Sardinia is today divided into the 4 provinces and the metropolitan area surrounding the city of Cagliari as you see on our regions map. The smaller number represents the number of Sardinian provinces in existence before 2016, when there was some consolidation. We’ll describe them from the most populous area of the south, Cagliari, and work our way north.
Cagliari in the southeast of the island has the largest population of the provinces, and contains the archaeological site of Nora near the resort of Pula, which contains a well-preserved theater (you can attend concerts there in summer) and thermal baths.
The province called Sud Sardinia is made up of the suppressed provinces of Carbonia-Iglesias and Medio Campidano, as well as a great part of the old Province of Cagliari. Cabonia is still the provincial capital.
In the past, the province of Carbonia-Igesias was largely devoted to mining coal, lead and zinc. In fact, the city of Carbonia, called “le Citta’ del Duce,” was inaugurated by Mussolini on December 1938 to extract coal in Sardinia; the town still contains a wealth of fascist architecture. The former Serbariu coal mine is now a museum. The mines were closed in the 1970s.
Monte Sirai is an impressive hilltop Phoenician-Carthaginian stronghold in the province.
The Medio Campidano was a younger province called the “Green Province” that includes the notable cities of Villacidro, Guspini, Serramanna, San Gavino Monreale, Sanluri. It also contains the famous archaeological site of Barumini, one of the most iconic of Nuragic sites in Sardinia, is just north of Cagliari. The Roman baths at Sardara are also worth visiting. Food specialties include civraxu, a large focaccia with a crunchy crust and soft core.
Oristano Province offers the visitor a couple of very fine festivals, Sartiglia in Oristano during carnevale time and l’Ardia di San Costantino in July in the town of Sedilo. The beautiful Tharros Archeological Site sits pretty along the coast, and the Fordongianus site has working Roman Baths. Santa Cristina has a sacred well, the construction of which is amazing to this day.
The province of Oligiastra was established in 2001; at the time it was the smallest province and the least populated. Today it has been folded into the Nuoro province. Named after the oleaster tree, it’s a wild place offering a beautiful coastline with caves you can visit—and plenty of great beaches.
Heading north we encounter the mountainous Nuoro region, anchored by its biggest city Nuoro and legendary for its bandits, who, it was rumored, could easily jump on and plunder the very slow trains here by horseback or even on foot. The Gennargentu range is the highest and most important range here, and there are many karst caves. The rustic, mountain food is the best in Sardinia, served with pane carasau (music paper bread). The hams from pig or wild boar are excellent, mostly a deep mahogany red, masculine in color and structure compared to the pink and soft Parma hams. Seadas is a big, round raviole stuffed with fresh cheese and deep fried, then covered in honey or sugar.
To the right you can see the regional map from before the realignment in 2016.
Within the Nuoro province surrounding the city is a big slab of rustic land called Barbagia. If you really want to head back in time to when folks made their own food and furniture, this is it. The quality of the deeply rural life here is celebrated in the fall, when each weekend features different villages in festa, where the normally hidden lives of rural Sardinians comes into the open for you to see. You can read about our experiences when we wandered the villages of Autunno in Barbagia
Sassari province offers the tourist the Spanish flavor of Alghero, the hustle and bustle of the university town of Sassari, and the striking town of Castelsardo, with a medieval castle, the elephant rock which really looks like an elephant, and prehistoric tombs called the Domus di Janas, witches houses. The Nuragic complex of Santu Antine is one of the more famous on the island.
The northeastern part of Sassari province you see on the map used to be called the Olbia Tempio Province. In 1962, the Arab Prince Aga Khan IV created the ‘Costa Smeralda Consortium’ and made the beer along the Costa Smeralda very, very expensive. Many ferries come in through the port of Olbia.
Getting to Sardinia
You can arrive in Sardinia via airports at Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia. During the season you’ll find plenty of ferries that can take you and your car to the island from mainland Italy, so you don’t have to rent one there. An overnight trip can be quite pleasant on the ferry. You can read about our experience here.