City Focus: Alghero
City Focus editor Ed Chamberlin takes a stroll around the Sardinian city of Alghero.
CITY SOUL - ALGHERO
Where to eat, drink, sleep and explore in this Sardinian town and its surrounds
Alghero is a compelling town – the last outpost of Catalan culture in Italy, it has been influenced by numerous outside civilizations approaching it from the sea, starting with its founding by the Genoese in 1102 and subsequent capture by the Catalonians in 1353. Thus the culture is an unlikely mix of Italian and Iberian, which has left its mark on the architecture, cuisine and language of the people.
Alghero also possesses that wonderful quality that’s so common in Italy: the food is so uniformly excellent that barely any establishments feel the need to trumpet their wares with large signs or elaborate websites. Walking the streets of the atmospheric old town, there is barely any indication of a shop or restaurant until you pass by the window or smell the food wafting into the street.
An excellent example is Al Tuguri, modestly tucked away on Via Maiorca. The cosy interior is like a visit to grandma’s house – and then the food arrives. No offence to grandma, but it was never like this. Wild boar carpaccio, octopus, tuna and sea urchin platters are piled on until you can take no more. Yet you can always find room for the flambéed panna cotta before stumbling stuffed back into the streets.
As a coastal town, seafood features heavily on the menu of almost every restaurant, but the lobster and the urchin are the king and queen of Alghero’s gastronomical landscape. Combine these delicacies with a romantic sun setting over the harbour at Ristorante Nettuno (Via Maddalenetta 4, tel: +39 079 979 774), where both are available in inventive combinations like linguine all’aragosta (flat pasta with lobster).
However, the restaurant that plays the fine dining card most emphatically is Andreini (45 Via Ardoino, tel: +39 079 982 098, www.ristoranteandreini.it). Announcing itself with banners hanging from the walls, it initially looks like a trendy furniture store. But enter the main body and you know you are somewhere special. Try the roasted Pecorino cheese with olive pâté and honey, followed by suckling pig with caramelised chicory and beer ice cream.
But first things first, accommodation. Hotel Catalunya (Via Catalogna 24, tel: +39 079 953 172, www.hotelcatalunya.it) is a particularly good choice, not only for being the tallest building in the city and therefore easy to find, but also for its location. Situated right by the harbour, it provides an excellent base from which to explore the city, and its rooms are comfortable and reasonably priced.
A day trip to the surrounding countryside is essential – and also easy on this manageable island. Get yourself some wheels (Nolauto Alghero, tel: +39 079 953 047, www.nolauto.it) and head eastwards, following signs for Porto Torres. You are entering wine country as row after row of trellis pass by. Sella e Mosca (www.sellaemosca.com) is the island’s most famous vineyard, and its museum also shows the island’s pre-history – the area is littered with late-Neolithic tombs that can be viewed first-hand at the nearby Necropolis of Anghelo Ruiu.
Following the road towards Olmedo, you begin to see signs pointing to Padria. Here you will find a genuine local secret. Trattoria Zia Giovanna (Via Fratelli Sulis 9, Padria, tel: +39 079 807 074), wryly described by the woman who pointed us to it as "Michelin-star food without the service", is simply one of the rooms in a resident's home converted into a home-cooking paradise. The staff do not speak English, meaning that although we recognised the first course of spicy penne all'arrabbiata, the main course consisted of olives and meat from an animal we couldn't identify. Either way, the food was delicious and the feeling of experiencing something so hidden to tourists was exciting.
Jumping back in the car, make your way towards Bosa, one of Sardinia’s loveliest towns, where the narrow cobbled streets towered over by tall buildings make for compelling exploration. Take a seat on the tree-lined promenade by the River Temo at Verde Fiume (Lungo Temo de Gasperi 51/53, tel: +39 078 537 3482) and enjoy a glass of local wine while tucking into their generous seafood platters.
By now the afternoon is stretching into evening and it is time to head back into Alghero. L’Arca (Lungomare Dante 6, tel: +39 079 977 972) is a small but popular venue overlooking the sea, which stages live music most nights of the week. We caught a death metal band from Cagliari and later on a local funk group.
For more civilised entertainment, head to PocoLoco (Via Gramsci 8, tel: +39 079 973 1034, www.pocolocoalghero.it), which hosts live jazz in its large hall and serves food late into the night. However late you stay, once you make your way to your hotel, take the promenade, leading you around the outside of the old town on the city walls, with the charming Sardinian architecture on one side and the Mediterranean, which brought so much of the town’s culture to its shores, stretching out on the other.
