Secluded in a sea reflecting a million shades of blue, the tiny Isola di San Pietro is one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the island region of Sardinia. Transparent waters, sandy beaches, scenic rock formations, and picture-perfect rocky coves line the shores of this stunning vacation retreat that lies seven kilometers off of the southwestern coast of Sardinia.
Accessible by ferry, the island of volcanic origin is part of the Sulcis Archipelago. From its idyllic beaches to its hilly interior dotted with typical Mediterranean shrubberies like myrtle and rosemary and forests of pine and Aleppo, Isola di San Pietro is a paradise for travelers looking to surround themselves with uncontaminated nature in a beautiful oasis far from the cares of daily living.
The island’s main town, Carloforte, is a small enchanting center lined with pretty façades in pastel shades, a charming port, narrow streets, cobblestone stairways, and characteristic markets that create a world set apart that is home to San Pietro’s roughly 6200 year-round inhabitants.
Here the warm Mediterranean sun rises in the morning to caress the breathtaking beauty of this Italian pearl illuminating the sparkling seas until it dips down into one of the most stunning sunsets imaginable leaving an evening sky of sparkling stars and sea breezes enveloped by notes of jasmine, lily, and orange.
History & Curiosities of Isola di San Pietro
Legend has it that the island gained its name from the apostle Peter who is said to have stopped at this exact place in the year 46 AD to take shelter from a raging storm. Archeological remains found around the isle attest to a small population that had been living here since the times of the Phoenicians starting around the 8th century BC.
The island was further settled by a group of coral fishermen and their families, originally of Ligurian descent, who had been working the coral reefs off of the island of Tabarka in Tunisia for about 200 years. Having exhausted the sea beds of Tabarka, the group found fertile coral beds around Isola di San Pietro and petitioned the king of Sardinia and Piemonte, Charles Emmanuel III, for permission to settle there – thus establishing the town of Carloforte (Charles the strong) in his honor.
Locally known as U Pàize, Carloforte still exhibits a strong connection with its Ligurian heritage in its architecture, foods, dialect, and culture.
Do & Experience
Isola di San Pietro is known for its dreamy beaches, slow-paced living, pure nature, and plentiful watersports. Days on the island can be spent swimming in the refreshing waters, laying on its warm sands, hiking its many trails, or diving into its crystal sea.
Sea and Sun
Exploring the location’s beautiful coastline is a must. Start with the beach known as Giunco – the longest on the island with its serene shallow waters. Continue to Girin and Punta Nera – known for their clear, calm shores and Mediterranean vegetation protected from the mistral winds. La Bobba is surrounded by the jagged edges of rocky cliffs, secluding it from the world around and offering views of the columns of rock emerging from the sea. From there, head to La Caletta – one of the island’s most renowned beaches accessible via a short trail; or go on to the lighthouse of Capo Sandalo and the beach of Cala Fico – a tiny oasis covered with large pebbles that has incredibly transparent waters.
Otherwise, visit one of the island’s most unique swimming spots, Piscine di Nasca – a series of naturally formed pools carved into the volcanic rock by the sea’s winds that fill with water from the sea creating nature’s very own swimming pools.
Diving and snorkeling are also magnificent activities. Enjoy some of the best diving tours in all of Sardinia, complete with views of the area’s marine life, stony coral, shipwrecks, and Roman ruins, as well as stops for swimming and exploring hidden caves. Look to Isla Diving and Carloforte Diving for information and organization. Courses are available.
Then, at the end of the day, linger at the lighthouse of Capo Sandalo for breathtaking sunsets that swirl from yellow to orange to pink.
Immerse Yourself in Nature
San Pietro is known for the many species of birds that arrive on the island throughout the year. A trip to the Salt Pans of Carloforte is an ideal place to explore the land, its history, and watch the birds and fauna that call the area home.
At the LIPU reserve on the island’s west side, you can catch a glimpse of a colony of falcons known as Eleonora’s falcons – so named for Eleanora of Arborea who as ruler of the area in 1392 became the first official to grant legal protection to the falcons and hawks who made their nests on the island but were often killed by local hunters. Today the reserve offers amazing sights of these great birds as they soar overhead. The best times to see them are from July to October.
Hikers will also be pleased to discover that the island has numerous trails from its sun-drenched interiors to its sea-lined shores. For amazing views of the sea and sky and striking vegetation, hike along the paths at the oasis near Cala Fico on the northern coast.
The island’s center of Carloforte itself is well-worth some time exploring. This unique location is a resort town with a fishing soul. Colorful buildings and pretty views make it the perfect spot for taking photos. Wander the charming central square, Piazza Pegli, listening to locals speaking in their traditional dialect known as Tabarkine.
Make your way to the western side of the town to discover the remains of defensive walls built in 1806 after an invasion by Tunisian corsairs who captured and enslaved many of the island’s inhabitants. Explore the three forts of Saints Cristina, Teresa, and Beatrice or enter Carloforte’s castle constructed in 1738 to house soldiers. One of the most photographed spots in town is the arch that dates back to the end of the 18th century known as Archiottu – originally the entrance to the lush gardens of one of the island’s most prominent families.
More time in town can be spent exploring the Multimedia Museum of the Sea, visiting the town’s two beautiful churches, shopping at the tiny stores, or sitting at a café to enjoy a moment’s pause, breathing in the deep sense of peace that permeates the air.
