I still have a clear pic in my mind about the first time I’ve been to Tortolì: it was june, 2 years ago, I was going there for work and I had no exact idea about the route, deeply trusting Google Maps (not so difficult way but… don’t trust too much GMaps in Sardinia 😉 ). A few km from Cagliari Elmas airport, and SS125 – the road running all along the Eastern coast, from Cagliari to Palau – became deserted, no traffic and all blooming in fantastic yellow brooms. I still didn’t know what to expect, but this was a really warm welcome!
Spring and summer are perfect seasons for visiting Tortolì and nearby attractions in Ogliastra, but my personal preference is for september. Not too hot – summer can be demanding here – less tourists, and still amazing sunny days to relax on the beach or hike on the mountains. Below you will find advice for main summer attractions on the coast , but in fact you have a lot of places to explore in the interior.
On the road signs you can also read “Arbatax”, which is practically its harbour area: some say that the name “Arbatax” comes from the arab word “Arba at Ashar” (the fourteenth tower), but maybe it’s actually coming from the toponym “Baccasara”.
But let’s see the best 10 things to see in Tortolì…
1. The Red Rocks
This amazing red porphyry cliff is maybe the symbol of the town: a kind of “martian” landscape, it’s really close to the harbour, so can be the first thing you see here disembarking from the ferry. It’s very popular also among local people, so it’s easy during summer nights to find young people hanging out or families with kids. Before covid-19 pandemy, every summer here took place the “Red Valley Festival”, a music festival attracting here international artists.
The harbour itself is worth a visit: you can go for a rustic and genuine dinner at Cooperativa Pescatori Stella Maris, or choose a restaurant / pizzeria along the street.
2. Cala Moresca
The closest beach in Tortolì is for many also the most beautiful. Rocks, gravel and the nice frame of the trees feature Cala Moresca, very sheltered so advisable when there’s too much wind. You may enjoy the landscape, but if you like sandy beaches, you better continue towards…
3. Porto Frailis
Porto Frailis is a tiny Eden with white sand and brilliant blue water. It’s quite small, so can be crowded during summer, but it’s perfect for families (the beach slopes gently), for water sports lovers (you can do windsurf/canoeing), and also for people who like to have lunch at a restaurant (Acquolina, Tholoi, Il Faro are good options, or you can spoil yourself at La Bitta). You can come also in the evening to have a drink or two at AcquaChiara.
4. Lido di Orrì
Lido di Orrì is awarded every year with Legambiente “blue flag”. No surprise, for 16 km of thin sand and transparent water, surrounded by a beautiful pine forest. The main beach is about 3 km long and is provided with a lot of facilities: kiosks, beach equipment rentals, pedal boats, canoes, water motorbikes, games for kids, beachvolley. There’s a camping nearby. Of course can be really crowded during peak season. My favourite corner is “Spiaggia degli Inglesi”, where you can find amazing rocks with strange and surreal shapes.
5. Lido di Cea (Tortolì/Bari Sardo)
This is definitely my favourite beach, shared between Tortolì and Bari Sardo which is the next village going South. Also here you have kiosks, equipped beaches and a good fine restaurant like Ivy Beach, but in some ways the landscape is wilder. With its green shrubs, junipers, little ponds behind – where you can often find fishermen – Cea ends with amazing porphyry cliffs and two big red sea stacks. It’s really wonderful at sunset, when you see these red rocks shining and glowing.
6. Spiaggia La “Capannina”
This is one of the longest beaches, ending in Tortolì’s marsh’s mouth and close to Arbatax harbour, very popular also between locals who come here to walk, run or have lunch in the beautiful pine forest behind. If you head North you reach the nice Chiosco di Ponente, my favourite place to have an happy hour in front of the sea – you have different option for a drink with seafood specialties – and also to have lunch / dinner with friends, in the family atmosphere of the cooperative which is running it (recommended to book in advance, in summer).
7. San Gemiliano Tower
And after the beaches… their ancient guardians! San Gemiliano Tower was one of the fortifications built to protect the land from pirates’ attacks in XVIth Century, together with San Miguel’s Tower in Arbatax. From here the landscape is wide and amazing, just over Porto Frailis and San Gemiliano’s beach.
8. Faro Bellavista
An old defensive tower has been converted into a lighthouse in XIXth Century, now Bellavista lighthouse is still in use, with also a meteorological station. The large lantern is surmounted by a wrought iron dome ending with a weather vane, while the external windows have small lion heads hiding rainwater’s outflow. Stunning view over the coast.
9. S’Ortali ‘e su monti – archeological site in Tortolì
This place is a great opportunity to explore different periods in the rich fascinating Sardinian history. “S’Ortali ‘e su monti” is a great archeological complex with a nuraghe and a Giants’ tomb, tracing back to Middle / Late Bronze Age, and the magic “Domus de janas”, much older and tracing back to Neolithic Age.
“Nuraghe” is the main symbol of Sardinia and its Nuragic civilization (from Bronze Age to Roman colonization): a megalithic structure that was the centre of the nuragic village, still we don’t know exactly its function, military / political / religious or all of them.
A Giants’ tomb was a collective burial, so big that the legend tells a giant had been buried there. “Janas” are the fairies in Sardinian language: these neolithical funerary graves had so small entrance that tiny magical beings were supposed to live here.
10. Out of Tortolì: Gulf of Orosei’s beaches
Blue sea, white sand, amazing rocky coast… even if they’re not technically in Tortolì’s area, once you’re in Ogliastra you cannot miss an excursion to these heavenly wonderful beaches. Cala Goloritzé, my favourite, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean sea, and like many others here can be reached only by sea or by hiking. Cala Mariolu has become popular also being the set of an Italian cult movie, “Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto”.
If you are here just for a few days you may take into consideration choosing a mini-cruise – you can buy one from Arbatax harbour and in Santa Maria Navarrese – or renting a boat for the day. You can have a look through boat trips here. Then, the crystal clear waters will charm you forever…