Sardinia with a side of Montalcino/Tuscany

November 28, 2023



OLB – FCO – three-hour drive to Montalcino – back to Rome


“What time is ur arrival in Olbia?” read a text from our friends, George and Niki.


“We’re within 20 minutes, let’s just share a car”

“Great plan,” I texted, “although we have zero confidence we’ll be there on time. Delta to FCO, then some airline we’ve never heard of from Rome to Olbia. Let’s plan on it and we’ll send updates.”

When you travel over 150,000 miles a year, you become used to the grief of airplane travel: denial, displeasure (otherwise known as rage, but it doesn’t start with D), disappointment, doubt, drinking.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived in Olbia early. Shout out to Volotea (sorry I’d never heard of you) for an extremely efficient boarding process and flight.

But, the fact that this was so smooth meant payback would be a bitch (foreshadow).

Sardinia (the MSP – ATL – FCO – OLB leg)

A few years ago, we did a bike ride on the island of Corsica. Sardinia is just south of Corsica, with a few major differences: It’s Italian, not French, and Sardinia is really best known for its beaches. Our combo platter for this trip was starting high in the hills and ending down near the water.

Sardinia (especially when you see it from the air) looks like a very dramatically rocky landscape surrounded by beautiful water. For this trip, we opted for the north and eastern side of the island because the towns and destinations seemed closer together for bicycling. The southern part of the island with the capital of Cagliari seemingly offers a bit more of the Sardinian culture. And the middle of the island is known for shepards, cheese and honey making and more of the Sardinian traditions.

Petra Segreta, near the town of San Pantaleo (which is anchored by a giant granite massif), was our starting point. On the short drive to the hotel from the airport, the key question became, “why the hell are we trying to bicycle around here.” The roads are small and windy, the hills are formidable and the cars drive fast. Awesome.

San Pantaleo

Petra Segreta was a great spot high in the seemingly everywhere granite with incredible views of the sea and a great jumping off point to visit Baja Sardinia, Porto Cervo and Capo d’Orso. At least for normal people that use cars. For crazy people, it just takes a little trial and error of attempting to bicycle down a 20+ percent grade of gravel, followed by a brief, unintentional rest in a thorn bush. Once that’s out of the way and you find maps that include actual pavement, biking becomes much more pleasant.

Coastline by Porto Cervo

Highlights of this area, known as Costa Smeralda:

Porto Cervo is the go-to vacation and beach spot, and the coastline that runs from Baja Sardinia south of Porto Cervo is spectacular.

There are several restaurant gems in the area, including the newer Penisola gracefully housed in one half of a gas station. In San Pantaleo, there are a few cute lunch spots, the favorite being Fresco Wine & Food. The best part of the food (and the markets we found) is the made-in-Sardinia products like cheese and honey are available everywhere, and they’re amazing.


Petra Segreta itself is a dining destination with its Michelin-starred Il Fuoco Sacro, although we much preferred their casual bistro, Terrazza/Osteria del Mirto. Dining on the rooftop terrace and watching the sunset over the sea was magical. The most popular resort hotel in the area is Cala di Volpe. After exploring, it’s a little big for our taste, but it’s on a beautiful coastal spot.

Petra Segreta Terrace

After four days in Costa Smeralda bicycling the coast in all directions, we embarked on the bicycle version of Frogger (a video game for us 80’s children) through the city of Olbia and down the eastern coast to San Teodoro. We stayed just north of San Teodoro on a quieter mini-peninsula with semi-private beaches and marinas at Baglioni Hotel.

Even with all the beaches, our preference was riding up into the hills to Padru and Sa Serra, which had much quieter roads and was also great for hikers. The ride down the coast to Budoni and beyond was limited to one shared road with cars. Beautiful, but not as quiet and hilly.

Highlights of this area:

San Teodoro is the town that gets a lot of the focus here, with its beaches (including the flamingo beach on the lagoon). After riding through the cute little town, we stopped to look at the signature beach. It appeared to be about 750 miles long and completely filled with seemingly live, bronzing bodies (even though it was the end of September, the weather was beautiful). Terrorized, we got back on our bikes never to return. The areas of Puntaldia and Lu Impostu were much more reasonable.

If you like beaches and resort hotels, this area is for you. But it’s not like traditional resort areas where the hotels are right on the water. Most hotels are set back a bit with a short walk down to the beach, which keeps the coastline a bit more pristine (sans the piles of bodies). And the whole eastern coastline of Sardinia is truly spectacular.