From here, you can also find jeep tours of the island, boat rentals, diving centers, ferries, or excursions to the old tuna fishing station.
Take a day trip to Calasetta and Sant’Antioco
Catch a 30-minute ferry to the other principal island of the Archipelago of Sulcis, Sant’Antioco. Take the time to see the town of Calasetta, view an ancient acropolis, an antique Roman bridge, or the Paleo-Christian basilica with its catacombs. The island’s coast is partly sandy and partly rocky with splendid beaches such as those of Maladroxia, Coaquaddus, Sotto Torre, Le Saline, and Spiaggia Grande.
Foods to Try
The traditional tastes of Isola di San Pietro are a mélange of perfumes and flavors that are a testament to its history, blending the simplicity of fresh seafood with touches of Ligurian and Arab cuisine.
Locally caught tuna and fish dominate menus with fresh simple ingredients. Local creations include tuna served with tomatoes, white wine, bay leaves, and extra virgin olive oil, or the lasagna with tuna and pesto, and the traditional Cassolla fish soup.
Handmade pasta is also an important part of the local cuisine. Try the Raiélu, a ravioli with beets and ricotta, or the Macariun or Curzetti served with fresh fragrant basil pesto. Other hints of Liguria as well with typical Ligurian focaccia and farinata di ceci – made with chickpea flour.
Where to Dine
Known for its noteworthy cuisine and impeccable service, Da Nicolo offers two dining experiences, a restaurant and a bistro, located on the waterfront of Carloforte. Boasting a stupendous view of the port and run by a passionate team, this location has been in the hands of the Pomata family for three generations, garnering accolades from the likes of Michelin and Gambero Rosso.
Ristorante Da Nicolo is known as one of the region’s top restaurants and has a menu that showcases typical Carloforte cuisines with a modern take. Begin with starters like the warm seafood salad served with ricotta, mussel mayonnaise, almonds, and aromatic herbs, or the crunchy Carasau bread with prawns, mussels, courgette, and shellfish bisque.
Elegant pasta dishes adorn the menu, including linguine with tuna, capers, olives, cheese, and lemon, or the seafood carbonara with smoked tuna and swordfish. Of course, fresh fish reigns with dishes like the Tuna Fior Fiore coated with herbs and aubergine caviar with tomato coral, or the royal Spiced Bluefin Tuna. Meat-eaters will also find options like the beef filet and the crispy pork with potato pie and myrtle powder.
The Pomata Bistrot offers elegant dining in a more casual context. Known for amazing pizzas, the location offers several diverse combinations such as the Carlofortina with pesto and tuna, the Sarda with fresh sausage and pecorino, or the Estate with Mozzarella di Bufala DOP, courgette, bottarga (roe), grated lemon and mint-infused extra virgin olive oil. The handmade pasta is delicious too, with Cursetti in a tuna ragu, Scuccusu fregola with marinara, and seafood bisque and rosemary.
There are also various steaks, like the beef filet with arugula and grana or the sirloin served with a reduction of Sardinia’s famous Cannonau wine. Fresh fish is served daily including tuna grilled with tomatoes. Don’t skip the antipasti, look to start with something like the tuna tartar, or sfogliata di focaccia with stracchino, smoked swordfish, and oregano.
Ristorante Da Nicolo – Corso Cavour 32, Carloforte, +39 0781 854048 – email@example.com
Pomata Bistrot – Via Dante 46, Carloforte, +39 0781 855361 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Al Tonno di Corsa
Established in 1980 and located in the cassinee, the oldest quarter of Carloforte characterized by narrow alleys and stone stairways, this restaurant highlights the flavors of fresh tuna. Come here to find the tastes and perfumes of traditional Tabarkine cooking.
Choose from starters such as the fresh tuna musciamme with bottarga, and scallops; followed by one of the handmade pasta dishes with tuna, seasonal sauces, fresh seafood, and herbs; and certainly leave room for the mains prepared with the freshest local fish including tuna, bream, lobster, and mullet.
Ristorante Al Tonno di Corsa Via Marconi 47, Carloforte, +39 0781 855106 – email@example.com
Where to Stay
Escape from the world at this six-room hotel surrounded by the unspoiled nature of the island. Located six kilometers from Carloforte, Poecylia aims to infuse a deep sense of wellness and peace, allowing guests to unwind in nature’s way, returning to the simple pleasures of life in a discreet location that is somehow both glamorous and rugged. Take in the stars, swim in the sea, and stroll the gardens.
The rooms are set apart from the main house and offer subtly elegant and simple traditional island furnishings along with views of gardens, terraces, pergolas, Mediterranean vegetation, and the cliffs.
The main house offers a soft start to the day with breakfast served in the courtyard and a library where visitors can peruse books and let their minds wander.Guests can also enjoy a secluded getaway at the beach accessible through a lush garden, dotted with the bright colors of bougainvillea, that rolls to the limpid pebble beach with its jagged cliffs.
A solarium and massages are available too, as are bicycles and an attentive staff who will be happy to organize excursions, snorkeling, canoeing, and hiking.
Monthly programs are also on the agenda, focused on returning to a sense of balance in life and on rediscovering your inner serenity while boosting your overall well-being through Ayurvedic nutrition and practices, as well as through sessions of yoga and meditation. A certified Triyoga teacher offers twice-daily lessons during April, May, September, and October.
Poecylia Resort – Becco 09014, Carloforte, +39 333 8964250 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Liana Bicchieri