“A beautiful island Sardinia is.” This odd-sounding sentence is not only true, but also an accurate rendition of the Sardinian dialect of Italian, which uses the rare object/subject/verb word order. You may recognise this from Yoda in Star Wars (“the dark side I sense in you”), and the quirk is translated faithfully into Italian dubbings of the films. Because of this, many Italian Star Wars fans think Yoda is a Sardinian.
But Alghero is also home to Algherese Catalan. Wander around the old town and see how many of the street signs have an Italian name and an Algherese one – often completely unrelated.
Sadly, the language is dwindling, with only the older generation speaking it regularly. But attempts to revive it have come in the form of music. We spoke to one of the two musicians in the world who perform in Algherese, Franca Masu (see interview, below). The other, singer Claudio Sanna, has publicly praised Ryanair for “saving Algherese” thanks to their routes bringing young Catalan-speaking Spaniards to the island to see Italy’s last Catalan outpost and even allowing blossoming romance between Catalan and Algherese-speakers.
CITY CENTS - ALGHERO
Ed hit the Alghero streets with €100 and came back with...
1 / SHEEP
Sardinia is home to a large population of indigenous sheep, especially a breed called Pecora Sarda, who have become something of an icon of the island. They also produce the local Pecorino Sardo cheese and inspire bizarre fluffy statuettes like this. €7
NURAGHE D’ORO (VIA CARLO ALBERTO 58, TEL: +39 079 978 741)
2 / FLANNEL WITH CORAL MOTIF
Textiles are a Sardinian speciality; these flannels have a coral motif and are a demonstration of the high quality of the local handiwork. Things like this along with tablecloths, towels and rugs are available all over the city. €25
ANTONELLI G (VIA MINERVA 34, TEL: +39 29 135 548)
3 / OLIVE OIL
Known locally as “l’oro di Sardegna” (Sardinian gold), olive oil, like in most places in Italy, finds itself drizzled all over the place, but primarily on the food. Very impressive. I’m pretty sure I have never had any olive oil that actually has a discernible flavour… until now. €4
ENODOLCIARIA (VIA SIMON 24, TEL: +39 079 979 741)
4 / MIRTO WITH CORK BOTTLE
Mirto is Sardinia’s local aperitif made from the myrtle plant and drunk at the slightest provocation. There are two kinds: red mirto, which is made from the berries of the plant, and white mirto, which is made from the leaves. This bottle is encased in cork, which is a common material used in local handicrafts. €7
5 / TEA TOWEL
What self-respecting tourist-friendly island would not have an effigy of itself stitched onto a tea towel? Not Sardinia! It’s not the most accurate likeness, to be completely honest, and trying to drive around using it as navigation proved unsuccessful. But, boy, can it dry tea-related paraphernalia! €3
6 / CERAMIC POTTERY
The manufacture of ceramic goods in Sardinia goes back at least 4,500 years and they are common on the island to this day. This pot features a “pavoncella” or lapwing etched onto the side, which is thought to bring the owner good fortune. Try your luck? €10
NURAGHE D’ORO (VIA CARLO ALBERTO 58, TEL: +39 079 97 87 41)
7 / FRANCA MASU
Franca Masu is one of Alghero’s most high profile musicians and at the forefront of a trend in performing in Algherese-Catalan, formerly widely-spoken in the city but now little used. This jazzy, Algherese loveliness should bring the language firmly back into fashion. €10
8 / CORAL JEWELLERY
Of all the products on offer in Alghero, coral jewellery stands out. Mountains of the stuff are for sale in necklace, earring and bracelet form. We even spotted a coral Jesus on the cross. The best coral jewellery in Alghero is available from Gioielli Grazia Giangrandi. €8
(VIA ROMA 45, TEL: +39 079 978 900, WWW.GIOIELLIGRAZIAGIANGRANDI.IT)
9 / KAMIKAZE T-SHIRT
At first glance this T-shirt may appear to be advocating the barbaric practice of tossing farm animals into Ribena, but it’s not! Express your appreciation for Sardinia with a T-shirt that celebrates two of its icons: mirto and the sheep. €16.90
ALTANA E UDANCH (13 VIA CARLO ALBERTO)
10 / NOUGAT
Sardinian nougat is not made with sugar and instead gets its sweetness from honey, giving it a smoother and more natural flavour. And you don’t require an industrial iron jaw to bite into it! One of the many things to eat and drink that are essential in Alghero. €8
TORRONE SARDO (VIA PERPIGNAN 8, TEL: +39 079 973 8141)
CITY LIVES ALGHERO
Franca Masu is a singer, and one of only two musicians to perform in Algherese. She talks about music and island life
“I live with a constant soundtrack in my head, and have sung ever since I was a little girl. I used to sing simply for my own pleasure and for my friends, and eventually I found the courage to sing in public.
