Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Paolo Piras, a walker, swimmer, music buff, and local here to tell us all about Cagliari – the capitol of Sardinia, all about seafood, ocean views, and history.
First, tell us about you.
I’ve been living in Quartu S. Elena, in the countryside of Cagliari since 2002. Before that, I lived in Castello, the old town inside the walls of Cagliari proper.
I love animals, walking along the beach, swimming, eating al fresco with friends, music, and many other things.
If someone is visiting Cagliari for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
In the morning, you can head to Poetto, a 10-kilometer beach, where you can have a walk and stop in one or more of the 40 cafes located along the beach (we call them baretti) to have a drink or lunch with sea views.
In good weather conditions, sunbathing and diving are popular. And, in the summertime, all the bars along the beach offer live music, DJ sets, and entertainment for every taste.
In the evening, have a walk in Castello, the old town, enjoy the sunset, and visit the historical churches, expositions, sights, tiny, typical streets, old houses, cafes, and restaurants.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
The best place to stay is downtown Cagliari, which is divided into three neighborhoods: Stampace, Marina, and Castello. You can find B&Bs and hotels there and can walk around the city from any of them.
The three districts are close to the port, train, and bus station, shopping area, restaurants, fancy bars, and all the facilities you may need.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
My number one choice is Chia, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. It is about 50 kilometers by car to the west of the city. My second choice would be Villasimius, another of the best beaches in Sardinia, about 40 kilometers east by car. My third choice is Barumini, a very important archeological site north of Cagliari (about 50 kilometers).
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Seafood. This is my perfect menu: mussel soup (zuppa di cozze), spaghetti with clams and bottarga (salted, cured fish roe), and mixed fried fish with white wine.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
Libarium: a well-known and fancy bar in Castello (located on Via Santa Croce). Paillotte: a bar, restaurant, beach, and disco pub in an amazing location right next to the sea (on Viale Calamosca sul Mare). And Royale, located at Viale Diaz 52/A, which is my favorite restaurant, which serves Tuscan cuisine and has a friendly atmosphere—all at the right price.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Sardinians are easy-going and kind people; they share what they have with a smile; and they like people who are also easy-going.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Just hanging around downtown Cagliari or in some Poetto cafes you will meet friendly people.
Why should people make sure to visit Cagliari?
It’s an ancient land, almost untouched. You can find genuine food, good wine, and true people.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
Everywhere. Just don’t forget your camera anytime you leave the house.
Anything else you want us to know?
You can’t go wrong in Sardinia. It’s not the usual Italian destination.
The best time to visit is April to October, when you can enjoy sunny and warm days, eating al fresco, lots of friendly people, and wonderful aperitivo.