Sardinia in summary:

Over wine (shocker) our last night in Sardinia, we counted our trips to Italy, and we lost count at 15… including the Dolomites and north to Trieste and into Slovenia, Milan, Cinque Terre, Tuscany – multiple times in multiple areas, Puglia, Amalfi Coast, Sicily, as well as multiple trips to Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples. If you’ve been to Italy multiple times (maybe not that many, but more than once) and you want to add a beach destination onto a trip to Rome, Amalfi or Tuscany, Sardinia is a good choice. Personally, we preferred Corsica, the northern French cousin to Sardinia, because of the combo of water and historic little towns. From this trip, we definitely preferred the Costa Smeralda area of Sardinia.

Baglioni Beach

Baglioni boardwalk

Capo d’Orso

Tuscany (the OLB – FCO – Montalcino leg)

Once again, Volotea came through and our short hop back to the mainland arrived early. With a driver waiting, we took a beautiful, but somewhat long, three-hour drive to our next destination: Castiglion del Bosco near Montalcino. We read from multiple sources that this may be one of the best hotels in Italy: Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco. The developers bought a historic village and made it into a hotel destination.

Our goal was to, once again, bicycle the area. Having bicycled Tuscany many times, we knew how much we all loved seeing this area from the seat of a bike.

The hotel and property? Unbelievably gorgeous. It was off the beaten path on a small, gnarly gravel road that we found out was a major pathway for the Romans to get from Rome to Florence, via Montalcino.

Sadly, the road was undoubtedly better in Roman times. It was riddled with washboards, holes and 20+ percent grade hills making the 10 kilometers to Montalcino pretty technical, and it’s hard to concentrate with such incredible Tuscan landscapes everywhere. Again, we selected one of the most challenging bicycling spots, of course. We did find out the hotel developers offered to pave the stretch to Montalcino on their dime, but it was denied because of its significant history.

Once we tackled the gravel and got to Montalcino, all was fantastic. Montalcino is an incredible little town, and the areas beyond and to Castelnuevo dell’Abate, etc. were quintessential Tuscan perfection. Don’t miss spending time in Montalcino, the headquarters of Brunello wines. It’s charming, full of tasting rooms and great local restaurants with outdoor dining.

And the stay at the Rosewood was pretty much hotel perfection.

Back to Rome

We decided to end our Italy marathon with a few nights in Rome. Honestly, it’s not our favorite city, but you can’t argue with the amazing history literally everywhere, combined with great food and wine. Our favorite thing about Rome is walking down a little street and happening upon a small church with original Caravaggio paintings still intact. Sure, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain are nice, but they also come with a heaping helping of tourists these days that we try to dodge.

This time, we stayed in the heart of the beast at the newly opened Six Senses in Rome. It was so well placed among the most popular destinations that we did a Rome refresher and hit all the well-known spots in speed-dating mode in the mornings.

A few new recommendations to update our last Rome post include some fun restaurants: NOTOS Rooftop at the Six Senses (we had lunch at the restaurant upon arrival and it was actually some of the best pizza I had on all of our trip) and Achilli al Parlamento.

The 36 hours were a perfect refresher to remind us what we loved and not-so-much loved (touristy) about Rome.

Off to home, via Amsterdam.

Or so we thought. Remember payback is a bitch?

Homebound? (FCO – AMS – AMS – AMS – MSP)

Just the week before, I told someone how efficient the AMS Schiphol is to get in and out. Between that and the seamless trip so far, we were bound to go down in flames (probably not the best metaphor for air travel).

Easy, short flight, completely on time from Rome to Amsterdam. Then, the fun began.

In an effort to not go into all the painfully fresh details, here’s a summary:

  • Damaged door discovered from a baggage handler crashing into it.
  • An hour of tap dancing by the pilot to determine the severity of the issue – including when he scoped out the damaged door and came back mouthing “not good” to the purser.
  • Another hour of maintenance on its way and doing a recon.
  • Another hour explaining this plane couldn’t fly, but Delta found another.
  • Another hour waiting for the new plane to get ready.
  • Then the announcement that we were not going today on any plane and had to wait for a crew to let us off the plane (the FTA and its timeline rules have no governance internationally).
  • Another four weeks (a slight exaggeration) waiting to get off the plane, in which time, I re-booked a flight for two days later and booked a hotel room in the city of Amsterdam.

We’ve learned the hard way, there are no happy endings in this kind of situation, so we try to make the best of it as opposed to just stewing in anger. Turns out, we were right. The new flight that was supposed to leave the next morning left 18 hours later, and hundreds of passengers spent hours trying to figure out how to get home the next day.

On a happy note? We love Amsterdam and got to enjoy the city on an absolutely stunning day, eat at some of our favorite restaurants and leave on time two days later.

Making #lemonade

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