“I know a number of very talented jazz musicians who taught me a bit of jazz. But, I realised that I would find myself in a queue behind other jazz singers.
“It was my husband who said, ‘Franca, why don’t you draw your inspiration from the most beautiful elements of your own identity and surroundings and transform it into music?’.
“It was a complex path I took to add the Algherese influence, because I didn’t speak it, so I had to learn it first. I realised that the greatest richness was in the language itself.
“The language is very musical, not only to sing, but also to speak. This is what struck me the most: its musicality, its sweetness, its malleability. But the percentage of people who speak the language is very low. Internationally, there are only two people who perform in Algherese: me and Claudio Sanna.
“The younger generation are in real trouble since we don’t know how to transfer this part of their heritage to them. I believe that music is the ideal vehicle for stimulating the younger generation to think about this.
“I have a slightly metaphysical vision of Alghero and the surrounding territory – the beauty, serenity and the human dimension make living here very comfortable. You can really breathe in the history that has come to pass in this small corner of the Mediterranean. And even if Alghero is based on a town having been conquered – by the Genoese and the Catalans – it is beautiful to see the strong walls of the city as you approach by boat, and the bell tower, which is the highest in Sardinia.
“Alghero outwardly manifests itself as a strong town. This has all inspired my music. I live where Alghero finishes – this is the last house of Alghero – and I feel that by looking out to sea and breathing in the sea air I am looking out towards Alghero’s future.”
CATCH FRANCA LIVE IN ROME ON 23 MAY AT AUDITORIUM PARCO DELLA MUSICA (WWW.AUDITORIUM.COM). FRANCA’S NEXT ALBUM, AZULEJO, WILL BE RELEASED TOWARDS THE END OF 2009. VISIT WWW.FRANCAMASU.COM
IMPORTANT ADDRESSES - ALGHERO
01 / HOTEL CATALUNYA
Via Catalogna 24, tel: +39 079 953 172 WWW.HOTELCATALUNYA.IT
02 / HOTEL EL BALEAR
Lungomare Dante 32, tel: +39 079 975 229 WWW.HOTELELBALEAR.IT
03 / HOTEL IL GABBIANO
Via Garibaldi 97, tel: +39 079 950 407 WWW.HOTELILGABBIANOALGHERO.IT
04 / HOTEL BARCELLONA
Via Gallura 15, tel: +39 079 989 1107 WWW.BARCELLONAHOTELALGHERO.IT
05 / HOTEL LA MARGHERITA
Via Sassari 70, tel: +39 079 979006 WWW.HOTELLAMARGHERITA.IT
06 / ENODOLCIARIA
Via Simon 24, tel: +39 079 979 741 WWW.ENODOLCIARIA.IT
07 / AQUARIUM ALGHERO
Via XX Settembre 1, Tel: +39 079 978 333 WWW.AQUARIUMALGHERO.IT
08 / DIOCESAN MUSEUM OF SACRED ART
Via Maiorca 1, tel: +39 079 973 3041 WWW.ALGHEROMUSEO.IT
09 / NAVISARDA BOAT TRIPS
Port of Alghero, tel: +39 079 978 961 WWW.NAVISARDA.IT
10 / ANTONELLI GALLERY
Via Minerva 25, tel: +39 29 135 548
11 / AL TUGURI
Via Maiorca 113, tel: +39 079 976 772 WWW.ALTUGURI.IT
12 / ANDREINI
Via Ardoino 45, tel: +39 079 982 098 WWW.RISTORANTEANDREINI.IT
13 / RISTORANTE NETTUNO
Via Maddalenetta 4, tel: +39 079 979 774
14 / CASABLANCA
Via Principe Umberto 76, tel: +39 079 983 353
15 / AL REFETTORIO CARRERÒ
Carrerò del Porxo (Vicolo Adami) 47, tel: +39 079 973 1126
16 / POCO LOCO
Via Gramsci 8, tel: +39 079 973 1034 WWW.POCOLOCOALGHERO.IT
17 / L’ARCA
Lungomare Dante 6, tel: +39 079 977 972
18 / JAMAICA INN
Via Principe Umberto 57, tel: +39 079 973 3050 WWW.JAMAICAINNALGHERO.COM
19 / IL TUNNEL
Via Gilbert Ferret 37, tel: +39 079 989 5590
20 / CAFÉ LATINO
Bastioni Magellano 10, tel: +39 079 976 541