of place In Italy's readers are looking for.